E.J. Smith, Author at Engaged Marriage | Page 2 of 5

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About the Author

E.J. Smith is a Nationally Certified Counselor, motivational speaker, writer and advocate for survivors of sexual abuse. She is also the face (and mouth) behind SimplyEJ.com. Born in New Jersey, and transplanted to Texas, this self-professed holistic health nut enjoys a wide variety of athletics, reading, and cooking. Raised Catholic and the wife of an active duty Marine, E.J. uses introspection and pragmatism to help readers create loving, fulfilling relationships from the inside out. Follow EJ on Twitter @SimplyEJS

9 Thinking Styles that Will NOT Help Your Marriage

By E.J. Smith | Help

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I’m always amused by where and how I find inspiration.

Does the same happen to you?

I was all prepared this month to write what I hoped would be a brilliant, insightful look at how to survive the upcoming holiday season.

But as I did my research, mediated, prayed and pondered on the topic—everything seemed to fall short of what I was looking for.

Then in a true twist of happenstance (if you believe that sort of thing), I came across a book on my shelf that I’d forgotten I had bought about marriages and relationships. Flipping it through, I stumbled across this quote,

“Looking for the gifts is an invaluable skill in a world in which we can’t control other people’s behavior.” — Arielle Ford, Wabi Sabi Love.

Invariably true. However, it seems to me that over time, couples who fight get so good at finding the flaws and the faults, that they get out of practice in finding or at least not casually dismissing the good.

This phenomenon of negative thinking isn’t limited to just marriage or personal relationships, though. In fact some people use negative thinking styles to filter some, most or even ALL of their interactions. As you can imagine, that doesn’t make for a very happy individual, and it certainly doesn’t help in maintaining the warmth of a marriage.

Combating negative or false thinking styles is the primary goal of one of the most researched, supportive and popular forms of therapy today— Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT).

Simply stated, the idea behind CBT is that if we can change the way we think about ourselves and the world, we can change our behavior to better serve us.

In marriage, if we change change the lens through which we view our relationship, ourselves as one-half of that relationship and our spouses, we might be able to better advocate for those aspects as well.

So what I’ve prepared for you today are 9 Common Unhelpful Thinking Styles, put in the context of marriage.

Now, while the examples relating to marriage are of my own devise (unless otherwise stated), the Thinking Styles themselves are far from E.J. originals— in fact they’re so widely accepted that they’re on worksheets all over the internet for download and further study.

Of course, like so many other concepts in mental health and therapy, these thinking styles are not necessary distinct in real life— and often you’ll see behavior and communication that reflects several of these unhelpful thinking styles converging.

Put It To Work

The list is pretty lengthy, so before you dive in, I want you to be thinking about the following before you even start:

1. After you read the explanations below, take stock of some of your recent negative interactions or thoughts about your spouse and/or your relationship.

2. Which negative thinking styles do you find yourself using more often than others?

3. What do you think would change in your relationship if your were able to shift the way you viewed your spouse and your marriage to see the “gifts” (as Arielle Ford put it)?

Okay now you’re ready—-

9 Unhelpful Thinking Styles in Marriage and Relationships

Negative Mental Filter

You can spot a negative mental filter in a relationship when it becomes abundantly clear that no matter what the person tries to do or say, the other person takes offense or find something negative in it. Even compliments or intended helpful gestures can turn into grounds for icy verbal exchanges.

“You did the laundry? Why? So you could rub it in my face how awful a homemaker I am?!”

Jumping to Conclusions

Jumping to conclusions can be similar to the negative mental filter, as the conclusions we jump to in relationship are often negative. Sometimes, however, we can set ourselves up for disappointment by jumping to lofty “fantasy-like” conclusions as well. Since the holidays are right around the corner, the first example that comes to mind of these lofty conclusions that can lead to disappointment may revolve around gift giving.

Gifting giving can be a very stressful activity for the couple experiencing a rough patch because the quality or the “fit” of the gift might carry some extra weight.

Buying the perfect gift might be seen as “He/She feels guilty about something and is trying to cover it up.”

Buying a not-so-perfect gift may be received as , “She/He doesn’t love me enough to even try.”

All-or-Nothing Thinking

I’m sure it’s fairly easy to see why rigid black-or-white/all-or-nothing thinking could be an issue when relationships inevitably are composed of a thousand shades of grey and perpetually moving targets. The idea of “You’re either with me or against me” is at best juvenile and at worst, toxic to the health of a relationship.

I’ve personally witnessed encounters where folks were so committed to this type of thinking that the conversation sounded something like, “Unless s/he agrees to all of these terms, our relationship is over.” Thank God this didn’t occur in the context of a therapy session because I’m pretty sure the floor vibrated when my jaw it hit. Relationships are about partnership, and partnership inherently comes with an element of compromise.

This is your spouse, not your servant.

This is your spouse, not your master.

Personalization

You know what I love? When people “own” their personal baggage. Personal responsibility is a beautiful thing. You know what I don’t love? When people take personal ownership over baggage that isn’t theirs.

But of course you want to help the people you love, right? I get that. And I even value that. But there’s a big difference between helping someone work on their stuff, and taking it on as your own personal project.

What’s the difference?

Simply stated, if you feel like you’re working harder at someone’s goals than the actual person with the problem, then you’re doing it wrong… and you’re potentially enabling them to continue. Why should they work on their stuff when you’re so willing to do it for them? But that’s a whole separate article.

Catastrophizing

Quick and easy: On the crisis scale of your life, everything is a 10. Everything. There is no little misunderstanding or mistake. Nope. In your world and in your marriage, each bump in the road looks and feels like Mount Everest.

