Abigale Hassel

Abigale Hassel

Abigale S. Hassel is a licensed Clinical Social Worker, and individual and couples counselor. MSW, LCSW, OSW-C.

**The advice provided represents the opinions of the author.  It is not to be considered therapy or professional advice of any kind.  If you require such advice, you should consult an appropriate professional.  Refer to the Marriage Rocks Website Terms and Conditions (link in page footer) for other applicable terms and conditions.**

Pride, Don't Let It Ruin Your Marriage

By Abigale Hassell


This post is dedicated to an awesome client of mine; I will call her Jill. Jill is funny, she is smart, she is beautiful, inside and out, but she struggles with something that is contributing to her relationship issues. Pride has become a big stumbling block for her. Listen, pride is not one of the 7 deadly sins for nothing! In Jill’s case, it causes her to put up the anger shield. When her boyfriend is not fighting fairly, she reacts in kind. She almost always feels regret afterwards, but, in the heat of the moment, she instinctively puts up the anger shield rather than allowing herself to be vulnerable. Jill and I have talked about being the change she would like to see in the relationship and leading by example, because she has learned that she cannot control anyone other than herself. 

Jill is not the only one who struggles with pride. We all have at one time or another. The problem is that things rarely get resolved when we allow our pride to inhibit us from behaving in a way we know is most appropriate. The only way we can work through issues is to learn how to fight fairly. You can refer to my earlier post for details on how to fight fairly: http://yesmarriagerocks.com/mrocks/blog/item/175-5-basic-rules-for-fighting-fairly

I know it is not easy and we cannot possibly fight “correctly” every time, but let me point out what happens when pride gets in the way of good communication. Pride motivates us to protect ourselves from perceived attacks, disrespect or slights from others. We think we are protecting ourselves from getting hurt, looking like a fool, or feeling that we have been taken advantage of; however, we are not only not protecting ourselves, we are actually hurting both ourselves and the relationship. 

When we let pride take over, we are robbing ourselves of the opportunity to have a meaningful conversation. We get stuck in a cycle of anger and resentment and we rarely resolve the issue. Furthermore, I guarantee that if you deal with your partner in a prideful way, you will not see a change in the behavior that caused you to put the shield up in the first place. In order to see your partner own his or her behavior, you must first create a safe atmosphere for them to do so. Believe me, if you come at your partner in a prideful way, you will most likely make him or her feel attacked, then he or she will either attack back or retreat. Either way, nothing is accomplished or you both walk away feeling resentful. All you have at that point is your pride and pride does not keep you warm at night, does it?

I am in no way suggesting that you do not hold your partner accountable for bad behavior. Quite the contrary! However, you must do it in a way that does not make your partner feel attacked or criticized. Also, you must remember that timing is everything. By controlling your reactions in the heat of the moment, you are not being weak. You are being smart. Why would you try and a tackle a major issue when things are heated? At a later time, when things are calm, you address the issue calmly with your partner. Remember, you are not each other's competition or adversary. It comes down to this. You either keep your pride or you have peace in your relationship, but you cannot have both, most of the time. So which is it, pride or peace? You decide. God bless.


 

You Can Help Your Spouse Open Up

By: Abigale Hassel 

A friend of mine recently asked me how she can help someone in whom she is interested learn to trust again. You see, he went through a very contentious divorce. She did not specify, but apparently, his ex-wife betrayed him in some way. She shared that she has watched him struggle with anger, resentment and deep hurt and all she has known to do is pray for him. She asked me how I counsel people to trust and open themselves up emotionally and how I counsel their partners who are in a relationship with them. Good questions.

For the sake of this discussion, I am going to direct my comments to those of you who are the partners of people who are closed off emotionally, who are unemotional, and/or who are untrusting. If your partner is a good person, but just does not know how to express his or her feelings, then please continue reading. Let me share that I completely understand what this is like, because my husband used to have the same difficulty with opening up and sharing his emotions with me. He was able to express his love and he was sure able to express his anger, but it was the more vulnerable emotions in between that had him stumped. He was very walled off from the emotions that he believed made him appear “weak”. After several years of maturing and hard relationship work between the two of us, he has learned what I hope to teach you all now. In a nutshell, there is nothing braver than opening yourself up, expressing your deep felt emotions and risking getting hurt in the process. This is not weakness; it is vulnerability. To be vulnerable is not weak; it is strong.

Your partner is either afraid of his or her more vulnerable emotions or he or she is unable to identify them because they have been suppressed for so long. Suppressed emotions always find their way out in some fashion and, sometimes, that way can be very detrimental to a relationship. These people use what I refer to as the anger shield. I like to use the analogy that anger acts like a suit of armor. We wear this armor to protect ourselves from the hurts of shame, guilt, sadness, rejection, and so on. The problem is that when we constantly walk around with anger armor on, we may be keeping some bad stuff out, but we are also keeping good stuff out, like love, affection, and the closeness that comes with a healthy relationship. Furthermore, the armor hides our inner most feelings from the outside world, thereby keeping us from getting the support we may really need. After all, you cannot hug a suit of metal! We have to help our partner take off that suit of armor and feel more comfortable to walk around in his or her underwear, exposed and vulnerable.

How then can we, as the partner of the armor clad person, help him or her be able to open up to us? How can we make him or her feel comfortable to walk around in his or her underwear? We do this by making it safe to be exposed. First, we lead by example. Really look at your level of personal expression of emotion. Are you able to allow yourself to be vulnerable with your partner? Are you yourself wearing an anger shield? If you are, then how can you expect your partner to take off his or hers? We must take the risk of being vulnerable ourselves so that we can show our partner he or she will be safe to do the same. If you show your spouse that you trust him or her with your inner most feelings, then your partner will eventually be able to do the same.

