As Valentine’s Day gets closer, no love story has the
world’s attention right now more than the one between Prince Harry and Meghan
Of course, the Sussexes have been a magnet for headlines ever since they were dating. But the fascination with them jumped up to a new level after the two announced they would “step back as ‘senior’ members of the Royal Family” and divide their time between England and North America.
Everyone seems to have an opinion about
“Sussexit.” Some are critical; some are supportive. As a psychologist
who’s worked with countless clients on their marriage issues, I see two people
that are making choices to protect their relationship. Although it might not
seem like Harry and Meghan have much in common with the rest of us, they’re
actually experiencing the same things, in their own way, that many other
Pressure — But So Are You
As Meghan and Harry know all too well, outside factors can
have a huge effect on your marriage.
Those factors can include societal pressures. Meghan and Harry have broken tradition for how they are “supposed” to behave as royals. For that, they’ve faced a lot of criticism.
You and I don’t know what that’s like, of course. But I bet you and your husband have defied expectations in other ways and caught flak — in ways large or small — from others. For example, maybe you make more money than he does, and your friends and family make passive-aggressive remarks.
Some pressures that Harry and Meghan have faced will feel more familiar to other couples. They’re still new parents: Baby Archie was born last May. They have had (or are rumored to have had) difficult times with both sides of their family. And talk about work pressures! How would you like media attention on every aspect of how you did your job?
Meghan and Harry move in a different world than we do. But stress is the great equalizer. It doesn’t matter how wealthy or famous you are. Constant, intense stress will take a toll on your relationship. That’s just how our brains are wired.
When you are under great stress, your brain goes into
fight-or-flight mode. You are definitely not
in “let me connect with my partner” mode! Under stress, you might …
Have trouble processing information.
Not really hear what your husband is saying.
Become defensive and have difficulty being open
Get “stuck in your story” and keep repeating your position.
Experience tunnel vision.
Have trouble solving problems.
When you and your husband are constantly stressed, you will
regularly behave in these destructive ways. And that will alienate you from
each other. Your relationship will get stuck in a negativity spiral.
What If You Stepped
Based on Harry and Meghan’s public statements, it’s clear
that their stress has been building and that they felt their unprecedented move
was necessary to protect themselves and their son.
I believe that we can all learn something from that. If
outside pressures are causing extreme stress in your marriage, you have to make
easing those pressures a top priority. Even if it’s uncomfortable. Even if it
feels like you’re breaking a norm. Even if other people don’t like what you’re
So what would create the space for less stress and more
connection in your own marriage?
Can you take some things off of your jam-packed
schedule so that you have more breathing room and time for each other?
What if you stopped trying to match your
friends’ lavish lifestyles so that you could finally pay off that debt that’s
been stressing you out?
Do you need to start limiting time around people
who don’t support your marriage (even if they’re family) and find a new
community that will validate and celebrate you?
Meghan and Harry show us that real love is very different
from what we learned from fairy tales, even for a prince and a duchess. But
they also show us we must take a stand for our own happily ever after.
If you’re ready to prioritize your relationship, I invite you to pick up a copy of my book Strong Women, Strong Love. It has lots of practical advice for busy couples who want to maintain their bond amid all of today’s stresses and outside pressures.
It’s happened to any woman who is married. You ask your
husband to do something — for example, take care of a leaky faucet — and he
says he will. You wait for it to happen. And wait. And…
That dripping faucet is still driving you crazy. And now your husband is too.
You could handle the problem yourself. However, that adds one more thing to your already-long task list, and you know you’ll feel resentful. Or, you could remind him and maybe get accused of nagging.
Neither option feels like a good one.
OK, let’s set one thing straight. If the two of you had a discussion
and came to an agreement that he would do something, it’s not nagging to check in if it didn’t get done. It’s simply
“following up.” You follow up effectively with people at work all the
time. And it’s possible to do the same with your husband. Here’s how.
Decide Whether to
First, decide whether this is a conversation you really want
to have. There’s no right or wrong decision here. Think about how important the
request is in the big picture. Is following up on it the way you want to spend
your energy right now? If it is, that’s fine. You can use the rest of the
strategies in this article. But if it’s not, are you OK just letting this one
go? I mean truly letting it go without being mad.
