Wednesday, December 29, 2021

I Should Be Grateful...


I should be grateful.

Have you ever found yourself thinking these words on the heels of experiencing some negative emotions? Maybe you’re angry with your spouse or going through a tough time in general. You attempt to change your perspective and pull yourself out of your funk by focusing on gratitude instead. It’s a noble cause. After all, we talk about the positive effects of gratitude on this very blog.

The issue arises when we use an obligation to be grateful as a way to tamp down or invalidate other legitimate feelings. Here’s the deal: gratitude is not cancelled out by other emotions. You can be both grateful – and other things, too.

You can be both grateful – and struggling.

Perhaps you’re going through a rough patch in your relationship. Maybe one or both of you are working through anger, resentment, or sadness. You could be navigating a period of career or financial uncertainty. Struggling can mean a lot of things, as these examples illustrate. What they have in common is that it’s often during situations like these that we tend to give ourselves a gratitude check. I shouldn’t be so angry, I should be grateful because it could be worse. Sure, that might be partially true – things could be worse. However, this doesn’t get rid of your anger or other uncomfortable emotions. In fact, it’s often healthy to acknowledge and allow ourselves to feel our feelings, even if they’re unpleasant.

You can be both grateful – and know there’s room to improve.

There are areas of your relationship that could be better. You’re grateful for each other as you are, and you know there’s still work to be done. This is good! Feeling gratitude for your partner and your current state is one way to recognize your strengths and all that you’re doing right. Acknowledging where there’s potential for growth individually and as a couple is a great way hold yourselves and each other accountable while avoiding the rut of complacency. Embrace both feelings. This balance is the key to healthy relationship growth.

You can be both grateful – and striving for more.

Let’s say you’ve worked hard and achieved some big goals together: eliminating your debt, building a business, or raising your family. You’re grateful for where you’re at, and you want to achieve more – for your marriage, your family, and/or yourself. It can feel contradictory, like you’re saying what you have or what you’ve accomplished isn’t good enough. Of course, that’s probably not the case. Allowing gratitude to sit alongside your ambition can help you avoid the trap of feeling unfulfilled and constantly be working towards something more.

Focus on the and with each other.

When you and your spouse embrace the and, you’re not only able to validate your emotions in a healthy way, you’re also able to more accurately understand each other’s nuanced experiences and communicate your own. Consider the difference between saying, “I’m grateful you’re such a hard worker, but I wish you were home more,” versus “I’m grateful you’re such a hard worker, and I wish you were home more.” It’s a small change, but it just feels different, right?

As humans, we feel a full range of emotions, often more than one at once. You can’t eliminate negative ones simply by willing yourself to only feel the positive ones. Conversely, you don’t nullify gratitude by acknowledging other conflicting emotions either. Leaving space for both gratitude and… is one way you can capture the whole big picture, its full context and complexity, instead of just focusing on one half or the other.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

When you think of the way you express and experience gratitude in your relationship, what comes to mind? Perhaps it’s kind words, heartfelt gestures, or a loving smile or touch. These are momentary expressions of the sentiment, but the fact is, the influence of a grateful mindset has a way of echoing throughout your entire relationship in a positive way that promotes a sense of harmony. We’re not saying it will prevent you from ever fighting again (conflict can be healthy, after all) but it can help you avoid the unnecessary ones that do more damage than good. Not sure what we mean? Keep reading.

Gratitude prevents you from taking each other for granted.

We’ve learned to live with a lot more uncertainty lately; we don’t know what tomorrow, or next week, or next year will bring. It’s not a given that you or your spouse will be there every day into the future, or what adversity you might go through. It’s not always pleasant to imagine, so instead, focus on how you can best cherish each other every day. Knowing life can change in the blink of an eye makes us less likely to want to spend time fighting about trivial things.

Gratitude sparks a cycle of positive interactions.

