08.24.2017

Couple Style + Some Real Life Marriage Talk

In a world filled with gorgeous images of couples and families flooding social media, let’s just have a little real talk about these in front of you. It took about 15 minutes total to snap them…. my mom was behind the camera… and we were on borrowed time with little miss… who, was present, but not seen in the pictures. She had worked her way through the toys I brought to occupy her, and was now demanding full attention. TJ was trying to make light of the situation, and I was all business, per usual…. so, while we may be all smiles, there was definitely a level of stress going on behind them ….

All that to say, no relationship is without stress or conflict. When I shared this post on stress management last week, I received a lot of questions that related to the marital dyad of the family system. So many, that I decided to dedicate today’s post to it. Back when I was practicing therapy, couples work was the hardest for me… so much so, that I kept it to a minimum. What challenged me the most, was that many couples wanted to have an absence of problems, without having to change the way they operated within the system. First of all, I personally feel that accepting that there will be conflict and disagreements throughout your marriage will actually set you up for success as opposed to failure. A happy and successful marriage doesn’t lack disagreements, it’s how these differences are managed that determines success. Secondly, it takes two. It takes two to tango, so it takes two to make the marriage work (disclaimer here… abuse of any kind is not okay, so, that’s not what I’m chatting about here.). All that to say, a lot of the questions asked how to manage stress in your marriage, make time for each other, and how to keep the spark alive. So, today, I will attempt to answer some of these questions, more from a personal, more anecdotal, perspective.

**I do want to add here that just because I offer some personal tips, it in no way means that we have a perfect marriage. Hardly. We just know how much our marriage matters and are willing to work really hard at keeping it a priority.** 

1. How do you keep the spark alive after 7 years of marriage and two children?

Date your husband. Date your wife. TJ and I can always tell when we’ve gone a little too long without focusing on each other. We get testy, snappy, and feel disconnected. Of course, we try not to wait that long, but life happens, and we use that as a loud reminder that we need to book the babysitter and head out for some alone time. This is the same thing I recommended to the couples I worked with…. marriage takes work… just like dating did… so, why stop dating the person you worked so hard for? It doesn’t have to be an extravagant date… TJ and I try to get 3 hours in on a Saturday morning… or a few hours in the evening for a happy hour cocktail…. or even a quick mid-week hour or two alone together. Just enough time to reconnect, without interruptions.

Knowing one another’s Love Language is also incredibly helpful. TJ and I try to have check-ins a few times a month. Is your bucket full? Or is it feeling a little depleted? Knowing what fills the other’s bucket is like giving them a gift they really want. I heard this concept explained this way: We tend to love others the way we want to be loved… but would you give someone a gift that you wanted but they didn’t really need or care about? Likely not. So, knowing what fills your partner’s bucket is filling it in the way they need it to be filled. It really really helps.

2. How do you manage stress when both you and your significant other are stressed out? 

So. Hard. It’s never easy when TJ and I are both in a place of stress. Yet, what we’ve found, and still have to work on to this day, is that we need to manage our stress individually, instead of hoping the other person will fix it for us. That means knowing what I personally need to do to manage mine… sometimes that means we have an evening where it’s pretty quiet in the house…. where I’m doing my stress management and TJ is doing his.

Something that probably comes before all of that though is being able to communicate to the other how you are feeling… before the feelings of stress start to impact the relationship. Sometimes, for us, this is just a simple statement that “I’m really stressed right now and just need some time to figure it all out tonight.” Or, sometimes it means figuring out ways to split the parenting responsibilities so we can both have time to regroup individually.

3. If you could share tips on how to accommodate to you and your partner’s busy lives with different jobs + being supportive of them while still finding time to spend together that would be helpful! My boyfriend and I are in medical school and it gets a little stressful to find a balance. 

I can only imagine how busy and demanding both of your schedules are. While this is in no way the same, I remember when TJ and I were first married, I was studying for my licensing exam, TJ was working full time, and in the last year of his MBA program. It was hugely stressful for us both, and I felt as if most of our time was spent studying or working. TJ was so stressed he started sprouting gray hairs. All that to say, I remember that we scheduled in date nights. We would look at our schedules and block out time to do things we love together…. so, after mid-terms, or after a licensing class I had, we would find a weekend or week night to schedule in a long bike ride, hike, or dinner out. It likely couldn’t be an all day thing, since some of the weekend needed to be spent studying, but it was also nice to know we had something scheduled so we could reconnect. Also, if possible, scheduling in mini dates, at home, can be a great way to reconnect. Find a night during the week, make dinner together, pick a rom com, and have some popcorn (or wine….).