Give Him the Benefit
of the Doubt
If you do decide to follow up with your husband, here’s how
NOT to lead off:
You said you would fix the faucet, but you still haven’t! Why can’t you just get things done without my having to ask you AGAIN AND AGAIN to take care of them?!!!
No doubt, he’ll probably get defensive if you come at him that way.
Instead, you want to take an approach more like this:
Honey, I know you’ve
been busy, so it may have slipped you mind, but the faucet is still dripping. I
know you told me you were intending to take care of it by last Friday.
Use a neutral tone of voice, not a blaming one and just state
the facts. Remember, you’re just checking in, like you would with someone at
Listen to his response and then make another specific request, making sure you highlight the importance to you:
It’s really important to me. Would you please take care of it today?
Now please know that this is not some magic formula that will keep your husband from getting
irritable or defensive. Some guys will still be reactive no matter how you
follow up with them. But others will mirror your respect and courtesy.
Increasing the Odds of being Heard
There are a few ways to increase the odds that your requests will not be overlooked:
1. Connect the Request to Your Needs
One thing that can keep your request on his radar is to clearly connect it to a need you have. Sometimes husbands don’t follow through on requests because they don’t see why they’re important. Maybe he’s not as concerned about the water bill or conservation as you are, so that faucet isn’t bothering him. But it would bother him if he understood how much it was stressing you out. So try saying something like this:
I’m kind of at the end of my rope right now with Mom being sick and work being crazy. So that leaky faucet is just adding to my stress.
2. Treat Him Like an Adult
You don’t belittle or disrespect your colleagues and friends.
(At least I hope you don’t!) So don’t treat your husband this way. Give him the
respect you would any other adult.
But while you’re both entitled to respect in the relationship, you’re also both entitled to some degree of accountability too. That’s part of being an adult, too. Adults do the things they say they will do.
If the request you made was important to you, stand your ground. Just always do so respectfully and kindly.
3. Show Appreciation
If your husband regularly ignores your requests, make sure you’re not committing this common mistake. One of the reasons men say they stop stepping up in their marriage is because they truly believe no matter what they do, their wife will never be happy. So they just stop trying.
If that’s the case in your relationship, the easy fix is to consistently thank your spouse just like you would a friend or coworker if they did the same task.
Start changing the atmosphere in your relationship by looking for opportunities to show more respect and appreciation. More often than not, your spouse will do the same.
Over the past year, I’ve covered a lot of advice
about keeping your marriage strong even when life is busy and stressful. Some
of my marriage advice has delved into tough topics. In other articles, I’ve
aimed more to provide inspiration for improving your relationship.
If you’ve missed any of my marriage articles from
2019, you can catch up by reading this roundup of the year’s most popular
Both of these articles were about the most serious juncture you can experience in a marriage: whether to continue it. In the first article, I looked at whether you should leave a partner who cheated. Of course, there’s no single right answer about whether you should stay with or leave a cheating spouse. But in this article, you’ll find a list of questions that can help you make the right decision for you if you’re ever in this painful situation.
The second article can help you figure out whether
your marriage is irretrievably broken or whether it can be saved. Again,
everyone’s situation is different. But whatever your decision is, this article
can help you be at peace with it.
It isn’t just women who are seeking some distance in
relationships. That’s demonstrated by another one of my most popular marriage
articles from last year. “I need some space” can be an alarming thing
to hear from your husband. And you might spend a lot of time wondering what he
really means by that statement. But, as I explain in the article, there can be
any number of reasons behind your husband’s need for space, and it’s usually not a red flag in your
If anything, political divisions in our country have
only gotten deeper since the first article was published. So I have the feeling
it will remain relevant for a long time to come! If you haven’t read the
article yet, I offer some tips to keep your marriage from feeling like one of
those cable news shows where ideological rivals just keep shouting over each
And if your husband seemingly loves to pick fights
about politics or other subjects, you’ll want to check out the second article
as well. In it, you’ll find some tips to help you decode what his argumentative
behavior is really about.
But you weren’t just thinking about disagreements in
your marriage in 2019. You were also looking for ways to make the most of your
time together. To that end, I went below the surface of a familiar piece of
marriage advice: Have regular date nights. Unfortunately, that advice can do
more harm than good if it becomes just another area where you are putting pressure
on yourself to do things perfectly. As I wrote in the original article:
“The point of having a date night isn’t to do something you can brag about
on Instagram. It’s to connect with each other.”
