5 Ways to Be a Good Listener for Your Spouse

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5 Ways to Be a Good Listener for Your Spouse

By Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott

Opening your heart to your spouse—and nurturing theirs—requires listening well. With so many different issues, obligations, devices, and people pulling at us from every direction, it can be difficult to slow down and truly listen to one another. Listening can be pleasant, but sometimes it’s downright hard. Sometimes, you might want to tune out and lose yourself in your favorite pastime instead—or dive into the list of to-do items you still need to cross off before the day is over.

But to have a healthy, thriving marriage, it’s critical to truly listen to your spouse with empathy and generosity. Today, we’re sharing five ways you can be a good listener for your spouse.

1. LISTEN WITH EMPATHY

When you practice empathy, you’re putting yourself in your spouse’s shoes and seeing things through their eyes. Whether you’re trying to resolve a conflict or just simply listening to your spouse talk about their day, it’s beneficial to both of you to listen with empathy when your spouse speaks to you. For you, it gives you a window into their world and their perspective. For your spouse, knowing that you’re listening from an empathic vantage point helps them feel secure.

Maybe your spouse needs to vent about work, and normally, you tune out when they start talking about their tough day or their challenging project. Instead of switching your mind off while they talk, try to see the events of the day through their eyes, and in the context of your life. Have you been dealing with problems at home, like financial issues, trouble with the kids, or taking care of an ailing parent? Contextualizing your whole life along with what’s happening at your spouse’s job will help you understand the level of pile-on they’re dealing with.

2. LISTEN FOR EMOTION

When your spouse needs to talk to you about something—especially if it’s something hard—it’s easy to get wrapped up and carried away by your own emotions on the topic. In that case, you might respond to your spouse in a totally inappropriate way in your attempt to alleviate the difficult emotions that come up for you. Instead, take a minute to listen for what your spouse might be feeling. This type of intentional listening goes hand-in-hand with empathy.

Once you’ve identified what your spouse is feeling—whether it’s anger, sadness, frustration, anxiety, or excitement—you can adjust your responses based on their emotional state. It gives you an extra chance to check yourself before you say or do something that might exacerbate the emotional state they’re in. When our emotions go into a tailspin, it can be difficult to keep communication healthy.

3. LISTEN WITHOUT BIAS

You’ve both got your opinions, and it’s hard to let those opinions go in favor of simply listening to one another. Listening without bias is helpful when you have opposite stances on certain issues, or when you’re locked in a stalemate during a fight. Set your opinions aside for long enough to hear what your spouse is saying, then practice your empathy skills to try to understand why.

This doesn’t mean you have to change your opinion to match your spouse’s. What it does mean is that your spouse deserves to be heard, and you can’t truly hear if you’re filtering everything they say through your own bias.

4. LISTEN LOVINGLY

When you’re communicating with your spouse, it can be helpful to use loving gestures and body language to let them know you care about what they have to say. It can be as simple as holding eye contact and nodding to affirm what they’re telling you. You could also reach out to touch them or hold hands. Turn your body toward them, or even stop what you’re doing and just sit with them if that’s what they need.

While you may be able to go about your business and have a conversation at the same time (and that can be okay sometimes), there are going to be times where you need to just put everything down and focus all your attention on your spouse. Turn off the TV, put down your phone or other devices, forget the to-do list for a little while, and give your spouse loving affirmation through eye contact and touch.

5. LISTEN GENEROUSLY

Your spouse needs the gift of your time and attention. It’s hard to take time out of our busy lives to generously give our energy to listening when we have so much to do every day, but communicating openly is key to a healthy marriage. When you listen generously, your spouse will feel secure in coming to you with their concerns, hopes, and fears.

If you would like more help with listening and communicating well with your spouse, please contact CornerStone Family Services at 614-459-3003 to talk with a counselor or coach.

My Spouse Is Refusing Professional Help! What Can I Do?

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My Spouse Is Refusing Professional Help! What Can I Do? 

By Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott

We all go through times in our lives and our marriages when we’d benefit greatly from getting professional help. Whether we’re having trouble dealing with a life change or transition, experience depression, or facing addiction, there are hundreds of scenarios that could warrant going into counseling with your spouse. But what happens if you recognize the need to get help…but your spouse doesn’t? Is there anything you can do?

You can’t force someone to seek therapy, but you can encourage it—and you can make changes to yourself that result in positive changes for your spouse. Read on for four common scenarios many couples face, and how to approach getting help for a spouse who doesn’t want or recognize the need for it.

IF YOUR SPOUSE REFUSES MARRIAGE COUNSELING…

Maybe you and your spouse have some recurring issues or unresolved problems that are causing trouble in your relationship. The two of you might be fighting a lot lately. Your spouse might have even asked for a separation, or you might suspect that he or she wants a divorce.

You know that working with a therapist or marriage counselor could help the two of you work through whatever you’ve been struggling with. The problem is, your spouse is completely against the idea, and nothing you say will change their mind about it.

It’s incredibly painful when you’re motivated to work on your relationship, but your spouse isn’t willing. You might feel stuck or hopeless, but there’s good news: you can seek help yourself and make changes on your own—without your spouse—that can improve your marriage.

Going to counseling on your own can help you focus on becoming the healthiest possible version of yourself. The most important thing you can do for your marriage is to work on who you are; every healthy choice you make gives your spouse a chance to join you.

Even if your spouse never attends a therapy session, the positive changes you make will affect him or her significantly. In fact, your change is a catalyst for change in your spouse. We’ve seen relationships turn around completely as a result of just one spouse stepping up to get help. So even if you’re the only one willing to seek help, you can still improve your marriage.

IF YOUR SPOUSE IS EXPERIENCING DEPRESSION…

Have you noticed that your spouse seems distant from you and disinterested in things they used to enjoy? Have you observed sudden changes in their sleep habits, appetite, energy levels, or mood? If you suspect that your spouse is dealing with depression, there are a few things you can do that will go a long way toward encouraging them to get the help they need.

First, educate yourself on the degrees and common variations of depression. Depression is a spectrum, ranging from mild, circumstantial depressive periods to severe chemical imbalances and mood disorders.

Your spouse’s depression might be temporary and circumstantial; maybe you’ve just gone through a major life change that triggered it. Some depression is neurochemical, requiring medications and interventions from doctors and therapists. Everyone’s case is different, so it’s important to try to identify what’s going on.

You don’t want to treat depression lightly; if your spouse can’t identify it in themselves, it’s up to you to try to help him or her recognize the symptoms. Try to get some outside, objective help if you can; if your spouse continues to resist therapy or counseling, find a checklist of common depression symptoms and identify the signs you’ve noticed in your spouse. Gently share your list with your spouse and tell them something like, “You know, it feels like so many of these things are things you’re dealing with. I love you and I’d love to see you start feeling better again.”

Continue gently encouraging your spouse to seek help; it’s important for them to get evaluated by a doctor or mental health professional as soon as possible. It’s hard to admit you’re having a problem with depression, but the sooner your spouse admits it, the sooner he or she will be on the road to recovery.

IF YOUR SPOUSE HAS AN ADDICTION…

Addiction is one of the most difficult issues to face in any relationship—especially your marriage. You might have been watching your spouse fall into their particular addiction for a while now, but maybe you’ve only recently realized how bad it is. And it’s difficult—sometimes impossible—to communicate with someone who doesn’t see a problem you see.

Whether your spouse’s addiction is gambling, drugs, alcohol, pornography, or something else, he or she is likely to be in serious denial about the issue. Addiction is the physical reality that you’ve lost control over your ability to resist something. And it’s the emotional reality of the pain you’re trying to escape from because you’re unable to cope with it.

