Marriage isn’t a breeze for anyone. We all face
challenges like balancing work and family and somehow finding time to nurture
our relationships amid our busy lives.
Couples parenting children with physical, emotional or mental disabilities, though, face an extra level of difficulty. And that can take its toll. For example, one study found that parents of children with autism have a 10 percent higher chance of getting divorced.
The relationship advice I would give to any couple takes on even more relevance for parents of children with disabilities: The most important thing you can do for your marriage is to pull together whatever resources you can to help manage stress.
Parents of children with disabilities can face extra stress on many different fronts:
Paying for treatments or therapies for the child can stretch the family’s finances. Of course taking the child to these therapies can disrupt daily life.
When a child has a more severe disability, one parent may actually need to leave the workforce and stay home with the child. Of course, this can create additional financial strain, as well as feelings of isolation for the parent who stays home.
Caring for a child with health issues can place demands on time, which may limit a family’s ability to engage in activities and friendships they once enjoyed. It’s also easy to neglect your relationship when time runs short.
The emotional part of caring for a child with a disability can be hard. Chronic worry about your child and their future can be draining. Feeling frustrated when demands are high is normal, but many parents also feel guilty for feeling this way.
Being spontaneous can be difficult when your child’s every day life requires extensive planning and preparation. The monotony of a rigid, demanding schedule can become exhausting.
Stress Makes It Hard to Relate
So much stress has a very real effect on your brain. Dr. Daniel Siegel says that under extreme stress, the primitive area of the brain geared toward survival hijacks the part of that brain that reasons, plans and makes good decisions. He calls this “flipping your lid.” When this happens, it’s almost impossible to be rational.
As you probably guessed, it’s a struggle to be a good partner when you’re in this mode. You have trouble processing information and hearing each other. That makes it hard to have empathy. You may also become defensive and have difficulty being open. Since you’re in self-protection mode, your capacity for being patient with each other may be compromised.
Give Your Marriage Care Too
No doubt, you and your husband are fully committed and resourceful when it comes to seeking help for your child. But it’s important to also apply some of that care and dedication to your marriage. When your partnership is strong, that’s better for everyone in your family.
One vital thing you can do for your marriage is getting practical help to deal with your challenges. That help could take different forms, from seeking respite care to asking friends and family if they can take on an occasional babysitting shift or errand run for you. Don’t hesitate to try marriage counseling if you need a constructive place to figure out how to protect your marriage while supporting your child’s needs.
You should also take a look at the expectations you’re placing on yourself. Being a devoted parent doesn’t mean never taking time to focus on your marriage. Remember, without daily maintenance, your marriage is at greater risk for deteriorating. Since you probably don’t get much alone time with your husband, learn to maximize the value of small moments when you can connect throughout the day, like when you both first come home after work.
The best way to manage stress is to practice self-care. Don’t make the mistake of neglecting your own basic needs because you are always focused on the needs of your child. Remembering that you need rest, nutritious food and support will make you a better caregiver. It’s also helpful to talk about how you and your husband respond to stress and how to engage each other at challenging times.
The two of you can be each other’s greatest ally as you work together to do what’s best for your child. It’s entirely possible for a marriage to grow stronger in the face of adversity, as long as you manage the situation well. For more ideas on maintaining your bond, check out my book Strong Women, Strong Love.
What messages did you get about anger when you were growing up? I bet you heard statements like these:
Girls shouldn’t get so mad.
Don’t curse. It isn’t very ladylike.
Guys don’t like angry, bitter women.
Calm down. You’re being so dramatic..
The people who instilled this kind of thinking in us weren’t doing us any favors. Misconceptions about anger and a lack of healthy strategies for dealing with anger can damage your relationship. So, let’s get a fresh perspective on this intense emotion that you might fear and avoid.
When Anger Goes Wrong
Far too many women think anger is telling them something negative about themselves. Thanks to what they learned from their families of origin and our culture, they fear deep down that anger means they’re a bad, aggressive person. They believe that if they could just be “better” somehow that they wouldn’t get angry.