Speaking of pressure, these next two articles speak
to some feelings and issues that emerge because of all the responsibilities and
expectations on us as women.
If your husband has said you are controlling, or if this is something you’ve noticed about yourself, I’m willing to bet it’s because you have so much on your plate, and sometimes it feels like your husband is slowing down your efforts to get all those things done. The best way forward is to have an open and honest discussion about household responsibilities — chores, childcare, emotional labor — and how the two of you can divide things more equitably.
Meanwhile, anger is an emotion we are often
uncomfortable with as women. We may worry that anger makes us a bad person or
believe that we shouldn’t get angry at all. When you can’t process anger in a
healthy way, that can lead to destructive behaviors in your marriage, like
complaining or withdrawing. But when you listen to your anger, it can guide you
toward positive change in your marriage.
If you’re looking for ways to make your marriage better, there’s a strategy you may have never considered. It’s surprisingly simple, and it addresses a common point of tension. Yet very few women use it.
Ready? Here it is: Give partial credit.
What do I mean by partial credit? Let me explain by giving you an example I hear about all the time. A wife asks her husband to take care of some things around the house while she is out. He accomplishes almost everything she wanted him to do. But maybe he doesn’t do the job exactly as she would have.
What do you think she focuses on? That’s right: the fact that the task is not finished in the way she defines it. She’s only giving credit if everything is done and done right according to her standards— which doesn’t help anyone. The husband loses his motivation to do more around the house, and the wife loses out on the work he could be doing.
Giving partial credit works out a whole
lot better for everyone. Let’s look at why that is.
Why We ‘Grade’ So Harshly
I don’t think women intentionally avoid
giving partial credit. It’s just a function of how we are used to doing things
and the stress we are under.
Women are taught to look for ways to be
helpful without being asked and to go the extra mile. If one woman is doing a
task, another will typically jump in and try to help if she can. Men, on the
other hand, won’t usually insert themselves into a task another man is doing unless
he is asked to do so. Men consider that being respectful.
In general, men also approach delegated tasks a little differently. They will usually strive to do exactly what is asked, and only that. So, if you’re mad at him for not doing more, he’s not really going to understand that. For example, if you asked him to run the dishwasher and he did that, he might be frustrated when you’re upset he didn’t also clean the kitchen counters because it was so “obvious” they were dirty.
Women are often multitasking and juggling more than men, thereby carrying a larger mental load. We want tasks to be completely done, with nothing left to address or worry about, so they can be totally off of our minds. There’s a psychological phenomenon at play here: the Zeigarnik Effect. Our brains remember incomplete tasks more readily than those that have been completed. Having too many loose ends can literally create mental stress by nagging at us.
What’s the Real Issue?
Shouldn’t he just know that the rest of the
kitchen needed cleaning? Well, yes, but is that what you specifically asked him
to do? If the only thing you did in response to the work he completed is to
complain about what he didn’t do, he’s going to feel discouraged and micromanaged. He’s
also going to eventually feel like nothing makes you happy.
Instead, try giving partial credit. Just
say, “Thanks so much for loading the dishwasher.” This doesn’t mean you are giving up on his
helping to clean the rest of the kitchen. But instead of implying he “failed”
at the task you asked him to complete, make a more specific request next time:
“Would you mind loading the dishwasher, cleaning the countertops and emptying
the dishrack please?” Trust me, he’s not going to be offended by this
level of detail.
The other important thing you can do
moving forward is having a farther-reaching discussion about how the mental
load of the household is distributed. This is especially important if you’re the
one with a to-do list a mile long. At the end of the day, the problem isn’t
really that he didn’t clean the rest of the kitchen, it’s that you are managing
far too many details in your household, and that’s exhausting. Open his eyes to
this so that the two of you can work out a better division of both physical and
Extend More Credit
Especially this time of year, partial
credit is a useful concept to remember in your other relationships too. The
holiday season brings a lot of expectations — and hurt feelings when those
expectations don’t get met. How would it feel to give partial credit to your
sister for at least waiting until after dessert to start complaining about her
ex? Or to your in-laws for not overspending as wildly as they used to on the
kids’ gifts even though they didn’t follow your wishes exactly?