We must also refrain from attacking our partner when he or she finally starts removing the armor. I will share a situation with which a couple I used to counsel dealt. The husband in this case was the one who was emotionally closed off and this frustrated his wife. It took a while for him to decide that he would take the risk and attempt to express himself more. Unfortunately, his attempts were met with criticism and cynicism by his wife. She said things like, “Yes this is nice and all, but I doubt it will last.” Comments like that completely set him back and, eventually, he felt that it was not worth the effort to continue trying. People, if you see your spouse starts opening up to you, even if it is not exactly to the extent you had in mind, do not shut down the effort with criticism or skepticism. Provide positive feedback and continue to model the behavior you would like to see. Be patient but consistent and that is how change happens.

Finally, start to understand your partner’s love language. I highly recommend the book The 5 Love Languages, by Dr. Gary Chapman. According to Chapman, there are 5 primary types of love languages, which are as follows: words of affirmation, quality time, acts of service, physical touch and gifts. We each have one predominant love language that we need our partner to “speak” in order for us to feel loved. We must know our own love language and we must also know our spouse’s love language, for 2 reasons. First and foremost, we need to speak it to him or her so that he or she feels loved, but we must also be able to recognize when our partner is expressing his or her love and affection. Sometimes, no words are even needed to feel your partner’s emotions. Take my husband, for example.  His primary love language is physical touch. He has no problem telling me “I love you” in words, but when he holds my hand, initiates cuddling, offers to massage my neck, hugs me tightly, and so on, that is when I feel his love the most. The point is this. Look for your partner’s emotions in other ways besides his or her words. You will be amazed at what you will find.

If you are frustrated by your partner’s armor, I want you to keep this in mind. I can almost guarantee there are emotions under the metal, probably a lot of them. To be human is to have emotions. Remember, still waters run deep. All you can do is take responsibility for your behavior. Model the behavior you would like in return, regardless of the reaction you receive. I know it is hard to open yourself up only to feel rejected or unnoticed, but someone has to take off the armor first, or else nothing will change. You may have to be the brave one and walk around in your underwear first. Little by little, you will start to see your partner’s armor coming off. Look for that in ways other than just words. Eventually, you will both be brave enough to be naked with one another and you know the fun you can have when you are naked! Be brave, be vulnerable and God bless!

I Married You, Not My In-Laws!

By:  Abigale Hassel 

Before I get started with this discussion, let me just say that I have wonderful in-laws. They respect our boundaries. They never insert their opinions unless we ask for them. They never say a bad word about anyone and they are always there when we need them. Most importantly, my mother- in-law always takes my side. In all seriousness, I am very lucky, but a lot of people are not as lucky as I. We all hear in-law jokes. The in-law issue can make for hysterical comedy. “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” just happens to be one of my favorite movies and it deals with overbearing in-laws. While it can be funny, it can also cause a lot of problems within the marital relationship. If you are having in-law issues, I hope the following suggestions help.

Be a united front: Just as a couple must be a united front with the children, the same holds true for the in-laws. I will use a family member’s situation as an example. For the sake of anonymity, I will not specify which family member. So the wife married into a very overbearing family. From the planning of the wedding, her husband’s family tried to dictate the terms. It continued through their marriage. It eroded to the point where it negatively impacted the relationship. He never stood up for his wife to his family and then he started to talk about her behind her back to his family, which only added to the intrusion in their lives. They were on the brink of divorce.

If this sounds familiar, let me be very clear. The husband and wife are a team. No one has to cut off his or her family; however, a spouse must absolutely show his or her family that allegiance goes to the spouse first. The message must be clear and consistent that bad-mouthing one’s spouse, criticizing, or undermining one’s spouse’s role by family will not be tolerated. Whatever issues exist in the marriage will be addressed by the husband and wife only. You must make it clear that unsolicited opinions are neither wanted nor appreciated.

Draw clear boundaries: A couple consistently communicates the message that they are a united front with healthy boundaries. Boundaries teach others how you are to be treated and the same holds true with the in laws. As I have said time and time again, we cannot control other people’s behavior nor can we change their personalities; however, we can change our reactions to them. This is drawing a boundary.

Have you ever seen the show “Everybody Loves Raymond”? The wife, Deborah, is constantly dealing with intrusive in-laws who have no boundaries. Again, that makes for good comedy, but in real life, it would cause a lot of strife in a marriage. If Deborah and Raymond were a real life couple, I would help them learn to communicate clear, concise boundaries to Raymond’s parents. They would need to set limits to how often Ray’s parents can visit and they could insist that they call before coming over for a visit. I would encourage Ray to hold his mother accountable whenever she criticized Deborah. He could communicate to his mother that type of behavior will not be tolerated and she could either respect that, or not come over at all. These are just examples of course. Your boundaries may look different, but the point is this. Boundaries must be established by both of you and you must stick to them to affect positive change. By not holding to the boundaries you have set and by not being consistent, there is no protection of the marital relationship. You do not have to be cruel and you do not have to completely cut contact with intrusive in-laws. You can communicate your feelings appropriately and still maintain a loving relationship, but you will have a relationship with healthy boundaries.

Communicate expectations to one another: There is that word again: communicate. Sometimes, what is bothersome to one spouse may not be so to the other. Often, a spouse feels loyalty to both his or her family and to his or her spouse. When we marry, we marry our spouse with all of his or her baggage. Our souse does not suddenly change the way he or she interacts with his or her family overnight, but if something is not working for us, we have to communicate to our spouse what that is and what we expect from our spouse in response. Remember, spouses cannot read each others’ minds.

I will use a friend’s situation as an example. My friend grew up in a home where her parents “knew everything” and her father always solved her problems. When she got married, she slowly learned that while she loved her parents and appreciated everything they had done for her, they were also very controlling and intrusive. Her husband grew more and more angry as they constantly criticized, butted  in, or gave their opinions without having been asked. It got so bad that my friend felt like she was being torn in two. Her husband expressed how he felt and communicated how he expected my friend to handle her parents. She agreed to some of his reasonable suggestions and she was able to keep her boundaries. While her parents were not happy with those boundaries, over time, they learned that they had no choice but to respect them.

