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Category Archives for "Marriage"

10 things to say instead of picking a fight | relationship fights
Sep 26

Relationship fights: 10 things to say instead

By Jessica Allen | Marriage

There are so many things I wish I did better when it comes to how to handle relationship fights.  Particularly in my marriage and as a parent.  It's so much easier and selfishly gratifying in the moment to fly off the handle and say *exactly* what I think my husband or my children need to hear.  

That is rarely (never?) the right solution.  And I definitely never feel better after I snap.

How many times have I let my emotions, fatigue, frustration, or insecurity get the better of me and shot my mouth off instead of trying to solve the problem while adding value to the relationship?

Relationship fights in our marriage (and being a naggy parent) are always a bad-math sum of anger and ego.  We both tend to step back into all our old crappy communication patterns.  He's pushy.  I'm a martyr.  In the heat of the moment, neither one of us listen or really care about the other person's feelings.  We end up saying things we regret and making a lingering mess out of what could have been a simple, intentional, solution-focused conversation.    

Related: Curb your ego for a happier marriage

So if I can keep my adrenaline at bay for even 5 hot seconds when a misunderstanding arises, here are 10 things that are better to say than picking those relationship fights.  

10. It hurts my feelings when you say or do _______.

Just address the ONE thing, right then and there, or as soon as possible after it happened.  Save the other 27 grievances for a time you're not steaming out the ears.

9. I need 5 minutes to regroup before we continue this conversation.

Splash your face with water, take a walk around the block, or eat a cookie.  If you feel backed into a proverbial corner, pause to collect your thoughts before you say something you'll regret.

8. I felt disrespected (or embarrassed/etc.) when you ______.

This is a big one for me.  Don't let it build.  It is our job to teach people how to treat us.  Even and especially our spouses.

7. Could we please find a time today to talk about something important?

This is our family's big cue phrase to keep relationship fights at bay.  It lets the other person know we are taking a risk by saying something hard.  Setting the stage for a healthy conversation always goes better for us than nuking the other one with a giant nag or complaint clear out of the blue.  

6. Next time, can you _____ instead?

Use this the next time you are ready to say "you ALWAYS" or "you NEVER."  If I have to unball one more set of long inside-out stinky baseball socks in my laundry I am going to lose my mind.  "Next time can you please unroll these before you put them in the hamper?  It helps me so much and makes me feel like you care."  This is a good strategy for children too.  I don't feel like a naggy wife or mom when I make a request.

5. I'm frustrated.  Can you please help me?

I shut down when I'm frustrated and it's easier to bang cabinets shut and heave giant sighs instead of ask for help.  My family cannot read minds.  And clearly they do not hear the slamming or don't care.  So a simple request lets them know I need them to get off the couch and lend a hand. 

4. Can we please set screentime guidelines for dinner?

Solve the problem before it becomes a problem.  And it's never the kids that have the problem!!!  It's so easy to slide back into distractions at the dinner table.  We regroup when we need to in order to get the devices off and away from that sacred space.  I'm a better wife and mom when I don't feel like I'm begging for my family's attention.  

3. I have a budget question when you have a minute.

ALWAYS better than "why did you buy that?????!!!!!"  Money questions can feel accusatory to me, no matter the context, so this is another area where it helps to have a phrase cue that we need to talk about it.  I'm not as defensive that way and the conversation always goes a little smoother.  

2. Can I borrow you for 30 uninterrupted minutes tonight?

Doesn't matter what you do, but make it worth their time. 😉

Variation on #2: I feel disconnected/lonely.

Chances are, if you've gotten into the habit of curbing screen time and borrowing each other for 30 minutes on the regular, you won't have to say this one a lot.  But in the busy chaos of family life, it happens.  We work across the kitchen table from each other every day and even then I still feel lonely sometimes.  That's when it's time to take a walk together, or unplug for 15 minutes to actually look at each other's faces.  Dial into each other's love languages and you'll only need a few minutes to connect with each other in a meaningful way.

1. Have I done something to upset you?

Ahh, the dance of the eggshells.  Nobody's good at it.  Just gird up your loins and ask the question.  Fair warning: if you are willing to ask the question, be willing to hear (and have a real conversation about) their answer.  Master the art listening... and the art of the apology.

The art of the apology

It's always good to review!  A great apology combines acknowledgement, remorse, and a request for forgiveness. 

