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Written by Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists, the Marriage in a Box blog shares insights into common relationship struggles, gives ideas for moving beyond the roadblocks, and helps you find your path to happiness – both individually and within your relationship.

Five Behaviors that Undermine Your Marriage

There are healthy communication habits that build up a relationship and those that are unhealthy and can tear down a relationship. Research has shown that when couples utilize criticism, defensiveness, dishonesty, stonewalling, and contempt during difficult moments, they will turn toward each other less and grow distant, and the likelihood of divorce increases. Constant put-downs are a form of emotional abuse and can cause self-esteem problems with those on the receiving end and destroy relationships. This article will discuss these five toxic behaviors and their antidotes.

Criticism

Negative criticism is very toxic to relationships and can feel like an attack. It has the effect of tearing down rather than building up, affecting self-esteem, and causing stress, anger, and resentment. When someone experiences an attack, the hurt causes an escalation of negative feelings and behaviors and may compel retaliation. A complaint focuses on the problem, while a criticism focuses on character trait flaws. Criticism uses the words "always" or "never" to describe something your partner does or doesn't do. Criticism is different from a complaint. Complaints are a normal and healthy aspect of a relationship and are a way to bring problems to light. A complaint focuses on the issue, and criticism sees the partner's character, personality, or looks at the problem.

 Antidote: Bring up the same topic gently, which is a better way to resolve it.

 A gentle startup sounds like this:

  • Expressing what you noticed.
  • Sharing your feelings.
  • Stating your need.

For example:

"When I come home from work and see dirty dishes piled in the sink (what you noticed), I feel tired and frustrated (sharing your feelings). I need to walk into a peaceful environment.”

Contempt

Contempt is the most dangerous of all behaviors because it undermines all reconciling efforts. At a minimum, it is very mean and becomes emotional abuse. It is a significant indicator of divorce. Contempt is supercharged criticism because it takes on a position of superiority, and the interaction becomes uncaring, demeaning, and affectionless. When people have contempt, they can be cynical and express their discontent using shame and mean-spirited sarcasm to put someone down. Some examples of complaint vs. criticism vs. contempt are:

  • Complaint: It is frustrating to walk into a sink full of dishes when I'm tired after working all day."
  • Criticism: You always leave the dishes in the sink because you don't care.
  • Contempt: I don't know why I would expect you to clean up the dishes; you're lazy, just like your family.

Antidote: Regularly express appreciation, gratitude, affection, and respect in your relationship.

Defensiveness

Defensiveness occurs when someone regularly receives criticism and contempt to try and protect themselves. A defensive person is uncomfortable admitting mistakes and shortcomings and may become rigid about their stand. They may turn around to become critical and contemptuous of their partner (give back as they get), or they may try to make excuses for their mistakes to downplay them. The argument is then deflected by changing the topic to the partner's shortcomings and becomes a cycle of never addressed accusations.

Antidote: Take responsibility, even if only for part of the conflict, and try to reach a solution.

Dishonesty

Being lied to repeatedly is a red flag that can make it difficult to trust and build a solid foundation in a relationship. Honesty regarding spending, internet or other relationships, and substance use can create cracks in a marriage. Fostering secrecy regarding these issues can create secret lives that keep our partners out.

Lack of emotional honesty involves withholding, denying, or lying about how we feel about our partner, marriage, or ourselves. It is best to be upfront and honest with our partners rather than cover up how we feel.

Antidote: The antidote is to be honest with ourselves and others.

Withdrawal or Stonewalling

Stonewalling is when someone in the conversation shuts down, goes silent, blocks, and refuses to acknowledge the other person. With stonewalling, it seems like their partner doesn't care about them. The person who uses stonewalling is likely in a state of fight or flight. Stress hormones are then released when the body detects a threat. In conflict, sometimes our bodies will see it as any other threat and release stress hormones, and we will experience a racing heart. The parts of our brain responsible for relational behaviors like problem-solving, humor, and affection shut down.

Antidote: It is impossible to have a productive conversation when someone is in a stress response, so both people in the exchange need to agree to take a break and self-soothe.

  • Use deep breathing.
  • Take a walk or exercise.
  • Relaxing activities, such as reading, painting, etc.