Try to be flexible: Look, even intrusive families are not all bad. Most of the time, families just want to be a part of each others’ lives. This closeness does not suddenly end just because a member gets married. Sometimes, a spouse does not want to give up the closeness he or she shares with the family and that is ok. The problem comes when it starts to negatively impact the marital relationship. People are different. One spouse may not be used to a big, close family. That spouse may believe that family is only for special occasions. One spouse may find it weird that his or her spouse needs to have constant contact with the family. Remember, just because that type of closeness is something that you are not accustomed to, it does not mean that  it is wrong, strange, or inappropriate. Keep an open mind.

I will use my parents as an example. My mother had a difficult upbringing. Her father was domineering and abusive at times. Her mother was a wonderful woman, but she did not engage in physical shows of affection with my mom, like hugging. My mother was very inhibited when she met my father. My dad, on the other hand, was very affectionate and outgoing, as were his family members. My mom shared with me that at first, all the hugging and kissing made her feel uncomfortable. Over time though, she realized how wonderful it was and how much she actually enjoyed it. She challenged herself to open up and not only receive the love, but give it freely and she has lived that way ever since. Had she not kept an open mind, she may have missed out on having all of that love in her life.

The take away is this. Both spouses must communicate their feelings and come to a compromise. It not reasonable to expect your spouse to put up with obnoxious intrusions by your family members, nor is it reasonable for your spouse to expect you to to cut all contact with your family. The middle ground between those two extremes is where you want to be. You achieve that with healthy and appropriate boundaries. Keep marital issues between the two of you and use good judgement. For example, if you know your mother is overbearing and puts in her two cents even when she is not asked, you may want to think twice before telling her about the fight you and your husband had last night. That is just inviting trouble. Basically, with the proper boundaries, family can be such a blessing. We do not marry our in-laws, but we do marry into an extended family. You become a part of a new family and your spouse becomes a part of yours. With healthy boundaries, good communication and a little flexibility, you can enjoy your family every day and not just on holidays! Good luck and God bless!

 

Submission in Marriage. What Does it Really Mean?

By:  Abigale Hassel 

As a modern woman and wife, I have struggled with the concept of submitting to my husband. As a young wife, I had an attitude of independence. I made it clear to my husband that he did not “own me” and I commanded respect. The funny thing was, he always respected me. I never needed to command that. As I matured, as I grew in my faith and as my husband and I worked through some relationship issues over the years, I realized I needed an attitude adjustment. It was time for me to learn how to submit and surrender to my husband. I am not going to lie; I had difficulty. Truth be told, my husband still has difficulty with the concept, because he never thought of me as anything other than an equal. Moreover, there were times he looked to me to be the problem solver and to take the lead in certain situations. He never wanted to be the “head of the household”. He wanted the king and queen of the castle to have equal power, and we do. So now let us look at what submission means.

What submission is:

The Bible has much to say about submitting, both throughout the old and the new testaments. I am referencing the Bible simply to give a foundation of support for the concept of submitting and surrendering, which I will use interchangeably, within the marital relationship. I believe that even if you are not Jewish or Christian, you will still find value in this discussion, so I hope you continue reading. I hope that I will also show how submitting can therapeutically heal a marriage.

In the Old Testament, we are shown how to have a relationship with God and part of that relationship requires us to submit and surrender to His will for us. We trust and believe that He loves us and wants what is best for us. According to Friedman of Chabad.org, the day God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses at Mount Sinai was symbolic of a wedding day. It was a covenant made between God and His people. God instructed Moses to give these commandments to the people of Israel. He instructed us to have no other god, to honor His day of rest and keep it holy and so on. He also gave us free will, to choose whether we would submit or not. I do not know about all of you, but for me, inside His will is where I want to be and things have a way of working out when I am. When I resist and act too human, that is when things tend to go awry. That dynamic plays out in the couples I counsel. They fight against each other instead of accepting and working with each other’s roles and strengths. The Lord is committed to our wellbeing; He feels a responsibility to us, yet he allows us to choose whether or not we will surrender to Him. This is a very loving relationship. This is the type of relationship we should enjoy with our spouses.

Rebbetzin Twerski, from www.aish.com, says that with surrender, come both intimacy and responsibility. In Genesis 4:1, it says that “Adam knew his wife.” That knowing was not just a superficial understanding of his mate, but a deep spiritual connection. All throughout the Torah (the first 5 books of the Bible), the marriage relationship is the focal point of the home. Husbands and wives are to put each other first, yes, even before the children. This is punctuated in Genesis 2:24 where it says that man is to leave his father and mother to be with his wife and they are to be one flesh. The marital relationship is the foundation on which the family is built. This relationship is strengthened with intimacy that is achieved through respect, love and surrender. We can only surrender when we feel love and respected by our spouse.

What submission is not:

Before I continue speaking about what submission in a marriage is, please allow me to explain what submission is not. This is extremely important, because a lot of good people erroneously apply this concept to their marriage and that can have terrible consequences. Submission is not abuse. Let me stress that you never have to stay in an abusive situation. That is not what God intended. Remember, the marital relationship is a mutually satisfying union in which each spouse has different, yet equally important roles. Spouses are to put each other first and have loving concern to meet each other’s needs. The one who has the authority is not to abuse that authority or lord it over the other. In short, love should never hurt! Submission is not the absence of responsibility; quite the contrary! Each spouse has a responsibility. Both contribute to the household decisions and both have a responsibility to make the other feel valued. Finally, submission is not yielding one’s personal power or self-worth. While it is true that both spouses need to let go of ego and self-centeredness, neither must let go of his or her sense of self or his or her sense of morality. Each can have an opinion, but the surrender comes not by giving up completely, but it comes from true love and concern for the other’s well-being, from a desire to maintain peace and harmony, in a spiritual sense, within the relationship, and it comes from the desire to honor one’s spouse.