I'm sorry (remorse) I  _____ (acknowledge the thing you said or did that hurt them).  Can you please forgive me? (request forgiveness)

A great apology does not include an expectation that the other person will instantly feel better, stop being angry, or trust you again.  Every person is entitled to their own real feelings.  Just because you were ready to apologize doesn't mean they have to be ready to be happy just so you don't feel uncomfortable anymore.  It does put the ball in their court to forgive you, which will ultimately help them feel better faster.  Forgiveness rocks.  Everybody wins. 

Things That Are Not Real Apologies

  • Sorry. (Ugh.  May as well roll your eyes when you say it.)
  • I'm sorry if I made you feel ____. (deflecting responsibility)
  • I'm sorry you ______ (making it their fault for being upset)
  • I'm sorry. (and I'm waiting for you to quit being mad at me)

Nobody feels better when they pick a relationship fight.  Send your ego walking, choose better words, and bring harmony into the "hard stuff."

HP,

J

10 things to say instead of picking a fight | relationship fights
Seasons change and so do I | fall leaves | changing seasons in life | seasons of life change
Sep 10

Seasons change – and so do I

By Jessica Allen | Faith , Marriage

It’s Texas, and it’s still 100 degrees out, with no end in sight.  I love summer, and pool weather, and the fun and excitement and relaxation it holds.  Yet seasons change, and I posted on social recently that September can keep its pumpkin spice… I’ll take root beer floats in my swimsuit any day. 

But fall is coming.  I can see it.

I can actually see it, in the way the afternoon sun looks a little different, and the sky is bluer than blue.  LJ October blue. 

This is my favorite time of year, when the seasons change, because there’s electric energy in the air.  Maybe it’s back to school, or the return of football, or that we’re all finally ready to start pulling new colors out of our closets.  Perhaps it’s the familiarity of the routine we settle into as a family, or the excitement of Saturdays together at the baseball parks. 

This season is different

This year, especially, I think it’s the anticipation of our 10th October missing our son that’s stirring my spirit, setting me up for a new season of reflection and growth.  There’s something about these big milestones – and all the emotion they bring - that makes my chest feel heavy.    

Whether it’s the turning of the earth or the shifting of my life, when seasons change it's promise that we’re still here, still evolving, and still have something to offer the world.  This is the part of change I can get on board with. 

As we usher each new season in, there’s opportunity to learn through grooming, to exhale in rest, and to expand with growth. 

Seasons change to groom you for something greater

In my experience, grooming seasons tend to happen simultaneously with or directly following a big setback or trauma.  Something that is often out of our control, or a seemingly-impossible circumstance thrust upon us against our will.  My specific setbacks were death and the unraveling of our marriage.  The months that followed each trauma were excruciatingly painful seasons of massive pruning, in uniquely different yet similar ways.  

Life after death 

This grooming season carved away everything I thought I knew about God, my own faith, and my vision for my own purpose in the world.  (That is a whole separate book.  Hold tight.) 

In the meantime, the short version is that my faith grew up stronger and thicker than before, my understanding of God deepened, and my trust in His mercy abounds.  This season of change was grooming at its finest and most rewarding.

Life after marriage-death

This was (and in many ways, still is) a season in which Jack and I both experienced the cutting away of parts of ourselves that were wilted or dead.  We slashed away habits that no longer served us.  He and I both changed behaviors holding us back from the faith and relationships and life we were meant for.  We opened our eyes to beliefs we thought were true but turned out to be wrong.  And we learned about betrayal from people we thought we could trust.  Because we wanted to heal and be whole, better than we were before, there was no room for any more weeds or thorns between us.  Arrogance, selfishness, dishonesty, fear… we dug them all up and cut them at the root. 

Grooming seasons of change are full of humbling setbacks and painful self-discovery.   They also, inconveniently, require embarrassing confessions to ourselves and others.  The first step is admitting you have a problem, yes?

Grooming seasons press on us until we give way

Grooming is more “letting go” than anything else.  A willingness to release things we don’t need anymore.  I believe this is God’s way of making us just uncomfortable enough to finally be willing to drop our grip of what we think is best in favor of what He knows is best.  Not surprisingly, the less junk we hold onto, the more clearly we can see His plan for our lives and the lighter our steps feel moving forward in its direction. 

Grooming seasons require routine maintenance

While some seasons of change are specifically for grooming, we’re always in the process of maintenance.  Little shoots of toxic growth pop up from time to time, in the ways we snap at each other and settle back into old lazy patterns.  The grief wheel is always, always, always turning.  But we can recognize those triggers or slipping patterns now and perform a mini-groom much more quickly than the full season originally required. 

