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.
Space issues plague just about every couple at one time or another. For many, it's an ongoing source of contention. Perhaps you spend too much time together or the amount of physical affection lavished on you by your partner makes you uncomfortable. Regardless of the details of the dispute, the same question is at the core of most of these conflicts: Where does the "us" end and the "I" begin? Experts agree that couples need to find a balance between togetherness and individuality.
How do you know if you are smothering your spouse?
- You expect your partner to spend all of their time with you. You should spend quality time with your partner but when you isolate them from family and friends, there’s a problem. A healthy marriage includes spending time with people that matter to you both such as friends and family. There needs to be a balance.
- You require excessive physical contact with your spouse. Every marriage requires physical closeness, but if you are constantly draping yourself all over your partner, it is a sign that you may be insecure. If your partner begins to pull away physically, it doesn’t mean they don’t love you. They may just need some breathing room.
- You call your spouse frequently during the day to see what they are doing or check their phone to see whom they have been talking to. This is an obsessive, controlling behavior that tells your partner that you do not trust them.
There's a fine line between being affectionate and being needy. Neediness actually pushes people away. Neediness smothers your partner. Smothering is driven by insecurity and selfishness. Loving is driven by confidence and generosity.
How can you eliminate smothering behavior?
Develop friendships outside of the marriage with people you have some common interests with. This will give you an outlet for conversation and help build self-esteem.
Participate in a variety of activities. This will make you both well rounded, and give you more to talk about.
Be open and honest with your partner. Communicate your needs in a cool, calm manner. Reassure your partner that you are not rejecting them but you need time to do things for yourself. Be specific about your needs and goals.
When you do spend time together, give your partner the undivided attention they crave.
Selfishness is one of the major enemies of married love and of love within the family. It affects how we talk to each other, how we divide responsibilities in the home, how we resolve conflicts, and even how we spend our time. It prevents a couple from growing together in marriage. Selfishness is all about getting.
Selfishness is one of the major obstacles to marital communication and thereby harms the marital friendship. This personality conflict results in a spouse manifesting many weaknesses including:
Failing to listen
We don’t necessarily have to agree on everything, but deciding to have differing opinions means more than just not thinking the same. It means listening to the other person and being willing to compromise.
Failing to respect and appreciate the views of one's spouse,
It’s easy for us to focus more on what we want or think we are due than our spouse’s side of things—whether that’s a desire for more frequent physical intimacy or greater understanding about the challenges I am facing at work.
Difficulty communicating with your spouse
Many couples each have an unspoken list of how they think life should be, with their quiet resentment building each time things don’t go their way. But if you don’t tell your spouse what your expectations are and discuss together how reasonable they are, you can’t blame them for not meeting them. Maybe once you’ve talked together, you’ll realize you need to adjust.
Controlling and manipulative behavior
We don’t have to do everything I want when I want, and the way I want. It’s amazing how little things—what you want for dinner, the way you load the dishwasher, what temperature to run the AC at—can become significant sources of conflict.
How to Become less Selfish
- Recognize your Selfishness.
- Become a good listener. Listen to what your spouse is saying.
- Put yourself in your spouse’s shoes. Think about how your spouse would feel under the circumstances.
- Try putting your needs lasts. Support your husband or wife even if it means giving up something you really want to do.
- Be open and honest with your spouse. Don’t hide your thoughts or actions
- Avoid criticizing and blaming your spouse. Blame cause the attacked partner to put up walls of protection, and these walls keep love out.
- Engage in some give and take. Take turns making decisions.
Marriage is “WE” not “I.” Always think of what is the best choice for your marriage. Putting your marriage before your desires is a sign of emotional maturity and creates a strong marriage.
When each of us gets married, we take a vow. How many of us actually analyzed what that vow truly meant? If you are like countless others, your thoughts were more on planning the perfect wedding than on the promises you were making to each other. Most vows went something like this:
“I take this Man/Woman to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, forsaking all others, till death us do part."
To Have and To Hold
…what exactly does this mean? BE AVAILABLE. To have and to hold encompasses the emotional, spiritual and physical connection we are to share with our spouse. We are promising to make ourselves available to our spouse–not only sexually, but also emotionally, mentally and spiritually as well. And our spouse promises to the same for us.
For Better or Worse.