Stress hormones will take about twenty minutes to clear out of the bloodstream, and after taking a break, return to the conversation when calm. This return builds trust within the relationship.

Most people will use these negative behaviors at times in relationships. It is crucial to recognize their use and make repairs quickly to work toward utilizing them less and less. If these behaviors become chronic, they can break down a marriage. If you need helpful advice and solutions on how to deal with them, consider Marriage in a Box.

Marriage In a Box is a great resource that gives you access to the simple tools, techniques, and solutions that professional marriage counselors use for typical relationship issues. Marriage coaching is also available on the site. You can set goals and earn rewards. Feel free to check out the available kit and sources of information.

Posted 1/11/2023

How to Survive the Pressures of Being a Working Mom

While working and motherhood seem on opposite ends of the spectrum, it is possible to do both effectively and up to the standards you desire if you know what to do.

Set up a quiet office space

Working from home is not always the quietest or most private solution to working remotely. However, you can make this arrangement work in your favor, especially if you have to look after your small children as well. It is also important to have that time of separation from your kids so that you can get your full attention to your work when you need to. Having help on standby will come in handy for this. Otherwise, if you're determined to do it all, then this too is possible if you work around your baby's nap time and your toddler's playtime so that you can complete what you set out to do during the day.

Make sure your time works for you

There are only so many hours in a day and days in a year; it is up to you to figure out how to maximize this time so that you can focus on your baby and your business simultaneously. Of course, as a mom spending as much time with your baby and children is always going to be your number one priority, but then you also need to figure out how to put in that time for work to achieve the level of success you want. Many time management apps can help you stick to dedicated time slots so that you don't run into problems down the line. And by problems, we mean mom guilt - something every mother faces from time to time when their priorities aren't where they should be.

Speaking of making time for those things most important to you, if you have other kids you still have to tend to while caring for a newborn and managing a business, you should try to focus on quality time over quantity. Furthermore, you don't always have to make elaborate gestures to show them that you love them to the moon and back. Making the most of each and every moment with them is what counts, even if you're just spending quality time tucking them into bed at night, letting them help you help them tidy and organize their room, etc.

Making other changes

Perhaps you're working a job that you no longer feel up to working anymore because your priorities have shifted. You may wish to study online in the meantime so that you can work on improving your skills and knowledge while still looking after your family. There are many different degrees available online. That said, if you are studying for a business-related degree, you can also take advantage of improving your knowledge in subjects such as accounting, communication, and business management, which you are likely to end up applying if you start your own business.

Remember to take time out for yourself

It is equally important to pay attention to your mental health if you want to excel as a mom and a business owner. Also, know that it is okay to step away from your responsibilities for a bit while you focus on doing activities that lift your soul. Leaning on the assistance of your partner or a family member can help you take that break every once in a while.

Taking care of your family is and should be a joy; managing a business from home is a privilege. So let us take this thought and run with it while doing the best we can with what we have to make our days a success.

 

Visit the Marriage In A Box website for communication techniques that help you overcome common issues facing many married couples today.

Posted 1/4/2023

Tis The Season For Togetherness

The winter holiday season is upon us, which usually means that our households are busy decorating, buying gifts, going to holiday parties, baking, and working to pay for everything. It's easy to lose control of your time and miss out on what is truly important: your mindfulness and presence for your loved ones.

It must become a priority to give loved ones the attention they desire during the holidays when both work and social demands are contending for your time. Make a pact that this holiday will be different from past years. Time is something we cannot get back, so cherish these moments with your children, aging parents, and grandparents and reconnect. Creating lasting memories and a sense of connection is fun and good for your overall health and wellness.

Prepare for the Holidays together.

There is a desire to feel needed and useful among all age groups. Explore ways to engage the younger and older family members with holiday tasks like decorating, baking goodies, or even sending out holiday cards. You can receive much-needed help this way and check items off your list while creating warm connections.

Help everyone connect and feel included.

Games are a great icebreaker and help people gather, interact and share fun regardless of age. Playing games provides opportunities to share laughs and memories from the past. Some activity ideas include having your children ask your parents about their childhood, how they met their spouse, and what you were like as a child. Other ideas may be looking through old photo albums and sharing stories. These ordinary things have the most extraordinary power to make life full of magical moments that make lasting impressions.

