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How Controlling People Use Guilt and How to Set a Boundary Against it

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How Controlling People Use Guilt and How to Set a Boundary Against it

By Dr. Henry Cloud

No weapon in the arsenal of the controlling person is as strong as the guilt message. It’s likely you even heard one or two before in your life.

Do any of these sound familiar?

“How could you do this to me after all I’ve done for you?”

“It seems like you would care enough about the family to do this one thing for us…”

“You know that if I had it, I would give it to you.”

I could go on and on, but you get the idea. People who say these things are trying to make you feel guilty about your choices. They are trying to make you feel bad about deciding how you will spend your own time and/or resources and about having a life separate from theirs.

Probably everyone is able to some degree to recognize guilt messages when they hear them, but not everyone is strong enough to not succumb to them. Here are a few tips to keep in your back pocket for when these situations arise.

1. Recognize they are guilt messages and are given in an attempt to manipulate and control.

2. Know that guilt messages are really just anger in disguise. The guilt sender is failing to openly admit their anger at you for what you are doing.

3. Guilt messages hide sadness and hurt instead of expressing and owning their true feelings.

4. If guilt works on you, recognize that this is your problem and not theirs. If you continue to blame other people for “making” you feel guilty, they still have power over you.

5. Do not explain or justify. Only guilty children do that. We do not owe guilt senders an explanation for our actions.

6. Be assertive and interpret their message as being about their feelings. For example, “It sounds like you are angry that I chose to …”

The main principle is this: Empathize with what distressed people are feeling, but make it clear that it is their distress. Remember, love and limits are the only clear boundaries. If you react, you have lost ownership of your boundaries.

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

Help! My Spouse Wants Me to Make More Money!

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Help! My Spouse Wants Me to Make More Money!

By Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott

You’ve weighed your career decisions, filtered your values and what’s most important to you, and decided on a job that will help you not only bring in a good income, but also balance those values and pursuits in the best possible way for your family–or so you thought. Suddenly, you’re getting outside pressure from your spouse to up your game…and you’re not sure where it’s coming from.

Money is a hot-button issue in most marriages, but the it tends to really hit a nerve where individual income is concerned. Whether one or both spouses is working, it’s not uncommon for at least one person in a marriage to feel like the other should be bringing in more money. If your spouse wants you to earn a better salary, there are probably multiple reasons for this–and you might need to dig deep to pinpoint some of them.

Today, we’ll explore some of the motivations for one spouse pressuring the other to raise their income, and a few ways you can approach the issue together. Chances are, you and your spouse share more common ground than you realize when it comes to your dreams for the future and your desires for your family’s security.

WHAT’S YOUR ANGLE?

It’s painful to realize that your and your spouse’s life dreams are out of sync. A great place to start exploring your differing viewpoints is to try to understand where your spouse is coming from. Did your spouse come from a family of origin that placed a high value on material possessions, job security, or a certain income level? Does he or she want a higher level of income for more freedom, more opportunities, or the chance to travel and have experiences that require extra money? Is he or she hoping to spend more time at home with the children? Or does your spouse want to pursue a degree that requires him or her to work fewer hours in the meantime?

Understanding your spouse’s motivations will give you empathy as you attempt to approach the situation in a constructive way. Most likely, your spouse isn’t trying to be destructive by asking for more money, but their emotions around the subject might prevent them from seeing your side of the coin. Now that you know where his or her mind is, you can make your case more effectively.

Does your spouse realize what you’d be saying “no” to if you said “yes” to a more demanding job? Maybe you work a job that affords you plenty of time with your spouse or your children, and you don’t want to give that up in favor of overtime or a more demanding position. Or you might have chosen your current job because it’s a means to an end that allows you to pursue your true passion on the side–a job that, if you gave it up, would prevent you from pursuing your dream.

Explain to your spouse what he or she (or your family) stands to lose if you take a higher-paying job. Maybe you currently provide them with quality time you’d be giving up, or you might have responsibilities at home you’ll no longer be able to maintain.

WEIGHING THE PROS AND CONS

Work together to identify and weigh the pros and cons of you bringing in a larger income. You can get everything in front of you by dividing a piece of paper into “Pro” and “Con” columns, then making notes on each of your stances. Remember to value your relationships with one another and your children over financial resources, and check in with yourselves to make sure your priorities are in order.