I’m wishing you lots of peace and joy in
all your relationships this holiday season. For more advice on better
communication in marriage, pick up a copy of my book Strong Women, Strong Love.
As we get closer to Thanksgiving, you are
probably starting to kick your holiday preparations into high gear.
But amid your shopping, decorating and
travel planning, I want you to steal a few moments for one simple activity that
will set the stage for a more meaningful season.
Now is a great time to watch or rewatch Brene Brown’s seminal TEDX talk “The Power of Vulnerability.” It will take you only about 20 minutes.
The holidays can stir up all sorts of
feelings and expectations that make you feel more vulnerable this time of year.
You may already be feeling some anxiety and stress in anticipation of all that needs
to be done before year’s end. Of course, looking cheerful while trying to tame
your perfectionism over every detail makes this a much harder task!
Some of you are anticipating sadness and
heartbreak about loved ones who will not be with you this holiday. All these emotions
can be so powerful that it can be tempting to hide from them through
overeating, overdrinking or overspending.
The gift we all really want is to be able to share our vulnerable feelings with others and still feel safe and loved. Unfortunately, many of us — even kids — have had experiences that make us feel unsafe being vulnerable.
Making Space for Vulnerability
You can’t make people be vulnerable with
you. But you can create an atmosphere of love and security that encourages
vulnerability. What might that look like during the holiday season?
Deciding to skip a party you had planned to attend because your husband is at the end of his rope with end-of-year work stress.
Not telling your shy kid they “shouldn’t feel that way” if they voice nervousness about seeing their raucous cousins.
Taking a timeout from holiday activities to be with a friend who’s grieving or going through a crisis like divorce or a family illness.
Giving your aging parents some one-on-one time to just talk to you instead of getting lost in the busyness of the season.
When you show up for others in ways like these, you build trust and intimacy in your relationships which is necessary for anyone to be vulnerable.
Of course, you also need relationships where you can be vulnerable yourself. Before things get too stressful, think about who gives you a sense of safety and acceptance. Who can handle it when you’re not feeling merry and bright? Who would take it in stride if you need to express sadness that your budget is smaller this year or that your parents are having some health troubles?
If you feel that you and your husband are not open and vulnerable enough with each other, think about some small steps that might help bring you closer. You can’t just go from closed off to totally vulnerable overnight — and neither can he. Instead, think about a low-risk way you can test the waters. Maybe that’s something as simple as asking for his help wrapping gifts when you would usually handle the job yourself. You could use that opportunity to connect and find out how he’s really doing. Slowing down your flurry of activity and engaging creates opportunities to share any vulnerability either of you are experiencing.
I hope that this holiday season brings you closer to everyone you care about, especially your husband. To keep strengthening your relationship together, pick up a copy of my book Strong Women, Strong Love.
You love your husband. But, if you’re being real, you have to admit he drives you crazy sometimes. He has all these annoying quirks and bad habits. The longer you’re with him, the more irritating he is to be around.
Nothing like you, right?
You’re so much easier to be around. Or are you?
Seriously, stop for just a second ask yourself what you’re like to live with. Is it possible you might be hard to live with, too?
The truth is that it can genuinely be hard to recognize ways you might be driving your partner crazy. After all, how often do any of us step back and analyze what we’re doing?
How you behave as a wife and as a parent has probably been heavily shaped by what you observed in your own family. That’s what you consider to be “normal.” But your husband came into your marriage with a different idea of what normal looks like.
For example, maybe it was routine in your family to always be running a few minutes behind. But in your husband’s family, “on time” meant “get there early.”
Differences in promptness are not as big a deal as having different ideas about handling conflict or loyalty in the marriage. But how your husband interprets your actions is always important. In this case, your habitual tardiness is a big deal if he views it as disrespect.
It’s good to take a step back and reflect on your own behavior in your marriage sometimes. Now, admittedly, this is a little harder than just focusing on all the stuff he does! But it’s really good for your marriage to look in the mirror occasionally.
Neither of you is ever going to be perfect. But both of you should be aware of how you affect each other. You may be surprised by how much the things you do bother him. For example, maybe you’re already aware that your perfectionism doesn’t serve you well, but you didn’t know that it’s also really stressing him out.
When there are obvious differences, it’s helpful to explain where you’re coming from: “I’m not late because I don’t care about you. I just never developed the habit of being on time. It’s something I’m working on now, though.”