Limit Technology Use.

Try hard this year for quality time, be fully mindful, and be present in the moments by limiting distractions. It is hard to make eye contact and connect with the people around us during the holidays when constantly glued to our smartphones, tablets, and computers. Parents can expect their children to disconnect from their devices if they are willing to unplug. Setting aside time daily to power down your devices and focus on family activities can impact family engagement and reconnection. It doesn't matter if the presents aren't perfectly wrapped or the turkey is a little overcooked. What matters is that you slow things down and focus on enjoying the everyday moments before they're gone.

Do Something Kind for Someone Else.

 Look for ways to reach out and support others during the holidays. There are many ways to get the family involved in volunteering at church, in the community, or helping out neighbors. These are good values to impart to our children, and parents and kids will benefit if these activities become a regular part of the family routine. Instead of objecting to comments you disagree with and heading for arguments, try to find opportunities to offer a compliment or kind word, or lend a hand with a task.

Take Time to Unwind from Holiday Events.

This time of year can be stressful and busy. Instead of taking a break, we fill our time with more activity, obligations, and opportunities to encounter the edges of our capacity. Know when to slow down and say no, to add to your self-care during the holidays. This way, you can enjoy this holiday season. Pace yourself and remember to pause throughout the day and breathe in the moment.

Please pass up some of the invitations this year during the holidays. If you're hosting, consider a holiday potluck and allow folks to share a meaningful recipe. You can then enjoy their company instead of stressing over food preparation. For many reasons, holidays can also be tremendously anxious or painful. You may want this holiday to feel "normal," but maybe you can try to embrace how it has changed. Consider skipping certain events or limiting your interactions with others to avoid activities or situations that intensify difficult emotions for you.

Spend some Alone Time with your Spouse.

The Holidays are a time to be exceptionally compassionate with yourself and your partner when under stress. Remember that people generally do their best, and showing appreciation and attention can go a long way in maintaining connection even when stressed by the holidays. To keep your relationship strong, carve out time for yourself and one another. Keep it simple, like enjoying a glass of wine together, walking around your neighborhood to see the holiday lights, or watching your favorite Christmas movie. Finding ways to connect when busy or under stress can significantly prevent minor problems from getting bigger.

If you're having difficulty getting through the Holidays while maintaining a peaceful relationship with your spouse and family members, seeking outside support may offer extra help through the season.

Marriage In a Box is a great resource that gives you access to the simple tools, techniques, and solutions that professional marriage counselors use for typical relationship issues. Marriage coaching is also available on the site. You can set goals and earn rewards. Feel free to check out the available kit and sources of information online.

Posted 12/14/2022

Nip These 7 Marriage Arguments in the Bud Before They Ruin the Holidays

The holidays can be both a happy and stressful time of the year. With all the preparation activities like shopping, decorating, attending parties, and other holiday events. The holidays can be emotionally stressful for various reasons. Holidays trigger a lot of different emotions, both happy and sad. There can be happy childhood memories, and also losses.

 This article examines potential barriers to a pleasant and stress-free holiday and the topics and instances that often lead to the most stress and arguments during the season.

Seven Things couples argue about during the Holiday season.

1. Money

Increased spending can put a strain on things. Money is one of the number one causes of arguments during the holidays, and spending as a couple during the holidays can spur many issues and trigger debates.

2. The “Ex” Factor

Memories of exes or the stress of dealing with them and juggling visitation times during the holidays can intrude on the joy of holidays.

3. Childcare and Discipline

Sometimes, extended family members may judge your parenting style or try to discipline your child in a way you disagree with. It's essential to plan to avoid an adverse reaction, like pulling that family member aside to have a private conversation with them. Ask each other for support and be a team to set healthy boundaries and avoid tension because of toxic family behaviors.

4. Where to Spend the Holidays

Another of the most common arguments during the holidays is where you will spend them. Start discussing your holiday plans early, and agree to a little compromise regarding where you will spend your holidays.

 Consider both sets of family and friends, especially if one of you lives far away from your family. Friends, family, or just each other.

