Fighting Fair–Overcoming Unhealthy Communication Habits

“One minute we’re talking and next thing we know we’ve completely lost our cool.”

“S/He just doesn’t listen to me. I don’t know what to do.”

“Our conversations always turn into arguments and we just can’t seem to ever get anywhere!”

Do these sentiments seem familiar to you? 

In the beginning, God created each of us to see the world a little differently so that, working together and using our gifts for each other’s good, we would all attend to different details in a manner that would allow us to create a more holistic solution to any challenge. But in a fallen world filled with unique and unrepeatable people who see things differently and don’t always work for each other’s good, there is bound to be some degree of conflict. 

Pope St. John Paul the Great reminds us that the only solution to this challenge is love–the willingness to understand what the other person needs to flourish and the willingness to make personal sacrifices to help them achieve achieve those things. By learning to be loving, especially in conflict, we can discover how to encourage each other through the tension, toward godly solutions, and experience even closer relationships–not just in spite of our differences, but because of those differences.

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Are you feeling overwhelmed by difficult conversations or challenging individuals?

Find helpful tips for dealing with the difficult people in your life in:

God Help Me! These People Are Driving Me Crazy!

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Unhealthy arguments often occur when we are not approaching the other person with love because empathy is one of the first things to go. 

We have a tendency to let conversations escalate into arguments when we A) forget to take care of the other person in conflict, and B) make assumptions or accusations rather than communicating our emotional experience. 

This is why using “I feel” statements in conversation is so important. We often jump to conclusions such as “you’re not listening to me!” Or “I think you just don’t care” which automatically puts both parties on the defense and immediately derails the original conversation, because now we’re focusing on defending ourselves rather than solving the original problem. 

If we use statements such as “I feel as though you’re not listening to me.” The other person then has the opportunity to say, “I’m sorry that wasn’t my intention at all, what I’m hearing you say is…” and then we can stay on track with our conversation and more effectively take care of one another throughout the conversation. 

Essentially, Empathy allows for conversations, assumptions create arguments. 

The next important approach for us to take in order to have healthy communication includes seeking understanding. Individuals often enter into disagreements by actively fighting for their agenda. One person presents an idea and the other shoots it down almost immediately because they have a different idea of what they want. But taking this approach can be very demoralizing not to mention polarizing. Instead, seek understanding. When the other person presents a position you don’t agree with, stop yourself from critiquing it–or worse, ruling on it–right away. Rather, step back and say, “Tell me why that option appeals to you so much” or “Tell me more about what you like about that idea.” By understanding what the other likes about the idea they are proposing, you’ll get a better idea of their overall goals and be able to brainstorm new ideas more effectively.

And finally, don’t confuse the first draft with the final product. Too often, when individuals begin a discussion, they think their own ideas represent two competing final drafts and it is their job to convince the other person that their idea is “the right one.”  Remember, the Christian person isn’t supposed to be fighting about getting their way, but working together with others to discover God’s will. The first ideas you each bring to the conversation represent two pieces of a larger puzzle God is trying to help you build though communication and prayer. Don’t mistake your piece of the puzzle for the whole puzzle. You can’t see the big picture, only God can. Expect your original idea to change– for the better–in any conversation where you and your conversation partner don’t see eye-to-eye.

For more ways to build healthy communication habits, check out our resources at CatholicCounselors.com!

So This Is Love – How To Have a More Joyful Marriage

Life can get busy and we tend to let the distractions and work of every day life take precedence over our relationships. Although this is a common and often natural tendency, it can really lead to a decrease in the joy and love that we experience in our marriage on a daily basis. 

Working on your marriage is one of the most important ministries a lay person can be involved with.  God wants to use your marriage as a sign of the love he has for his bride, the Church.  

Your marriage doesn’t have to be perfect and problem-free for God to be able to use your marriage this way, but you do have to have to be committed to working together to help each other become the husband and wife God is calling you to be. Doing this work allows God both to satisfy the deepest longings of your own heart for a love that lasts, but it allows God to show the whole world that when two people love him first, amazing things can happen.  

Working on making your marriage more loving, more joyful, and more intimate, isn’t selfish. It’s the role married couples play in God’s plan for saving the world, which is exactly why marriage is a vocation.

Here are three key ways to cultivate a more loving, joyful, and intimate relationship!