That’s the beautiful thing about grooming seasons – they are a remarkable “reset” phenomenon, restoring you to a new factory setting.  From this clean slate, new possibilities emerge and so does a stronger, wiser version of yourself. 

You just have to make it through. 

Things that happened in our grooming seasons

We grieved, we retreated, we desperately searched for answers and “why.”  We rejected help until we were drowning in our own incapability.  Finally we asked for help from our family and friends to cover meals, housework, errands, and tasks that were easy to delegate.  We didn’t eat, exercise, or sleep well.  He and I both sought wise professional counsel for our mental, emotional, and spiritual health.  We snapped at each other a lot and practiced lots of forgiveness and sacrificial love.  We said no to just about everything and everyone in favor of our self care.  Nobody had energy to care what anybody else thought about us.  We accepted love and care from people without feeling pressured to reciprocate. 

You may be in a grooming season if:

  • You feel squeezed or pressed
  • You’re navigating a crisis, loss, or major life decision
  • You feel there’s not enough time
  • You think you can’t handle one more thing
  • You’re relying on your own strength to face a problem you can’t solve
  • Your equilibrium has shifted in favor of self-reflection and self-care
  • You feel pulled in every direction
  • The idea of anything new feels scary and unwelcome

Helpful hints for coming out stronger through a grooming season:

  • Pray for clarity as to what you are supposed to be learning
  • Be willing to ask yourself hard questions and answer honestly
  • Enlist a friend or family member to hold you accountable for changes you’re making
  • Remind yourself often that change is uncomfortable but necessary for the full life you desire to live
  • Practice good time management to prevent overwhelm
  • Get plenty of sleep and eat well (your mind is trash if your body is unhealthy!)
  • Give yourself and everyone around you exceeding amounts of patience and grace
  • Ask for and allow other people to help you
  • Fill your mind with good things – books that bring actual comfort, no matter the genre

Seasons change to allow you to rest

After those massive grooming seasons of change through grief and marriage recovery, we felt exhausted and renewed all at the same time.  It was like coming out of an underground cave – the world looked different, we looked different to ourselves and to each other, and we were beyond grateful to have made it out alive.  Quite literally, in both cases.  

Grooming seasons changed to seasons of rest.  With refreshed perspective and hearts full of hope, these new seasons were nothing but bright and truly felt like a gift after all we had been through.  We played and laughed.  We celebrated and put on weight and loved every single minute of our light-hearted life.  It wasn’t perfect, and it won’t ever be, but compared to the darkness we stumbled through it’s pretty sweet.

Those seasons of rest were exactly what we needed to heal, recover, and enjoy each other and our life again.  Not much was asked of us and that was absolutely okay.  There was no chaos anymore.  Just peace. 

Things that happened in our rest seasons

Lots of reading, deepening of our spiritual lives, fun at the ballpark, great food, great wine, joy in our friendships, gratitude for the lessons we learned, hope for the future, continued self-discovery and reinvention.  Jack reshaped his business model and time management.  I started writing this blog.  We spent lots of time together as a family living the values we hold in priority.  We had a baby!  (I realize a baby means no rest at all but the decision to bring a little life into the world was made in the most rational and present mindset.)

You might be in a resting season if:

  • All engines are humming sweetly with ease
  • You feel comfortable and safe
  • There is peace in your mind and spirit
  • Your calendar is full of things you like and want to do
  • It’s easy to say no to things that seem overwhelming or “extra”
  • You are enjoying activities and self-care guilt-free
  • Your equilibrium has shifted and settled in favor of faith, self, and family

Helpful hints for enjoying the fullness and peace of a resting season:

  • Express prayers of gratitude for all that you’ve been given
  • Limit technology and screen time
  • Rest and give your body what it needs
  • Take pictures (in the next grooming season, you will be so grateful you did)
  • Journal and document special moments and experiences
  • Stand confidently in the choices you make
  • Embrace the relationships rising to the top of your life
  • Practice great time management to still accomplish your goals while leaving plenty of uninterrupted time for your family and friends
  • Dream about your vision for the future

Seasons change to push you to grow

Somewhere in those rest seasons we started to dream again.  It’s hard to create anything out of chaos, so it’s no surprise that as our life calmed, so did our minds and hearts, freeing up space for creativity and future-minded thinking.  We were able to take inventory of our careers and their trajectories, determining where we really felt called to direct them.  We felt pulled to move forward with plans and pick up where we left off before we lost our son and almost lost our marriage. 

