This time of year, you’ll see plenty of articles about how to have the happiest holiday season ever. You’ll find no shortage of advice on how to deck your halls, craft handmade gifts, start beloved traditions and dazzle at parties.
That’s all well and good, but I want to make things much simpler for you. Today I’m going to share with you one tip that could make this the least stressful holiday season you’ve ever had. It’s free. It doesn’t require crafting or cooking skills. It works no matter which holidays you observe. And it doesn’t have an expiration date. In fact, I hope you use it well after the last New Year’s celebrations have wrapped up.
What’s my magical tip?
When people get on your nerves, assume that they’re not doing it on purpose.
Trust me, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to try out this mental shift in the coming weeks. What if you stopped assuming things like this?
- Your husband leaves all gift shopping to you because he doesn’t value your time.
- Your friend posts pictures of her perfect decorations and gift-wrapping to make others feel inferior.
- Your brother is always late to gatherings because he’s trying to tick you off.
- Your mom only picks at the holiday meals you prepare because your cooking isn’t fancy enough for her.
The truth is, we’re all pretty self-involved. We don’t think very much about the ramifications our actions have on others. Unless a person has shown you before that he’s malicious (in which case you’ve got a whole other issue going on), it’s more likely that he just doesn’t know how he’s affecting you.
When you assume someone is being clueless instead of downright nasty, the whole situation suddenly feels a great deal lighter. You let go of resentments and start seeing constructive solutions.
Getting Past Assumptions
Since this blog focuses on how to strengthen your marriage, I would especially encourage you to stop assuming your husband has bad intentions when he does something that disappoints or irritates you.
The holiday season can be a time of high expectations, so it’s prime time for assuming the worst!
Let’s go back to an example from above:
Your husband leaves all gift shopping to you.
You’ve been assuming you know the reason for this behavior. You’re absolutely certain that it’s because he doesn’t value your time, so he’s intentionally passing the gift shopping off to you.
But what else could be behind his behavior?
- Maybe he thinks you love gift shopping.
- Maybe he believes you think he’s terrible at choosing gifts.
- Maybe his own mom did the shopping for their family and he just assumes that’s how all families do it.
- Maybe he doesn’t realize how long it takes and that it affects your schedule that much.
It’s also possible he really doesn’t value your time, but it’s important to be sure that’s the case before you work off that negative assumption.
Sometimes it’s easier to start by assuming your husband isn’t doing anything to you on purpose and just letting him know how his actions affect you. That could sound like:
With both our families growing, we’re gift shopping for more people now. Taking care of it all is leaving me pretty stressed. You’d be helping me a lot if we could start dividing up the gift list.
As an experiment this week, pay attention when your husband or anyone else pushes your buttons. Notice whether you automatically assume the worst about their behavior. If you do, try replacing that assumption with the belief that the other person isn’t trying to hurt you. How does that make you feel? Let me know how this mental shift works for you during the holiday season and beyond.
Sometimes, I hear from angry readers who don’t believe I’m supporting women being strong. Their words have a common theme:
Why should I do my part to make the marriage better when my husband isn’t doing his? Why are you telling me to be respectful and patient when he doesn’t deserve it? Why should I appreciate him when he doesn’t appreciate me?
I get the feeling these readers think I am urging them to be a doormat. But that’s not the case. After all, the name of this blog, and my book, is Strong Women, Strong Love.
The kind of strength I am talking about is broader than the type most revered in our culture.
In the U.S., we tend to celebrate those who are fiercely independent, firm and unstoppable — who take a stand and won’t ever back down. That’s what we usually think of as real strength.
But there’s another kind of strength, too. One that’s more valued in the East. Think about the willow tree and how it stands strong in the storm because of its tremendous flexibility. Or, the power of water, even as it follows every bend and curve of the river bank.
Both kinds of strength, being determined and being flexible, have value. We do face circumstances that require us to stand firm. But we also face times when we’d be better served by calling on our openness and adaptability.
Keep being a strong woman, but consider expanding your definition of what it means to be strong.
If you can call on both kinds of strength — being firm and being flexible — you’ll be better able to cope with the ups and downs of both your relationship and life as a whole.
Take a few minutes today to watch this video on boundaries from researcher and author Brené Brown. It could make a big difference in your marriage.
You’re probably most familiar with Brown’s insights on vulnerability. In this video, she explores a topic that at first seems the opposite of vulnerability: boundaries. But as she makes clear, vulnerability — as well as empathy, compassion and generosity — can’t exist without healthy boundaries.
So much of what she discusses in this video is applicable to marriage. Some of the key takeaways:
- Boundaries are what’s OK with you and what’s not, so it’s important to define them.