TAKE THE GOOD WITH THE BAD. This promise couldn’t be clearer. It means just what it says. If we are married long enough, we will most likely experience the death of someone we love, the loss of a job, an empty nest or any number of other challenges. There is a comfort found in knowing we have a partner to share life’s struggles. We do not have to go them alone. Give thanks in the good times and hold tight to each other when the seas are the roughest.
In sickness and in health.
TAKE CARE OF EACH OTHER. Can you be counted on to be there for your spouse when they are sick? What if they are suffering with an addiction, depression, chronic fatigue or Alzheimer’s? As individuals we can take steps to stay healthy, but we are not invincible, and any type of illness can stress a relationship. Sickness can raise fear and insecurity, causing some to withdraw emotionally.
To Love and to Cherish…
NOURISH AND PROTECT YOUR MARRIAGE. Infidelity is on the rise among couples, and the “I” centered worldly message is all but undermining the message of “love one another.” It doesn’t mean to love each other until we feel bored, unheard, misunderstood, or are let down. We are to love, cherish, and be faithful always.
Till Death Us Do Part.
DON’T TAKE YOUR MARRIAGE FOR GRANTED. Once you or your spouse has been called home, there will be no more chances to make amends, make love, hold hands, or cherish one another.
Those relationships that make it through the tests of time, that make it through the ups and down of life, from arguments, loss of jobs, money problems, teenagers, midlife crisis, health issues, and mothers-in-laws, to boot, are built on an integral strength that is based on real connection.
Real connection, is an authentic, undeniable, mutual connection built on real appreciation and respect for each other. Real connection is when we instinctively turn to each other, rather than to someone else. It is not a compromise or a settling. And, it's not that "I can't live without you," it's rather, "I don't want to live without you."
The real reality of marriage is work. It’s developing a real connection and working through the hard times to figure out how to get to the good ones.
Successful marriages are those where the husband and wife function together and utilize each others’ strength. Perhaps one of you is better at finances than the other. Then that spouse is in charge of the marital budget. The other spouse may be better at planning, so they map out family outings, vacations, and family devotions. As on a sports team, each player uses his or her talents to work with the others for the benefit of the entire team. Usually, if one player tries to do it all themselves, the team suffers. If one player insists on playing a position he or she is not gifted for, the same thing happens.
As a couple, you need to talk about how you will make decisions together as a team.
Important Decisions Should Be Made Together
Every decision does not need to be made together, but those that importantly impact your marriage, do. You and your spouse need to discuss. What are the essential decisions that you should make together? Many couples consider these decisions to be ones that need to be discussed and agreed upon.
- Where you will live
- Whether to have children or not
- Who would work/stay home after having the children
- Parenting styles
- How to spend and to save money
- How to spend free time
- The amount of time you will spend with extended family/in-laws
- Household chores
- Decisions regarding a crisis
- When to take vacations and where to go
- Future plans
Discuss how you will handle making decisions together.
If either of you attempts to dominate the decision making, your marriage will undoubtedly suffer. Unity is the key to successful decision-making in marriage. You need to respect your spouse’s opinion enough to include their valuable input in decisions by openly sharing thoughts and opinions and respecting each others’ point of view.
What about when you strongly disagree or can't find a compromise?
Here are a few tips for when you can't seem to agree about an important decision.
- If things begin to escalate, take a breather and agree to discuss at a later time.
- Talk out your concerns on each side. It’s essential for each spouse to be heard and understood. Share with your spouse the underlying reasons for your hesitancies, so that they can be addressed, and you can get a second perspective.
- Ask yourself if you making a decision based on emotion. There may be something from your early years or history that is causing you to become reactionary or dig your heels in.
- Brainstorm solution ideas for the decision you are making. Propose several solutions and write them all down to look at. Evaluate each one together.
- Try out one of the solution ideas and re-evaluate as needed.
- Ask yourselves if you are you coming together to review the pros/cons and potential outcomes of the decision logically. Sometimes this is necessary to come to a proper choice that is the best for both of you.
Decision making together may be difficult, but it can also bring you closer together if you handle it effectively.
There was a time men and women entered into matrimony with specific ideas about how the division of chores would be handled: he would go off to work and "bring home the bacon;" she would stay home, cook, clean, and raise the children. Things are different now. Roles in the marriage are no longer gender-based, as may have been the case in your parent’s generation.