Dr. John Gottman’s “magical ratio” posits that in the happiest marriages, there are five positive interactions for every negative one. Regularly expressing genuine gratitude to each other means you’ll likely receive a positive response, evoking a positive response from you and so on. You’ll be less likely to get into a fight over something trivial if it’s sandwiched by kind words or some physical affection.

Gratitude helps you see the bigger picture.

In situations in where annoyance or anger would be the easy response, a lens of gratitude gives you the perspective shift you need to see the full context of the situation. It helps you zoom out to see the whole person, instead of zeroing in just one mistake or flaw. For example, if your spouse has a habit of going over the top with holiday decorations, you might shift your perspective to see their good intentions of wanting to give your family happy memories and a sense of tradition.

Gratitude boosts satisfaction.

Various studies in recent years have found that when partners feel more gratitude toward each other, they also feel more satisfied in their relationship. If you’re feeling more satisfied, you’re going to be less likely to nitpick at your spouse for the little things or let anger or bitterness bubble over the top. If you do have an issue, you’ll be better able to address it in an empathetic way and be more receptive to feedback from each other.

Gratitude counteracts resentment.

Regularly expressing gratitude to each other can temper the little annoyances and resentments that have a way of building up over time. Making an effort to thank each other for the specific things (“Hey, thanks for planning the meals this week, that really lightened my load this week.”) or the more general (“I’m really lucky to have you by my side.”) can help you both let go of irritation that might take root if you rarely show each other appreciation.

Choosing gratitude in the midst of anger, stress, or annoyance isn’t easy. In fact, it often takes conscious effort – maybe even practice. But a grateful mindset has the potential to spark a chain reaction of good vibes in your relationship, making it less likely that you’ll succumb to unnecessary fights that result in hurt feelings or resentment.

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

That Same Stupid Fight: Handling Conflict with Your Spouse


That Same Stupid Fight: Handling Conflict with Your Spouse

There’s a reason so many of us would rather get a cavity filled with Kenny G in the background than have that same … stupid … fight.

Conflict with your spouse is inevitable for all couples. (Whoever got the idea into our heads that “marriage should be easy” … probably wasn’t married.) How can you deal?

 The following concepts from Peacemaker Ministries may result in love being a little less of a battlefield.

 Why do we fight?

Conflict with your spouse happens when values collide. He wishes she would park straight; she wishes he would apply the same logic to getting his socks 17 inches closer to the hamper.

 As James 4:1 puts it, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?” Our goals are thwarted.

Conflict with your spouse can be unspoken or overt, tangible or intangible, quiet or quite loud. They can involve clashes within ourselves, with others, with the world at large, and with God Himself.

 Conflicts can be tricky because the way we go about handling them is heavily influenced by the culture in our family of origin. Whether our “normal” includes glossing over, gossiping, lashing out, storming away, or having a family meeting, our personal experience has dictated “acceptable” responses to conflict.

We all fall on a spectrum, right?

·        Escaping: There are the classic “stuffers,” who prefer a false peace. They’re escaping conflict by outright denial, internalizing responses to conflict, perhaps denying.

·        Attacking: On the other end of the spectrum are “blowers,” who shoot for a false justice. They might attack with words, physical force, or the withdrawal of privileges, like money or sex.

·        Peacemaking: In the middle of these extremes is the true peace and true justice of godly responses: Talking it out. Finding a mediator. Overlooking an offense. Jesus calls us “blessed” when we are peacemakers (Matthew 5:9). Not peace-fakers. Not peace-breakers.

The replay

We don’t act as “peacemakers” just because it’s the moral thing to do. It’s because when we enter conflict, we have the opportunity to honor God and replay His actions when He was in conflict with us.

 (Wait. How I handle my spouse’s workaholism is a chance to exemplify the gospel? Please explain.)

When sin broke our relationship with God, He went the distance to repair that relationship and make peace with us. When we were His enemies, God demonstrated the quality and quantity of His love by making a way for peace (see Romans 5:8). And it’s a job God has passed on to us.