1. Meaningful Couple Prayer–God is the source of a joyful marriage and God will teach you to have a more joyful marriage through meaningful couple prayer. Resist the temptation to simply say words at God. Actually bring your marriage to him. You might say something like, “Lord, we give you our marriage today. Help us look for opportunities to cherish each other, to be the spouses you want us to be to each other and to make our marriage a priority.” However you prefer to pray, be intentional about bringing your marriage to God and asking him to teach you how to love each other with the love that comes from his heart.

2. Daily Check-Ins–Take 5 minutes a day to sit down with your spouse, reflect on how close you feel to each other, and suggest one thing that might make you feel just a little bit closer. For instance, you might say, “It’s been a busy day with the kids and I’m just feeling a little disconnected. I’d love it if we could get a walk in this evening?” Or, “I feel great about us, but I miss getting some one-on-one time, let’s plan a date for sometime soon.” Just five minutes a day to reflect on how you both feel about your relationship and what you would both like to do to come a little closer can make the difference between a couple that maintains a strong connection through life’s ups and downs and a couple that slowly drifts apart without even realizing it. Make the time to check in with your spouse for even a few minutes and keep those lines of connection strong.

3. Make Your List and Check it Twice–Want to cherish each other more? Make a love list. Both you and your spouse should write down at least 25 things that make you feel cherished, cared for, and loved.  Simple things like, “I love when you hold my hand.”  “I love when you text me to say ‘I love you.’” “I love when you notice the dishwasher is full and empty it.”  Identify as many simple, loving acts, thoughtful gestures, or caretaking behaviors as you can and write them down. Then exchange the lists. Everyday, make it a point to do at least two simpler things on the list and one thing that takes a little more effort. Try to do something a little different everyday and don’t be slavish about the lists but use them as a springboard that inspires a little creativity.  Your love list will remind you not only that taking care of each other is the most important thing you can do all day, it will remind you that even a little thoughtfulness goes a long way to having a more joyful marriage.

For more ways to live a more joyful and loving marriage, check out For Better… Forever! at CatholicCounselors.com.

Eight Simple Ways To Make Your Marriage Great

By Dr. Greg Popcak

It turns out that the secret to creating a joyful, loving, lifelong marriage isn’t such a secret after all!  

Research on successful couples shows that whether your relationship is frustrating, fantastic, or somewhere in between, every couple can create a more fulfilling marriage by practicing eight simple habits. 

1.Rituals of Connection-–Happy couples prioritize each other by creating regular, daily rituals for working, playing, talking, and praying together.

Take a few minutes each day to do little things together like clean up the kitchen, go on a walk or play a game, talk about ways you can take better care of each other, or pray or engage in other shared spiritual activities. Creating simple rituals of connection like these will remind you to step out of the busy-ness of everyday life and show up for each other.  

2.  Emotional Rapport & Benevolence–Happy couples make a point of intentionally looking for ways to lighten each other’s load. Every morning, before you start the day, get into the habit of asking, “What could I do to make your day a little easier or more pleasant?”  

Simple gestures like this will help you remember to turn toward each other in times of stress (instead of isolating) and help you trust that you have each other’s best interests at heart—even when you sometimes irritate each other.

3.  Self-Regulation–Happy couples are good at monitoring their emotional temperatures. They know when they need to take a break from a stressful conversation and they understand that they can always come back to a difficult topic later once they’ve had some more time to think about it.

When you’re upset about something, don’t jump right into an argument with your spouse. Take some time to calm down, identify the problem, and (for bonus points) try to come up with at least one idea about what you’d like to do to improve the situation.  Now, you’re ready to have a productive problem-solving conversation with your spouse.

4. A Positive Intention Frame--Happy couples realize that most offenses in marriage are due to miscommunication or misunderstanding.  They realize that their partner gets nothing out of being intentionally offensive. They try to understand the true intention or need behind the offense and find more respectful way to meet that need or intention

When your spouse does something that upsets you, don’t attack them. Instead, ask them what need they were trying to meet by acting as they did. Once you’ve identified what they were trying to do, you can brainstorm better ways to meet that good intention next time.

5. Caretaking in Conflict–Happy couples know that the most important thing in problem-solving isn’t actually solving the problem. The MOST important thing in problem-solving is taking care of each other so that they can solve the problem together. Happy couples actively look for little ways to encourage each other through the tension and toward solutions.

Even when you’re disagreeing, remember to look for little ways to remind your spouse that you love them, want the best for them, and appreciate their willingness to stick it out and work through things together—even when the going gets tough. 