It is more common today for both spouses to work full-time jobs.
Marriage has changed from a union in which two opposites worked together to make up for each other’s weak spots, into a union based on shared interests, activities and emotions. Sharing chores is one of the keys to a thriving modern relationship.
How Do You Divide Up the Chores?
Couples don’t need to divide chores exactly equally in order feel happy. It doesn’t matter who does what, but how satisfied both spouse are with the division of labor. Every couple is different. In one marriage, the wife may be the better cook while the husband may be better at yard work. In another relationship, the reverse might be the case. In the most successful marriages, when wives are doing work together with their husbands, they are more satisfied with the division of labor.
There are a many ways to divvy up chores. Take dishwashing for example. You wash, I'll dry. You do the plates; I'll scrub the pots and pans. You load the dishwasher; I'll unload the dishwasher. You do the dishes on Monday; I'll do them on Tuesday.
Talk About It. Talk about what chores need to get done regularly and who should do what. Take into account each other’s gifts and talents.
Agree on a system. Once you have discussed what and who, it’s time to agree on how and when. How will each of the chores get done? One spouse will do these sets of tasks, while the other spouse will do a different set of chores. Some chores you may decide to both do on alternating days, and both spouses should do some tasks together. Example: Tammy is a bit of a neat freak, so she does the dusting, wiping down of counters and bathrooms. Reggie is more of a big area kind of guy, so he sweeps and mops the floors and vacuums. Neither one of them likes to do yard work very much, so they both pick a day to go out and prune bushes and do yard clean up.
Decide which chores or services you can hire out. If both spouses work full time, you don’t want to spend all of your free time doing chores. In a Harvard study, researchers found that couples that paid for services to free up their time had happier relationships. Think about tasks eat up a lot of time like mowing the lawn, washing windows, weeding the bushes and flower beds. Hire those chores out and watch your relationship blossom.
If you are not spending your time on big, time-consuming chores or fighting about who needs to do what tasks, what else could you be doing together? In a published study in the Journal of Marriage and Family, couples that shared chores more evenly, reported having more intimacy and time for sex.
Criticism is one of the most toxic behaviors that can rapidly break down intimacy and build up walls in your marriage. You may believe that you’re offering “truth” or that you’re trying to correct a behavior or attitude, but your partner cannot hear it (much less act on it) if it is perceived as an attack, or if it's addressed as a swooping generalization.
Criticism can easily become a relied on tactic when things are not going poorly, but it sabotages your efforts to communicate with your partner. Criticizing your partner is not the same as voicing a complaint.
What is criticism?
Criticism is a non-specific statement that emits negative feelings or opinions about your partner’s character or personality.
“ You never help with laundry. Instead, you assume I’m going to do it. I’m really busy at work, and I can’t believe you are so inconsiderate!”
Criticism causes your partner to declare war or retreat. It increases stress for both of you and breaks down intimacy. We often use criticism as a form of self-protection. It’s much easier to poke our partner by telling them that they’re the one with the problems, than to drop our shield of criticism and say, “my needs are not being met, help me.”
A complaint is an alternative to criticism.
A complaint is focused on a specific behavior or event.
“I realize I didn’t tell you that I’ve been really busy with work lately, and I’m frustrated that the laundry is piling up. Could you do a load or two of laundry when you get home tonight please?”
Healthy complaining improves intimacy, actually solves problems, and strengthens the relationship.
A healthy complaint involves:
- Taking some responsibility(“I’ve realized I didn’t tell you“) – instead of pointing fingers and blaming your partner, take responsibility. Taking responsibility prevents conflicts from escalating.
- Here’s how I feel(“I’m frustrated”).
- About a particular event(“the laundry is piling up”). – Be specific when you complain. It will help your partner understand why you’re upset.
- Here’s what I need(“Could you do a load or two when you get home?”). – Should be a positive need.
Learning how to complain healthily will improve your relationship, because you’ll get more of your needs met. And your partner will understand you better. It’s a win-win for everyone.
The best thing you can do for your spouse at Christmas is to show them how much they mean to you. Instead of running to the dollar store or drug store to buy tons of little items to fill up their stocking, try filling their stocking with little heartfelt items that mean a lot.