 Second Corinthians 5:18-20 puts it this way:

Through Christ [God] reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.

The way we show forgiveness, peace, and justice in our relationships is a show-and-tell about what God did for us through Jesus. 

So, your response to the sniping of your mother-in-law, or your husband’s passivity, or your wife’s nagging?

Those are opportunities to honor God and grow more like Him. (Will I obey God and trust Him? Will I make my desires, my goals, my “rights,” and my agenda serve His will above mine? What is His will?).

Conflict also allows us to serve others and to grow as it gives us new ways of looking at life.

Does that mean conflict with your spouse could actually improve the relationship?!

That’s exactly what I’m saying.

What next?

When my kids had learned some basic, conflict-management skills, I was eager to lay down my referee’s jersey and whistle and let them finally work it out on their own: Sit here. Don’t get up till it’s resolved. Do not pass “Go.” Do not collect $200.

Yet even that tended to drag on, sounding like a couple of cats tied up together in a sack. But you know what helped them cut to the chase far quicker.

Asking them to start with the log in their own eye. This comes from Matthew 7:5: “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

I get to the core of the conflict a lot faster when I start with addressing my own heart issues. Which means …

Resolving conflict with your spouse in a healthy way starts with taking 100% responsibility for our contribution—even if we think our contribution is only 5% of the problem. Here’s a tip I heard from author Gary Thomas: We always underestimate the impact our sin has on other people.

Often, our desires have swollen not just from something we want, but into something we must have. So we’re willing to pass judgment and mete out punishment in order to achieve that desire (even in stealthy forms like the silent treatment or emotional withdrawal). We’re not trusting God to meet those desires. They have become demands.

As you’re able, consider how to embrace humility and confess to the other person (you might be surprised how this gets the ball rolling). Admit specifically what you did, as well as admitting the attitude that was in your heart. And don’t forget to acknowledge the hurt you’ve caused.

The PAUSE process

So you’ve decided you’ll intentionally honor God and trust Him with this conflict with your spouse. You’ve spent time searching your heart and repenting from your own sin. How can you move to a place where it’s not “us against each other” but “us against the problem”? 

How can this become “Let’s work on the issue of household division of labor” rather than “her vs. him”?

Peacemakers outlines a five-step process to keep in mind: 

  1. Prepare: Seek counsel. Pray. Continue to examine your own heart and reactions. 
  2. Affirm Relationships: Show value for the relationship and hope for the future. Help them feel secure to address the problem and not worry about protecting themselves. 
  3. Understand and Acknowledge Interests: People’s positions are motivated by their spoken and unspoken interests: Concerns. Desires. Needs. Limitations. Fears. Values.  It might help to dig below the presenting issue—whose family to visit over the holidays, or how you’re talking to me when you’re exhausted from work, or whose turn it is to cart the kids to school. Look beneath that: What’s the desire of each person, and why is it important to them (even if they’re expressing those in illegitimate, unjust, or downright rude ways)?  For example, behind the clipped responses after your long day at work? Maybe your spouse feels like everyone else gets the polite, presentable side of you. Or that ultimately, you don’t appreciate or truly see him or her. 
  4. Search for Creative Solutions: There are almost always more than two options. How can you think creatively about a solution to address both of your interests? 
  5. Evaluate Options: Which of these speak to both of our interests? Is there a way I need to willingly lay down one of my interests?


“How can I know if I’ve really forgiven them?  I’m still mad when I think about the issue.”

Forgiveness is one of the most challenging tasks we face as human beings. It’s not a natural response but a supernatural one.

Forgiveness is a choice. It’s a decision modeled after God’s forgiveness of us: a decision not to hold the offense against the offender (if you need a pep talk, check out Matthew 18:21-35).

It releases the person from their sin against us, desiring good and blessing for them. And since forgiveness is a choice we make, it doesn’t even depend on the other person. We can forgive whether the person is sorry or not.