These beliefs lead to …
Tolerating behavior that makes you feel disrespected (for example, your husband habitually runs late) or even behavior that harms your family (like overspending).
Avoiding conflict at all costs. Never having an argument doesn’t improve your marriage. In fact, the opposite can happen if you are sweeping issues under the rug.
Withdrawing and becoming depressed. This happens when you lose any hope of getting your needs met.
Complaining. Complaints do give voice to your anger, but in a way that’s unlikely to get your husband to change what’s making you angry.
Mean-spirited venting with friends. Again, this might feel like you’re doing something with your anger. But you’re actually just cultivating contempt for your husband while avoiding the real issues.
We all have a breaking point. If you suppress anger long enough, you’re likely to lash out. When that happens, your words will be a lot more hurtful than the ones you would have chosen if you’d addressed your anger earlier.
How Anger Can Help You
You may not realize that anger doesn’t have to result in screaming and wounded feelings. It can actually help you improve your relationship. Anger also isn’t some indication of your character, or lack thereof.
The very wise psychologist and author Harriet Lerner recommends viewing anger as a warning signal. It reliably tells you when something is wrong and you need to take action to protect yourself.
To use anger in a positive way, first notice how you react when you notice angry feelings surfacing. If you tend to judge yourself (“Ugh, I shouldn’t be such a bitch”) or push your anger down (“No time to feel that now!), see if you can just let yourself feel the emotion without trying to judge it or squash it.
Instead of recoiling from your own anger, tune in and ask yourself what your anger is trying to communicate to you. Some common messages behind anger include:
When you have a handle on what’s causing your anger, you can act on it in a more effective way and use your anger as catalyst for positive change. For example, you can establish or affirm healthy boundaries around what you will do, how much you will give and what you will tolerate. You can lovingly but firmly stand up for what you need and what you expect.
Read More About Women and Anger
I won’t lie to you: While embracing your anger is liberating, it can also be an uncomfortable journey. All of those early messages are deeply ingrained in our minds, and our society still has some deeply messed-up attitudes about women and anger. To aid you in this work, I recommend Lerner’s book The Dance of Anger, as well as my own book, Strong Women, Strong Love.
The health of your relationship can depend on how things are going in bed. And I’m not talking about sex!
When you don’t get enough sleep, or your sleep schedules are out of synch, it’s a lot harder to have a happy, connected marriage. So today I hope to convince you that catching some ZZZ’s together is one of the most romantic things you can do.
What’s Causing Your Sleep Problems?
For working parents, a great night’s sleep can seem like the impossible dream. Lots of factors can come together to keep you from getting the rest you need. They include:
Stress and anxiety. You wake up at 3 A.M. and an endless loop starts playing in your mind: Will there be layoffs at work? Will your son pull up his grades? Is your mom showing signs of dementia? What’s going to happen next in this crazy world? More than two-thirds of Americans report that they lose sleep because they’re worried about something.
Your jobs. Different work shifts can put the two of you on different sleep schedules. Sleep also gets disrupted if either of you feels compelled to keep checking work email late into the night.
Technology. Even if you aren’t using your devices for work at bedtime, having them in your bedroom still makes it harder to sleep because they keep your brain alert and disrupt your natural sleep rhythms.
Packed schedules. Our busy days don’t leave us time to wind down and process the day. So we end up staying up later just to get the mental space we need.
Your kids. If you have young children — or even older kids who still wake up at night — your own sleep can suffer.
Each other. When a night owl marries an early bird, they can cost each other sleep. And when one partner has a sleep disorder — such as snoring or insomnia — the other often loses rest too.
The Sleep-Deprived Marriage
Have you ever noticed that even when people complain about a lack of sleep that they seem almost proud of it? It’s as if they’re “humble bragging” to the world that they can still do it all even when they’re exhausted.