More importantly, don’t assume your spouse has his or her priorities mixed up; he or she might want more money for the family to take adventure trips or have special experiences together that you currently can’t afford. It’s important to remember you might just have different ideas of what you can accomplish together, based on your income.

As you make your list of pros and cons, you’ll probably find that you have many more dreams and desires in common than you realized before, even though this issue feels highly polarized. And your spouse may bring motivations to light that he or she didn’t know how to put into words before. If you can both get to the crux of why raising your income is so important, you’ll stand a better chance of pursuing a constructive solution.

FINDING A MUTUALLY-BENEFICIAL SOLUTION

Once the two of you have hashed out your motivations and dreams for your family’s finances, you can land on a solution that works for you both.

If your spouse is craving a sense of financial security–perhaps because of fears stemming from a financially insecure childhood–work together to create a plan that provides more emotional safety. This might involve finding a way to get extra money into savings, or having a solid fallback plan if your current career is uncertain. Your spouse also needs to be willing to become a part of meeting those security needs in a way that works for your family so all the burden isn’t resting on your shoulders. Taking ownership of that fear of financial crisis will, ultimately, make your spouse feel more confident and peaceful about the family’s finances.

If your spouse’s motivations tend to be more material in nature, consider whether your values line up enough to pursue a higher-paying job–but don’t get into the frenzy of trying to achieve a lifestyle that doesn’t fit what you deeply value. If the idea of a weightier job doesn’t work for you, the two of you might agree instead on a contained amount of overtime that will help you achieve specific financial goals, like taking that vacation you’ve been talking about. And if your spouse simply can’t let go of that higher-income dream, you can offer to commit more time to responsibilities at home to allow him or her to take on earning that extra money.

You both have good reasons for choosing the stances you’ve taken regarding earnings and career pursuits. And it’s always possible that your spouse is making a legitimate case for you to pursue a higher income. As the two of you explore your individual situation, we encourage you to each take an honest, objective evaluation of yourself, your career, and your family’s income and material needs to determine your next steps.

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

Praise You In This Storm

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Praise You In This Storm (by Casting Crowns)

I was sure by now, God you would have reached down
And wiped our tears away,
Stepped in and saved the day.
But once again, I say amen
That it’s still raining
As the thunder rolls
I barely hear your whisper through the rain
I’m with you
And as your mercy falls
I raise my hands and praise
The God who gives and takes away

And I’ll praise you in this storm
And I will lift my hands
That you are who you are
No matter where I am
And every tear I’ve cried
You hold in your hand
You never left my side
And though my heart is torn
I will praise you in this storm

I remember when I stumbled in the wind
You heard my cry you raised me up again
My strength is almost gone how can I carry on
If I can’t find you
As the thunder rolls
I barely hear you whisper through the rain
I’m with you
And as your mercy falls
I raise my hands and praise
The God who gives and takes away

And I’ll praise you in this storm
And I will lift my hands
That you are who you are
No matter where I am
And every tear I’ve cried
You hold in your hand
You never left my side
And though my heart is torn
I will praise you in this storm

I lift my eyes unto the hills
Where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord
The maker of heaven and earth
I lift my eyes unto the hills
Where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord
The maker of heaven and earth

And I’ll praise you in this storm
And I will lift my hands
That you are who you are
No matter where I am
And every tear I’ve cried
You hold in your hand
You never left my side
And though my heart is torn
I will praise you in this storm

And though my heart is torn
I will praise you in this storm

7 Ways to Seek Peace First in Your Marriage

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7 Ways to Seek Peace First in Your Marriage

By Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott

“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” – Romans 12:18 (NIV)

Being a peacemaker isn’t easy. It’s not the passive existence of “keeping the peace,” or keeping your mouth shut to avoid confrontation. Instead, it’s an intentional, active state of existence that requires you to make careful–and sometimes difficult–decisions regarding the state of your relationship. Seeking and creating peace requires courage and fortitude.

Resolving conflict is marriage is difficult; because it can be so tricky to navigate, many couples find that unresolved issues and hurts begin to accumulate over time. In many cases, this leads to resentment and more frequent conflict. One way to combat this issue is to intentionally work to create peace in your marriage by uncovering and facing your issues head-on.