More is expected of us during seasons of growth.  Everything we’ve learned from those trying seasons of grooming, and everything we perfected in seasons of rest, comes into play when growth is required.  We can take those new skills, that stronger belief, the renewed sense of self and purpose, and apply them all to a new mission. 

Growth is an invitation.  Not a requirement

I can think of many opportunities in which I’ve been invited to grow and said no - either consciously or subconsciously.  I may have said no to growth because I was scared or doubtful.  Growth looks like time… like work… like inconvenience.  It looks like therapy... like hard conversations... like staying in painful moments until you've seen them through.

Growth is not mandatory.  Saying no to growth is okay, but it comes at a price.  You will stay exactly where you are, with the same problems and anxieties you have, unless and until you are willing to grow around and through them.  Some people spend their entire lives in this place by choice, or some by unawareness.  I don't ever want to do that.  There's too much abundant life to be lived to stay stuck.  

Because growth is optional, some people will say no when you say yes.  We will outgrow certain people in our lives.  This is hard.  It doesn’t mean the relationship is over, but it does mean the relationship is redefined.  But here’s some good news: the right people will always grow with you, or meet you on the way, and they will cheer for you it happens. 

Things that happened in our growing seasons 

Jack expanded his business, we took on more opportunities to mentor and lead in all aspects of our life, we had better discussions about time/money/emotional management, our teamwork patterns kicked into higher gear, we experienced bumps in our relationships and had to make peace with some redefined boundaries, I’m feeling a push towards new projects and sense of urgency to pursue bigger goals, it’s easier to prioritize commitments, time seems to multiply and so does productivity.  

You might be in a growing season if:

  • You feel inspired and a little scared, or uncomfortable but excited about it
  • An opportunity is knocking that you can’t ignore
  • New ideas are welcome
  • You feel focused, driven, and “in the zone”
  • Your creativity is through the roof
  • You are enjoying collaborating with other people
  • Your equilibrium is shifting to a focus on goals and the future

Helpful hints for making the most of a growing season

  • Pray for clarity and willingness to move in the direction you’re being called to go
  • Write down or record every idea that comes to mind
  • Share your ideas with a mentor or friend who can encourage and hold you accountable
  • Practice great time management to accomplish your goals yet provide for self-care and rest/renewal
  • Stay in contact with your VIP relationships
  • Read great books and listen to inspiring audio
  • Establish good systems for meals, schedules, etc. to simplify the logistics of your life

Important truths for every season

So where do you find yourself right now?  No matter which season you’re in, you can hold tight to these important truths:

  • There’s room to rest.
  • You have the power of choice.
  • You are never helpless and never alone.

There are tools and resources at your disposal.  There are people in your life who are divinely placed to help and support you.  And I believe God is standing right beside you, waiting for you to grab hold and trust His guidance.

So with the sky getting bluer each day closer to October, I’m embracing the season I’m in – a little uncomfortable, a lot exciting, with a lump in my throat and bright hope for tomorrow. 

Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside. 

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven. – Ecclesiastes 3:1

HP,

J

Seasons change | Grooming season | quick tips for navigating a grooming season
Seasons change | Season of rest | Quick tips for managing a season of rest
Seasons change | Season of growth | Quick tips for navigating a growth season
10 things I Didn't Know About Marriage | plain text with blush flowers
Sep 04

10 Things I Didn’t Know About Marriage (but I wish someone told me)

By Jessica Allen | Marriage

1. Your spouse is going to drive you crazy.  

All those things you thought were super cute about your spouse before you got married will turn into behaviors and patterns that make you want to scream in the day to day of marriage.  Your spouse will want to scream about you, too.  Jack’s clutter is apocalyptic.  It takes me an eternity to make decisions.  It’s an actual miracle we haven’t killed each other yet.  Some of the annoying stuff you let go of, some of it you compromise on, and some of it you will suck up and change because you love each other and it's not worth the fight.  

A fun way to prevent insanity is to dig into personality typing like the Enneagram or DISC or Myers-Briggs.  The more you understand about how you each are wired, the easier it is to cut each other some slack.  We’re all programmed differently and we come to marriage with presets from our families of origin that may or may not be compatible or sustainable without some intentional focused effort.  Talk about it and work it out.  See #8 and #9. 