6.  Mutual Respect, Accountability, and Boundaries–Happy couples respect each other, which means that they are willing to listen and learn from each other even when it is hard. They don’t have to understand why something is important to their partner.  It is enough that it is important. They respect each other’s boundaries and work to accommodate each other’s needs and preferences even when those needs or preferences don’t necessarily make sense.

Don’t put your spouse in the position of having to prove to you that their ideas, needs, concerns, or interests are worthwhile. Assume they’re smart enough to see something good in those things, and work hard to understand what that is.

7.  Reviewing and Learning from Mistakes–Happy couples know how to learn from their disagreements. They don’t blame and attack each other or endlessly debate what “really” happened last time.  They focus on what they need to do to handle similar situations better in the future.

Here’s a secret. Not even the happiest couples ever agree on what actually happened, who said what, or whose fault it was. Don’t worry about that. If you can both agree that neither of you liked the way things played out the last time, you can focus your energy on figuring out how to handle similar situations better next time.

8.  Seeking Healthy Support–Happy couples are always looking for opportunities to make their marriage stronger and they know where to turn for solid support.

They don’t complain about their marriage to friends who will simply confirm their biases and tell them what they want to hear. Instead, they look for opportunities to develop new skills even when things are going well, and if they need help, they seek it either from mature couples who know and love them both, or marriage-friendly professionals who are qualified to teach the skills they need to address their particular struggles.

How’d you do? Every couple has areas they are best at and areas they could improve in. To learn more about how you to use these habits to strengthen your marriage, check out How To Heal Your Marriage And Nurture Lasting Love.  (Dr. Greg Popcak, Sophia Institute Press). You’ll discover a step-by-step plan for making your marriage everything you want it to be!

For more personal support, contact CatholicCounselors.com to learn how our Catholic tele-counseling services can help you transform your marriage, family or personal life! 

Resolving Resentment—Understanding The Hidden Message

Resentment is one of those feelings that can sneak up on us, then overwhelm us. It can make us feel powerless, angry, and sometimes trigger fear. With this mix of emotions, what does resentment really mean?

We often feel guilty about resentment and, of course, resentment isn’t something we want to hold on to.  But the theology of the body teaches that God designed our bodies to work for our good and the good of those around us.  If we learn to listen to the ways God is speaking to us through our bodies–including our feelings–we can hear him guiding us on how best to take care of ourselves and others. All of our emotions–including feelings like resentment–are part of our body’s response to our environment. When united to God’s grace, our emotions can give us important information.  But what could God possibly be saying to us through resentment?  Well, Theology of The Body tells us that healthy relationships are mutually self-donative.  That is, a healthy relationship can only exist when both people are doing everything they can to take care of each other.  Resentment is the feeling we get when we feel like we are doing too much–whether that means we are doing more than our share of a particular task or working harder on a relationship than the other person is. 

Resentment is a warning light on the relationship dashboard that asks us to check if our relationship is really still mutually self-donative or, if somehow, we are allowing ourselves to be treated more like an object than a person. Understood properly, resentment shouldn’t lead us to pout or withdraw, it should lead us to do healthy things like express our needs, or ask for help, or clarify the other person’s intentions, or, when we can’t get the buy-in we’d like from others, we can exercise our right to change our approach even if that means letting go of certain expectations or responsibilities that aren’t healthy to hold on to.  If we deal with our resentment gracefully, it will help us make sure that each person in the relationship is giving as much as they can to protect the health of the relationship and doing as much as they can to look out for the wellbeing of each person in the relationship.

Name the Need–The first thing to do if you are feeling resentful is to identify and name the need that isn’t being met.  Do you need help? Do you need a little TLC?  Could you use help getting a break?  Is there a problem between you and another person that needs to be resolved? Resentment tends to occur when a need sits on the shelf too long and it starts to spoil. Instead of beating up on yourself for feeling resentful, bring your resentment to God. Say, “Lord, help me to name the need that is feeding my resentment and help me to address it in a way that glorifies you and makes my relationships healthier.” Once you know what the need is, you can make a plan to meet it instead of letting it continue to spoil on the shelf, feeding that growing sense of resentment.