Today, we’re sharing 7 things you and your spouse can to do “seek peace and pursue it” in your marriage.

1. BE THE FIRST TO APOLOGIZE.

Whether or not your spouse is in the wrong alongside you doesn’t matter–what matters is whether you’re willing to step up and say you’re sorry first. Don’t wait around for your spouse to come to you; if you have something you need to apologize for, go ahead and do it. This will open the door for your spouse to respond in kind if he or she has been holding out. (Just be sure to only apologize if you actually have something to apologize for!)

2. OWN YOUR MISTAKES.

Avoiding responsibility for bad decisions you make or hurtful things you say to your spouse will only make wounds fester and grow worse over time. Even though you might not want to admit to any wrongdoing, it’s best to bite the bullet and admit you made a mistake. Your spouse will be more likely to extend forgiveness sooner if you’re willing to own your part when you apologize.

3. DON’T SWEEP THINGS UNDER THE RUG.

If you’ve got unresolved conflict under the surface of your marriage, sooner or later, it’s going to get bigger and bigger until you can’t handle it anymore. Don’t sweep issues under the rug, hide from them, or send them down the road; face them head-on, and acknowledge their presence so they’ll be less likely to keep growing.

4. ENCOURAGE YOUR SPOUSE TO FACE ISSUES TOGETHER.

You and your spouse can create peace together by facing down your conflicts, challenges, and issues as a team. The two of you are stronger together than you are apart, and if only one of you is fighting your battles, that could lead to resentment and conflict between the two of you. Put your heads together to create solutions and ideas that will lead you away from strife and toward a happy, peaceful existence together.

5. SPEAK THE TRUTH IN LOVE.

Sometimes, you have to say things your spouse doesn’t want to hear. And you know it’s going to hurt you, too, when your spouse responds in pain or anger. Approach him or her in a loving way and lay all your cards on the table; if he or she has an issue that is hurting your marriage or family–or is even just harmful to them in some way–you have to put it out there. It could be addiction, hurtful behavior, or any number of things. Your spouse’s well being may depend on you speaking up. And if he or she goes down a destructive path, your marriage goes down, too.

6. BITE YOUR TONGUE.

On the flipside, sometimes you have to check yourself to keep the peace. Do you tend to speak before you think, saying hurtful things in the process? Is it sometimes hard to rein in your temper when the going gets rough? If you want to seek peace first, it will pay dividends to learn when to hold your tongue and think about what you’re about to say before it comes out of your mouth.

7. ASK FOR HELP.

If your marriage is in trouble and you can’t seem to achieve peace on your own, it’s healthy and wise to ask for help. A trusted friend, pastor, mentor, or counselor can help you determine your next steps toward establishing peace in your marriage. Do your best to get your spouse on board, and work together with that trusted person in order to get on solid ground.

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

Suicide Warning Signs

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If you or someone you love is actively struggling with suicidal thoughts, contact 911 or Netcare (614-276-2273) immediately for help. If you or someone you love are struggling with symptoms related to suicide but are not considering acting on those thoughts, please call CornerStone Family Services at 614-459-3003 to talk with a counselor.

5 Ways Empathy Can Neutralize Conflict With Your Spouse

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5 Ways Empathy Can Neutralize Conflict With Your Spouse

By Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott

Empathy is defined as the identification with and understanding of another’s situation, feelings, and motives. It’s a critical component to success in all types of relationships, but it’s particularly valuable in marriage, a place where peace and harmony are paramount to success.

Practicing empathy can effectively neutralize conflict and restore peace to your marriage. Here are 5 ways being empathic toward your spouse can benefit you both and nurture lifelong love.

1. EMPATHY OPENS YOUR EYES TO ANOTHER POINT OF VIEW.

When you empathize with a person, you put yourself in their shoes. You’re able to view things from their perspective. Empathy gets you out of your own head and gives you a chance to consider situations from a variety of angles. This is especially helpful when you’re working through conflict with your husband or wife.

When you’re in defense mode during a fight, you’re invested in protecting and promoting your own opinion on the issue at hand. It can be difficult to hear your spouse out when you’re passionate about making your point. But when you put empathy into practice, it can help you step out of that defensive stance and into a more open mindset.