2. You will become completely different people and you will grow apart. 

This is the lame excuse we like to use for why we get divorced.  I know, because I said it a million times in 2017.  This “becoming different people” is a guarantee in life – not one of us avoids change.  The key is figuring out how to grow through it together.  One foolproof way to walk the road together is to keep God at the center because He’s the only constant in a lifetime of change.  It takes two… well, actually three.   Especially in seasons where it feels you’re drifting further and further away from each other.  Stay rooted, stay focused, stay committed, and stay the course.  

3. Having children will make you wonder why you ever decided to have children.  

But it will also help you understand yourselves and each other from a whole new perspective.  Our son is the most hysterical split-down-the-middle of both our personalities and he knows exactly what to say and do to get under everyone’s skin in this house.

When I see him max out and cry hot tears of frustration, I see myself in miniature form, angry that no one seems to understand what I need.  So I stop what I am doing to ask better questions and truly hear what he’s trying to say.   When he deliberately torments the closest person by poking or pinching, I see my husband’s mini-me need for touch and connection.  So I pause to give him a hug or tickle him back. 

Our adopted daughter G is a magical blend of nature (how she was divinely created by birth) and nurture (quirky combinations of the two of us).  We have learned more about each other through challenging conversations with her simply because she is curious and highly perceptive – and we want to be honest in every response.  The world is a different place for our children than it was for us growing up.  So much hits them hard and fast so much younger.  Tackling their tough questions stretches us in the best ways and we're most successful when we wrestle through the hard ones together.

4. Making married friends is hard.  

It’s like dating all over again.  Chemistry matters.  It’s a rare gift to find couples you enjoy talking and laughing with, who love your children like their own, and most importantly: you never have to clean your house or put on makeup for them because they do not judge your mess.  Love and feed them well and thank them often.  Make time for time together.   

5. Absolutely never assume anything at all.

Communication in my humble and honest opinion is the #1 problem that can lead to The Unraveling of a marriage.  He does not know what you’re thinking.  She has no idea what you need.  Saying the hard thing is one billion times better than not saying it.  Speak up.  Your needs matter and your ideas count.  Want to make it to forever?  Get the words out even if they feel awkward or mean.  If you feel misunderstood it is your responsibility to communicate it better in a way the other person understands.  (this is one of the hardest truths I’ve ever had to swallow.  My happiness is up to me.)

6. If you aren’t actively investing in your marriage, you’re inadvertently investing in something (or someone) else.

Ugggghhhhhh this just doesn’t seem like a big deal until it’s out of control, at which point it’s nearly impossible to fix.  What you focus on will grow, whether it’s career success or your bank account or your mental wellness or your spiritual life or your marriage.  If you are intently focused on something other than your marriage, and that is okay, be sure you are checking in and nurturing your marriage regularly.  Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  (Luke 12:34)  So we better make sure our hearts are in the right place.  That foundation of safety and trust in your marriage will be the starting block for anything good you choose to accomplish in any other area of your life.

Regarding the kids vs. marriage tug of war: It’s easy as parents to get preoccupied with meeting our children’s needs.  We are drowning right now in fall ball and keeping a baby alive.  However: we get 18 years with our children… and a lifetime with each other.  That’s a lot of “leftover” that I’d still really like to love my life and the man I chose to spend it with.

An important end note on this one: infidelity can happen to anyone and it can happen faster than you realize.  Invest in your marriage with time, words, connection, surprises, honesty, and willingness to mess up and try again.  Love your spouse well and they will never want to search for love somewhere else.  (That is never okay either - See #5.)

7. Sex matters more than you think.

Men need it to feel connected, and women need to feel connected to have it.  WHAT IS THIS TRICKERY?  I hid this one in the middle hoping my grandmother isn’t reading it.  I’ve never dug into this topic here because #churchgirl but there is just some important stuff I think we should all be talking about.  Secretly and buried in the middle of a list, of course.  

If marriage is forever, your sex life may as well be fulfilling.  Just like anything else, there are specialists and experts to help navigate changes and problems when they surface, and healthy people get help.  Body image, hormones, life changes, and stress all dance a part in this weird ballet because sex is part of our physical and emotional (and really, spiritual) health.  

And then there’s the possible reality that one or both of you may have encountered sexual trauma at some point in your lifetime.  If you are too angry, hurt, or otherwise emotionally blocked up to make your married sex life what you want it to be, get help.  Everyone hurts and everything gets complicated when you withhold this God-given gift from each other. (I am not an expert or anything resembling a professional.  These are my own observations, pulled from my own experiences and many, many, many conversations with honest people I trust and respect.)