5. Which Holiday Parties and Events to Attend

A common argument for couples during the holidays can be due to unvoiced expectations. If one of you wants alone time and the other plans a party with all your closest friends, that can lead to an argument. The situation is easy to avoid through communication and planning to agree on what activities you will or won't attend.

6. Following Family Traditions

The holiday season involves multi-generational Family traditions. High expectations for these traditions to be carried out can spark squabbles when things change. Family traditions can bring joy to the family and create memories.

7. Cleaning and Chores

If you're hosting, you'll need to do a deep cleaning and decorating before the festivities commence. Other tasks will involve meal planning and preparation. Shopping for gifts and wrapping them and preparing for possible guests.

Tips on Avoiding Holiday Arguments Before They Start.

Set Spending Limits and Budget Gift-Giving.

You and your partner should agree on a spending budget. Money is another tricky topic within families. The idea of gifts and how much to spend can be challenging, especially during the holiday season. In some families, gift-giving is their way to express love. Communicate Expectations Before the Holiday Events Begin.

Talk to your Partner if Feeling Neglected.

With a to-do list that seems endless, the holidays can make you feel super stressed and neglected. After all, if you're taking everything on your shoulders to complete all the tasks, you will need to talk to your partner and family to ask for help and self-care time. You can find some downtime together to snuggle on the couch with a warm cocoa mug and listen to holiday music.

Work with your partner to decide where to spend the Holidays.

Sit down with a Calendar and Plan the events and activities you'll attend together so that your time can be shared with family and balanced adequately for your own time. You may need to plan for guests or travel, which goes more smoothly with planning.

Learn to Compromise on Family Traditions.

Instead of focusing on the family tradition, try focusing on what's important: spending time together. The purpose of having a tradition is to create memories with your family which will last forever. One strategy is to have each family member make a list of the rituals they enjoyed as a child and rank them in order from 1-10 to celebrate that year, but if your top picks conflict, you can switch off yearly, so everyone is happy.

Decide in advance who will discipline children at holiday functions.

Explain to children the rules at Holiday gatherings and the consequences for breaking the rules. Talk with the other adults about taking turns supervising the kids. Ask each other for support and be a team to set healthy boundaries and avoid tension because of toxic family behaviors.

Share the load during the holidays.

Try to figure out what needs to be done and ask for help. Encourage potluck involvement and try to save some tasks for after your guests leave so you are not stuck in the kitchen cleaning the whole time on Christmas or New Years’ day. Assign age-appropriate tasks to your team (i.e., your family), so you can do them with others. Try splitting your shopping list and chores with your significant other. Encourage your older children to help where possible.

Make time for self-care and deal with all the Holidays may bring.

Some tools for grief and self-care like journaling feelings, daily gratitude, regular exercise, getting enough sleep and sharing your thoughts with someone you trust. Take time out from the preparations to relax and focus on fun and joyful, comforting things.

If you're having difficulty getting through the Holidays while maintaining a peaceful relationship with your spouse, seeking outside support can help you make it through this season.

Marriage In a Box is a great resource that gives you access to the simple tools, techniques, and solutions that professional marriage counselors use for typical relationship issues. Marriage coaching is also available on the site. You can set goals and earn rewards. Feel free to check out the available kit and sources of information online.

Posted 12/7/2022

Honor & Respect Are Essential To Marriage

Honor and respect are necessary for relationships to thrive. Each partner has individual personality traits, talents, quirks, past experiences, and interests. Showing mutual respect demonstrates an appreciation for each other's uniqueness and dissipates the fear of being different. Most relationships start in a good place, but many couples lose respect for their partner. Without mutual respect and honor, a marriage can go downhill into a painful, stressful, and unhappy place. It is possible to have mutual respect even if a partner disagrees on specific issues. With respect in a relationship, it will be easier to solve problems and deal with issues.

What does it mean to Honor Your Partner?

Webster's dictionary defines honor as high respect, esteem, and exalted title or rank. Practically, that means recognizing our spouse's worth and deciding to cherish them as a treasure. Honor puts our other half ahead of ourselves and others and gives them the best version of ourselves instead of giving that to others. Lastly, the little things we do every day build honor in marriage.