4. My fiancé and I will be married in November. Do you have any advice for newlyweds? And being that you’re also a mental health professional, what can we do to manage our stress on this side of things? 

Yay! Congrats on your upcoming marriage! Such an exciting time. TJ and I always say that the first year of marriage was our hardest (not trying to be a downer!!). So, my first piece of advice would be to give yourself time to figure everything out. For us, we had to navigate how to manage finances together, weather ups and downs (my grandpa, nana, and dog died within the first 6 months of us being married, and then my car needed thousands of dollars of unexpected repairs….), and how to live in such close quarters. I had an unrealistic expectation that it would be easy peasy. So, just knowing that there will be an adjustment period and allowing for it to happen is helpful. Trust that you will eventually find your stride. This is actually the advice we gave to my sister and her husband right before they got married.

Managing stress as a mental health professional is so important too! I recommend mental health days, having supportive co-workers, or a support group, where you can bounce the challenges and stresses off of! Those are the things that I found most helpful in managing my personal stress from the job.

5. How do you deal with not taking your stress out on your spouse? That probably makes me sound horrible. But by the end of the day, after I’ve gotten off work, cooked dinner, put baby to bed and he isn’t picking up the few messes I didn’t get to, it’s hard for me not to get frustrated. I tell myself this every morning, but by 8pm, I’m exhausted and wish he would at least start the dishwasher for me! 

After a long day, it’s so normal to feel exhausted and worn out, and to want some help. We’ve all taken our stress out on our significant other (if you haven’t, please leave your secrets below…..) so don’t feel bad at all! Like I said in the beginning of the post, it’s all about how we eventually manage the disagreement/issue that matters. What we’ve found to be helpful is to use the very cheesy, yet effective “I statements,” even though, at that point in the evening, all we want to do is point the finger and blame. Example? The other night I went to load a wash in the dryer and discovered a bunch of TJ’s clothes still in there… meaning they needed to be folded (or tossed into some corner of the house, only to sit there for who knows how long). I was pretty irritated. So, I took a few deep breaths, and walked out to TJ. I basically just said how I felt about the situation and what I felt would be helpful for me. Without attacking him, he was able to see where I was coming from and we agreed on a plan for the future. Does this always happen? Um, not. But we really really try.

A couple of other effective tools we’ve used to deal with stressors/difficult topics include:

Taking a break from the topic and setting an agreed upon time to re-address the issue. Sometimes there comes a point when talking about an issue is no longer productive. Tabling it and coming back to it with less frustration can make a huge difference… and prevent hurtful things from being said….. This one is my favorite. Sometimes a little space allows you to see it from the other’s perspective.

TJ thinks it’s helpful to hold my hand when we’re having a heated conversation. I don’t. Haha… maybe that will work for you??…..

Trying to fight fair…. no mimicking, eye rolling, name calling, etc…. it never makes the situation better. Ever.

Ok, that’s it! Again, we are far from perfect, but these are some of the tools I’ve taken from my work in therapy to our marriage that we’ve felt have been effective!
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(Outfit Details || My Jeans (cut hem on my own) | My Top (similar options here, here, here, here) | My Shoes | My Sunglasses | TJ’s Jeans | TJ’s Top | TJ’s Sunglasses)

All clothing provided by Paige Denim 

Comments

  1. Date your husband and to fight fair are two major ones for me! We just celebrated our 9th wedding anniversary and it’s so important that we take time to be present for just the two of us and that we always try to fight fair. “No below the belt punches” as I call them. Currently we are trying to figure out how to manage our time to be more present to our kids and managing everything else (eating clean, keeping the house from a complete hot mess, balancing careers, time for our health, time for us individually and together).. during our few days away we kept circling back to this on how to make it all work. (we have no idea right now which makes us feel a little helpless. but we’ll figure it out!) PS, I love that you disclaimed #thereallife behind these photos!