- We often have trouble setting or expressing boundaries out of a fear that people won’t like us if we do.
- Because of this discomfort, we often let people get away with behaviors that aren’t OK with us, and end up feeling “hateful and resentful,” Brown says.
- Although it may not be intuitive, having clear boundaries will allow you to be more empathic, compassionate and generous in your relationships.
Directly (and lovingly) expressing your boundaries isn’t demanding or bossy. It’s one of the healthiest and most responsible things you can do for your marriage. And, as we’ve talked about before on this blog, it’s just as important to be clear and firm when your husband crosses one of your boundaries in order to maintain respect in your relationship.
After you watch the Brené Brown video, take some time to think about what your boundaries currently are and where you need them to be. This could be especially interesting if you’ve never defined them for yourself before. Consider whether you feel hesitant to express your boundaries and, if so, why that’s the case. Finally, try to picture how you would feel and act with more defined boundaries and how that shift could actually benefit your marriage.
Remember Brown’s BIG question: What Boundaries need to be in place for you to be in Integrity and make the most Generous assumptions about others?
As you define your boundaries clearly and start to feel less resentful, you may find that like Brene Brown, you’re not as sweet as you used to be, but you’re far more loving.
As women, we’re constantly bombarded with messages about the importance of being attractive. Constantly.
Usually, those messages center on our appearance. How many times have you seen advice about how to get a “bikini body,” dress to seduce or “turn back time,” so you can look younger?
The hope is that if you do these things, you won’t have any trouble stoking the fires of attraction and keeping them burning, right?
Right, if you want a short-term, purely physical attraction. Wrong, if you’re trying to create the kind of attraction that lasts a lifetime.
So what can make you attractive to your husband decade after decade? Hint: Getting a new haircut or wearing sexy lingerie might be nice, but probably won’t turn his head forever.
Let me give you a formula to try (and it doesn’t require starving yourself, getting a personal stylist or undergoing cosmetic procedures).
(SELF-WORTH + RELAXED AUTHENTICITY) + LOVING ACTION = IRRESISTIBLE ATTRACTION
Here’s why that formula works — and why it doesn’t mention a bikini body.
The truth is that if you’re feeling desire wane in your marriage, it’s probably not because your husband’s physical attraction to you has decreased dramatically.
What’s going on instead is likely a decline in the emotional connection between the two of you. Because we often rely heavily on our partners to get our emotional needs met (that’s especially true of men), the nature of that emotional bond is critical.The deep attraction that sustains a marriage isn’t about what catches your eye in the club or on a dating app. It depends on two very important things: having a strong sense of self AND creating a loving connection with your husband.
- STRONG SELF: It’s important to have a sense of self separate from your partner. That’s why the first part of the formula is about you — valuing yourself, being comfortable in your own skin, treating yourself as if you matter, and letting your husband know what you need. It’s about engaging what truly makes you feel alive, showing up as yourself, and drawing a line when others don’t respect you. It’s being playful, confident, and engaged in your own life. As therapist Esther Perel has so eloquently noted, distance, space, and mystery stoke the fires of attraction. Be yourself, enjoy doing your own thing, and you’ll amp up the attraction in your relationship. If you’re not convinced, ask yourself how attracted you would be to your husband if he was really needy and had no life outside you! Not much, I bet.Remember the wise words of Dr. Harriet Lerner:
Being your strongest and best self will give your relationship the best chances of succeeding. Having a clear and courageous voice is NOT a recipe for divorce, unless your partner truly has no commitment to you, or can only tolerate an overly-accommodating partner.
- LOVING ACTION: How you interact with your husband is also a huge part of whether he feels attracted to you. Most of us love to be around someone who makes us feel good about ourselves — someone who likes us and is good to us. When you treat your partner in ways that let him know you want him, that he matters to you, and that you’re glad he’s in your life, he’s going to be a whole lot more interested in you! For real intimacy to develop in a marriage, we have to cultivate emotional safety, deep understanding, and presence on a regular basis. No one is going to open up if you’re distracted or if they’re worried you might criticize them. Let your actions show that you revere your spouse, and watch him become more vulnerable, trusting, and irresistibly drawn to you.
Try out my attraction formula, and let me know what happens. You can also learn about keeping a strong connection with your husband even during with a busy, overscheduled lives in my book Strong Women, Strong Love.
If you’re reading this, you’re probably going through, or fearing that you’re about to go through, one of the scariest things that can happen in a marriage: Your husband wants to separate.
It’s hard to pinpoint exact numbers on how many couples go through a separation, but research suggests one in four U.S. couples will legally separate in the first six years after getting married.