But the truth is that skimping on sleep can profoundly damage our health, our work and our relationships. It keeps us from being at our best and from being there for others in the ways we want to be.
When you’re not in a healthy sleep routine, you may notice negative effects like these on your marriage:
Weaker connection. If the two of you are on different sleep schedules, you miss out on pre-sleep talking, cuddling and sex. The same is true if you go to bed at the same time but spend the moments before sleep on your phones. Marriage is all about maintaining connection, and missing these intimate moments can contribute to the two of you drifting apart.
Less interest in sex. A lack of sleep lowers libido for both men and women.
Nastier arguments. Being sleep deprived doesn’t just lead to more conflicts. It also changes the tone of those conflicts. Couples who get enough sleep are more likely to stay constructive and keep their sense of humor when they argue. On the other hand, couples who lack sleep get more hostile and negative. This is important because how often you argue is less important than the way that you argue.
A lack of gratitude.Appreciation is one of the key ingredients to a happy marriage. But when you aren’t sleeping enough, you feel less grateful for you partner.
Sleep Your Way to a Happier Marriage
You know now that you need more sleep. But you also know that your crazy schedules and all the things causing you anxiety aren’t going away. So what can you do to get the rest and the nightly connection you need to keep your marriage strong?
Create work boundaries. For some tips to help keep your job out of your bedroom, see my recent article on workaholism.
Curb technology. Ideally, you should keep your devices out of your bedroom before sleep. But if that’s not possible, start putting them away earlier to give yourself more time to wind down and to connect with each other.
Create a “good night” ritual. If the two of you don’t go to bed at the same time, you can still share some moments of connection at the end of the day. Take a few minutes to cuddle and talk even if one of you gets back up afterward.
Take care of yourselves. If you’re prone to middle-of-the-night worry sessions, look for at least one way you can start better managing stress, whether that’s exercising more or planning some time to talk with a friend.
Give yourself some breathing room. You might need to create some space in your schedule for more downtime and sleep. That’s especially true this time of year, when traveling, socializing and even wrapping presents can keep you up late.
It’s easy to let sleep fall to the bottom of your list of priorities. But when you take steps to get the rest you need, you’ll see the benefits quickly in your marriage and in other areas. For more advice on maintaining a happy marriage, check out my book Strong Women, Strong Love.
Does your husband ever seem like he’s become a totally different guy?
It might sound like I’m about to launch into a creepy “Jekyll and Hyde” story for Halloween. But I actually want to talk to you today about the real-life power of stress and how it affects your marriage in ways you may not be aware of.
This article is for you if you’ve ever wondered “What happened to the great guy I fell in love with?” The answer is probably not what you think.
Before we dive in, though, let’s clarify the intention of this article. My advice here is not for you if you’re in a situation involving dire issues like abuse or addiction. If you ever find yourself saying things like “My husband is a great guy, except when he loses his temper” or “He has a totally different personality when he’s using,” then please consider seeking professional help.
Then and Now
First, let’s think back to when you and your husband first became romantically involved. You were totally new to each other, which really lit up your brains. He was paying lots of attention to you, and you to him. So you both felt seen and appreciated. If neither of you had children from previous relationships or other family obligations (like an aging parent), the beginning of your relationship may have also been a more carefree and less stressful time in your life.
Fast-forward to today. You probably have many more demands on your time due to your family and your careers. That makes you feel more stressed, which in turn makes it much more difficult to emotionally connect. You’ve quit looking deeply into each other’s eyes because you’re too busy looking deeply into your phones. All of those qualities that seemed so intriguing about him at first are now old hat. Instead, you notice more of his faults — his abrupt tone, lack of helpfulness, emotional distance — and they’re driving you crazy!