Building Honor 

It takes practice to build an honor mindset and attitude in a marriage. Remembering the promise to hold our spouse in high esteem can be difficult, especially if angry with them. We also tend to forget all the wonderful things about them; when life gets hard. One strategy is to keep an "I love you" list of things about them that make you smile. It can contain extraordinary things they say or do, funny moments with them, and ways they differ from you that you appreciate. The list reminds us of why we love our spouses, and it helps to review it when we are upset with them.

Honoring someone means respecting and celebrating that person. To give honor accepts and appreciates someone as they are without having to agree with them on all issues. There are so many ways to honor someone; here are a few:

  1. Pay compliments and celebrate accomplishments.
  2. Treat them with respect and kindness.
  3. Be understanding and helpful.
  4. Listen and be patient.
  5. Overlook mistakes and encourage.
  6. Forgive and show compassion.
  7. Find common ground and appreciate your differences.
  8. Be open with your heart, eyes, and mind.

Respect is an Action, not a Feeling.

Showing respect is not based on a feeling; it is an action. It is a loving gesture to ask your spouse what feels respectful or disrespectful to them. Giving unconditional respect shows a positive regard toward the other person, regardless of their behavior. Choosing to show respect directs behavior toward that action and declares a value for someone. We demonstrate respect by how we behave toward another person. When you appreciate each other, you uphold healthy boundaries by showing mutual respect.

Why is Honor & Respect Important in a Relationship?

Building a bridge to connect will draw you closer to your partner, not judgment and harsh attitudes. Showing honor and respect will move you away from destructive attitudes toward your partner and help build and maintain a healthy relationship. Honor measures a person's integrity, ethics, and values, such as honesty, compassion, and kindness. Honor is at the center of who we are as humans and how we interact with others, and it strongly influences our lives and choices.

How to Rebuild Honor & Respect in your Marriage

 If your partner is losing respect for you, you can help repair the damage by showing that you are responsible, reliable, and trustworthy. However, it's also important to set healthy boundaries and stand up for yourself if you feel disrespected. Respect goes both ways, so reframe your attitude about your partner if you think your respect for them is slipping. This way, an example, an open door may be set for them to respond in kind.

  • Start with Communication about How You Both Feel.
  • Acknowledge Your Mistakes and Apologize.
  • Earn Back their Trust Through Your Actions.
  • Observe Your Partner's Boundaries and enforce yours.
  • Practice Compassion for Your Partner.
  • Listen with an Open Mind.
  • Treat your partner the way you wish to be treated.

Marriage In A Box is a great resource that can help with tips and suggestions to help build respect and honor in marriage. It enables access to the simple tools, techniques, and solutions professional marriage counselors use for typical relationship issues. Marriage coaching is also available on the site. You can set goals and earn rewards. Feel free to check out the available kit and sources of information online at https://www.marriageinabox.com.

As a neutral third party, a professional counselor or therapist can serve as a guide, to contain and consider feelings (anger/guilt/fear), examine causes and resiliency, and help work through conflicts if needed.

Posted 11/23/2022

Do You Criticize Or Compliment Your Spouse?

 

It is not unusual for a partner to lash out by criticizing their spouse sometimes after a tough day. It is healthy to realize that something hurtful was said and apologize quickly. You may feel stung as a partner on the receiving end of the critical words, but hopefully, you can empathize with a hard day and accept a heartfelt apology. If criticism shows up occasionally like this in a relationship, it is not a cause for concern unless criticism escalates to becoming a habit where consequences can be devastating.

To compliment is an expression of esteem, respect, affection, or admiration.

To criticize is to find fault with or point out one's flaws.

The Difference between criticism and constructive feedback

For a relationship to function well, feedback must be given and accepted. There is a line between constructive feedback and criticism. Healthy feedback is about behavior and not a person. We can let our partner know what we think or feel without criticizing them individually. An example would be, "I'm worried about eating too much fat in our diet. Can we talk about how we might eat healthier?