But here’s what forgiveness isn’t. It’s not forgetting or excusing, releasing someone from worldly consequences of sin. (This is different from revenge. It’s accountability for their choices. A forgiven criminal should still go to jail. An embezzler should not be given a position as an accountant.) Forgiveness isn’t a feeling, although feeling might be present.

It’s promising the following….. I will not… 

  • Keep ruminating negatively on this. 
  • Seek to hurt my offender as a result of this; I will seek to bless him or her, even if that means establishing accountability and finding justice.      
  • Gossip about this, speaking to others who are not part of the solution. 

Instead, I will continue to pursue a relationship with the offender (unless repentance has not been demonstrated and love dictates I set boundaries to protect both of us).

In all of this, you might even come to a renewed appreciation of the lengths God has gone to forgive us and play out the gospel in your own life and for those you love.

Other healthy habits

Scientists agree that healthy communication and conflict resolution is just one of five habits that directly relates to marital health. Read about the other habits too.

·        Commitment

·        Spiritual Intimacy

·        Self-Awareness

·        Friendship

Copyright © 2019 Janel Breitenstein. All rights reserved.

Janel Breitenstein is an author, freelance writer, speaker and frequent contributor for FamilyLife, including Passport2Identity®, Art of Parenting®, and regular articles. After five and a half years in East Africa, her family of six has returned to Colorado, where they continue to work on behalf of the poor with Engineering Ministries International. Her book, on spiritual life skills for messy families (Zondervan), releases March 2021. You can find her—“The Awkward Mom”—having uncomfortable, important conversations at, and on Instagram @janelbreit.


Wednesday, October 13, 2021

The What, When and How of Family Boundaries

 Whether your relationship with your in-laws and your own family is usually pretty great or has its ups and downs, there are situations that test your family boundaries. If your families already struggle with boundary issues, certain circumstances may exacerbate them even more, putting additional strain on the relationships. If your boundaries are usually pretty healthy, you might still experience some tension as you navigate the situation at hand.

What do we mean by “family boundaries”?

In the context of this post, think of them as protective barriers around time, mental/emotional energy and wellbeing, money, or physical space. You might have boundaries for yourself, for your relationship with your spouse, or around your entire immediate family. Boundaries can come in the form of explicitly agreed upon rules or clearly defined expectations, but they are just as often unspoken. We learn them from the family we grew up in, and we might not even realize it until later in life as we experience the quirks of our family dynamics in relation to our spouse’s.

Every family and relationship is unique, so there is no universal set of boundaries. The ones that are healthy and effective for one family, couple, or individual will not be the same for another. That being said, here are some examples:

  • We don’t talk about our relationship issues with our families.
  • When we visit, we’ll stay in a hotel.
  • We want to create and enjoy our own traditions with our kids, so we don’t travel on [holiday].
  • If you don’t voluntarily bring up [topic], I won’t ask.

  • We don’t ask each other for money.

So what are some situations when boundary issues tend to bubble to the surface? Let’s explore.

During a crisis

During highly stressful times, like a family emergency or unexpected crisis, we tend to shift to more extreme versions of ourselves. Why? When we’re thrown out of balance, the negative aspects of our personality traits can peek through. This applies to family dynamics as well. A family crisis brings to light the issues and conflicts that you can usually sweep under the rug. Boundaries might tighten up or diminish, and you might realize they were too rigid or loose to begin with. Think about how your families might handle a family emergency or have handled one in the past. Is there fighting and chaos? Everyone dealing with it separately? Depending on certain people to right the ship? Falling out of balance is a very normal reaction to an unexpected stressor; being able to return to a more stable state will help decrease the chances of long-term dysfunction.