Speak the Need–Sometimes, even when we have identified a need, we have a hard time feeling like it’s OK to meet it.  We tell ourselves, “We shouldn’t have to ask for help.”  Or, “I shouldn’t have to say anything about this.”  Remember, the theology of the body tells us that the voice of God speaks to us through our bodies.  If you are feeling resentful, God is asking you to find a healthy, godly way to meet an unmet need and make your relationships healthier and stronger. Trying to talk yourself out of meeting that need is like trying to ignore the voice of the Holy Spirit! Once you’ve identified the need that is feeding your resentment, it’s time to make a plan to meet it. Go to the people around you and say, “I really need your help with X.”  Don’t worry if they aren’t receptive at first. Be confident in the need that God is asking you to address. Remember, healthy, godly relationships are mutually self-donative. Sometimes that means that we have to be willing to stretch ourselves a little bit to work for each other’s good. That’s not always fun, but it’s always good. Give the people in your life the opportunity to stretch themselves a little for you. Don’t let doubts about others rob them of the opportunity to learn to love you as much as you love them.

Get Help to Meet the Need–Sometimes, even when we have tried our best, getting our needs met can be…complicated. If you find that you can’t stop feeling resentful no matter what you do, or if you are struggling to actually identify your needs in the first place, or articulate them in ways that the people in your life can actually hear and respond to, it’s time to get some new skills. Don’t give into the temptation of thinking that there is nothing you can do just because you can’t figure our what to do on your own. Remember, if God is calling your attention to a need, God has a plan for meeting it. Talk to a faithful professional counselor who can help you learn how to cooperate with God’s plan for meeting the unmet needs that are feeding your resentment.  

If you would like additional resources and support overcoming resentment, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com!

Couple Connection–How to Cultivate a Stronger and More Intimate Marriage

Life gets busy and we tend to place our focus and efforts on the things we feel make us more “productive.” Doing this, however, often causes us to not prioritize our marriage in the ways that we need to and ultimately become disconnected from our spouse.

We tend to think that having a good, loving, marriage is a good thing on a purely human level but we also have a tendency to think that working on our marriage is somehow selfish. We believe that working on our marriage doesn’t build the kingdom of God like feeding the poor, or building a school or hospital, or even singing in the church choir does. We recognize that marriage–generally speaking–is a good thing, but we don’t really believe that God cares what our marriages look like. But he does!  

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Are you looking to cultivate a stronger and more intimate marriage?
Check out:

For Better… Forever!

A Catholic Guide to Lifelong Marriage

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The Theology of The Body reminds us that building the kingdom of God is really about healing the damage that sin does to our relationships with each other. The Sacrament of Marriage is about healing the intimate bond that holds all of civilization together. If we don’t have strong marriages, we can’t have strong families, and if we don’t have strong families we can’t have a healthy society or a godly church. Focusing on doing all kinds of ministry while ignoring your marriage is like trying to build a third story on your house while your foundation is sliding over a cliff. God cares deeply about how intimate, passionate, loving, respectful, and prayerful your marriage is because everything else in his plan depends on it. If loving couples aren’t cooperating with God’s grace everyday to make their marriages stronger it allows Satan to get into the cracks and blow everything apart–not just that one couples marriage, but their family and all of society. The Church teaches that working on your marriage is a ministry that allows us to bear witness to the love that Christ, the Bridegroom, has for his bride, the Church. By working to create stronger, more loving, intimate, and prayerful marriages, we are working to save the world and build the kingdom of God.

Here are three ways to strengthen your marriage:

  1. Make the small moments count—When life gets busy, it can be difficult to make grand gestures or get a significant amount of time to focus solely on your spouse. The good news is, while those bigger moments are important, the little moments count just as much when it comes to building couple connection. What are the little things that your partner appreciates? This could include things like eye contact while talking, a little smile while passing through the room, being surprised by their favorite snack or flowers, a random hug while working in the kitchen. These little moments are the opportunities for us to say, “Hey, I love you,” even in those times where we might have a lot going on. Just like when we’re building a house, we need all those little pebbles in the foundation to make a sturdy house. That is what these little moments are, those moments of connection that create a sturdy foundation and connection for your marriage.
  1. Prioritize couple time first—When we’re planning our week, we tend to add all of the extra curricular activities, work events, or social obligations to the schedule first. And then somewhere in there we hope to maybe have time for some family or couple time. But this is where we set ourselves up for some challenges. To strengthen your marriage connection, prioritize making time for our marriage first. This means, plan time with your spouse on the schedule before any thing else—even if it’s talking a walk in the morning, one evening set aside for dinner together, or time to wind down in the evening together after the kids go to bed—then schedule other events around your couple time. This is one of the most effective ways to put your spouse and your marriage first, which even helps everything else in your week go more smoothly as well!
  1. Practice intentional communication—Often one of the biggest difficulties in couple connection is the disconnection that spouses experience throughout the day. Typically because of work schedules or family responsibilities, spouses don’t see each other for the majority of the day. Then they hope to get a couple minutes (never mind hours) in the evening to reconnect. To strengthen your couple connection, work on practicing intentional communication throughout the day. This can look like sending even little texts to each other such as “I’m praying for your meeting!” “How was your lunch?” Or, “Just letting you know I love you!” No matter how simple or detailed you make your communication with one another throughout the day, maintaining your connection even in little ways can ease the transition into evenings and your time together because you have maintained at least a baseline level of connection instead of trying to go from 0 to 100 with nothing in between.