On the other hand, criticism lends itself to commenting on a partner's character or personality and is often extreme and non-specific. For example, "You're lazy and always cook with a lot of fat, like fried food and food drenched with butter, and never cook healthily. You don't even care if it kills us!". Criticism usually contains words like always and never as part of the accusation.

This type of delivery kills our message's value and makes the feedback pointless.

The Effects of Criticism on your Marriage

Our critical side can raise its ugly head during stress or frustration, making it a difficult habit to break. Understanding the effect criticism has on your partner and the shared bond may encourage you to reexamine your ways.

It breaks down your partner's self-esteem.

As anyone who receives criticism knows, these statements cut deeply. Repeated criticism can shake one's confidence and cause doubt about the ability to perform. If criticism comes from someone who is supposed to love us, we begin to believe that what they say must be valid. It raises questions about our value and worth.

It erodes trust.

Frequent criticism feels like betrayal and violates the implied promise of protection from hurt made in the formation of the relationship.

How to break the cycle of constant criticism

  • Stop trying to change your spouse.

Trying to force your spouse to change can cause more harm than good. Couples changing and growing should happen naturally, not something you should push. Encouraging self-improvement is an admirable quality of a supportive partner.

  • Treat your partner with Respect.

Respect indicates that your feelings, happiness, and welfare are essential to your partner and promote trust, appreciation, empathy, and safety. A mission to change your spouse is disrespectful to them and your relationship. It can break down their self-esteem, hurt their feelings, and demean their sense of self.

  • Stop pushing your partner away.

Personal growth is fantastic. Everyone has things on which they could work. Changing behaviors and responses for your partner is sometimes a good thing. But if you constantly try to change your partner, you disrespect them and send a message that what they offer you isn't good enough, and distance is created.

  • Put yourself in your partner’s shoes

Realize that you wouldn't accept someone criticizing you. Think about how it would feel if your partner constantly told you that you need to change. Nobody likes to be picked apart and told what to do all the time. Demanding change from your spouse can leave them feeling unworthy and leave you emotionally exhausted and unsatisfied.

Tips to stop criticism.

The antidote to criticism is to use a soft, gentle manner to complain without blame.

Decide the kind of person and spouse you want to be and how you want that reflected in your marriage. If you are serious about removing criticism from your marriage, decide and commit to working on your part.

  • Discuss your feelings using "I" statements and expressing a positive need. Avoid using "you" statements and expressing negative judgment, which will make your partner feel attacked.
  • Focus on the positive aspects of your partner instead of the negative.
  • Do what it takes to stop finding fault, belittling, nit-picking, cutting down, or chastising your partner. It takes work to accept your partner, even their annoying traits, bad habits that aren't harmful, quirks, and idiosyncrasies.
  • Think about why you married your spouse and praise their good qualities.

Resign yourself to the fact that you will not change your partner. Observe any behavior changes in your partner. Without criticism in your marriage relationship, see if your partner is more interactive, lively, open, or spontaneous and seems more relaxed.

There are resources available from the Marriage in a Box website in the form of a toolbox, The Marriage in a Box toolbox and coaching can both help you and your partner change how you relate to each other. Marriage in a box tools and resources can provide tips to communicate effectively. Feel free to check out the available kit, resources, and counselors online at ttps://www.marriageinabox.com.

Research shows that you will be on the road to change if you apply new behaviors for thirty consecutive days. Everyone deserves to live in a criticism-free environment.

Posted 11/16/2022

Do You Criticize Or Compliment Your Spouse?

Compliment Your Spouse

It is not unusual for a partner to lash out by criticizing their spouse sometimes after a tough day. It is healthy to realize that something hurtful was said and apologize quickly. You may feel stung as a partner on the receiving end of the critical words, but hopefully, you can empathize with a hard day and accept a heartfelt apology. If criticism shows up occasionally like this in a relationship, it is not a cause for concern unless criticism escalates to becoming a habit where consequences can be devastating.

To compliment is an expression of esteem, respect, affection, or admiration.

To criticize is to find fault with or point out one's flaws.

The Difference between criticism and constructive feedback

For a relationship to function well, feedback must be given and accepted. There is a line between constructive feedback and criticism. Healthy feedback is about behavior and not a person. We can let our partner know what we think or feel without criticizing them individually. An example would be, "I'm worried about eating too much fat in our diet. Can we talk about how we might eat healthier?