Our Brains ‘Go Negative’
So what’s going on here? Has he really turned into a terrible person? You’ll be relieved to know that this is highly unlikely. When you’re overwhelmed with stress, you get worse at noticing the good things about your husband. At the same time, you become super-attuned to anything negative about him. If he’s super stressed, he’s doing the same thing too! This is just how our brains are wired. Our ability to react swiftly to threats helped us survive as a species. But it’s not so handy in a modern marriage between two stressed people. One partner’s mistakes or slights can feel threatening to the other one. If you feel quick to anger or criticize, part of you is just trying to protect yourself.
Bring Your ‘Good’ Husband Back
Just knowing that your stressed-out brain might be playing tricks on you can start defusing tensions with your husband. Here are a couple of other things than can help as well.
Identify the sources of your individual stress. Are you sleep deprived, eating junk foods, or just plain lonely? Do what you can to bring your own stress down by making small changes like getting an extra hour of sleep or making sure you’re spending some time connecting with each other during the week. Sneak in the little things that keep love strong, like asking about each other’s days and marking special occasions. It may not seem like much, but can make a big difference over time.
It’s hard to start treating each other more lovingly if you don’t address the underlying stress that’s causing you to be critical and defensive.Take a hard look at your priorities as a family and seek ways to ease the pressure on you both. Do you need to reduce the kids’ activities so that you all have more time together? Can you rethink your budget so that you can work less or pursue jobs that aren’t as demanding.
Try these strategies and you’ll start seeing more of the man you fell in love with and less of that irritating guy who never does anything right. If the tips in this article are useful for you, can find many more like them in my book Strong Women, Strong Love.
You might be worried about the flu and other physical ailments that start circulating this time of year. But a contagion of a very different kind was the subject of a recent story in the Chicago Tribune.
The Tribune took a look at how divorce can spread through social circles. It cites a study that found you’re 75 percent more likely to get a divorce yourself if a friend has divorced. Even a friend of a friend getting a divorce raises your own chance of divorcing by 33 percent.
Why does this happen? In the article, relationship expert Helen Fisher says friends’ divorces prompt us to reassess the condition of our own marriages.
Just as physically ill people are hit harder by sicknesses like the flu, your marriage can also suffer from a weakened “immune system.” When your marriage is compromised, you may find yourself fantasizing about leaving, especially if a close friend has already taken that step.
Here are a few tips so you won’t unintentionally fall victim to the divorce contagion. It’s all about strengthening the health of the emotional connection between you and your spouse.
Take Care of Yourself
It’s hard to emotionally connect with anyone when you are running yourself ragged. Sleeping enough, eating well and managing stress make it more likely you will have the bandwidth to connect with your partner. Don’t forget to also make space for the people and activities you deeply enjoy. If you’ve been neglecting hobbies and interests, take some time to renew your passions. Have you lost touch with a dear friend? Reach out today. This can keep you from feeling that you’ve “lost yourself” — and that you need to leave your marriage to find yourself again.
Get Deliberate About Being Positive
Research shows that marriages stay strong when spouses share far more positive interactions than negative ones. But when we’re busy and stressed (which, for most of us, is always!), it’s easier to notice all the negatives. This week, try to intentionally look for and tell your husband how much you appreciate his good qualities. Be affectionate, playful, and compassionate to increase the positive even more. Keeping your “emotional bank account” full with positives prevents it from being overdrawn in difficult times.
Seize Every Moment
Juggling the responsibilities of adulthood can make it hard for you and your husband to even “se” each other. When we focus exclusively on what we need to get done, and not on our partners, that intimate connection frays, little by little. You don’t need a two-week romantic vacation to rekindle your intimacy. (Although I’m very much in favor of taking one if you can!) Instead, take advantage of the small moments in your day — like when you both come home after work — to connect. Investing even a little bit of time each day strengthens your relationship. Check out the Gottman Institute blog for a great resource on this topic: “6 Hours a Week to a Better Relationship.”
The reality of contagious divorce is alarming, but it also serves as a powerful reminder to take care of your relationship. If you’d like a total “wellness guide” for your marriage, I invite you to check out my book Strong Women, Strong Love.