What submission looks like:

Now that we understand what submission is and what it is not, let us now examine how wives should submit to their husbands and what responsibility husbands have to their wives. Let us look to the New Testament for some instruction and examples. Again, those of you who are not Christian may still find this valuable, or at least, interesting. In the book of Ephesians, the Apostle Paul gives examples of relationships in which submission is necessary. He basically says that one submits to another the way one would submit to God. He uses the marital relationship as an illustration of our relationship to God. He says in Ephesians 5:22, “wives submit to your husbands.” Again, he goes on to say that they are to do this as they submit to God. Submission is a loving act that tells the husband that he is trusted, respected and loved. We really could not submit if these elements were not in place. Just as I trust in God, just as I know He loves and cares for me and wants me to have joy, so does my husband. I trust him with my life. I know he respects me. I know he appreciates my contributions to our family. I know he would never take advantage of my love; therefore, I have learned to submit to him. Ultimately, I know he will never put himself or his desires before me, so submitting is my gift to him and a symbol of my trust in him.

Husbands have a big job. They are the head of the household. Do not misunderstand what this authority means. Husbands are to emulate God in this role. Let us go back to God and Moses for a second. Friedman explains that God “came down” from the mountain to meet the people. Although He was the ultimate authority, He made Himself vulnerable for His people, He presented His commandments and He sincerely hoped that the people would submit to Him, because He loved them and wanted what was best for them. He wanted them to trust Him. He showed us an example of humility in authority. Husbands, your position does not enable you to take advantage of your wives. Your authority, according to Miller, from www.todayschristianwoman.com, is meant to be used to serve your wives. Paul said in Ephesians 5:25, “Husbands, love your wives just as Messiah loved the Messianic community and gave himself up on its behalf”. He wants you to lovingly serve and protect your wives and sacrifice so that she always has what she needs. In many respects, your task is much more challenging.

Benefits of submission:

Hopefully by now you are seeing the benefits of submission and/or surrender in a marriage. It is a loving act by wives to their husbands. It is a choice. As I have said in other posts, men need to feel respected in a relationship. When their wives submit to them, instead of resisting or challenging them, it shows a tremendous amount of respect. Women, on the other hand, primarily need to feel loved. When husbands choose to essentially lay down their lives daily for their wives to meet their needs, wives feel safe, secure and loved. Submission brings the type of intimacy into a marriage that both spouses desire. It is a spiritual and emotional bonding that reinforces the two are of one flesh. Submission frees both spouses from having to be right, from having to win, and from engaging in power struggles. It is mutual, in that, both spouses have responsibilities as one submits to the other. Both spouses benefit from this. Burdens are lifted when both spouses know their roles, their different yet equal roles. Submission is a practical way to ensure harmony in the home. Although the concept of submission is not something we readily see in today’s culture, it does not mean that it is outdated or irrelevant (Miller).

This was a lot to digest and I understand that for some of you, the concept of submission is a difficult one. You may not even be buying into it, but I have shown you all the myriad benefits submission provides. If we look at the divorce rate, which is about 50%, we can see that without a deeper understanding of what marriage entails, marriage is too easily devalued. Remember, marriage is not just a contract; it is a covenant. It is a spiritual and emotional promise that two will be forever joined. Perhaps it is time for society to start looking to ancient ideas of marriage so that marriage is considered to be a sacred union as it was intended to be. So wives, are you ready to submit to your husbands? That is the question. Good luck and God bless!

 

 

References:

Friedman, M. (retrieved 2015, Dec. 8). Surrender and Responsibility: Virtues Essential to an Intimate Relationship. Retrieved from www.chabad.org.

 

Miller, K. A. (2008, Sept.). What’s So Scary About Submission? Retrieved from www.todayschristianwoman.com.

 

Twerski, F. (retrieved 2015, Dec. 8). A Jewish Wife: Practical Advice on what it Takes to Build a Jewish Home. Retrieved from www.aish.com

Oh How Men and Women Are Different; Let Us Count the Ways

By:  Abigale Hassel   

I need to start this discussion with a couple of disclaimers. Firstly, feminists may not want to read any further, because I will be reinforcing the notion that men and women are in fact different and some may consider this to be politically incorrect. I am far from PC. Consider yourself warned.  Secondly, there are always exceptions to the rules. Men can have more feminine traits, while women can have more masculine traits. The purpose of this discussion is to help married couples understand one another more. Having said that, let us now look at the many ways men and women are different.

1) We think differently.  I once read the perfect description of how the minds of men and women operate. Bill and Pam Farrel wrote that men think in boxes, while women think like a plate of spaghetti. That basically means that men tend to compartmentalize. They put things in figurative boxes and think about one thing at a time. Sometimes, they file the box away and avoid thinking about certain things. This can account for how our husbands sometimes forget things that seem easy enough to remember.

Women, on the other hand, think like a plate of spaghetti. Think about that for a second. A plate of spaghetti consists of many, many noodles overlapping. Sometimes, one noodle may not be distinguishable from another. It is a pile of jumbled mess. In other words, we women think about several things all at once. We do not compartmentalize very well. We tend to remember much more than our husbands do. We multitask better than our husbands do and we are reluctant to just file away our thoughts, like our husbands can do at times.

How this can affect your relationship: Men, when you compartmentalize, it can make your wives feel as if they are “out of sight, out of mind.” If they do not feel that you are thinking about them, it can make them feel unloved, forgotten or dismissed. Knowing this, you can make extra effort to let them know that you are thinking about them and the things that are important to them. Take a minute and send an “I love you text”. Give a quick phone call to let them know you are thinking of them. Pay attention to what your wives are saying and let her know that what she has to say is important to you. Women, thinking about everything all at once can be exhausting and anxiety provoking. Just because something seems important to you at a particular time does not mean that your husband is thinking about it. If he is not, it does not mean that he does not care. It simply means his mind was occupied by something else. Remember, he thinks about things one issue at a time. What you are thinking about may be in another box in his mind. Just communicate with him and he will pull the proper box.