If your spouse won’t agree to seek help, think about staging an intervention with some trusted friends or members of your family. Sometimes, a person who is in denial about an addiction needs a group of voices to lead them toward help—not just one. They have to be willing to say, “I’m powerless over this,” then be willing to be vulnerable and put in the hard work to overcome the addiction.

IF YOUR SPOUSE IS A CHILDHOOD TRAUMA SURVIVOR…

Childhood trauma—whether it’s emotional, physical, mental, or sexual abuse—is a serious and weighty topic that continues to impact victims into their adult lives (especially their marriages). If your spouse grew up in a sexually abusive home, for instance, he or she needs extensive therapy in order to experience healing.

When someone has been through that kind of trauma, they’re going to have baggage that will impact both them and their spouse for years to come until they’ve found some kind of resolution for the ongoing pain. Your spouse has the power to become a healing presence for others because of their past, but they need guidance from a counselor to turn their traumatic experiences into healing for others.

The first step toward healing is awareness. If your spouse has confided in you, that’s the first step. We know couples who have gone for decades before one spouse’s childhood trauma was revealed, and in retrospect, they could understand so much more about the troubles they’d faced in their 25 years of marriage.

Keep communication open and encourage your spouse to seek therapy. As an alternative step forward (although we highly recommend moving on to therapy together), your spouse might be open to starting the conversation with a mentor couple first.

If you would like help with your marriage, please contact CornerStone Family Services at 614-459-3003 to talk with a counselor or coach.

11 Ways Engaged Couples Should Deal with Finances Now

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11 Ways Engaged Couples Should Deal with Finances Now

By Deepak Reju

So you’re engaged, and now you’re preparing for the big day. There are a thousand things on your mind. Wedding dress. Invitations. A cake. A photographer. The list goes on and on.

What about your finances? If you’re a typical single, you do your best to manage your finances and have a good sense of how much is entering and exiting your bank account. But now you’re getting married. What should change? Marriage gurus name the three big areas of conflict as sex, parenting, and finances. How can you prevent future fights over money?

Here are 11 recommendations.

1. Your money is not just a practical issue, but a spiritual one.

Don’t falsely divide your life into financial management or spiritual issues. As Christians, all of life falls under the sovereignty of God, including our finances. As Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Matt. 6:24).

A follower of Jesus cannot have divided loyalties; the Lord is to be first in all things. And Christian priorities should guide your handling of money. How you steward it is a spiritual issueYour money can be used for kingdom purposes, or it can hinder your relationship with God. Which is it for you?

2. Don’t merge your finances before the big day.

David and Sally were engaged. Things went so poorly they broke up. Problem was, they’d merged their finances and didn’t keep track of who spent what.

You aren’t yet married. So don’t pretend you’re married with all the perks of marriage. It’s a colossal mess to deal with merged finances after a nasty breakup. Tensions are already high enough when things fall apart. Why add to this mess?

3. Merge your bank accounts after you get married.

How you handle your money in marriage says a lot about your trust for one another. Getting married means merging everything. It’s no longer his money, or her money, but our money. Traditional marriage vows often state, “With this ring, I thee wed, and with all my world goods I thee endow.” If you’re not willing to entrust your money and everything you own to your future spouse, why are you getting married?

This is serious business. I won’t marry a couple if they won’t merge their bank accounts after marriage. It signals they don’t trust one another with important things.

4. You need a budget.

In and of itself, money is not anything. It’s a proxy for value. So when we fight over our money, we’re fighting over what we value.

We learn these values from different places (family, church, education, and so on). As Christians, your values will be similar. You treasure God and his kingdom (Matt. 6:19–2133). You desire a generous spirit (Prov. 14:21312 Cor. 9:11). You steward your resources wisely (Prov. 27:23). Nevertheless, even as Christians you’ve learned different financial values due to your differing educations, upbringings, and experiences.

Here’s the rub: Your financial values are primarily intuitive. And these implicit values will be made explicit in marriage. As your differing values come into conflict, they can create tension.