For more resources on strengthening your marriage connection, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com!

Lending a Listening Ear–How Being Heard Can Impact Our Mental and Physical Health

It’s understandable how being heard can have an impact on our mental health, but can having someone there to listen to us impact our physical health as well?

According to a study out of NYU Grossman School of Medicine, researchers have found that having a good listener in our lives is associated with improved brain health and greater cognitive resilience.

In this study, researchers examined the modifying effect of individual forms of social support on the relationship between cerebral volume and cognitive performance. The cognitive function of individuals with greater availability of one specific form of social support was higher relative to their total cerebral volume. This key form of social support was listener availability and it was highly associated with greater cognitive resilience.

So what do we do when we’re struggling to be heard?

Theology of The Body tells us that love is the only appropriate response to another person.  Listening is an important part of loving.  To love someone means working for their good, but we can’t know what they need help with, what their goals are, or what they are struggling with if we aren’t willing to listen–and that goes for kids as well as adults.  Listening is hard, but it is even harder to feel loved by someone who is unwilling to really listen to us.

Here are three ways to ensure you can be heard:

1.  Be Direct–If you want to be heard, it’s best to be clear and direct.  Sometimes, in a mistaken attempt to be polite, we simply hint at what we want or even just describe a problem and hope others will come up with ways to solve.  But if other people don’t pick up the hint, or propose solutions that don’t really meet our need, we can become resentful and feel like we weren’t being heard. If you have a problem or need, it’s best to begin the conversation by saying exactly what you want from the people around you.  For instance, instead of announcing, “This place is a mess!” and becoming upset when you end up cleaning everything yourself, say, “Guys, listen up.  We need to make a plan for how we’re going to get the place cleaned up before dinner.”  The clearer you are about what you want, the more likely it is you will actually be heard.

2.  Always End a Conversation with A Plan–Often we don’t feel heard because we discuss a problem with someone but don’t actually end the conversation with any action items or a plan for following up. This is usually the problem when people say, “We’ve talked about this a million times, but nothing ever changes.”  That usually means that you talked about the problem but there were no clear decisions about what to do about it, who was going to do those things, and when you were going to check in with each other for how things were going and what else might need to be done.  If you end a conversation without a follow-up plan that determines who is going to do what by when, then chances are high that you will be talking about this same problem again–and again, and again–in the very near future.  If you want to be heard, make sure to end your conversations with clear action items, who is going to be responsible for following up, and when you are going to follow-up.

3.  Back Up Words with Action–If you’ve done all the things we’ve mentioned so far, and you still aren’t being heard, there’s a good chance the other person isn’t hearing you because they don’t want to listen.  It may be that things are working for them the way they are and they don’t want to change even if that means that you are being inconvenienced.  Of course, that’s not OK.  In those cases, it’s best not to use more words.  It’s time to take action.  Tell the person that you aren’t happy leaving things as they are and that you have decided to make some changes on your own, invite them to join you in solving the problem, but if they still refuse (or don’t follow through) go ahead and take that as permission to act alone to make some changes even if they affect the other person.  Taking action may just be the thing to do to get the other person’s attention.  Either way, you’ll feel better, because you’ve taken active steps to solve the problem.

If you need additional support or resources for being heard and strengthening your relationships with others, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com!

Calming Conflict—Effective Ways to Avoid Escalation

Are you struggling in your communications with others—or at least one particular person? Tired of these conversations escalating and never actually going anywhere? In order to calm conflict and cultivate effective communication, there are a few things we need to keep in mind.