2) We express our emotions differently. In spite of popular opinion, men do have emotions. They simply manifest differently in men than they do in women. My husband and I are a perfect example of this. True to form, I am very emotional, while my husband is, well, not. Do not get me wrong. When things are good, he is a loving, attentive and affectionate husband. When things are not so good, his inner Spock comes out. He is all logic and he is very calm. That can be a very good thing, especially when I am so upset and can barely think straight, but it can also be a source of difficulty for us. I have recognized this trait to be a defense mechanism for my husband. He simply must allow logic to kick in so he does not fall apart and so he can be my rock when I need a stabile force; however, it can also inhibit him from really dealing with some tough emotions and it has made me feel alone at times. If I am the only one in pain, it can feel very isolating. It can also be frustrating, because, sometimes, I just do not know what he is feeling and I just hate that!

I, on the other hand, am very emotional. My husband never has to guess what I am feeling. I am basically an open book. I am passionate, expressive and open. That can be good, because my husband knows how loved he is by me. He delights in watching me pursue the things about which I am passionate. I amuse him with my humor and I make him feel secure with my nurturing ways. However, my emotionality can be very intimidating. My anger can be very overwhelming to him.-When I am upset, it can render him paralyzed. Sometimes, my emotions can be so strong, I may not even seem rational to him. As you can imagine, this has gotten in the way of our communication in the past. We have been together for a long time and we have done a lot of hard work together. Now that we know each other so well, we have learned how to compensate for our differences and work with them, rather than against them.

How this can affect your relationship: If these types of differences resonate with you, please keep this in mind. Ladies, just because you are not immediately seeing emotion from your husband, that does not mean he is not feeling any. You need to pay attention, because his emotions manifest differently for them. Rather than making assumptions or trying to read your husbands’ minds, ask him what he is feeling. Be patient if he struggles to identify his feelings. Men tend to struggle with the more vulnerable emotions, such as fear, sadness or shame. Often, anger is a shield for those more vulnerable emotions. There is always something under anger, so you may try to help him identify those feelings. Men, remember this and practice this often: VALIDATE YOUR WIVES’ FEELINGS. Whatever you do, do NOT dismiss their feelings. You may not agree with or understand why your wives are feeling what they are feeling, but her feelings are not wrong. Allow her to feel what she feels and ask her to help you understand why she feels the way she feels. A little understanding and validation goes a long way for us women.

3) We have different needs. The things that motivate men and women can be very different. I always tell the couples I counsel that in their relationships, men need to feel respected and women need to feel loved. In my infidelity recovery work with couples, and this is just my observations, I see that men have affairs to build their egos, while women have affairs because they want to feel loved. Men are socialized to be the strong providers for their families. They want to know that their hard work and sacrifices are noticed and appreciated by their mates. They feel pride when they are able to provide for their families’ needs. Conversely, they feel emasculated if they believe they have failed in any way.

Women need to feel loved, appreciated and respected too, but love is our number one need. No matter how difficult things get, no matter what stresses from life are thrown our way, if we feel loved by our husbands, we can conquer anything. The happiness we feel from being loved fuels us and helps us to face everything from financial hardship to drama with the children, and more. Conversely, if we do not feel loved, no matter how great the rest of our lives are, we feel a sadness that simply does not allow us to fully enjoy the blessings in our lives. The feeling of not being loved by our husbands becomes a shadow cast over everything and sends us into a state of despair.

How this can affect your relationship: Remember what I said previously about how we express emotions. If a man does not feel respected by his wife, he may start to feel like he has failed somehow. His pride in himself is diminished. He starts to feel shame and may become depressed. He has difficulty with these vulnerable emotions, so his feelings manifest as pure anger and resentment. Although he may not be happy with himself, he projects this onto his wife and then starts to resent her. This leads to poor communication, a rift in the relationship and, sadly, it can leave him vulnerable to infidelity. If a woman does not feel loved, she feels lonely within her relationship. This loneliness turns to sadness, emptiness and despair. She starts to question her self worth and her self-esteem takes a big hit. This can cause resentment, which can lead to her feeling distant from her husband. She too can be vulnerable to infidelity if she feels all of the above. Ladies and gentleman, you must love, honor and cherish your partners. You must make every effort to speak their love language. I highly recommend The 5 Love Languages, by Dr. Gary Chapman (www.5lovelanguages.com). Learn your own and each other’s love languages and speak them!

4) We have different roles. Another disclaimer: the following may not be considered politically correct by some. There are some things men cannot do that women can and there are things women cannot do that men can. Yes, we are different. We have different strengths, we have different gifts and we are built differently. More than that, we each fill different needs and different purposes. This is not something to be fought, to complain about or to resist; this is something to be embraced and celebrated.

In my marriage, my husband and I have settled into our roles. We have learned to accept and even celebrate each other’s strength and we have learned to work around and support each other in our weaknesses. I do the cooking, because, quite frankly, my husband would burn water! He does the mowing of the lawn, because I am highly allergic to fresh cut grass. One whiff, and my face looks like Rocky after a fight. Plus, I really hate yard work! You and your spouse need to figure out your roles and work with each other’s strengths, and support each other in your weaknesses.

How this can affect your relationship: Roles can be a tricky thing, especially if one or both partners feel as if they are not succeeding in their roles. For example, men tend to be the breadwinners in the relationship. If they are not financially successful, they may feel inadequate and that can lead to depression. Depression in men often presents as anger. Remember, they have difficulty expressing the vulnerable emotions. Women are typically the caregivers. If they feel they are not doing well with raising the children, their self-esteem can be negatively affected. Their sense of self-worth may suffer. When women feel inadequate, it can adversely affect her expression of affection. These are just examples to illustrate how the roles we fill can affect how we see ourselves. It is ok to ask your spouse for help and it is essential for spouses to offer words of encouragement. Remember, you are a team.

God created men and women differently for a reason. Marriage is so sacred. When a man and a woman come together as one flesh, it is a representation of who God is. The man represents the authority part of God. He is the provider. The woman represents the life giving part of God. She is the nurturer and giver of life. If you think of it in these terms, is not that a beautiful concept? Our roles are not more important than our spouses’. They are different, but equally important. Our differences are not something to fear or resist. Once we understand these differences, our assumptions and the ways we interact can change. We can have more patience for our spouses, more empathy and more love for them. Remember, different does not mean unequal. Enjoy each other! God bless.