2. EMPATHY HELPS YOU UNDERSTAND HOW YOUR SPOUSE FEELS.

Emotions run high when you’re working through conflict together, and it’s difficult to handle your own feelings, much less identify with your spouse’s. Practicing empathy will help you understand your spouse’s feelings, whether or not you agree with them.

Having a greater understanding of both of your emotions gives you a big-picture view of what you’re both dealing with. If you can get inside your spouse’s feelings, like fear or anxiety, you’ll be able to suss out ways to calm those emotions–or even make space for positive feelings to take their place. Empathy creates emotional safety, which will help both of you come to a resolution with as little pain as possible.

3. EMPATHY REVEALS YOUR SPOUSE’S MOTIVATIONS.

When you’re in the heat of battle (or just a simple misunderstanding), it’s all too easy to make assumptions about your spouse’s motives. Often, we decide–without actually asking our spouse–why they’re taking a certain position on a contested topic. Without empathy, it’s easy to fill in the blanks for our spouse. And unfortunately, we tend to assume that their motives are not in our best interests.

While you might not understand why your spouse disagrees with you, or why he or she made a decision you’re not happy about, that doesn’t mean they’re trying to hurt you. And when you step outside your own assumptions and leverage empathy instead, you’ll be able to see that more clearly.

4. EMPATHY KEEPS CONFLICT FROM ESCALATING INTO IRREVERSIBLE DAMAGE.

When you don’t have empathy for one another, a simple fight can descend into an all-out war. If you don’t check your reactions to one another, you could easily start hurling insults, calling names, and assassinating each other’s character. And these kinds of damaging reactions don’t do anything except run your marriage into the ground.

Being intentionally empathic will help you bite your tongue when you’re aching to scream at your spouse; it will keep your anger in check and help you think about what you say before you say it. If you’re in touch with your spouse’s emotions, you’re not going to want to say or do things to cause them more pain. Using empathy to guide your actions and reactions will never fail either of you.

5. EMPATHY CAN HELP REDUCE THE FREQUENCY OF YOUR FIGHTS.

Empathy is its own special brand of preventive medicine. While conflict in marriage is inevitable, showing empathy toward one another could actually help you to avoid unnecessary arguments in the future. And when you do butt heads, you’ll be less likely to let your conflicts escalate into a full-out fight.

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

For Better of For Worse: Dealing With Tough Times in Marriage

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For Better of For Worse: Dealing With Tough Times in Marriage

By Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott

“More marriages might survive if the partners realized that sometimes the better comes after the worse.”
– Anonymous

If you and your spouse know how to navigate the tough times in your marriage, you’ll come out on the other side closer than ever before. Hard times and conflict are inevitable–they’re just a part of life. When you overcome those times together, that can really deepen your sense of partnership.

Whether you’re dealing with internal conflicts (disagreement or stalemate, infidelity, health crises, mental illness, etc.) or external conflicts (loss, tragedy, job stress or loss, family or in-law issues, etc.), you’re going to come up against some mix of these challenges over the course of your marriage. The trick is knowing how to stick together through it all.

REMEMBER, YOU’RE TEAMMATES

Difficulties in your life can throw your entire marriage off kilter. While each situation must be assessed and approached in its own unique way, a good overarching idea is to remember that you’re on the same team; you aren’t enemies.

When you function as teammates, it’s easier to tackle life’s problems together–and less likely that you’ll turn on one another. Here are some tips for sticking together:

Face your conflict head-on together; don’t bury or avoid it!
Don’t assassinate one another’s character or belittle each other.
Communicate openly about what you’re going through, and listen to one another.
Be present for each other; no checking out allowed.

If you’re finding it increasingly difficult to work together as partners through this season, consider getting outside, objective help from a trusted counselor or pastor. This can help you get focused on your primary objective: sticking together and coming out of this stronger.

CULTIVATE INTIMACY

In general, every relationship has seasons; love has its own natural ebb and flow. But it’s almost a guarantee that most marriages will experience dry spells in the midst of hard times. Tough situations are very consuming, and that can drain all your energy before you’re able to give your marriage the attention it needs.