Becoming parents

Obviously, the birth of your first child is a life-changing event, not just for you and your spouse but for your respective families as well. You’re used to relating to your parents and in-laws in one context, but there’s an entirely new dynamic that comes into play when you have a child. Even if it’s not the first grandchild in the family, it’s the first one with you as the parents. Suddenly, you’re the gatekeepers of your child’s relationship with your extended families, navigating and shaping new boundaries for both your new family and yourself. You might have disagreements with your spouse pop up that you didn’t anticipate. Maybe you think your in-laws drop by unannounced too often or your spouse feels your sister is too pushy with her parenting advice. On top of the overall challenge of being new parents, it can feel like a lot to manage.

Celebrating holidays

As a couple, you’ve likely had to figure out how you’re going to celebrate holidays. Which ones do you spend with your family or your partner’s? How do you create your own traditions for your own family? How do you meet everyone’s expectations while not ruining the holidays for yourself? In the process of finding solutions to these questions and many more, there might be some moments you catch yourself gritting your teeth in annoyance. Whether it’s gift-giving traditions that stress you out, too much togetherness with your extended family, or awkward conversations you’d rather not participate in, the complicated family dynamics really come out to play during holidays.

How can we establish healthy boundaries?

While these situations carry different nuances, there are some universal tips that can help you create healthy boundaries across all areas. Incorporate these suggestions to give you steady footing even in circumstances that have the potential for conflict.

1. Communicate directly and respectfully.
We might beat around the bush when we’re trying to communicate our boundaries. Maybe we don’t want to come across as harsh or hurt anyone’s feelings, and that’s totally understandable. However, by being clear and direct, we make it easier for others to respect our boundaries because they don’t have to try to interpret any vagueness.

2. Set realistic expectations from the start.
Often boundaries can come in the form of setting realistic expectations. If our expectations are not communicated or are very different from someone else’s it can seem like boundaries were crossed, when really it’s just a matter of adjusting expectations.

3. Enforce boundaries consistently.
The previous tips don’t mean much if you’re not actually following through on the boundaries you’ve set. You and your spouse will gain confidence in assertively enforcing boundaries, while also setting examples for your children or other family members.

4. Be on the same page as your spouse.
Consistently enforcing boundaries with each of your families will be difficult if you and your spouse are not aligned and on board. Supporting each other in times when it might be difficult to stick to them can make a world of difference.

Families are complex systems, especially when you consider both of your families intertwining around you as a couple. Interestingly, the situations that tend to test boundaries are also the ones that remind you why they’re so important in the first place. Understanding when it’s natural for issues arise and how to create healthy family boundaries can hopefully help you minimize strained relationships with your loved ones.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Staying Optimistic During a Tough Season


What is a tough season? Well, that’s going to be different for everyone. It could be the years when your children are young and you aren’t feeling connected. It could be a period of time when you’re struggling financially or facing career uncertainty. It might be a phase in which roles feel out of balance or your family is going through a transition. While the circumstances are all unique, the common thread is that when you’re in the thick of it, it feels hard. It’s easy to get discouraged, and you might begin to question how you’re going to make it through. Here are some tips for staying optimistic during a tough season.

Understand that it isn’t permanent.

It might feel like it will be this way forever; chances are, it won’t be. Even if some aspects of the situation are here to stay (at least for the foreseeable future), that doesn’t mean that everything aspect of it is. For example, if you just moved to a new city away from all of your family and friends, you’re probably going to feel out of your element for awhile. Gradually, however, you’ll meet people and form new connections, carving out a life together in your new city and home.

Validate each other’s struggles.

You might share the same struggles, or they might be very different. Talk them out with each other, and validate them, even if you’re not experiencing the same things yourself. Maybe you’re going though a really stressful period at work and feeling guilty about working such long hours. Maybe your spouse is feeling burnt out from handling the bulk of the household and parenting responsibilities. It can help just to know that your spouse is in your corner and recognizes what you’re going through – and that you’re going through it together.

Reconfirm your values and priorities.