Being married to a workaholic can make you feel like the third wheel in your own relationship. If your husband’s job seems to consume all of his attention, that’s not good for your marriage, his health or your health. Today I want to share some advice on how to get things back to a more balanced place. Of course, if you’re the workaholic in your marriage, the information here applies to you too.
What Makes Someone a Workaholic?
All of us in the U.S., men and women, are working a lot these days. Some analyses have even found that maintaining the same standard of living requires working more hours than it used to. This financial pressure can certainly be one reason your husband works so much.
And then there’s the impact of technology on our work. Our image of a workaholic used to be someone who burned the midnight oil at the office. But now — thanks to smartphones and laptops — work can follow us anywhere. Your husband might actually spend more time at home than his father did, but be working more hours.
With these new technologies come new expectations about what being a dedicated employee means. In some fields, workers are “always on,” responding to work communications during evenings, weekends and even vacations. The weight of those expectations drives workaholic tendencies.
Researchers Lieke ten Brummelhuis and Nancy P. Rothbard found that there’s a difference between being a workaholic and simply working long hours. Workaholics are constantly connected to their work, obsessing about it and even feeling guilty when not working. They don’t take regular physical or mental breaks from working.
Workaholic Habits Take a Heavy Toll
Rothbard and ten Brummelhuis also found that workaholics suffer both physically and emotionally. They reported having more health problems and were at higher risk for metabolic syndrome. They experienced more insomnia, emotional exhaustion, and feelings of depression than employees who worked long hours but did not have the same workaholic tendencies.
A new study out of Virginia Tech sounds the alarm that a worker’s significant other and family also suffer ill effects when the expectation to work is constant. The researchers state that “‘flexible work boundaries’ often turn into ‘work without boundaries,’ compromising an employee’s and their family’s health and well-being.”
Work vs. Relationships
Not surprisingly, an excessive focus on work harms your relationship too. In the Virginia Tech study, partners of employees who feel the pressure to always be available for work report that the quality of their relationship suffers.
If your husband is a workaholic, his long hours and the constant intrusion of his work on your life are probably stressing both of you out. And when you’re in a state of constant stress, It is much harder to connect with each other. You have more trouble seeing the positive aspects of your relationship and tend to magnify the negative ones. You become more reactive and defensive. “Little things” could push you right over the edge.
Resentment can also be a problem, especially if you are also working full time. Women still typically take on more domestic responsibilities, and that’s probably even more true in your house if your husband is preoccupied with work. As I talked about in my last post, the mental load of being the household and family manager is exhausting. You might also feel angry if there’s an unspoken assumption that his job is the “important” one and that you should curtail the development of your own career to pick up his slack at home.
Working Together on Change
For all of these reasons, your husband’s workaholic habits just aren’t sustainable. But I also realize that he’s unlikely to suddenly start leaving the office and switching of his work email at 5 p.m. every day. So what’s the realistic solution?
First, start a conversation with your husband about how much of the pressure on him is external and how much is internal. Workaholics can put more expectations on themselves than any boss ever would. He may have grown up with the idea that “the most important thing for a man to do is work hard and be a good provider for his family — even if this means he can’t spend as much time with them.” And he might even assume you believe the same thing.
Talk more deeply about the gender expectations you both grew up with. The revelations might surprise you both. You may be assuming that he works a lot because he enjoys it more than participating in family life. But he might feel that he’s doing the most loving thing for your family.
You can support your husband’s career and also insist that there be some boundaries with work. Discuss with him the considerable amount of research indicating that being a workaholic actually decreases his productivity. If he’s highly driven to do his best at work, he may be surprised to learn that having more downtime will make him more effective on the job.
The two of you can experiment with balancing work and your personal life differently. For example, what happens if he stops checking work email after 8 p.m. for a week? Does he really miss anything? Is he better rested, less stressed and more productive? Use the information you gather to guide future decision making, always negotiating for an arrangement that supports your relationship.