It’s perfectly normal to feel lost and panicky when the other person says, “I need some time away.”
But you’ll have a better chance of saving your marriage if you can avoid acting from a place of fear. If your husband wants to separate, your first reaction might be to tearfully beg and plead for him to stay. Sadly, when we try so hard to pull another person back to us, it often only makes them want to leave more. This all ties back to something we talked about in a previous blog post: that when we chase after something in a relationship, we often end up driving away the very thing we want.
If your husband is saying he wants to leave, it’s helpful to deal with him from a more confident place. Now, I’m not talking about screaming “FINE! Get out!” and expecting your husband to change his mind. Instead, you want your message to be more like this: “If you want to leave, I can’t stop you. I’m still committed to this marriage and would like for you to stay so we can figure out what happened and fix it. But you’re an adult, and I know I can’t tie you here.” If he insists on moving out, ask if your husband would be willing to seek professional help. You want to make sure separation has a clear purpose and doesn’t just cause you to drift further apart because you’re living completely separate lives.
If your husband does actually leave the house, don’t pressure him to come back. Allow him to experience the reality of what divorce from you would mean. If you have children, let him fully care for them when they are staying with him. Be supportive of his visits with the kids, but don’t become a doormat to get him back. Give him space to understand your importance in his life. It’s possible he’s not interested in reconciliation and will eventually want a divorce. It’s also possible that if he truly experiences a separation, he’ll eventually start missing you and the life you have built together.
When there is talk of separation, it is really important that you take a good look in the mirror. It’s possible you’ve done some things that have really hurt your marriage. You may be guilty of constantly criticizing your husband, neglecting him, or having an affair. Take responsibility for any part you’ve played in creating your marriage problems, and stop adding to the hurt. If your marriage has any chance of survival, you both have to be honest about what’s not working, and fix it. Use this opportunity to grow and become the kind of person you would want to be married to. Being calm, confident, and considerate will get you much further than groveling if you hope to save your marriage..
I wish that I could give you some guarantee that if you follow these tips, your husband will stay in the marriage, but there simply isn’t one. About 5 percent of couples reconcile after a separation. Ten to 15 percent remain separated long-term without divorcing. If your husband does return, he’s more likely to genuinely want to work on the relationship.
You’re going through a lot right now, and my heart goes out to you. Even thought it’s really hard to accept that your marriage is at risk of failing, let your husband’s talk about separation serve as a wake up call. Do your best to listen deeply to his concerns, and sincerely offer to work to improve your relationship. Like I said, sometimes a person has already decided they want to divorce, and there is little you can do. However, if your husband is on the fence about ending the relationship, how you respond could be a deciding factor in whether your marriage survives.
It happens to all of us: Sometimes marriage starts to feel a little stale, a little frustrating. Dealing with your spouse can feel like just one more stress in your busy, stressful life.
There’s something you can do about this, though. And it’s not some complicated, multi-step plan to improve your relationship. It will take a few minutes. And it’s all about you.
Ready? Here it is: Set a timer for two minutes and make a list of things that bring you joy. Don’t overthink this. Just quickly write down what comes to mind, whether it’s a big joy, like a dream vacation, or small, everyday joys, like an uninterrupted cup of coffee or catching up with an old friend.
After you finish your list, take a look at your calendar. How many of the things on your joy list did you do in the past week? The past month?
I’m betting you’ll discover that the things that bring you joy didn’t make it onto your schedule very often. Our days are busy, and unless we make a conscious effort to add our joyful activities to them, they can fill up fast with less-gratifying things.
Make Time for Joy
Here’s what I want you to do now: Schedule some time in the next week for a few of the things that bring you joy, or find ways to nudge yourself to do them. Maybe that means setting aside a lunch break to walk around outside instead of staying tethered to your desk. Or maybe it means putting a Post-it note in your car reminding you to listen to music you love instead of that stress-inducing news channel on the way home.
So what does all this have to do with your relationship? Regularly doing the things you love inevitably changes how you show up in the marriage. When you give to yourself and inject more joy into your life, it makes you happier and less stressed — and that takes pressure off your relationship. Including yourself in the circle of people you give to regularly usually lowers the resentment most people feel when they are giving, and giving, and giving. When you put energy into allowing yourself to be more you, don’t be surprised if that kind of vibrance makes you more irresistible to your husband!
Always keep this reminder from Strong Women, Strong Love in mind:
If you do not value yourself enough to keep yourself in the picture, there are tremendous limits to how much love you can truly give or receive. Holding onto your marriage and holding onto yourself go hand in hand.
Adding joy to your life is a gift to yourself — and to your marriage. Try this relationship tip and tell me about how it goes!!