His Repeated Infidelity Has Hardened My Heart. What Do I Do?

QuestionI've been married for almost 18 yrs. I can't say that I am happily married because ever since we said "I do" we've had problems. My husband has flings with different women and on my part it's so hard and painfull to handle his womanizer attitude and his being an alcoholic. We're living in one roof but our relationship is not like that of a married happy couple. My husband is with me but his heart and mind is with his mistresses. He doesn't treat me as his wife. He doesn't love us, my kids and me. Sometimes I feel depressed. With this kind of relationship with my husband, my love for him has changed to hatred. I hate him so much. How can I love the man who gave so much pain and suffering to my heart. Please help me.

Answer:  I am so sorry that you are dealing with this difficult situation. I cannot tell you what to do, but I will say a few things that will hopefully help you make a decision for yourself. One thing I always tell people is that you cannot make anyone do, say or feel anything. All you can do is take responsibility for your own feelings and behaviors.  Your husband sounds like he has an addiction and his behavior is not due to anything you did wrong or anything about you at all. He has deep seeded issues that he seems unwilling to address.

I admire and support people who want to stay and fight for their marriage, especially when children are involved; however, one person cannot save a marriage alone. If your husband is not willing to deal with his addiction and work on the marriage through intensive marriage counseling, I am afraid that little will change.  This is a website that you may find helpful http://www.survivinginfidelity.com/faq_bs.asp .  I point you to number 11, the concept of the 180. It is time for you to stop focusing on your husband and start living your life. Start building yourself up so that you feel strong and independent.  That may include going to individual counseling, getting a job, or going to school.

I know this is hard and I know your heart's desire is for your marriage to be healed, but if your husband does not feel the same, then all you can do is work on you. Finally, I tell people that the best gift you can give your children is a happy marriage, but if that is not possible, you may need to examine whether your marriage is actually hurting the children. Staying together in a toxic relationship may be more detrimental to the children in the long run. I wish you the best. God bless.

What's the Vision for your Marriage?

By: Abigale Hassel  

One of the things that has become abundantly clear to me as I have counseled numerous couples is that so many people enter into marriage without a clear vision of what they hope marriage will be like. Unhappy couples sit in my office completely unable to identify why they are unhappy with their spouse. As we peel the layers, much of the time, they are blaming their spouses for their unhappiness when the source stems from something within them. When I ask what their vision of marriage was before they entered into this covenant, they have a very difficult time expressing it and many never even had a clear picture of what they expected. Not having a clear vision of marriage is like trying to assemble and intricate piece of furniture without directions. Some people have a natural ability to put things together, but some people truly need detailed instructions to help guide them in building that beautiful piece of furniture. Here are 3 reasons why having a vision of what you want your marriage to look like is so important:

1) If you don’t know what you want to be happy, how will your spouse know?

Too often, we look to our spouses to make us happy. Sometimes, one partner can try so hard, but still never please his or her spouse. He or she is frustrated because it feels as if nothing is ever good enough and/or his or her spouse is too critical. If you feel unhappy in your marriage and/or you find yourself constantly picking at your spouse, ask yourself if you have a clear idea of what you expected your marriage to look like. If you did, did you and your spouse ever discuss your visions prior to walking down the aisle? I counseled a couple in which neither spouse had a clear vision of what they expected from their marriage. The wife was able to say that she “wanted to grow old” with her husband and the husband said, “I wanted an equal partner”, but when I challenged them to give more details neither could tell me anything more. How do you expect your spouse to meet your needs if you do not even know what they are?

2) What if your vision is incompatible with your spouse’s?

Marital issues certainly arise when spouses have differing ideas of what their roles should be and/or when each spouse wants very different things. By not being aware of what you want out of life, from your relationship and from your spouse, and what your spouse wants from you, you enter into marriage as if you are entering into a field filled with landmines just waiting to go off. I counseled a couple in which the wife decided to quit her high paying job so she could be more available to her children. The husband seemingly supported that decision, but as time went on, it became clear that he resented her for quitting her job. It caused a lot of strife between them.You must really think about and discuss with your spouse what each of you expects. For example, do you both want children? If so, how many do you want? Do your share the same religion? If not, what religion will you raise your children? How important is your extended family to you? Where do you want to live and raise a family? Do you believe in doing separate activities, or do you believe you should do most things together? Do you want your wife to work? Will your husband support you being a stay at home mom? You get the picture. Too often, people enter into marriage not really know how they feel about important issues such as those mentioned and conflict inevitable arises when spouses begin to discover that their ideas are not compatible.

3) How can you resolve the issues in the marriage if you do not really understand what they are?

I have noticed that if people did not have a vision of what they wanted out of marriage prior to getting married, and they end up in my therapy office, they usually become quite stuck. Rather than communicating what they want in the marriage, they fixate on all of their spouse’s perceived faults. After all, blame has to be assigned somewhere for one’s unhappiness, right? Only when people can identify and communicate their wants, needs and desires with their spouse can real forward movement happen. You need to give your spouse directions so he or she can assemble that furniture. Your vision of marriage serves to guide your spouse as he or she strives to meet your emotional needs. Ideally, you would want to be aware of your vision and discuss it with your spouse BEFORE you get married, but it is never too late. Your visions may not match exactly, but if you love each other, you can find common ground where you both can be happy together.

Marriage is a holy covenant and one not to be entered into lightly. With the divorce rate in this country so high, it has become clear that people tend to bail at the first sign of difficulty. If you do not take the time to really explore within yourself what you want your married life to look like, you are almost guaranteeing problems down the road. Once you really think about that and realize your vision, take the time to communicate it fully with your partner and encourage him or her to do the same. Give yourself the best chance you can to have a successful relationship. Many people discover when it is too late that they are not really compatible in very important areas. If you are married and you feel this applies to you, you can still repair the damage by seeking counseling and finding the common ground that creates a stronger foundation for your marriage. A vison of marriage encompasses so many aspects of one’s life and it is worth the time and exploration to figure it out so your union can be all that it can be for both of you. Good luck and God bless!