It’s pretty typical, at some point in most marriages, for spouses to express, “We were soulmates, but now we’re roommates.” When you’ve been dealing with difficult issues, you might come out of it feeling like this.

If you’ve managed to hold onto each other and get through your unique situation together, you’re one step ahead of the pack already. Clearly, your commitment to each other is still there–but it has been tested, and emotionally, it might feel pretty empty.

Just because your relationship doesn’t feel fulfilling in this season doesn’t mean it’s dead. It just needs to be revived. You’re not going to feel emotionally connected to each other 100% of the time, and that’s just how life is. The trick is getting connected again, and you can do this by cultivating intimacy.

To ignite more intimacy in your marriage:

  • Revisit things you have in common.
  • Reminisce together.
  • Invest in the interests or activities that excite your spouse.
  • Laugh together!

We can’t emphasize this enough: laughing together will help you revive the connection you’ve been lacking. Tough times can take a lot out of you, including simple things like laughter. Bring that back to life, and you’ll be amazed at what it does for your marriage.

TAKE ONE DAY AT A TIME

Hard seasons in marriage make time feel like it’s dragging by. We know how hard it is to wait for a particular season to pass. Grief, heartbreak, job loss, disconnection, illness, and similar issues all have to run their course, and sometimes it feels like the pain will never end. Just take one day at a time, keep holding onto one another, and you’ll come out on the other side stronger than ever.

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

10 Reasons to Be Happy With Yourself Before You Marry

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10 Reasons to Be Happy With Yourself Before You Marry

By Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott

“Love can come when you’re already who you are, when you’re filled with you. Not when you look to someone else to fill the empty space.” – Deb Caletti

It’s exciting to dream of the future, especially when you’re dreaming of finding the right person, dating, falling in love, getting married, and living happily ever after. But we often find ourselves wanting to rush the process and get straight to the marriage part. And even though marriage is amazing, it is best experienced when two well-rounded individuals–who know themselves well and are happy with who they are–choose to share their lives together.

Today, we’re sharing 10 reasons why we think it’s important to be comfortable in your own skin before you get married.

1. YOU’LL GET IN TOUCH WITH WHO YOU ARE.

It’s important to know yourself well before you get married. If you’re not in touch with who you are at the core, you could easily make misinformed or misguided decisions about the people you choose to date…or even the person you marry. While you’re single, care for yourself by getting well-acquainted with you: who you are at the core, what you need, where your interests lie, and what you want.

2. YOU WON’T FEEL LIKE YOU NEED SOMEONE TO COMPLETE YOU.

Believing that you are a whole person all on your own is an incredibly important part of becoming a healthy individual. It’s also critical to getting into a healthy relationship and building a thriving marriage. Not feeling like a complete person can lead you right into the arms of someone who is no good for you, so actively strive to view yourself as a complete person with a full, happy life ahead of you–whether or not you ever marry.

3. YOU’LL GIVE YOURSELF ENOUGH TIME TO FIGURE OUT WHAT YOU NEED AND WANT IN A SPOUSE.

Whether you’re single or dating, take the time to dig deep and make a list of the qualities you want and need in your future spouse. Then, make another list of deal-breakers, and stick to those lists. That way, when the wrong person tries to sweep you off your feet, you’ll have a strong point of reference to fall back on. And when you do meet the right person, you’ll know.

4. YOU’LL BE LESS LIKELY TO GET INTO AN ABUSIVE RELATIONSHIP.

Being happy with yourself will alleviate the desperation so many men and women have to simply feel loved, wanted, and needed by somebody else. Abusive individuals know how to target people who crave those kinds of attention. When you’re happy regardless of your dating status, you’re less likely to look like prey to abusers. You’ll also be better equipped to exit a dating relationship that’s going bad.

5. YOU’LL BE MORE COMFORTABLE WITH TAKING THINGS SLOW.

When you’re happy with who you are, you’re not as likely to rush into anything. You will have, ideally, built a life for yourself that you love, and you won’t be eager to upend that for just any relationship. Patience comes with knowing what you want, and being unwilling to settle for anything less.