On the other hand, criticism lends itself to commenting on a partner's character or personality and is often extreme and non-specific. For example, "You're lazy and always cook with a lot of fat, like fried food and food drenched with butter, and never cook healthily. You don't even care if it kills us!". Criticism usually contains words like always and never as part of the accusation.

This type of delivery kills our message's value and makes the feedback pointless.

The Effects of Criticism on your Marriage

Our critical side can raise its ugly head during stress or frustration, making it a difficult habit to break. Understanding the effect criticism has on your partner and the shared bond may encourage you to reexamine your ways.

 

It breaks down your partner's self-esteem.

As anyone who receives criticism knows, these statements cut deeply. Repeated criticism can shake one's confidence and cause doubt about the ability to perform. If criticism comes from someone who is supposed to love us, we begin to believe that what they say must be valid. It raises questions about our value and worth.

It erodes trust.

Frequent criticism feels like betrayal and violates the implied promise of protection from hurt made in the formation of the relationship.

How to break the cycle of constant criticism

  • Stop trying to change your spouse.

Trying to force your spouse to change can cause more harm than good. Couples changing and growing should happen naturally, not something you should push. Encouraging self-improvement is an admirable quality of a supportive partner.

  • Treat your partner with Respect.

Respect indicates that your feelings, happiness, and welfare are essential to your partner and promote trust, appreciation, empathy, and safety. A mission to change your spouse is disrespectful to them and your relationship. It can break down their self-esteem, hurt their feelings, and demean their sense of self.

  • Stop pushing your partner away.

Personal growth is fantastic. Everyone has things on which they could work. Changing behaviors and responses for your partner is sometimes a good thing. But if you constantly try to change your partner, you disrespect them and send a message that what they offer you isn't good enough, and distance is created.

  • Put yourself in your partner’s shoes

Realize that you wouldn't accept someone criticizing you. Think about how it would feel if your partner constantly told you that you need to change. Nobody likes to be picked apart and told what to do all the time. Demanding change from your spouse can leave them feeling unworthy and leave you emotionally exhausted and unsatisfied.

Tips to stop criticism.

The antidote to criticism is to use a soft, gentle manner to complain without blame.

Decide the kind of person and spouse you want to be and how you want that reflected in your marriage. If you are serious about removing criticism from your marriage, decide and commit to working on your part.

  • Discuss your feelings using "I" statements and expressing a positive need. Avoid using "you" statements and expressing negative judgment, which will make your partner feel attacked.
  • Focus on the positive aspects of your partner instead of the negative.
  • Do what it takes to stop finding fault, belittling, nit-picking, cutting down, or chastising your partner. It takes work to accept your partner, even their annoying traits, bad habits that aren't harmful, quirks, and idiosyncrasies.
  • Think about why you married your spouse and praise their good qualities.

Resign yourself to the fact that you will not change your partner. Observe any behavior changes in your partner. Without criticism in your marriage relationship, see if your partner is more interactive, lively, open, or spontaneous and seems more relaxed.

There are resources available from the Marriage in a Box website in the form of a toolbox, The Marriage in a Box toolbox and coaching can both help you and your partner change how you relate to each other. Marriage in a box tools and resources can provide tips to communicate effectively. Feel free to check out the available kit, resources, and counselors online at ttps://www.marriageinabox.com.

Research shows that you will be on the road to change if you apply new behaviors for thirty consecutive days. Everyone deserves to live in a criticism-free environment.

Posted 11/16/2022

Don't Let Fear Ruin Your Happiness with Your Spouse

Anxiety can easily creep into our relationships, and the fear of being close to others can make emotional intimacy challenging. Such concerns center around feelings of vulnerability, inadequacy, or fears related to taking on responsibility. Very often, the response to such feelings is to find ways to gain emotional distance. These relationships often fail to gain momentum, falter, lose direction, and eventually die from a lack of deep connection.

There must be a sense of safety or freedom to experience joy. Anxiety causes negative thoughts and fears, taking pleasure out of a relationship, and may hinder sex and intimacy.