Theology of The Body reminds us that we are called to live in communion. Ironically, because we live in a fallen world, building that communion requires us to learn to deal gracefully with conflict. Our natural human tendency is to either try to avoid conflict as much as possible–even when we shouldn’t–or to get caught up in it and fan the flames, but neither of these choices are options for the Christian. In fact, both are sinful. Avoiding problems we could do something about is the sin of sloth. Escalating conflict needless is the sin of wrath. Fortunately, when it comes to dealing with conflict, Christians have a third option: to be peacemakers. 

 To be a peacemaker is to work to restore the right order that God desires in a situation.  When conflicts arise, being a peacemaker doesn’t mean just keeping a lid on things any more than it means unnecessarily escalating the tension. It means starting disagreements by seeking God’s wisdom and grace, entering conflicts with the intention of working for the good of everyone involved (including ourselves), and doing what we can to both encourage everyone involved in the conflict through the tension and toward godly solutions. The peacemaker doesn’t run from conflict or fan the flames of conflict. Rather, the peacemaker is someone who knows many different ways to actively engage and extinguish the fire so that new life can spring up from the ashes.

Here are three ways to be a peacemaker in the midst of conflict:

1.  Make Breaks Count–When you “take a break” in an argument, don’t just step away and distract yourself by not thinking about the disagreement. That just sets you up to pick up the fight where you left off the next time you start addressing the issue.  Taking a break is an opportunity to think differently about the disagreement; to take some time to see the other person in a more sympathetic light so you can come back to the topic with a more caring heart.  When you take a break from a disagreement, spend some time in prayer reflecting on questions like, “What needs does the other person have that they are afraid I’m not willing to meet?”  “Why might the other person think I’m not interested in them or their concerns?” and “How can I show them that they are important to me–even though we’re disagreeing?”  Taking some time to ask questions like this helps you make breaks from conflict count and allows you to go back to the person, confident that you can approach each other again in a more compassionate and productive way

2. Look For the Positive Intention–If you’re struggling to feel sympathy for a person you’re disagreeing with, make sure to look for the need or the positive intention behind their words or actions.  Doing this doesn’t excuse any bad behavior. Rather, it gives you a way to address it respectfully. For instance, you might say something like, “When you do this or say that, can you help me understand what you’re trying to do?” Then, when the other person explains their intention, you can brainstorm together about ways to meet that intention more respectfully and efficiently in the future. Looking for the positive intention behind offensive words and actions gives you a way to be sympathetic without being a doormat. It lets you work for change, respectfully.

3.  Give It To God–When you’re disagreeing with someone, don’t forget to pray for them. Not, “God, please make them see that I’m right and they’re wrong!” But rather, “God, help me know how to express my concerns in a way they will hear and to really hear what they are saying so that we can both get our needs met and draw closer because of this disagreement we’re having.”   Giving your disagreement to God doesn’t mean giving up your needs or, for that matter, trusting that God will sort it out while you ignore the elephant in the room. It means asking God to guide you in the steps of having more compassionate conflict, where the tension between you and the person you care about can lead to even greater closeness. Don’t try to pray away your needs or your feelings. Instead, ask God to help you find ways to meet those needs and express those feelings in a manner that reflects God’s grace, honors your concerns, and respects the dignity of the other person as well. Let God show you how to master conflict instead of just avoiding it.

For more resources on conflict management, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com!

Science Reveals The Upside of Sacrificing for Your Spouse

Are you struggling to connect with your spouse? Does it feel like you’ve been missing that spark in your relationship? Science and faith reveal a few simple ways to cultivate a more joyful marriage.

Theology of The Body tells us that mutual self-donation–that is, generously and even heroically taking care of each other–is the key to both a happy marriage and a happy life.  Turns out, research supports this idea.  An article at the Marriage Research blog, The Science of Relationships, recently highlighted several studies exploring the benefits of sacrificing for your spouse.  It turns out loving your spouse more than your comfort zone doesn’t just make your mate happier, it’s good for you too!  According to the authors, “The act of making a sacrifice for a partner allows people to think of themselves as good and responsive relationship partners. Givers also benefit from seeing that their partners are grateful to them after they make a sacrifice. This gratitude in turn is related to stronger, more satisfying relationships. Indeed, on days when people report making small sacrifices for their romantic partner, they tend to report higher relationship quality. So next time you’re watching your partner try on clothes at the mall, cat-sitting for your in-laws, or taking out the trash for the third week in a row, just think of the silver lining: you’re not just taking care of your marriage, you’re taking care of yourself”

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Do you want to strengthen your marriage?