6. YOU’LL DEVELOP A STRONG SENSE OF INDEPENDENCE.

If you’re not depending on another person to make you happy or fulfill your heart’s desires, you’ll set out on your own to achieve them. You won’t wait on someone else to take adventures with you; instead, you’ll be comfortable setting out on your own, ready to seize each opportunity that comes your way. You don’t have to get someone else’s approval or willingness to join in; you’ve already got everything you need to go it alone.

7. YOU’LL BE MORE LIKELY TO HAVE HEALTHY BOUNDARIES IN PLACE.

When you’re happy with yourself, you practice self-care, and that includes setting up healthy boundaries in your life. Being able to do this before you start a relationship with someone else will set you up for success later. You’ll be able to navigate dating relationships in a healthier way, and when you do get married, you will already have practice exercising the boundaries you’ll need when you become part of your spouse’s family (and vice versa).

8. YOU’LL GIVE YOURSELF TIME TO PURSUE INTERESTS, CAREERS, TRAVEL, AND MORE.

While you’re waiting for the right person, it’s important to use the time you do have as an independent person to explore the life paths and goals that interest you. Whether you want to travel the world, explore a variety of interests, start a business, or change careers, being single is a great time to dive deep. And the right person for you will be a person who is not only on board with your dreams and pursuits, but also supports and encourages them.

9. YOU’LL BE COMFORTABLE WITH GIVING YOUR SPOUSE SPACE TO BE THEMSELVES, TOO.

Forget just feeling independent and happy as an unmarried person; when you do date and get married, you’ll understand your spouse’s need to maintain a strong sense of self and keep pursuing their own interests and dreams. When you give yourself that kind of grace, you’re more likely to extend it to others. And you’ll both be happier when you have the ability to build and share an amazing life, but also stay in touch with who you each are at the core.

10. YOU’LL FEEL SATISFIED WITH THE TIME YOU’VE HAD TO YOURSELF BEFORE YOU SHARE YOUR LIFE WITH SOMEONE ELSE.

We rarely meet couples who say they wish they’d gotten married sooner, and we think this can easily apply to people who remained unmarried for longer, too. When you’re happy with who you are, you won’t spend that solo time feeling miserable; instead, you’ll fill it to the brim with the things you enjoy and the people you love. And when you do meet the right person, that person can become a part of the beautiful life you’ve created for yourself.

If you would like help with being happy with yourself before you marry, please call CornerStone Family Services at 614-459-3003 to talk with a coach or counselor.

Making Gratitude Your Attitude: Why You Need Gratitude At Work

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Making Gratitude Your Attitude: Why You Need Gratitude At Work

By Allen Brouwer

In life, whether personally or professionally, it’s important to show gratitude with those you interact with. But what change will it make at work? Can gratitude really make a difference? We think so. Not only does displaying gratitude show signs of character and class, but it can also contribute to your rise on the ladder of success…

95% of Americans polled were all in agreement that grateful people are more fulfilled and lead richer lives. Part of that fulfillment comes from having success in personal and professional interactions. In the book, The Power of Thanks,  Eric Mosley and Derek Irvine lay out 14 reasons why being grateful can bring success, spanning two decades of global research. Some of which include:

  • Grateful people achieve more-citing their increased determination, enthusiasm and academic achievement.
  • Grateful people are less likely to burn out-managers especially fared well here since providing recognition and appreciation helps them stay energized for their own positions.
  • Giving creates a positive feedback loop-Taken from a study performed by Harvard Business School, “Happier people give more and giving makes people happier, such that happiness and giving may operate in a positive feedback loop (with happier people giving more, getting happier, and giving even more.”

As William Arthur Ward put it, “Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.” You could have Thanksgiving every day! Who’s gonna turn that down?

For the full article, go to the original site.

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

 

It’s Not Me, It’s You: Why Criticism Poisons Happy Marriages

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It’s Not Me, It’s You: Why Criticism Poisons Happy Marriages

By Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott

“People tend to criticize their spouse most loudly in the area where they themselves have the deepest emotional need.” – Gary Chapman

Criticism is an insidious behavior that comes into our marriage and eats at the core of our identity. Few things will shut down intimacy quite like being criticized or controlled, and it is capable of immobilizing your emotional health and personal growth, especially within your relationship.