Anxiety Causes Fear and Worry

  •  Anxiety breaks down trust and connection. Building trust within your relationship may reduce the power of concerns. Trust can be built by sharing fears and worries and helping each other work through them with warmth.
  • Anxiety causes fear or worries, making it difficult to pay attention to what is happening, and your partner may feel you aren't present. Openly share when you're worried, and try to reach out to your partner rather than withdraw or attack in fear.
  • Anxiety crushes your authentic voice, creating panic or procrastination. Acknowledging your feelings, asking for support sooner rather than later, and getting the help you need are healthier strategies. Try expressing true feelings to your partner and pause before hastily discussing stressful thoughts.
  • Anxiety causes you to be self-focused. You may focus too much on your concerns, putting unnecessary pressure on your relationship. Keeping your stress levels under control can be especially hard when your partner feels anxious, upset, or defensive.  
  • Anxiety robs you of joy. Anxiety makes us feel either fearful or limited and can hinder enjoying sex and intimacy and take the joy out of a moment. Humor can help overcome fear and help you laugh and play with your partner. Joy physically heals and comforts the brain in significant ways for a healthy relationship. As anxiety weakens, your relationship strengthens.

What do Men and Women in Relationships Fear?

Fear and Shame

It is common for females to fear abandonment: isolation, neglect, rejection, and feeling alone.

Most women thrive on closeness and connection. So naturally, if there is any issue, women need to discuss it to feel connected again. 

The most common male fear is inadequacy which causes shame: embarrassment, weakness, and fear of failure.

Men pride themselves on being able to please their partner and may feel like they've disappointed their spouse if there is any issue.

When partners trigger each other's fears, they may go into fight or flight and release the stress hormone cortisol, causing them to feel the need to defend themselves and withdraw. The spiral of Fear/Shame is a vicious cycle that breeds more disconnection and hurt.

 What's the Solution?

Stay Connected-Be vulnerable. Our Fears and Anxieties stem from unrealistic expectations. There are a few things you can stop doing right now to help decrease the fear and anxiety cycle:

Here are some strategies to help the male partner.

  • Don't expect his actions and responses to be just like yours.
  • Tell him your desires instead of your complaint and catch him doing something right rather than criticizing. Use phrases such as: "I love it when you…".
  • Regularly having sex deepens the feeling of connection. Be physically affectionate every day. (A kiss, a hug, a hand massage, a butt pat).
  • Don't expect him to make you
  • Be deliberate in being supportive sometimes too.
  • Avoid overdoing support requests because neediness can slowly quench desire over time.

Here are strategies for helping the female partner:

  • Do your share of the household chores.
  • Please don't leave her out of important aspects of your life. Open your heart and mind to her, and let her in.
  • Be physically affectionate every day. (A kiss, a hug, a hand massage, a butt pat).
  • Don't expect her to have the same sex drive as you.
  • Don't ignore or dismiss her bids for connection. Routinely connect with her throughout the day.

Communicate: Tough Conversations can bring you closer together.

All relationships have to deal with tough things now and then. Trust that you and your partner can cope with a challenging discussion which will build your relationship. Choose your words and tone carefully, and listen to the other person's words.

Let Your Partner See You as a Support.

Be a support to your partner also to make sure your partner knows that it doesn't matter how big or small their struggles are. There's healing in the warmth of the person you love, so ask, hold, and touch. Anxious thoughts are very personal but letting your partner in on them is essential to intimacy. 

Connection is the Cure.

The way out of the Fear/Shame spiral is by recognizing you're in it, being compassionate, and empathizing with your spouse's fears. Fear and shame are signs of disconnection and present an opportunity for connection and reassurance, decreasing tension and hostility. Life is messy and chaotic, and disconnecting is sometimes inevitable. But when fear and shame try to sneak in, they can be recognized and stopped by reconnecting.

If you're having difficulty overcoming fear and anxiety in your relationship, seeking outside support can be helpful.

Marriage In a Box is a great resource that gives you access to the simple tools, techniques, and solutions professional marriage counselors use for typical relationship issues. Marriage coaching is also available on the site. You can set goals and earn rewards. Feel free to check out the available kit and sources of information online.

Posted 10/26/2022

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