Flooding: The State That Ruins Relationships

Getting on each other’s nerves during COVID-19 lockdown? Here’s a great article about how to manage those feelings of irritation and overwhelm.

Do you lose your temper often only to say or do things you regret?

We’ve all been there. One moment you are fine, but then someone or something triggers you. You “lose your mind” and can’t control yourself. You are “flooded.” You find yourself yelling at your partner, giving disproportionate punishment to your kids, slamming doors, threatening to quit your job, and spiraling downwards.

Several minutes or hours later, you calm down and realize, with regret, the damage that you have done.

During the coronavirus epidemic lockdown, anxiety, uncertainty, and conflicts are especially increased in relationships. These conditions make emotional “flooding” more common and harder to control than in other, more normal times.

The good news is that you can help minimize such flooding. The first step to minimizing flooding is to understand how our brain is hardwired.

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An Affair Isn’t the Only Betrayal That Can Hurt Your Marriage

When we find out that someone’s marriage is on the rocks or ending, our first instinct is often to wonder whether one of them was cheating.

Infidelity is indeed a devastating betrayal. But, unfortunately, it’s far from the only betrayal that can do lasting damage to a marriage.

If you were having a physical affair, or even an emotional affair, you would certainly realize that you were putting your relationship at risk. (At least I hope you would!)

But when we engage in other betrayals, we tend to be less aware of what we’re doing and the impact it could have.

This list of five betrayals in marriage that aren’t infidelity was inspired by the work of marriage researcher John Gottman and by “Ten Commandments for Relationship Essentials” by Stan Tatkin.

1. Speaking Negatively About Your Spouse

Sometimes venting to your friends about your husband’s little quirks crosses the line from joking to betrayal. Consider these questions:

  • How would your husband feel if he heard what you were saying? Would he laugh along or feel hurt?
  • How would you feel if he were saying something similar about you to his friends?

Gossiping about your husband can also becomes a betrayal if you’re talking to others about issues in your marriage instead of working on them directly with him.

2. Ignoring Your Spouse’s Intimacy Needs

It’s not a betrayal to have a sex drive that’s out of sync with your partner’s. But it does become one if you don’t communicate about what’s going on with you or if you stop caring about his needs as well as your own.

Being sexually rebuffed without explanation can cut especially deep for your husband if he isn’t big on intimate conversation and mainly shares how he feels about you through the sexual connection. 

3. Showing Disrespect

Your marriage doesn’t always have to be full of romance and passion. But it does consistently require the two of you to respect each other.

When respect breaks down, that sets the stage for deeper trouble in a relationship. The problem is that it’s easy to become so busy and stressed that we forget to treat our spouses with common courtesy.

It’s tempting to think “Well, that’s just how it is when life is so hectic.” But even little acts of disrespect can deeply damage a relationship over time.

4. Not Being Present Emotionally

This is another everyday betrayal that stems from busyness and stress. We all need to be seen, to be affirmed, to be valued — especially by our spouses. But sometimes we are so engrossed in all the other demands on our time (our phones, the kids and on and on) that we stop noticing each other.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that if you can claim even a few minutes a day to focus just on each other you can make your marriage stronger.

5. Failing to Share the Load

It takes work to maintain a marriage, a family, and a household. There’s no one right way to divide all these responsibilities. Different strategies work for different couples.

The important thing is that the way you are handling things feels equitable to you both. If one of you feels like you’re on your own (as women often do when it comes to emotional labor), resentment starts building.

Do any items on this list hit a little too close to home for you? You and your husband can find ways to strengthen your intimacy and teamwork using the concepts in my book Strong Women, Strong Love.

One Small Shift That Will Improve 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.

That’s it.

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 emotional labor.

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.

He Cheated — Should You Leave Him?

affair

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 infidelity?

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 Up?

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 Invested?

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 Otherwise?

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 Involved?

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 Lesson?

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.

How To Respond If Your Husband Likes to Argue

You’re the kind of person who avoids conflict. Your husband, on the other hand, seems to relish picking fights. It’s driving you crazy, but is it a serious problem in your marriage?

The answer is “it depends.” Let’s look at some reasons he may argue with you.

Possibility #1: He Just Likes to Debate

Some people just love to spar over politics, which “Avengers” movie was the best, where to order pizza … and on and on. For others, this is exhausting. That being said, very few people actually enjoy aggressively stirring up real arguments.

If he’s a debater and you’re not, the important thing is realizing that the two of you have different styles, and that you must learn to peacefully coexist.

“Respect” is really the key word here. If it suddenly feels like he’s talking about you, instead of, say, politics, pay attention. There’s a big difference between “I disagree with your candidate” and “You’ve got to be an idiot to vote for that guy.” And the latter statement is a sign of a deeper trouble in your marriage.

Possibility #2: He Wants to Talk EVERYTHING Out

You and your husband may be different in how much you feel a need to discuss things. Maybe you usually shrug off little annoyances, but he tends to make everything “a thing.”

