Don’t Live Life in Your Rear View Mirror

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I have traveled to India several times. One thing that always amazes me is the traffic and the way people drive there. A given four-lane road may contain seven actual lanes, consisting of cars, trucks, scooters, pedestrians and cows. Despite the seeming chaos, it seems to work for the locals. In one car I was riding in I noticed there was no rear view mirror. I asked the driver about that and will never forget his response. “I don’t care about what is behind me, only what lies ahead”. In his mind if all the drivers behind him had the same attitude he would be perfectly safe.

One thing that I have come to notice in working with couples in marital distress – they are all focused on the past. They are quick to point out the flaws and the misdeeds of their spouse. Give them sufficient time and they will provide a list of infractions going back for years. I call this “Living in the Rear View Mirror”. Couples in this state have a hard time seeing where they are at the moment; they certainly aren’t able to look ahead. When you encourage a couple like this to consider what could lie ahead of them, they are often unable to do so without looking to the past. For them, the road ahead looks exactly like the road behind them, but in their minds it will only be worse.

Couples in healthy (dare I say, Shocking) marriages remember the past, but they don’t live there. They have an understanding that while they may have been through some rough patches in their relationship, that is strictly behind them. While they make an effort to learn from such seasons, they don’t assume that they are doomed to live in them forever. They have a strong sense of moving forward. Their destination is up to them and they work diligently to make sure they continue to head in the direction they’ve chosen.

Couples focused on the rear view mirror are score keepers. Individuals in these relationships will typically tell you (sometimes in agonizing detail) how they are behind in the sick game they are playing. Their spouses have treated them far worse than what they have done in return. So consciously or not, they feel the need to even the score by lashing out with demeaning words or unkind actions. The self-implied rules they live by prevent them from moving forward in any meaningful way.

The reality is, you can’t change the past, you can only learn from it. Regardless of who did what to who and how many times, it’s time to stop the game without declaring a winner. It’s time to throw that game in the garbage, so that it can never be picked up and played again. It’s time to declare a new, intentional future. Draw a line in the sand distinguishing your old way of living from your new. Create a few positive, proactive rules to keep you on track. Jointly decide where it is you want to go and begin planning your route to get there.

For those of you that prefer literal directions over analogies – ask yourselves, “Where do we want to be (relationally) in the future?” Pick a time period, one month, six months or one year. Define what you want to look and act like at that time. Then determine the steps you need to make in the near term in order to achieve that goal.

If you are in a marriage that is living in your rear view mirror, I would encourage you to do like that Indian driver and tear it out. Focus on the road ahead and work to get to a better place.

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Effective Communication Part 2

We continue the topic of effective communication this week, focusing on more subtle aspects such as non-verbal and tone. So many couples struggle with this but it doesn’t have to be so hard. Become a student of your spouse and be intentional. This episode will provide you with specific tips on how to do just that.

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Effective Communication

Communication seems to be a huge issue in most marriages. Both spouses complain that their partner is not listening. It really boils down to a few key issues. Focus on these, and you can reduce your frustration dramatically!

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Arguing? Break it Down!

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All couples have conflict. Unless you married a clone of yourself, you will find times where you disagree on an issue. And sometimes, it seems there is no way to get to a resolution where you will both be satisfied.

We’ve talked before in this blog about the fact that there is no way to “win” an argument with your spouse. You don’t live in a courtroom where you are trying to plead a case before a jury. No outside body is going to pronounce a verdict that says one side or the other is the most compelling. The goal of any marital conflict should be that you end up in a better place, and with a better solution than when you started.

One way to do this is to break a conflict down into bite sized pieces. It could very well be that you are in agreement with the bulk of an issue, with only a small point causing the stress. But if you jump into the fray with both feet, as most couples do, you will remain oblivious to that fact. Before things get too heated, take a step back and dissect the issue. Often times, there are logical elements and emotional elements in play. Separate those into two different categories and see if there is any area(s) that you are both in agreement on.

Let me give you an example. A couple is in the early stages of planning their daughter’s wedding. It seems that every time they try to sit and make arrangements together, an argument erupts. She thinks that they should provide an expensive dress, he sees that as a waste of money. He thinks they should pay for an open bar at the reception – she sees that as superfluous. Because some of their earliest, spoken desires conflicted, they now are reluctant to even have conversations regarding the upcoming event.

How could they break this down? They could start with a budget. Assuming they don’t have an unlimited pool of money to pay for this wedding, they need to agree on how much they can afford to spend on it. The first step would be to meet with their daughter to understand what she values the most and to prioritize her wishes. Notice at this point, they are not finalizing or committing to any one specific aspect of the ceremony over another, they are simply looking at the money that will be required.

This will involve some negotiation, as each partner may have to compromise things they were planning on in order to gather the funds. It might involve delaying a vacation or the purchase of a new car. It is important that both partners agree on a budget as well as what will be required to fund that budget.

Once the budget has been agreed upon, the couple can begin planning the ceremony. Most importantly, they’ve built a foundation that they can both agree on. Now the process becomes how best to allocate the funds that they have. In this case, they have a prioritized list of their daughter’s wishes. They can begin to get cost estimates and see how far down the list their available funds will supply.