Sex should be fun and safe

Sex should never ever involve anyone but the two of you.  This means respecting your spouse enough not to talk with friends about your sex life.  It also means pornography has absolutely no place in your marriage.  Perhaps this sounds like a prude or old-fashioned idea but I challenge you to find one redeeming value in the billion dollar industry that is profiting from exploiting sex, women, men, and children for goodness’ sake.  I could link to a thousand articles explaining how porn is scientifically and psychologically bad for your brain and bad for your heart and bad for your spiritual life and bad for your marriage and your family.  

There’s my soapbox and I’m sticking to it.  There are a zillion other ways to keep sex fun and exciting.  And truthfully, the best way to make it amazing  - real trust and emotional intimacy - costs little to no money at all.

My only reference point is my own collection of first-half-of-life experiences here: being newlyweds, weight gain, pregnancy, grief, bed rest, postpartum, depression/anxiety, raising small children, post-infidelity, and the exhilarating exhaustion of entrepreneurial life.  We haven’t yet run into mid-life, empty nest, retirement, menopause, etc.  So there is still a lifetime of change and learning ahead.  But what I do know is that a safe and connected relationship has to have this component right, whatever that looks like for your marriage.  Even if it's simply what my favorite expert, Dr. Celeste Holbrook, calls ABC sex: Anniversary, Birthday, Christmas.  

Exhale.  We all just got through that together.  (Sorry, grandma.)  

8. Levity, honesty, and listening really can solve most marriage problems.

The right balance of humor, truth, and real conversation is tough to find.  Keep trying.  “Never go to sleep angry” is a myth I think… but be willing to revisit and resolve the argument the next day.  The most morbid joke at what we thought was the end of our marriage was the first time we had really laughed in months.  And it helped.  Speak up when you need to say the hard thing, and then bite your tongue to listen, lighten up, and ask yourself often: am I willing to sacrifice this relationship for the sake of being right? 

9. For all other problems, get help.

I will never regret the time spent scowling at each other on a therapist’s couch.  It was worth it to try, really try, for the sake of our future together and mostly for our children’s future too.  They deserved every ounce of “fight” we had in us (the good kind).  When it gets so bad between you that you can’t see a way out together, you need a third party to mediate and help slog through the layers of muck you’ve buried yourselves under.  PAY THE MONEY and MAKE THE TIME and ARRANGE THE CHILDCARE and STOP MAKING EXCUSES and JUST GO.  I cannot emphasize this enough.  Your whole life will change because of it.  And if it doesn’t work?!!!  Then at least you will know you gave all you had to the cause, and you will never live with regret that you didn’t try.    

10. Marriage is the hardest, most exhausting, best commitment you can make.  

If you meet a married couple who say they never wanted to throw in the towel, I bet they are lying.  With all due respect.  Sometimes the “death” in “’til death do us part” feels like it might come sooner rather than later.  This deal is hard.  But it's worth every ounce of the work to make it great. 

HP,

J

What do you wish someone had told you about marriage?  OR, what do you wish you could tell someone else - or prepare your children for - about marriage?

10 Things I Never Knew About Marriage | plain text with blush flowers
Arguments in marriage | marriage conflict | say this not that
Aug 27

Arguments in Marriage: Say This, Not That

By Jessica Allen | Marriage

If only there were an Easy Button to help us say this, not that. When it comes to arguments in our marriage, we learned the hard way that some words work, and some words just don’t. Having that Easy Button years ago would have saved me so many tears and so much frustration. But I know better now. And when you know better, you do better, right?

Fights don’t just come out of nowhere in our marriage.  They build up like a pressure cooker – one little comment and one little undressed wound at a time.  Pile enough of them together and POW!  We’re yelling at each other in the backyard, or even worse, snipping at each other in public.  (This is the number one way to make your friends and family and maybe even complete strangers feel super uncomfortable.)

Navigating arguments in marriage

Though it may not feel like it in the moment, we have choices in arguments in marriage.  Choices to say or not say, do or not do.  The problem is that once the pressure cooker explodes, it’s hard to think rationally.  At the first point of anger – usually brought on by fear, disappointment, frustration, or embarrassment – your brain starts a chain reaction that floods your system with cortisol, which literally destroys your brain cells, inhibiting good judgment and impairing your short-term memory.  This is also where “fight or flight” kicks in – one of our most basic human instincts.  (Click here for a cool run-down and infographic on Your Brain on Anger.)