 

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The 5 Marriage Pitfalls to Avoid

By:  Abigale Hassel 

 

To paraphrase Dr. Phil, the one who needs to change in a troubled relationship is the one who can. You may be asking what that means exactly. In other words, we can never make our spouses change. We cannot make them act a certain way, respond a certain way, think a certain way or feel a certain way. The only thing we can do is look at ourselves, take inventory of how we may be contributing to problems within the relationship and make a decision to change our own behaviors and reactions. The following are 5 relationship pitfalls we may experience and ways to deal with them.

 

1.     Getting sucked into the emotional vortex:

We so easily react to our spouse’s heightened emotional behaviors. We get angry; we scream and yell and we get drawn into tumultuous arguments that only increase resentment and cause further damage to the relationship. It is essential to recognize when this is occurring and when we do, we must make the decision to resist the reactivity. Mindfully observe your spouse and ask yourself what he or she is feeling underneath the anger. There are always more vulnerable emotions beneath the shield of anger, such as fear, hurt or shame. If you can resist feeding into that anger and look for the statements beneath the statements, you may just get to your spouse’s heart. Stay calm. Eventually, validating your spouse’s feelings will prove more productive than facing anger with anger.

 

2.     Trying to reason with someone who is being unreasonable:

For the parents reading this, remember when your toddlers would have massive meltdowns? Did you try to deal with the situation by trying to have a logical discussion with them? Of course you did not. Most likely, you waited them out and addressed their behavior once they calmed down, or finished their time outs. A ranting and raving spouse is much like that toddler having a temper tantrum. In that state of mind, your spouse is not thinking rationally or logically; therefore, attempting to appeal to him or her with reason and logic will not work. Just like you did with your toddlers, you may need to convey the message that you will not discuss the issue until your spouse is able to express himself or herself appropriately and then walk away. Doing this consistently tells your spouse that he or she will get a lot further with you if he or she conducts himself or herself like an adult rather than a toddler having a temper tantrum.

 

3.     Having to be right:

Ok, confession time, I am definitely guilty of this one. I always remind my husband that his life would be much easier if he would just accept that I am always right! I kid of course, but pride can be a huge stumbling block in a marriage. As I tell the couples I counsel, it is time to change the language we use when dealing with each other. Give up the words “right,” “wrong,” “fault” and “blame.” These are not productive. Remember that it is not about who is right and who is wrong or whose fault it is; it is about a difference in perspective. We may have a different take on a situation. Our truths may not match exactly. Therefore, the goal is to find a middle ground where we can understand one another’s perspective. Just because you may not agree with your spouse’s perspective does not mean he or she is wrong or you are right. Strive to validate your spouse’s feelings and sincerely try and understand what he or she is trying to express. The question is this; do you want pride or do you want peace?

 

4.     Treating your spouse like your competition:

Are you and your spouse constantly trying to “one up” each other? Do you do spiteful things to each other? Do you constantly vie for attention? Do you find yourself feeling jealous when your spouse experiences an achievement or has good fortune? Do you resent when you hear other people praising your spouse? Do you encourage your spouse to better him or herself? Do you support him or her in his or her endeavors? Do you take an interest in his or her goals? Do you ever do things to sabotage your spouse as he or she strives to achieve those goals? If you answered yes to any of the aforementioned, take caution. You are not being a loving partner, or even a partner for that matter. Do not forget that you are on the same team. In a loving relationship, spouses delight in each other’s achievements and successes. We swoon with pride when we hear people praise our spouse. We seek every way possible to help our spouse achieve his or her dreams and aspirations. We only seek to build our spouse up, not tear him or her down with spite or jealousy. Your marriage is not a competition, so please be a better partner and be a good teammate!

 

5.     Shutting down and/or retreating:

So many people fear confrontation. Those who avoid it like the plague are not helping the relationship. What usually happens is the spouse who shuts down or retreats in the face of conflict does not express his or her feelings. The vulnerable feelings, like hurt or sadness, get suppressed. They build up within the person and then they seep out in other ways, either consciously or subconsciously. This is what is known as being passive aggressive. The person cannot deal with those feelings about the conflict directly, so he or she may behave in hurtful ways, like “forgetting” to pick up her husband’s clothes at the dry cleaners or “forgetting” his wife’s birthday. The one who avoids conflict turns the negative emotions inward and may become depressed. The bottom line is this. You do not need to fear a fight with your spouse. Fighting is not the problem. As long as you are fighting fairly, issues can be resolved. Feelings do not go away if you do not deal with them, so stop being afraid to resolve your issues with your spouse!

We all come across difficult times in our marriages. In the 21 years I have been married to my husband, I have had to eat a lot of humble pie. It is never easy to face our own shortcomings and mistakes, but it is absolutely essential to do that. We are not perfect and neither are our spouses. God did not put us together with our spouse to control him or her. We are to encourage our spouse to be the best version of himself or herself and we must always remember the love we share with our spouse. Remember this; when problems exist within a relationship, it is never just one person’s fault. We always contribute to the problem in one way or another, either by actions or by passivity. Own your own behavior and when you act in a way that is damaging to the relationship, FIX IT! Be the change you want to see. Good luck and God bless!

 

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Is Your Marriage Stormy?

By: Abigale Hassel 

Marriage can be difficult even under the best of circumstances. When you have two whole, adult individuals, with their own opinions, morals, ethics and beliefs, there will always be times in which disagreements happen. You may struggle to find common ground. Your opinions may differ in areas of finances, parenting, or even in what activities you enjoy. Once a crisis occurs, it can throw even the strongest of marriages off kilter. Crises such as illness, death of a loved one, financial problems, child issues, miscarriages, mental illness, just to name a few, can test a couple’s individual and collective fortitude. Here are some suggestions to help you and your spouse remain a support to one another when you both need it the most.