So how do you prevent conflict over money? Establish a common set of values—a shared value system. A husband and wife should operate with a mutually-agreed-upon set of financial values. When you form a budget together, implicit values get discussed as you answer the question, “What do we mutually value?” Your family budget is a primary way to give expression to what is important to both of you.

There will be less conflict in a marriage marked by careful financial planning and explicit shared values. So why not start working toward that goal during engagement by planning your future budget and discussing your common values? A budget turns conversations about money from reactive and constraint-driven to proactive and opportunity-driven.

5. Take the one-income challenge.

If you want to take things one step further with your proposed budget, remove one of your incomes and figure out how to live on just one salary. For some of you, the thought is painful. Here are four reasons I ask couples to consider this practice:

  • Learning to trim unnecessary expenses, like frequent eating out, is a good habit. It takes discipline to live on less.
  • A second income (while it’s available) can be used to eliminate debt or prepare for the future (for example, save for a down payment on a home or create a rainy-day fund). Use that second income to be especially aggressive about paying off debt with high interest rates.
  • If the wife desires to be at home once you have kids, it’s good to figure out now (while you’re engaged) what’s required financially to make that life possible. And no matter what you think you’ll do regarding employment once kids come along, you want to give yourselves flexibility for that new stage of life.
  • A one-income budget prepares you for uncertainty. Jessica and John got pregnant in their first month of marriage. She was sick throughout the pregnancy and was no longer able to work. They didn’t plan for it, so they weren’t prepared.

Even if you don’t end up living on just one income, learning to discipline your budget is a wise thing to do.

6. Establish a habit of communicating about finances.

Don’t leave one another in the dark. I cringe when I hear someone say, “I don’t know anything about our finances. If my spouse died, I don’t know what I’d do.” During engagement, communicate about your finances. Think, plan, and scheme together about your financial future. Establish the habit now, so that it’s normal in marriage to discuss it. Your finances are God-given means of building unity.

7. Figure out a plan for the grunt work.

Establishing a budget is easy. Executing a budget is hard. Too often I’ve met couples who created a viable budget, but never followed through. Don’t let that be you.

8. Get out of debt.

Take advantage of the time when you have no children and two incomes. Establish an aggressive payment schedule for getting out of debt now. You won’t regret it.

9. Don’t let difficult circumstances get in the way of giving.

The churches in Macedonia were suffering great trials and didn’t have much, yet they gave sacrificially (2 Cor. 8:1–2). They were poor, and they still gave. The love of Christ compelled them to live this way. Adopt a gospel-mindset that, no matter what, you’ll give generously to others.

10. Establish a habit of giving sacrificially and cheerfully.

Giving is an act of grace (2 Cor. 8:6). It’s a reflection of the grace we’ve received through Christ who, though rich, impoverished himself for our sake (2 Cor. 8:9). A gospel mindset says because Christ gave up his life for me, I should give up my life for others. A gospel-saturated life, then, results in generosity toward others. Oh that we wouldn’t be stingy Christians, but those who would beg for the privilege of giving more (2 Cor. 8:4).

Additionally, develop the habit of focusing outward and serving others rather than obsessing over the perfect wedding day. Give your money first to the Lord rather than spending it all on wedding vendors.

11. Give to missionaries and parachurch work, but start with your local church.

If your local church is the main hub of your spiritual growth, it should be main source of your generous giving (Gal. 6:6). Give to missions, campus workers, or lots of other solid Christian causes, but start with God’s primary plan for advancing his kingdom—the local church.

Start Now

Because your finances matter to the Lord, they should matter to you and your fiancé. Don’t wait until you’re married to take finances seriously! During engagement you can establish the habits of creating a budget, adjusting your spending, communicating about money, and giving generously to your church. This preparation will position you for a lifetime of wise financial choices.

Stewarding your money in a way that glorifies God is a privilege. A challenging one for sure, but a privilege nonethless.

If you are looking for more premarital help or premarital counseling, please contact CornerStone Family Services at 614-459-3003 to talk with a coach or counselor.