Check out:

How To Heal Your Marriage And Nurture Lasting Love

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Here are three ways that you can cultivate a more joyful marriage:

Surprise!—Want a more joyful marriage?  Find ways to surprise your spouse.  I mean, don’t jump out of the closet in a monster mask and yell BOO!, but DO leave little “I love you” notes, send a text that says, “I miss you!”, bring home a card, or some flowers, or some other token of affection just because.  God wants your marriage to be a physical reminder of how passionately HE loves you, and God’s love is always fresh, surprising and wonderful.  No matter how long you’ve been married, find little ways to surprise your spouse and let them know what a gift they are to you.

Keep Dreaming—A big part of what makes the early days of dating and marriage so much fun is all the time couples spend talking about their future together.  The longer couples are married, the more they tend to fall into assuming that the future will be just like today, and the day before, and the day before that.  But you’re never too old to keep dreaming together!  Make some time to imagine different versions of your future.  You don’t even have to be serious! Imagine what you’d do if you won the lottery, or actually moved to your favorite vacation spot.  Or share what your ideal life would look like! You might ask, “What’s the point of imagining a future that might never be?”  Well, three things!  First, being silly together is its own reward and laughter truly is the best medicine for marriage. Second, you might just find some ways to make at least parts of those fantasies a reality.   And finally, you might even realize how grateful you are for the life you’ve created together already.  So keep dreaming together.   You’ll be surprised at the joy you find.

Have Faith in Your Marriage—Of course the most important way to have a more joyful relationship is to find more ways to share your faith. Go to Mass together, pray together every day, find ways to serve your parish or community together, encourage each other to the be the people God is calling each of you to be.  Research consistently shows that couples who share a meaningful faith and vision of life are significantly happier than couples who don’t.  So let the grace flow in your home, and live God’s plan for a more joy-filled marriage.

For more support in cultivating a more joyful marriage, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com!

Overcoming The Trap of Hyper-responsibility

For many of us, it’s easy to fall into the role of taking on responsibility for other’s situations or problems. We want to help, but often get hurt or frustrated when the other person is not accepting our help or allowing us to guide them. When this occurs, it may be because we’re struggling to manage the balance between self-donation and hyper-responsibility.

Theology of The Body (TOB) reminds us of the importance of self-donation–of using our gifts and talents to generously work for the good of others.  But TOB also reminds us that for a relationship to be healthy, it must be mutually self-donative.  That is, both people in the relationship have to be equally committed to giving all they have to work for each other’s good.  Even Jesus models this. He offers all of himself to us on the cross, he holds nothing back. But he doesn’t force himself on us.  For us to actually benefit from Christ’s free and total gift of self, we must respond by giving ourselves freely and totally back to him.  He doesn’t drag us, kicking and screaming into heaven against our will.  He stands at the door and knocks, but it’s up to is to open the door and let him in.

Here are three ways to be self-donative without becoming hyper-responsible:

Don’t Pretend to be Mightier than God–We often become anxious because we feel like it’s our job to make people healthier than they want to be, to force people to be closer than they want to be.  All that tends to do is stress us out and push people away.  The most we can do is offer people an open invitation to greater health and intimacy, provide incentives for pursuing greater health and intimacy, and offer consequences if they choose to engage in unhealthy or destructive personal or relational choices–and that’s a lot. But when we find ourselves trying to beg, whine, cajole, force, manipulate, or pressure another person–against their will– into making healthier choices for their lives or our relationship with them, we are committing an offense against their free will. Even God will not cross the lines a person draws with their own free will.  Don’t pretend to be mightier than God. By all means, invite people to be healthier and closer, and feel free to offer incentives, and even consequences, that help them take your invitation seriously, but it’s not your fault if they choose to walk away, literally or figuratively.  In fact, you are morally obliged to let them.

Take Your Cue From Them–We sometimes get into trouble when we try to work harder on someone else’s problem than they are.  It’s good to be generous and to give all we have to help someone, but it only produces good fruit if the other person is also giving all they have to give. Even if, objectively, the other person is limited in some way and isn’t able to give much, they still have to be actively trying to give all they have to the problem for any help to stick. Otherwise, we burn ourselves out trying to solve problems that are not within our ability to solve. And we deplete the energy we would otherwise have to solve the problems that actually are within our control.