You grit your teeth and put up with his family. He doesn’t hesitate to tell you how much your mom drives him nuts. You don’t say a word when he’s binge watching his favorite show. He lets you know he’s unhappy with the amount of time you spend on Instagram. Why can’t he chill out?

Maybe he came from a family where everyone expressed themselves openly, and your family was more reserved. Or, perhaps you were taught to let little things go, and he wasn’t.

Whatever the case, there isn’t necessarily a “right” approach. Some people with great marriages don’t express conflict openly. Others bicker all the time. The frequency of your arguments isn’t nearly as important as what’s going on in them. As long as you remain respectful, you’re on solid ground. (See “The Right Way to Fight With Your Husband.”)

Possibility #3: It’s Really About His Unmet Needs

Unmet needs can sometimes also be the source of intense conflict. The influential psychologist Marshall Rosenberg, creator of Nonviolent Communication, noted:

Every criticism, judgment, diagnosis, and expression of anger is the tragic expression of an unmet need.

Could this be true of your husband? Is it possible his agitation is really about a need that’s not being met? Maybe he wants more time with you? More appreciation? Consider listening deeper for that unmet need rather than joining him in the fight. How would your response change?

Now this doesn’t mean that he has license to yell or throw tantrums and to expect you to read his mind. He has some responsibility to ask for what he needs. You have every right to ask that he be calm and constructive.

Conclusion

No matter which one of these scenarios applies to your marriage, please know that you and your husband can manage it together. Understanding the reason for the disagreement is important in helping you determine how to respond. Next time he picks a fight, I hope you’ll start by asking yourself, “Why is he arguing with me?”

How to Stop Being Too Controlling of Your Husband

You’re so controlling! Can you just get off my back?

If your husband has ever hurled words like these at you during an argument, you no doubt remember their sting. But besides feeling hurt, you were probably also confused. Me? Controlling? Where’s he coming up with this?

This conflict can cause real damage in your relationship if it continues unchecked. Today, I want to help you get to the root of the issue and to suggest some shifts that both you and your husband can make to strengthen your marriage.

Are You Really Controlling?

If your husband has told you that you’re controlling, you’re far from alone. This is one of the most common points of tension in marriages. But I don’t believe that most wives are out there secretly scheming to find new ways to boss their husbands around.

What’s actually happening? As you know firsthand, we women have a lot on our plates. In addition to going to work, women still spend more time on household chores and childcare than men do. And then there’s the emotional labor that goes along with having a family, which also disproportionately falls on women.

With so much going on, we have to be very good at getting things done. To keep all the balls we’re juggling in the air, we’re relentlessly focused and efficient.

Why He Thinks You’re Too Controlling

Here’s where issues of control come in. When you’re driving so hard to check off all the things on your list, sometimes it can feel like your husband is slowing you down or getting in your way. So you end up doing things like this:

  • Telling him how to do a task “right.”
  • Jumping in and taking over if he’s doing it “wrong” or taking too long.
  • Constantly reminding him about something you asked him to do because you’re worried he’ll forget.

You know that you’re just trying to get everything done because you care about your family. But he’s taking away a very different message from your behavior. If he complains that you are too controlling, he isn’t just saying that he feels micromanaged. The deeper meaning behind his words is that he doesn’t think you trust him or respect him which makes him feel demoralized and unmotivated.

Again, I know these aren’t the messages you’re trying to communicate to him. But they’re the ones he’s taking away.

Step Back So He Can Step Up

Your marriage doesn’t have to stay stuck in this destructive pattern, though. Here’s how to change the dynamic between you and your husband.

  • As we’ve discussed, the behaviors that he perceives as controlling are probably happening because you have too much to do and you feel stressed and overwhelmed. That means it’s time for an open and honest discussion about household responsibilities — chores, childcare, emotional labor — and how the two of you can divide things more equitably.
  • Once you agree that a task or responsibility is his to manage, back off. Don’t jump in and sideline him, even when you know that you would do a better job. Yes, taking over might be easier right now, but giving him some space to grow is better for you both in the long run. He might make some mistakes, but he’ll grow from them.
  • Remember “the friend test.” Our spouses are so close to us that sometimes we take them for granted and don’t show them the same respect and consideration we would show a friend. When you’re tempted to tell your husband how to do something, or to jump in and start doing it for him, ask yourself whether you would behave the same way with a dear friend.

Persist Through Discomfort

Shifts like these may feel uncomfortable at first because things will take longer to get done, and they might not be done according to your high standards. But I believe the closeness you’ll gain in your marriage more than makes up for any efficiency you lose. He’ll feel less controlled, you’ll feel less burdened, and you’ll both enjoy a more collaborative partnership that gives you more freedom and flexibility.

For more marriage tips like the ones in this article, pick up copy of my book Strong Women, Strong Love. In it, you’ll find many more strategies for maintaining a strong relationship amid our busy, stressful lives.

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