If you stay true to your values and are aligned on what’s most important, then you have a roadmap to guide you when things feel especially difficult or uncertain. For example, if you rely on your faith during hard times and your main priority is doing what’s best for your family, keeping this front and center can help you maintain perspective while also strengthening your bond through a shared purpose.

Set small goals to propel you forward.

Even if you can see the light at the end of the tunnel, it can feel pretty far away. That in itself can be discouraging. So instead of focusing on that giant leap, set up winnable, incremental goals or markers to keep you going. Maybe you’re living with your in-laws as you save up to purchase your first home. You’ve both been working long hours, and it’s been hard on your relationship. Create smaller savings goals as you work towards the greater amount (maybe even make one of those fundraising charts you fill in), so that you are able to see and feel your progress. Even if your end goal isn’t as tangible as a saving a specific dollar amount, you can still celebrate milestones (all kids out of diapers!) or create checkpoints to reflect on your journey (first year of med school complete!)

All couples go through tough seasons – you are not alone! Whether it’s directly related to your relationship, the life stage you’re in, taxing circumstances, or any combination of these factors, it’s easy to feel discouraged. It’s normal to have periods of time that feel like a struggle. Maintaining a sense of optimism is key to getting through these times with your relationship intact. It helps you and your spouse keep the bigger picture in focus, while providing opportunities to stay connected to each other.

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Leveling Up Communications in your Marriage


By September 1, 2021Communication

Communication is paramount in any relationship, but especially in marriage. If you’re striving for lifelong love with your spouse, then the two of you will have to master the art of effective communication. You can come out on the other side of almost any marital problem if you have mastered the skills for effective communication.

While we communicate at different levels, it’s most important to communicate from the standpoint of protecting and nurturing one another’s feelings. If you’re ready to level up your communication with your spouse, read on.


Emotional safety is critical for effective, clear communication between you and your spouse. When the two of you feel emotionally safe, your communication and problem solving will be so much stronger. If necessary, sit down to discuss your sense of safety with one another. Find out how each of you feel, and what you might be able to do to create a greater sense of security so that you can both be vulnerable.

If you’ve had an emotionally unsafe dynamic in your relationship, you may need to seek out professional counseling in order to nurture a safer environment. It can be difficult to stop toxic or damaging behaviors without help, so don’t hesitate to reach out to a trusted, licensed therapist to get the support you need.


Visualize yourself in your spouse’s shoes when you communicate. How might they feel about the situation you’re discussing? What are their needs in the moment? How do the things you say affect them? Where are they coming from?

Understanding your spouse’s point of view will help you pause and thoughtfully consider what they’re saying. When we communicate–particularly when we’re fighting or trying to solve a problem–things can get emotional quickly. But strong emotions can get in the way of stopping long enough to empathize, so take a little time to see things through your spouse’s eyes.


We believe most couples want authenticity in their relationships, because that breeds empathy. They just may not know how to go about achieving it. And, you can’t be truly authentic without an existing sense of vulnerability. Emotional safety and empathy open the door for honesty and vulnerability–some of the most foundational building blocks for a healthy marriage.


Once you’ve mastered emotional safety, empathy, honesty, and vulnerability, seek one another out for advice. Asking your partner for advice and help when needed can cultivate a deeper sense of trust and respect. When motivated by a true sense of admiration for one another, asking each other for advice can help you both to feel valued. It’s a great way to show your spouse that you trust their knowledge and insight.


Humor can lighten the heaviest burdens in communication. You can break up a difficult conversation with humor, resetting the tone of your discussion and helping you both get refocused on what really matters: each other. Allow for lightheartedness in your interactions wherever possible, and use it as a buoy when waters get rough.


Authors Robert and Rosemary Barnes identified three ascending communication levels that occur in any given relationship. Want to know at which level you and your spouse communicate most often? Check out our book, Love Talk, to learn more. You can pick up a couples kit here.

Sunday, August 22, 2021

4 Tips to Build Everyday Trust in Relationships