A personal love note
Whether or not your spouse’s love language is words of affirmation, I bet they’d really appreciate receiving a love note from you this holiday season. You can make it fancy and decorate a card to write it in, type it up on the computer, or grab any piece of paper you can find in the house use that. What really matters are the words that you write on it. Make it sappy, memory filled and praise your spouse for who they are as a person and their accomplishments.
Every couple has favorite quotes from movies, TV shows, songs or books that they have shared over the years. Write a few down on post –it notes and put them in a small Tupperware container to tuck into his or her stocking. It will bring a smile to their face as they reflect on the memory.
A Round Tuit
How many chores and things are on your list of “I’ll do it when I get a round to it.” Give your spouse a round plastic, wooden or cardboard chip with “RounTuit” on the front and something your spouse hates to do but would love for you to do o the back. It could be anything such as do the grocery shopping, clean the bathroom, clean out the garage or do the laundry.
Personal coupon book
Make a book of coupons for personal favors or dates. Those coupons usually center on things that you know your spouse loves but that you don’t always enjoy doing. Examples are coupons for back scratches, dates to restaurants or activities that aren’t always your first choice, a day off of parenting duties or diaper duties, a night with the house completely to themselves, a meal of their choice, etc.
A Sexy Game
The Dice Game. In a zip lock bag put 2 dice and simple instructions: Die #1: 1=Lick, 2=Suck, 3=Stroke, 4= Massage, 5=Tickle, 6=Rub. Die #2: 1=Lips, 2+ears, 3+Neck, 4=Inside of Thighs, 5+Chest, 6=Privates.
A pampering gift.
Make up a simple sugar scrub or moisture lotion and put it in a small container with a label like “ Man Balm” or “Sexy Scrub”.
Holidays mean family gatherings, outings, holiday parties and goodies. It’s the time of year that we focus on Christmas lists, shopping for the perfect gift, cookie baking, and decorating, In all the chaos of the season, focusing on your marriage may fall to the bottom of the list.
Watch any holiday movie and the theme always centers on remembering and being with the ones you love. Here are six ways to keep your marriage strong and happy during the holidays.
- Make Time for Intimacy
When you re stressed out and overcommitted, sex and intimacy may be the last thing on your mind. It may, however, be the very thing you need. Make an effort to touch and be close to your partner. Give your spouse a massage or spend time holding hands and giving long intimate kisses. Hop in the shower together. Sex is an essential way of connecting with your spouse that will keep your marriage strong.
- Spend Time Together
It seems like the last thing you have time for this holiday is a date night, but your marriage cannot do without it. Forget about your to-do list and carve out time for each other. Go out to dinner or a holiday show, drive around with hot cocoa looking at Christmas lights or just spend an evening in watching a movie and cuddling on the couch. You both need one-on-one time to reconnect and enjoy each other’s company to keep your marriage fresh.
- Appreciate Your Spouse’s Efforts
With the hustle and bustle of the holidays, it is easy to forget that our spouse does a lot of regular chores and duties around the house. Wouldn’t it be nice to occasionally be thanked for those efforts? Let your spouse know how grateful you are that he “swept or shoveled the walk” or that she “cooked a delicious meal”. Acknowledging and thanking your spouse helps them feel appreciated and keeps your marriage bond strong.
- Talk & Share with Your Spouse
Making your partner a priority means making time each day to share your thoughts and feelings with them and listen to theirs. Put away the cell phones, hide the to-do list and stop your busy activities for at least 10 minutes each day to focus on your partner.
- Pay Your Spouse a Compliment
Even if you’ve been married for years, it is still nice to hear our spouse pay us a compliment. Everyone wants to feel like his or her spouse is still attracted to him or her. Part of keeping the spark in a marriage is to let your lover know that you still think they are just as attractive, smart, funny or sweet as they day you first met.
- Say “I LOVE YOU”
People never feel as loved as when someone tells them so. While we may say I love you with a peck on the check before we go to bed at night, which seems more routine than with genuine feeling. Focus on why you love your spouse and make an effort to make sure they know it. Tell them “I love you because you’re always there for me.” Put a little note in their brief case or purse that says” I LOVE YOU”. Send them a text message during the day that says, “ I’m thinking about how much I love you.” Love is the foundation of every strong and happy marriage, so say it.