The holiday season is here! Are you ready? Our already-long to-do lists get even longer as we add shopping, decorating, cooking, traveling and even burning the midnight oil at the office to prepare for our time off.
Amid this frenzy of activity, self-care is often the first thing to go. As women, we can be so focused on making everything “perfect” for the special people in our lives that we overlook our own needs.
I’d like you to think about this in a different way, though. If you aren’t caring for yourself, you can’t really show up for the people you love. You’re more likely to be tired, stressed and critical. On the other hand, if your own needs are met, you can be fully, joyously present with others. And that’s the best gift you can give them.
So how can you practice self-care when you’re crazy-busy? Here are a few ideas.
- Need help with something? Ask. In particular, don’t expect your husband to read your mind about what should be done or how you would like it done.
- It’s a joyful time of year, but there are also plenty of things that can make you feel stressed or upset – from work deadlines to family tensions. Make a list now of healthy ways to relieve your stress (practicing yoga, doing a mindfulness meditation, reading something inspiring, talking with your friends, etc.) and refer to it often.
- Nostalgia can be a lovely part of the season. But pay attention if you notice you’re longing for “the way things used to be” – and can’t be again. A family death, divorce, estrangement or even a move can dramatically change your holiday season. Honor your grief, and work toward embracing the present and starting new traditions.
- You may not have time for your usual workout schedule, but don’t take an “all or nothing” approach. Do something physical every day, even if it’s just a walk around the block.
- Similarly, don’t totally abandon your healthy eating habits even as you indulge a little. Take the time to fully savor your food, especially your favorite holiday treats.
- Say no. To social plans when you need some quiet time. To second helpings when you’re already full. To whatever you need to. If the word “no” makes you uncomfortable, read my past blog article on reclaiming your boundaries.
- Don’t “soldier on” if you’re sick – all that does is delay your recovery.
- If your perfectionism can get out of hand this time of year, do a reality check with your family. What’s really important to them? (They might not even notice all those “magazine-perfect” touches you obsess over!)
- If anything starts to feel like too much – your in-laws, crowded stores, even decorations and music — take a break. You can even plan ahead for some escape time. For example, stay at a hotel instead of with your family or schedule a massage to escape from shopping.
Enjoy this season of giving – and remember to be generous with yourself, too.
We all bring positive and negative qualities to our marriages. But sometimes it might seem easier to make a list of your husband’s faults and mistakes instead of all the good things about him.
So what’s going on here? The answer has to do with a bias in your brain that you’ll have to work around in order to keep your marriage thriving.
Our Brains Like to ‘Go Negative’
Your brain isn’t exactly an unbiased observer and recorder of your husband’s behavior — or, for that matter, of anything else. Instead, it has a negativity bias, according to psychologist and author Rick Hanson. Hanson says our brains are Velcro for negative things and Teflon for positive ones. We tend to overestimate threats and underestimate resources and opportunities.
There’s a good reason we’re wired this way. Being able to learn quickly from threats helped us survive as a species. But now that most of us aren’t fighting for our lives everyday, our brains’ negativity bias can cause problems. In your marriage, it can make you vividly remember the times your husband messed up or did something hurtful, even if the general pattern of your marriage is more positive.
How to Fight Your Brain Bias
So how can you maintain positive feelings in your marriage, even though your brain is conspiring against you?
- First, simply being aware of the negativity bias can help you bring a new attitude to your relationship. Now that you know your brain is better at noticing negative things, make an extra effort to savor all the positives in your marriage. “Talk back” to your negativity bias. One idea: Set a reminder for yourself to note the best moment in your relationship each day.
- Take time to regularly reflect on all the things your husband brings to your life that you’re grateful for. If you’re having trouble thinking of any right now, look back on all the reasons you first fell in love with him. Chances are those good qualities are still there.
- Make a collection of items that inspire positive feelings about your marriage — wedding photos, love notes, souvenirs of happy times. Use these to help remind you why you’re still with him.
- Beyond noticing the positives that are already present in your marriage, you can also create some new positives. For example, if you’re feeling stuck in a rut, try some new, fun activities together.