That last part is the key. Maturity
means being aware of what you bring to your marriage, taking ownership of it
and making an effort to change anything that’s detrimental to your
Couples tend to underestimate how much what’s going in our society
as a whole affects their marriage. Cultural norms and expectations about men,
women and families play into our relationships, whether we agree with them or
And sometimes those norms and expectations change more slowly than
the realities of our lives — which gives today’s busy couples yet one more
thing to navigate.
Take family income, for example. In 2017, Pew Research Center found that in almost one-third of U.S. cohabitating couples, women brought home at least half of the earnings. That’s a big leap from 1981, when that figure was just 13%. And the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that about 38% of wives earn more than their husbands.
While women’s earning power has increased over the years, there’s
been less change in our perceptions of who “should” be the
The Pew Center also reports that 71% of adults believe that a good husband or partner should support his family financially. Only 32% say the same of women. On top of that, a study by a Harvard professor found that couples are at a nearly 33% greater risk of divorce when the husband doesn’t work full time.
All of this is important information to be aware of if you make
more money than your husband does. The two of you could face criticism (veiled
or otherwise) from friends and family, especially if your husband stays home
with the kids — which means the two of you are breaking another norm.
You might also discover that the income disparity brings up some
surprising feelings for both of you. In theory, both of you may have always
supported the idea that it doesn’t matter which spouse makes more money. But,
in practice, you might run up against some ideas about men and women left over
from the way you were raised — ideas that you weren’t even aware affected you
None of this means that there’s anything wrong with how your
family’s income breaks down. It’s up to you and your husband to decide together
how much money you need and what you both want from your careers and your
work-life balance. The important thing is just to understand the power of these
entrenched expectations, how they might play out in your relationship and how
you can manage these challenges together.
For more tips on negotiating all of the expectations and pressures
of marriage today, check out my book Strong Women, Strong
If your husband has had an affair,
you’re hurt, you’re angry and you have some big decisions to make. Should you
try to repair your marriage? Or should you end your relationship because of his
There’s no decision that’s right for every person. Today I
want to give you some questions to consider that will help you make the best
choice for your marriage.
How Badly Did He Mess
How long was he unfaithful? Has he had multiple affairs? Were his infidelity physical, emotional or both? How emotionally entangled is he with his affair partner? A one-time slip might feel less daunting to work through than an ongoing pattern of cheating.
How Much Do You Have
How long have you been married? Do you have children? Are you deeply involved in each other’s families? While infidelity is devastating in any relationship, you may feel more motivated to stay and work it out if you lives have been deeply interwoven for years and you still have kids at home.
How Is Your Marriage
What else isn’t working? What is working? Do the positives of your relationship give you a strong
enough foundation to rebuild your marriage? For example, do you share values,
parent well together and still have a friendship? Or have you been feeling
disconnected from each other for years?
Are Other Issues
Is he experiencing addiction or mental illness? Is there a
history of infidelity in his family? All of those factors can make repairing
your relationship more difficult.
Did He Learn His
Does he understand the pain he caused you? Has he apologized sincerely? Is he showing you with his actions that he’s willing to do the work needed to save your marriage and to be faithful going forward?
If You Decide to Stay
See a therapist. Healing after an affair is possible. But it isn’t easy. If at all possible, get counseling as a couple.
Set boundaries. If you tell people close to you about your husband’s infidelity, their first reaction might be to urge you to leave him. That’s understandable. They’re hurt and angry on your behalf. But they can also become a barrier to your reconciliation. Remember, it’s your decision whether or not to stay with your husband. And you’re under no obligation to reveal all the details about what’s happening in your marriage to anyone.
Realize that things are different now. Even if you stay together, the marriage that you had before is gone. Going forward, you’re building a new relationship. The good news is that, while neither of you will forget this painful chapter, you can create a healthier and more honest marriage than the one you had before. As you do, I invite you to use my book Strong Women, Strong Love as a resource.
It seemed like it would never end. You got your kid through all the rigors of college applications (and maybe a few rejections along the way). You helped them make lots of memories during their senior year. You made sure they packed everything they needed for school and then carried it up all those flights of stairs in their dorm. You tried to hide your tears when you had to leave them on campus. And then you came back home — without them.
So now what?