And that’s just YOU.   Your spouse experiences all this brain junk too when they’re angry.  To simplify the science jargon, once we’re enveloped in unchecked anger, we become unpredictably mentally unstable.  Even simpler: we turn into Crazy People.  This is mostly how I feel when I’m over the anger line: 

Crazy Cruella De Ville | Anger | Angry | Arguments in marriage
She’s a treat, ain’t she? I do love that even at lunatic-status, her lipstick game is still on point.

Imagine two of these people facing off in a fight. This is not the ideal starting gate for resolving arguments in marriage. 

Related post: Say What You Mean

Good news

We’ve found some good tools for arguments in our marriage that help us when we’ve lost our marbles. 

If you practice them when your mind is clear, it’s infinitely easier to recall them when you’re seeing red.  Here are our top 10 game-changing phrases to de-escalate arguments in marriage. (pinnable infographic at the bottom!)

Say this, not that

Say this: I’m sorry

Be specific. I’m sorry I hurt you, I’m sorry I said that, I’m sorry I did that, I’m sorry I made you feel that way.  Name what you did and own your part in it. It helps heal the other person when they know you know what you did to hurt them. (Sometimes you don’t. Ask for help to understand.)

Not that: I’m sorry you feel that way OR I’m sorry if I made you feel like that

The magic of an apology is that you are accepting accountability and responsibility for what you did.  Both of these phrases – I’m sorry you and I’m sorry if – imply the other person is out of line for being upset, and that you don’t really believe you contributed to their pain.  They’re cop-out phrases and we’re all better than that.

Say this: Please

Not that: *bark any order*
*assume it’s their “job” to do it*

Saying please is the simplest way to show respect.  And it’s the shortest, easiest word to add to your request.

Say this: Thank you

Not that: *silence*
*believing you deserved it*
*assuming they know you’re grateful*

People need to be acknowledged for their effort and care.  Especially your spouse.  Thank them for the hard work they do, and the little tasks they take off your plate.  Nothing makes someone feel seen and heard like gratitude, genuinely and explicitly expressed.

Say this: I’m listening

Not that: *anything else other than looking your spouse in the eye and listening*

This seems so easy but it is becoming a lost art.  Put down the screens, zero in your focus, and actively listen to what your spouse is saying.  DO NOT PLAN YOUR RESPONSE as they are talking.  You’ll miss what they’re really saying, and if you are angry you’ll subconsciously try to one-up them in your reply.  Slow down and listen to understand rather than listen to respond.

Say this: You were right

Not that: “Well, I thought…”
“I only did it because…”

Admitting that someone else was right does not give your power away.  Humble yourself, acknowledge the other person, and don’t feel any less of a human because they were right.  You’ll probably get to be right next time.

Say this: I was wrong

Not this: “I did it because…”
“Well, last time YOU…”

Own your mistake.  Don’t deflect your misstep by blaming your spouse or calling them out on one of their related failures.  We don’t allow our children to do that to each other, so let’s not do it to our adult spouses either. 

Say this: Forgive me

“I was wrong.  Can you please forgive me?”  This is the most underutilized yet most powerful secret weapon in your marriage wizard bag. 

Not that: “I SAID I was sorry.”

Just because you say you are sorry doesn’t mean your spouse’s feelings are unhurt or they’re instantly happy again.  Especially if you snarky-say it like that.  Forgiveness is a choice and asking for it is important – it shows you understand what you did to cause the other person pain, and that you respect them enough to ask for their grace.  This requires massive amounts of humility and it’s hard.  It’s why the Bible tells us we have to forgive seventy times seven (and therefore be willing to ask for forgiveness just as much). 

Related post: Quit the Blame Game

Say this: I understand

Not that: “You shouldn’t feel that way!”
*any version of trying to fix the problem without being asked to do so*

Sometimes the most well-intentioned encouragement (“You’re not dumb!  You shouldn’t feel bad about that! Etc.) invalidates our spouses and shuts them down.  Did they have a bad day?  Don’t minimize or dismiss it.  Rather: listen, respond kindly, and fight the urge to fix it.  99.9% of the time, our spouses just want us to listen and understand. 

Say this: I respect you

Not that: *any fired-off complaint, insult, criticism, or sarcastic comment*

You are the most important person your spouse counts on for support and respect.  This goes for both men and women but double a man’s need for respect from his wife.  It’s how he is wired (whether you like it or not) so if you don’t truly respect what he’s doing or saying in the moment, affirm what you do respect in him as a human being.  Acknowledging what you do respect in him will help him stay pointed in the right direction, and it will also help you from picking him apart.