Nobody enjoys being criticized or picked apart, but it’s especially painful when your spouse–your soul mate–is the one being critical and hurtful to you. It’s demoralizing to be treated this way when you’re doing your best to make a contribution and add value to your relationship…but you get criticized instead of appreciated. Criticism can easily break a servant heart, and that’s a terrible place to be in your marriage.

WHAT MAKES A PERSON CRITICAL?

We like to refer to critical people as “control freaks” or “high-maintenance people.” Control freaks are compelled to critique every little thing you do; it seems like they believe their spiritual gift is to point out what’s wrong with you at every turn.

Control freaks care more about some things than anybody else does, and they won’t stop pushing and nagging until they get their way. They are convinced that things like routine tasks should be done a certain way, and that their way is the only right way to accomplish those things. They have more energy for these matters than most people, and they’re going to make sure you know it.

It’s irritating for your spouse to be controlling in one area or another–after all, every one of us has some quirky part of our life that we feel compelled to control. But when this becomes troublesome and destructive is when the need for control becomes global, and the high-maintenance person believes they have a right to critique and control multiple areas–or even every area–of your life.

Controlling people actually have a high level of unconscious anxiety that influences everything they do. Because they feel anxious, they’re highly motivated to get control of their world. And because they probably haven’t identified their anxiety as coming from within themselves, they’re assigning it to the little things you don’t do “the right way,” then pointing those things out in hopes that you will “fix” the problems, thus alleviating their anxiety for them.

While your spouse may be telling you, “It’s not me, it’s you,” it is most certainly about them.

WHAT CAN YOU DO ABOUT ALL THIS CRITICISM?

In a high-maintenance relationship like this, it’s hard to cope with your spouse’s complaints and critiques without harboring resentment toward him or her. After all, the person who is supposed to love and nurture you first and foremost is picking you apart and trying to “improve” you on a daily basis!

Most critics frame their critiques like this: “I love you so much that I want you to be aware of these few things about you that aren’t perfect.” But being approached in this way doesn’t feel loving at all; it just piles on one thing after another that you can’t do right in your spouse’s eyes, and it’s crippling to feel like you can’t make him or her happy.

First of all, it’s important to focus on the fact that your spouse is actually anxious inside. This helps him or her to look a little more vulnerable to you, and it helps you to cultivate a little more grace and empathy for your spouse. It’s helpful to realize that, on some level, your critical spouse is actually feeling distressed. While this doesn’t let him or her off the hook, it gives you a more detailed perspective on where they’re coming from.

Realizing your spouse is anxious also means you can begin talking with him or her about the problem. A single conversation won’t fix the issue, but over the course of many conversations, you can begin uncovering what they’re feeling so anxious about, and perhaps discover why they have a need to control you. Over time, these talks may help ease the tension in your relationship, and you may find that his or her compulsive criticism will ease, too.

HOW CAN YOU COPE WITH YOUR SPOUSE’S CRITICAL BEHAVIOR?

While you’re working through these issues together, it’s also important for you to have ways to cope with your spouse’s critical spirit. Here are some things you can put into practice now:

  • Learn how to deflect your spouse’s criticism. Humor is a great way to diffuse critical statements, and it can serve as a shield to protect you from your spouse’s negativity.
  • Remind yourself that this is your spouse’s problem–not yours. This is not about you.
  • Communicate to your spouse what their constant criticism is doing to you. Let him or her know, “I can handle a little criticism here and here, but this is pulling my spirit down.”
  • Create a phrase like, “You’ve officially entered the negative zone,” to give your spouse a heads-up that their critiques are becoming excessive.

It’s important for your spouse to know that his or her criticism is harming your spirit. In fact, constant criticism from your spouse can fundamentally change who you are as a person if you don’t both take steps to get into a healthier dynamic. So speak up and stand up for yourself. Showing your spouse this vulnerable part of yourself can help them see what their behavior is doing to your spirit.

When you communicate to your spouse that their behavior is hurting you, and they take steps to try to ease the burden they’re putting on you, you’re less likely to carry a heavy, internal sense of resentment. And when your spouse begins to see and understand what they have been doing to you–that their urge to control isn’t about you, but them–that’s when you’ll begin to see positive behavioral changes in your relationship.

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

Photo by Greg Ortega on Unsplash