- Understand “relationship math.” One positive interaction doesn’t cancel out a negative interaction. That’s according to researcher John Gottman, who studies the differences between the Masters of Marriage (long-married couples who still like each other) vs. the Disasters of Marriage (those headed for divorce). The Masters of Marriage have 20 positive interactions for every negative one. Twenty! Even when they’re in conflict, their ratio is still five positives for every negative. What about the Disasters group? Their typical ratio is 0.8 positives for every negative.
In this season of Thanksgiving, I hope that you’ll try some of these ideas to cultivate gratitude and positivity in your relationship. My book Strong Women, Strong Love has additional strategies that you can explore.
About one out of every 10 couples has problems with infertility. And, unfortunately, not all of them get the happy ending they sought: conceiving a child together. This can be one of the most painful challenges you and your husband face together.
If your infertility is caused by issues with your body, you might be experiencing guilt or shame. Both men and women often go through feelings like these if they believe they’re at fault for infertility.
You may even be worried that your husband will leave you because you can’t give him the child you had both longed for — and that he’ll seek out another woman who can. Again, such feelings are normal, and they happen to both wives and husbands. Sometimes one spouse even offers to let the other go so he or she can pursue parenthood with someone else.
Believe it or not, in an overwhelming majority of marriages, one spouse’s inability to conceive a child is not a deal-breaker for the other partner. In fact, if managed well, this experience can actually bring a couple closer together. The important thing is to keep the lines of communication open. Talk openly about your disappointments, your feelings, your fears. I’m willing to bet that your husband will tell you that his love for you is unchanged no matter what happens. Believe him.
It’s also vital to talk about what’s next for you as a couple. For many people, parenthood is closely tied to their sense of purpose in life. How true is that for the two of you? Are there other family building options you’re open to considering? Be honest. Do you want to explore other paths to creating a family? Or do you want to create a meaningful life in other ways? There’s no one right answer, of course.
I hope it’s heartening to know that others couple have felt the same things that you’re feeling and that their relationships have stayed strong. I encourage you to explore additional resources for coping with infertility and to work with infertility specialists in your community.
Your husband is great. Really. Well, except for a few little things.
But, now that you think about it, these “little” things are actually weighing on you. They might be habits like these:
- He seems oblivious to housework, and you’re tired and stressed from trying to take care of it all.
- He overspends, and while you’re not headed for bankruptcy, it’s slowing your progress toward the financial goals you both agreed upon.
- He habitually runs late, which frustrates you and embarrasses you when you’re going somewhere together.
We can describe these kinds of issues in a marriage as tolerations. They’re somewhere between the minor quirks or annoyances you can easily shrug off and major problems like infidelity or addiction. Because they’re not deal-breakers, sometimes we hesitate to discuss them. Airing your concerns might seem like making a big deal out of a relatively minor issue. In the rest of this article, I’ll explain why the opposite is true, and I’ll tell you the most effective way to approach your tolerations.
Why Do We Tolerate?
First, though, let’s look some of the other reasons we often avoid talking about our tolerations. Which of the following are true for you?
- You’re a perfectionist. You think should be able to push through or put up with anything. But all of us have physical, emotional, cognitive and spiritual limits.
- You have low self-worth. And you think you must make constant sacrifices to keep your relationship.
- You’re conflict-averse. You fear conflict, or you think that it doesn’t happen in “good” marriages. Many people cope with difficult, or even merely uncomfortable, situations by avoiding them.
- You’re tired of trying. In her book Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love, Dr. Sue Johnson describes a common pattern in marriage. You criticize and demand connection; he gets defensive and withdraws. Eventually, you give up and withdraw, too, leaving both of you distant and resentful.
The Cost of Toleration
If you’re tolerating in the name of being a “good wife,” know that this mindset isn’t actually helping your marriage. A toleration is like a stone in your shoe. It will annoy you, adding to your stress and depleting your energy – energy that could be going toward making your relationship more alive and authentic.
You may also think that you’re helping your marriage by not making mountains out of molehills. But that’s not what happens. Instead, unaddressed tolerations can spiral into major issues. The scope of the problem might grow. For example, the overspending might worsen so that you’re now missing house payments. Or the feelings you’ve held in might explode, and you end up having the very thing you tried to avoid: a hurtful, relationship-damaging confrontation.