What was once a series of emotional “hot-buttons” has now simply become a to-do list. If they get to the place where they’ve run out of budget but want to provide more, they can go back to the first step, identify any other areas where they could cut back (or earn more) in order to do so. If they can, they do. If they can’t, that’s where the planning stops.The point of this blog is not wedding planning. It’s about taking an issue that causes stress and conflict and taking the emotion out of it.

There are some situations that are filled with emotion. Even these can be broken down. What are the areas that you agree upon? Where specifically, do the differences of opinion begin? It seems like sometimes in an argument you are completely in conflict with your spouse. You can’t agree on anything. If you can take a step back, you might realize that you agree on more than you would have thought. There’s something very de-escalating about agreement. When you realize you are on the same page about key parts of an issue, the areas of disagreement seem less daunting.

Next time you find yourself in an argument with your spouse. Give this a try. Take a deep breath, take a step back and figure out what you are actually aligned on. Once you have that, it is much easier to focus on a resolution for your differing opinions.

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Integrated, Married Life with Sean and Meghan Cody

Sean & Meghan Cody are Millennials, but in many ways they violate all of the stereotypes. Hear the inspiring story of how one couple is running a business from their home while raising young kids and keeping their marriage exciting and dynamic. They talk of an integrated life, where they are in control of their schedules, their workload, their money and their time.

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Marriage Should be Outrageous Fun

Your spouse should be your closest relationship. And you should enjoy spending time with them. Too many marriages have allowed the routine drudgery of life to overwhelm them. As a result, couples become tired and jaded. It doesn’t have to be that way.  Develop a mindset where you encourage fun. Disrupt routine. Fight predictability. Be mischievous. With some effort, you will find that time spent with your spouse is most rewarding.  Jerry & Tara talk about the wackiness in their marriage and how others find it contagious.

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Cast a Vision for your Marriage

It is easy to get consumed with our feelings. This is especially true in our marriages. If we feel good about things, we’re in a good marriage. If we don’t feel as good, our marriage is in trouble. Feelings naturally vary with life’s circumstances. Hear how establishing a vision for your marriage can you help to override your temporary feelings and keep you heading in a positive direction.

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Going Through a Lull?

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I had an interesting conversation with an old colleague yesterday that I hadn’t seen in years. We talked business for a while, then I shared with him about my new focus on marriage and coaching couples to have better relationships. He told me that he has been wed for over thirty years himself, and told me that he shared my passion for marriage. But then he paused and asked me an interesting question.

“Did you ever go through a season in your marriage where you questioned everything including your relationship?”

He went on to tell me that around 20 years of marriage he hit such a time. He found himself discontented with his wife, questioned his feelings toward her and began to distance himself emotionally. As he shifted his focus away from meeting her needs, she in turn pulled away from him. He told me her reaction was, “I’m getting no love or affection from him, why should I show any back?” As a result, the relationship began to erode.

Fortunately, this story has a happy ending. He told me that after a few years of feeling this way, he “woke up” one day and realized that he had everything that he ever needed in his wife. It wasn’t her shortcomings that was off-putting, but rather his own that he struggled with. Looking back, he blames the situation on a classic, male mid-life crisis. He had hit a point where his career had peaked, his kids were grown and he didn’t see the continued growth and excitement in his future that he’d experienced in his past. This led him (as it does many men) to question life from a variety of angles. With this new realization, he was able to fall back in love with his wife and finds himself today in a better place with her than he’s ever been.

I use this as a cautionary tale for myself and for my readers. It is natural and common that we go through highs and lows in life. When we hit a low point, it can be tough to look at ourselves to find the root cause. We become desperate to find an external source for our woes. There’s typically no one closer to us (in terms of emotion or proximity) than our spouse – they become a natural target for our frustrations. “They must be the reason that I feel this way. I’m sure that someone else would make me happier”. And for many that is the path they choose. The new partner, like a new shiny toy, distracts for a while, but since nothing really changed in terms of the root cause, discontent inevitably sets back in.

If or when you ever find yourself in this situation, I strongly encourage you to take a step back and look at your life from an objective point of view. Are your really frustrated with your spouse, or are you actually frustrated with yourself? If your marriage is eroding, be honest – have you stopped investing in it? Have you quit trying? The odds are that during your wedding ceremony you recited vows that included “…until death do us part”. That was a strong commitment, and it should be in effect no matter what season you find yourself going through.

Experts tell us that the best time to invest in a company is during a recession. Prices are low and the potential return can be huge. I think this same logic applies to marriage. When you find yourself feeling relationally low, invest time, effort and money into your marriage. Then you too can find yourself falling back in love all over again.

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Author Stacey Greene – Surviving Infidelity

In this episode, Jerry interviews Stacey Greene, author of “Stronger than Broken – One couple’s decision to move through an affair”. Stacey provides incredible insight on marriage and the horrific toll that infidelity plays on it. But she also provides tangible steps that can be taken to work through it, even to the point of being stronger than before. You don’t want to miss this riveting episode!

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Averting Infidelity

Nobody thinks it can happen to them, until it does. People don’t enter into marriage thinking they’ll keep an eye out for something better, but every year thousands of marriages are wrecked when individuals decide to stray. Because they’ve given it no thought in advance, they find themselves too far down the path of temptation to turn back. In this episode you will hear tactical ways of proactively and defensively averting infidelity. If you find yourself nearing the path of temptation, these words may just be the ones that come back to you in time to save your marriage.

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