Say this: I love you

Not that: *withholding that statement because you are angry*

You may be livid but never let there be a doubt in your spouse’s mind (or yours) that you still love each other. 

In our darkest days we still slept in the same bed yet inched as far away as humanly possible.  Often it was a long silent standoff after the lights went out but not once did we ever go to sleep without someone caving and muttering “I love you” first.  Even when we didn’t feel it.

Because sometimes love isn’t a feeling.  It’s a choice.  A really hard choice you have to make a hundred times a day.  It requires patience, forgiveness, grace, selflessness, and self-control.  All the fruits of the spirit, actually. Especially when you’re in the heat of an argument in your marriage.  Little by little, all that practice of “say this, not that” will start changing the trajectory of your conversations and therefore hopefully diffuse some arguments in your marriage before they even start.

Choose better words and you will grow a better marriage.  Because where your words lead, your actions will follow. 

Here’s to some better “fights” in the future. 

HP,

J

PS: Need some inspiration? Check out our story of choosing love when it felt impossible.

marriage arguments | conflict management | say this not that
20 Questions for Marriage | Affair-proof your marriage | woman asking questions
Aug 09

20 Questions Worth Asking Your Spouse

By Jessica Allen | Marriage

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.”

The next day he found out about the affair.  (here’s the story and here’s what we learned)

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. 

HP,

J

20 Questions for Marriage | Affair-proof your marriage
new growth | green plant | growth in marriage
Jul 25

New growth in marriage

By Jessica Allen | Marriage

Waiting for new growth is a gamble sometimes. 

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?

Less-than-green thumb

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. 

Life symbols

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.

Plant trivia

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…

Die.

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. 

Surprise

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. 

new growth | plumeria | green leaves

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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. 
  3. 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.

9/11 survivor tree | new growth
Here’s a good article about the 9/11 Survivor Tree if you’d like to learn more.

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. 

HP,

J

new growth | green plant | growth in marriage
Making time for your marriage | 7 tips for summer love | pineapple with sunglasses
Jul 09

7 tips for summer lovin’ | Making time for your marriage

By Jessica Allen | Marriage

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. 

Danger zone

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.”

Pressure release

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!

Power down

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.

Related post: Releasing unrealistic expectations

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.   

HP,

J

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:

The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas J. Stanley PhD and William D. Danko PhD (secrets to creating wealth)

The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy (how making better everyday decisions changes your life exponentially in the long run)

How Successful People Grow by John Maxwell (timeless strategies for personal growth and leadership)

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.

Making time for your marriage in the summer | 7 tips for summer love | pineapple with sunglasses
Build better belief | solid footing | Belief in marriage | Belief in faith | Belief in confidence
Jun 21

Build better belief

By Jessica Allen | Life , Marriage

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. 

girl with belief on monkey bars | solid grip
G, wiser at 5 than I am at 35.

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 leadership matters.

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 the worst. 

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 yourself? 

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.

— Gandhi

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 all). 

What belief can you claim?  Let it bring you solid footing in all the ways that matter most. 

HP,

J

Reading List

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!

This I Believe (the Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women) by Jay Allison

This I Believe II (More Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women) by Jay Allison

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.

Build better belief | belief in marriage | belief in faith | stronger confidence | feet in running shoes standing in water
Say the right thing | How to say the right thing speech bubble | Text message graphic
Jun 06

Say the right thing

By Jessica Allen | Marriage

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 out immediately. 

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. 

Get creative

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. 

HP,

J

Say the right thing | How to say the right thing speech bubble | Text message graphic
What happens when you fall out of love with your spouse | how to make it through a fall out of love
Apr 30

When you fall out of love (or when love is the last thing you feel)

By Jessica Allen | Marriage

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 myself.

Furious that he backed me into a corner where I felt I had no choices.

Devastated that he couldn’t see, didn’t care, and wouldn’t listen.

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 impossible. 

You will not feel loving feelings towards your spouse on days like this. 

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.

OUCHIE! This is one of the hardest truths I’ve ever had to learn.  Here’s a better way to think: it’s my responsibility to communicate my thoughts and needs effectively to my people. 

Keep good company. 

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. 

HP,

J

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

What happens when you fall out of love with your spouse | how to make it through a fall out of love
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