3 Can’t Miss Financial Tips for Married Couples

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3 Can’t Miss Financial Tips for Married Couples

By Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott

Money is one of the toughest subjects to tackle in marriage. It’s one of the top reasons married couples fight, and it’s a source of constant stress and strain for many couples around the world. But the good news is, you and your spouse can create a healthy attitude around money in your marriage if you know where to start.

It’s important to establish healthy financial practices as early in marriage as possible. Today, we’re sharing three financial habits you can establish to start out on the right foot.

BE RESPECTFUL OF EACH OTHER’S MONEY STYLE

Are you a saver, while your spouse is more of a spender? Savers and spenders have the uncanny ability of finding each other and getting married; it’s rare for both spouses to have the same financial style. And when it comes to spending versus saving, it’s important to have empathy for one another.

First, acknowledge that each of you might be a little more extreme in your stance than you need to be. When you acknowledge your spouse’s voice, it helps to prevent them from becoming more extreme in their money behaviors to protect themselves and their preferences around spending and saving.

The most important thing here is to create a sense of balance and shared ownership in your finances so neither of you acts out the most extreme version of your money tendencies. If you both decide to split bill-paying duties, that will serve as its own form of accountability.

An effective way to generate empathy for one another’s money personality is to go shopping together and reverse roles. If you’re the saver, act like the spender and have your spouse urge you to save. This could completely transform the way you each approach money because it gives you a chance to understand what kind of anxiety you create for each other when you’re digging in your financial heels by either pushing hard to spend or save.

If you’re the spender, maybe you could take over financial responsibilities for a month to see the reality of your expenses. Money will become more tangible when you’re making bank deposits and withdrawals, paying bills, and monitoring the budget. It will also give you empathy for your saver-spouse’s stance.

START A BUDGET TOGETHER

Once you’ve become more familiar with each other’s money style, start a budget. Budgets don’t work unless they’re a shared dream, so carve out some time to put your heads together and create a great starting point for your monthly finances. You’re going to want to do this together; this isn’t a solo act where one person runs the numbers and lays down the law. Look at the numbers together, talk through each issue, and chart a budget you agree on using our handy budgeting sheet (you can download a copy here).

The most important thing to realize when you’re creating a budget is that this is a work in progress; it’s not something you have to set in stone from day one. It’s not finalized; rather, it gives you a healthy starting place to operate from when it comes to spending and saving money.

Once a month, quarterly, or bi-annually, sit down together to take a look at your spending and saving patterns against the budget you established. As you review the numbers, ask yourselves what life has demanded from you in comparison to the budget you created. Talk through what’s negotiable versus what’s not, then adjust your budget to something that’s more realistic for you as a couple. (You can find a deeper dive into getting on the same page financially in this post.)

AUTOMATE YOUR SAVINGS

One of the best ways to save money every month is to put a system in place that will save for you. Set up automatic withdrawals that funnel a certain amount of money into your savings account as soon as your paychecks hit the bank; this creates a disciplined savings routine so you don’t have the option of changing your mind.

The most important thing is to build savings systems that provide automatic discipline so the hard decisions are already done for you. It’s like anything that requires willpower or sacrifice; you have to remove the temptation to spend the money by moving the money out of reach.

If you have a hard time saving toward a specific goal, set goal markers for yourself and build in gratification along the way as you reach each milestone. Maybe you allow yourselves to purchase something you’d like, or maybe you take a nice vacation. Or perhaps you can plan for small, realistic daily rewards. But be realistic; you can’t deny yourselves everything.

YOU CAN DO THIS!

It can feel a little tricky to navigate financial issues together, but you can absolutely find common ground and a way to deal with money in your marriage that works for both of you. Stay patient, empathic, and kind as you create your unique financial style as a couple. The payoff will be worth the preparation!

 

If you would like help with your relationship or marriage, give CornerStone Family Services a call at 614-459-3003 to talk with one of our counselors or coaches.