If You Need Help, Get It
–Hyper-responsible people often struggle with asking for help, especially if the people they have asked are less than enthusiastic about giving it.  If this happens to you, don’t assume that it automatically follows that you have to do everything. Either find some other way to get the help you need–even if it is not your preferred way to get it–or, if worse comes to worse–decide what you are capable of doing without help and stick to that.  When other people complain that certain things aren’t getting done, simply tell them that you are doing all you can without their help, but if they would like to pitch in, then you are sure you could accomplish more together.  It is not your job to make everything work to an ideal standard on your own power.  Even God doesn’t build his Kingdom by himself.  He insists that we partner with him, not because he can’t do it, but because it would not be respectful of our free will or the dignity of our personhood to do it all for us.  The bottom line–respect your limits, and get the help you need. 

If you would like to receive the help or support you need to overcome hyper-responsibility, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com!

Conquer Conflict–How Empathy Can Help Us Be Communication Warriors

When caught in a conflict, the last thing we want to do is be empathetic. Our natural response is often to become defensive, offensive, or to flee from the scene. While these reactions can be effective in getting us away from the original problem, they don’t really help us solve the problem.

So how do we overcome these natural reactions and work through conflict effectively?

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Are you dealing with frustrating people in your life?

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Theology of The Body reminds us that, at all times, we need to treat other people–even people we disagree with or find offensive, obnoxious, or upsetting–as persons.  When we are in conflict, our natural, fallen response is to stop treating our opponent as a person and, instead, see them as an enemy, an idiot, a nuisance, an irritant, or an aggressor.  As soon as we start thinking of someone that way, we indulge our sinful tendency to depersonalize the other–treating them as a thing to be ignored, overpowered, dismissed, or shouted down.  None of these responses are consistent with our call to create communities of love and to treat others as unique and unrepeatable persons deserving of dignity and respect.  So what do we do?  We empathize. Empathy is the quality that allows us to accept that people do things for reasons that make sense to them and that we are obliged to do what we can to understand those reasons.  Empathy does not require us to agree with what the other person thinks, approve of what they are doing, or excuse any offenses.  It simply requires us to assume that–whatever they are doing–there is at least a positive intention or need that is driving their thoughts, words, or actions.  Empathy gives us a starting point for respectful change.  It reminds us that the best defense is not a good offense but rather compassion.  Empathy allows us to be strong enough to encounter someone we disagree with and say, “Help me understand what you are trying to do and then let’s work together to find a respectful way to meet that need.”

Although empathy in conflict is important, it can often be difficult. Here are three steps to effectively cultivating empathy in difficult situations:

1. Let God Be Your Mediator–It often doesn’t occur to us, but it’s tremendously helpful to ask God to mediate our conflicts.  Anytime you feel your temperature rising, remind yourself to “STOP!” Then invite God in with a prayer that goes something like, “Lord, help us to really listen to each other and find ways to take care of each other through our disagreement and find solutions that glorify you.”  Then, take a breath, and solve the problem.  Remember, you are a Christian. That means we invite Christ into all we do.  Don’t handle conflicts on your own.  Ask God for the grace to find peaceful, loving, mutually-satisfying solutions to all the disagreements with the people in your life.

2. Practice Conflict Virtues–When you are dealing with conflict, remind yourself to ask, “What virtues do I need to handle this well?” Patience? Understanding? Consideration? Self-Control?  Assertiveness?  Take a brief moment to identify the virtues or qualities that would help you handle the present disagreement well. If that sounds a little pie-in-the-sky, it isn’t. In fact a recent study found that people who naturally practice what researchers called “virtue based problem solving” do a better job of keeping their cool in conflict, finding effective, objective solutions to conflict, and recovering more quickly from conflict.  Faith and science agree.  Not only is it possible to be more intentional about bringing Christian virtue into disagreements, it’s the key to peace.

3. Treat Resistance as a Message–We have a tendency to treat resistance as stubbornness that has to be overcome by talking even louder..  Avoid this.  Learn to see resistance as communication. When the other person is resistant or reluctant to your ideas or commands, what they are really saying is, “But if I do what you’re asking, how will I get to do this thing that is also important to me?”  If you are getting resistance about your needs or concerns from someone else, don’t get defensive. Instead, stop and say, “Obviously, I need you to take what I’ve said seriously, but what are you trying to tell me that you need?” Then make a plan for meeting that need.  You’ll be amazed how often this causes resistance or even disobedience to evaporate without the power struggle.  Treat resistance as a message.  Identify the need.  Create a solution, and move on.

For more resources for dealing with conflict effectively, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com.