Stop Tolerating and Start Communicating
It’s a lot healthier to address small tolerations before they become big problems. But I know this can feel like a big, scary step if you’re not used to communicating openly and directly. Here are few things to remember that will help make things easier.
- Conflict is normal. All couples have points of disagreement or annoyance. Despite what it might seem like from your social media feeds, no one has a perfect relationship or is in synch with her partner 100 percent of the time.
- Conflict is healthy. The amount of conflict in a marriage isn’t an indicator of how healthy it is. It’s all in how the couple handles that conflict. Respectfully working together on addressing tolerations is a way to make your bond stronger.
- Directness is loving. Believe it or not, many men are unclear on how to please their wives. Your own husband almost certainly wants you to be happy, but he can’t read your mind. You’re helping him by telling him what’s important to you.
- Timing is key. It’s kinder and more effective to bring up your tolerations when you aren’t irritated, tired or stressed. This is one reason why it’s best to have these discussions before your emotions get unmanageable.
- Openness doesn’t have to be hurtful. Are you hesitant to talk about your tolerations because you don’t want to hurt your husband’s feelings? Remember to focus on the behavior rather than the person. There’s a big difference between “I’m feeling stressed because you regularly exceed the personal shopping budgets we agreed on for ourselves” and “I can’t believe you went shopping again! You’re so irresponsible!”
This week, think about what you’re ready to stop tolerating and how you can work together with your husband to address what’s bothering you. My book Strong Women, Strong Love can give you some additional strategies on communication and healthy conflict.
What happened to your relationship?
You and your husband rarely focus on each other anymore. Instead, you’re at work, on your phones or wrapped up in the kids’ activities. You aren’t really sure what’s going on in each other’s lives – and you’re not interested enough to ask.
It’s all so different from when you first fell in love and couldn’t get enough of each other.
If one or both of you are emotionally checked out from your marriage, it doesn’t mean that passion and deep connection are gone forever. But it does mean that it’s time to give your relationship some TLC.
What Happened to the Spark?
There are some good reasons you and your husband were so irresistible to each other when your relationship was new. You gave each other your undivided attention, made each other feel important, and did interesting things together. It probably didn’t hurt that you were also at the mercy of powerful hormones that filled you with desire and made you emotionally open.
But in every lasting relationship, those intense feelings eventually subside. Because novelty eventually wears off, all the things that attracted you to each other at first seem routine now.
On top of that natural evolution, unrelenting work and family commitments can pull you away from each other: it’s hard to connect with anyone when you’re distracted, tired, and just need to decompress.
How to Check Back In
But here’s the good news: Even though passion and connection aren’t automatic anymore in your relationship, they can still flower again with some cultivation. Here’s how to do it.
- Prioritize you marriage. I get it: You have lots of other priorities. It’s hard to find time for your relationship. But it’s imperative that you do. Otherwise, you’re at risk of slipping from distraction into complete disconnection. Investing in your marriage pays off. When your marriage is strong and you feel connected to your partner, it’s easier to face life’s other challenges.
- Change things up. As I mentioned above, one of the reasons people emotionally check out of their marriages is that everything feels routine. Even a small change — like vacationing somewhere new — can reignite a sense of novelty and intrigue. If your husband isn’t game to explore something different right now, do it yourself. The energy you’ll get from taking a class or pursuing a new hobby should rub off on him and get him onboard.
- Get curious. False assumptions about each other might be behind your disengagement in the marriage. For example, maybe it seems like your husband works constantly to avoid time with you. You might be right, but it’s also possible there’s something else going on. Maybe he’s putting in extra time because he’s nervous about his job security. Take some time to plug back in and find out the real stories behind each other’s behaviors. My blog post about curiosity can help you get started.
- Tame your phone addiction. Those little devices can be a huge distraction in a relationship. Your phones make it easy to keep each other at arm’s length. Try some gradual shifts to change your phone habits. For example, make it a point not to glance at your phone when you’re talking with your husband.
- Seize every moment. You probably checked out of your marriage gradually over time. In the same way, rebuilding your connection is also a process. Even if you have just a few minutes each day to focus on your relationship, they can be powerful if you are truly present for each other.
If you’d like to further explore the ideas from this blog post, check out my book Strong Women, Strong Love. It has many more strategies for maintaining a connection with your partner amid our busy, stressful lives.