Many parents experience Empty Nest Syndrome after their kids leave for college. According to “Psychology Today,” the symptoms include sadness, loss, depression, loneliness, distress and a loss of meaning and purpose. Moms who don’t work outside the home can be hit especially hard.
Empty Nest Syndrome is painful, but part of a very normal transition in life. Your child is starting college and you are now entering a new stage in life. You’ve probably strongly identified with being a “mom” for a long time. But now it’s time to reconnect with the other aspects of your life as well. Here are a few questions to help you move through Empty Nest Syndrome and spread your wings again.
What’s Going On With You and Your Husband?
Do the two of you still feel connected? Or have things been so busy that you are more like strangers? If that’s the case, now is a great time to rebuild your intimate friendship. You probably have more time to spend together, and you may even have a little extra cash for some fun weekend trips or other new experiences. If you want to refocus on your relationship now that you are empty nesters, my book Strong Women, Strong Love is a great resource.
Could Your Other Relationships Use Some Attention, Too?
Just as you might have neglected your marriage due to your focus on parenting, you may also have let some of the other relationships in your life fall off the radar. If your “social life” used to revolve your kid’s activities, think about the other options you have now. Perhaps you can hang out with the old friends you never seemed to have time to connect with before. Or maybe you could get to know your colleagues better by taking part in the after-work activities you used to skip. However you choose to expand your “relationship portfolio,” doing so will help with the feelings of loneliness that Empty Nest Syndrome can bring.
What Are YOU Interested In?
This can be the hardest question for many women to answer! You may have lost touch with your dreams, ambitions, passions and hobbies as you raised your kids. Now, just as you reconnect with others, it’s also time to reconnect with yourself. What activities would enrich your life? What would be just plain fun? (There’s a bonus here, too. When you pursue your own interests, it often spices up your marriage.)
What’s Meaningful to You Now?
According to the famous psychologist and psychoanalyst Erik Erikson, you are now in stage of life called generativity vs. stagnation. At this stage, we feel compelled to create something meaningful that will outlive us. We start thinking a lot about making a difference and leaving a legacy. If we feel like we are failing at these things, then we have a sense of stagnation and disconnection.
Of course, you’ve already done something incredibly meaningful: nurturing a child who is now thriving at college. But as you’re remaking your life, look for other projects and relationships that enable you to make a contribution and feel connected something bigger.
With your child in college, there’s no denying that a part of your life is over. But an exciting new part is beginning. Enjoy your marriage, your other relationships, your passions and, yes, your grown-up kids!
We tend to joke about how marriage gets boring after a few years.
But it’s actually no laughing matter.
Researchers have found that boredom may be even more damaging to a marriage than conflict is. Psychotherapist and a bestselling author Esther Perel even sees a link between boredom and infidelity:
When you pick a partner, you pick a story, and that story becomes
the life you live. … And sometimes you realize, after years of living those
parts of you, that there are other parts of you that have virtually
disappeared. The woman disappeared behind the mother. The man disappeared
behind the caregiver. The sensual person disappeared behind the responsible
And there is an expression of longing and yearning. Longing for
connection, for intensity, for a sense of “aliveness,” which is really the word
that many people all over the world would tell me when they are having an
affair. They don’t talk about sex and excitement and titillation, actually. …
What they say is they feel alive — as in vibrant, vital; as in a reclaiming of
something that had gotten lost.
And what is boredom if not the opposite of aliveness?
You Feel Alive?
If you have kids, I bet you invested in classes, camps or other
activities for them this summer — and not just to keep them supervised while
you were at work. You wanted them to learn, to try new things, to have
experiences that would enrich who they are.
As good parents, we do this for our kids. But we often neglect to
do the same thing for ourselves. But, just like your kids, you need to stretch,
grow and have new experiences. And your marriage will be better when you do.
So now that the kids are back in school, what’s one thing you can do that makes you feel more alive? This doesn’t have to be expensive or time-consuming. Revive your yoga practice. Take an online class. Make a list of things you’ve never done in your town, and start doing them. Reconnect with a friend you love spending time with. Whether you do something as a couple or on your own, you’ll be bring some new energy into your relationship. Over time, that energy multiplies, and boredom vanishes.
Are you looking for more ways to keep the spark in your
relationship even after you’ve been married for years? Pick up a copy of my
book Strong Women, Strong