1)      Lean on and defer to each other’s strengths: The two of you are different and that is ok. Just be honest with yourself and each other about your strengths and those of your spouse. For example, in my marriage, I am the more emotional one. My husband has a tremendous ability to stay calm in difficult situations, whereas I tend to become very emotional. When we have gone through difficulties, I leaned on him and looked to him to make initial decisions, because I have found that in an acute emotional state, I have difficulty focusing. I accept that about myself and so does my husband. If one of you is better at remaining calm than the other, do not judge or criticize. Just accept and use the strengths to your collective advantage during a crisis.

2)      Remember to continue to nurture the relationship and each other: I know how hard it is to focus on anything else but the crisis with which you are dealing and your relationship may take a back seat as you try and survive a crisis situation, but please believe me when I tell you that you must not neglect your marriage. Crises can be the demise of a relationship if a couple is not careful. I counseled a couple who had a special needs child. The child had severe behavioral issues and caused a tremendous amount of stress within the household. The two spouses became very combative and constantly fought about how they should parent their very difficult son. A distance grew between them as they became each other’s adversary rather than each other’s support. They stopped having their date nights. They stopped spending quality time together and they stopped communicating. Unfortunately, the husband eventually refused to continue marital counseling, as he was convinced that things would never get better. I cannot stress enough that you must remember that you are on the SAME SIDE. Even if you disagree about how to handle a crisis, you are both suffering through the crisis, so be kind to one another, listen to one another and support one another. Carve out time to be with each other each day and do not neglect your intimate time together. The storm will eventually pass and it is a wonderful thing to know that your marriage is still intact on the other side of the crisis.

3)      Remember to maintain self-care: Yes, you are important too! If you do not take care of your own needs, then what good will you be during a time of crisis? Here is an analogy I often use with my clients who tend to neglect their own needs. You are on an airplane and suddenly you hit bad turbulence. The oxygen masks drop and you are instructed to put on the masks, as there is a drop in the oxygen level on the plane. You are sitting next to a loved one. Do you put the mask on your loved one or yourself first? Usually, there is a pause and my client says, “My loved one.” Then I respond, “WRONG! What help are you going to be to your loved one if you have passed out due to a lack of oxygen?” The same goes for you. If you do not take care of yourself, then you will have nothing left to give those who need you during a crisis. Remember to eat well, drink plenty of water, exercise, pray or meditate, engage in enjoyable activities or hobbies and take time for yourself when you need to. It is not selfish; it is necessary!

4)      Communicate, communicate, and communicate: I cannot stress enough the importance of communicating your feelings with your spouse. During a crisis, we entertain our worst fears and experience more anxiety and/or depression than we usually do. It is very easy to become very emotionally reactive. Often, people have difficulty talking about their feelings, so they channel the negative emotional energy in other, unproductive or destructive ways. The behavior can range from being overly critical towards our spouse to being downright abusive, either physically or verbally. Get honest with how you are feeling. Do not even bother trying to suppress your feelings, because I guarantee they will find their way out. Take responsibility for your feelings by expressing them appropriately. If you need something from your spouse, ask for it. If you are frustrated with your spouse, tell him or her appropriately. If you are scared, that is ok. Your spouse probably is too. Do not avoid your feelings or your spouse. Communication is essential all the time, but it is critical during a crisis.

5)      Ask for help from friends or family if you need it: Sometimes, no matter how strong you are as a couple, you still need help. Crises situations can take a huge toll on a family, physically, emotionally, financially, and spiritually. Sometimes, you just need a little help from your friends, family, fellow congregants, or neighbors. Let people bring you some meals. Let your neighbor feed the cat. Let your mother lend you some money to pay the electric bill this month. Whatever the need, just ask for help. Remember, this is a temporary situation and you will pay it forward when you are in a better place. Look at it this way; wouldn’t you help someone in need if you could? Put the pride on the shelf and ask for help.

Marriage is such a blessing. Remember your vows, “For better or for worse, in sickness and in health…” Did you mean it when you agreed to those vows? I think you did, so remember that when a crisis hits and one eventually will. That is life. If your marriage feels shaky and things are relatively calm in your life, please go to marriage counseling and work on strengthening your relationship. Life is not easy and one of the blessings of being married is having someone to support you through the most difficult times. Do not let a stressful situation take away from the blessing of marriage. Remember, you are in it together! God bless.

My Spouse Refuses to Have Sex With Me

Question: My husband and I have been married for a year and a half, and for the past year its like i have to beg him to have sex with me. I ve brought it to his attention how we are not intimate with each other like we use to be and he said things will change.  That was 6 months ago. Now when i ask him, he just tells me no or later or the weekend. I don't know what to do.

Answer: I can see how much this problem is worrying you, but take a deep breath. The first thing to do in situations like this is to rule out any possible medical causes for your husband's decrease in libido. Several medical conditions, such as diabetes or low testosterone, can cause the libido to decrease. Instead of continuing to pursue sex, perhaps you need to take a different approach. Check in on him and ask him how he is feeling. Often, with a low libido also comes fatigue, irritability, lack of concentration, among other things. If he has these symptoms as well, that is all the more reason to see his doctor for a full physical work up with a full blood panel. 

If medical causes are ruled out, then it will be time to explore the emotional causes. Understand that sex is usually the last component in a marriage to go, which means there may be unmet emotional needs that your husband is experiencing. It may be time for you to do a gut check and ask yourself these questions: "Am I doing enough to meet my husband's emotional needs?" "Do I even know what my husband's emotional needs are?" "Am I willing to focus more on his emotional needs?" Here is the bottom line. It seems that the more you pursue him for sex, the more pressured he feels and, in turn, the more distant he will become. Remember, there is a lot more to intimacy than sex. If you need guidance with this, I would suggest marriage counseling to explore what unmet emotional needs your husband is having. I also suggest that you read the book The 5 Love Languages, by Gary Chapman, PhD. This is an excellent book that may help you understand what your husband needs to feel loved and may even give you insight into what you need to feel loved as well. This problem can be overcome. Do not give up and keep the faith! God bless!