Over-generalization

With overgeneralization, much like All-or-Nothing thinking… phrases like, “Always” and “Never” make liberal appearances— often in our descriptions of our partners’ not-so-fantastic qualities.

“I do everything myself around here…”

“He never pays the bills on time.”

Granted there are certain things that I’m sure our respective spouses may never do, or may always do… however, when you find yourself using such “absolutes” in marriage— it’s prudent to take a moment or two to actually assess the situation and see if it really is as consistent a pattern as it feels.

Speaking of feelings…

Emotional Reasoning

Just because it FEELS true, doesn’t mean it actually IS true. Feelings are fantastic. And helping clients tap into their feelings is one of my favorite therapeutic endeavors. Feelings tell us a great deal about ourselves and the way we view and experience the world around us. What feelings do not do is tell us about objective reality.

Just because I feel like my husband doesn’t love me (for example), doesn’t actually mean that he does not love me. All it means is that in that particular moment, what is authentic and true for me is that I’m feeling unloved.

Labeling

And before we stray too far from Overgeneralizing, let’s talk about an insidious byproduct that often comes from over-generalization: Labeling.

Labeling is the quintessential over-generalization because it seeks to “categorize” someone’s behaviors or characteristics in a short, meaningful word or phrase. I will let you use your imagination for the labels, because often they’re not suitable for polite conversation. You can start with your general cuss words, and use your imagination for the rest…

And just the same as with negative self-talk, the phrases we repeat over and over again about our partners/spouses, can take on ‘legitimacy’ in our minds so that we come to view them in terms of those labels. Call your spouse a worthless loser long enough, and you’ll start to believe it (see 1. Negative Mental Filter)

Should-ing and Must-ing

Remember when you thought they “Honey-Do” List was a cute idea? Honey, can you do this? Honey, can you take care of that? Lets face it, having a second pair of hands running a household or a life for that matter can be really convenient. However, I hate the idea that having a honey-do list means that my husband (as is the case in my world) would have a never ending list of demands flowing from my lips, or onto a list.

I remember when I was younger being in a relationship where my partner/boyfriend at the time believed that I should make dinner, or it was my duty to clean and fold laundry. Duty?

Now that’s not to say that we can’t ask our spouses for help, or that we can’t have expectations— but again… lets include our spouses in that decision-making and prioritizing, no?

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Supporting Your Spouse’s Interests (Even the Ones that Bug You)

By E.J. Smith | Help

ID-100224538Do you consider yourself a supportive spouse to your husband or wife’s interests and aspirations? Do you value and support activities that are meaningful to them?

I think in general, people like to consider themselves supportive of their loved ones. I have found— and truly this is just plain old common sense— that people are much more apt to enthusiastically support their partner’s hobbies and interests if they themselves can find personal value in the pursuit as well.

Pretty obvious, right?

Let’s Talk Attraction

When we talk about attraction and the things that bring people together in the first place, shared values and common interests rank pretty darn high on the list of positive attraction factors. Even in cases where couples seem to be the perfect examples of the old phrase “opposites attract,” a brief interview will more than likely reveal that those seemingly “opposite” individuals recognize value in the traits of their loved one.

Not too long ago, I read a great article on Psychology Today that described this very phenomenon with a good amount of depth. This article spoke to me particularly because so many people who know Greg and I marvel at the fact that two people with such seemingly different personalities could stand to live under one roof. And yet, here we are! He’s the macro to my micro. I’m the early bird to his night owl.

The truth is that while outward appearances and modus operandi might vary greatly, in many ways— our values align quite well. For example, my husband I both value fitness and physical health a great deal, so the time he spends apart from me while training (and vice versa) are not (generally) points of contention. Sometimes we’ll even train together. And thank God for that! Sharing a life with someone who values the things that you do eliminates a lot of potential headaches.

But there are those things…

Those interests, those quirks, those “Hey-doesn’t this look fun?” moments that can leave a person looking (and feeling) ashen or disgusted at the mere thought. Greg and I recently encountered one of those moments. And while it might sound silly to you— I promise that it was something I had to personally struggle with.

Bugs.

He likes bugs. A lot.

Yup. Greg has an unbelievable (and as far as I’m concerned— incomprehensible) fascination with entomology. For those of you who might not know, entomology is the study of insects. Ick. I don’t get it. I really don’t. And truthfully, I don’t really want to understand it. I want no part in it. And just to help you understand his level of interest— it’s pretty much proportional to my level of disgust.

So assuming I’m not the only one who has raised an eyebrow, felt entirely befuddled (or managed a full grossed-out seizure) at their spouses interests— I thought I would share some of my process that has allowed me to come to find some piece, and strengthen my respect for the man I am lucky enough to call my husband (weird, gross, oh-my-gosh-what-is-that-in-my-freezer interests included).

While I don’t expect a multitude of martial issues revolve around insects, I think teaching yourself how to logically explore a problem before confronting your spouse is a universally valuable lesson.

EJ’s Process for DeBugging the Process of Supporting Your Spouse

1) Gain some perspective: By this I mean, I had to ask myself, “Outside of your personal preferences is the matter at hand something with objectively negative implications? Is it illegal or putting our family at serious risk?”

Okay, so he likes bugs and is studying them… and is currently putting together a collection of local specimens, that sometimes occupy my freezer and the desk in our home office. But no— I don’t think he’s doing anything illegal or putting our family at risk. He’s not taking career tips from Walter White by cooking meth, or you know— planning to knock off a bank. If any of those were true, we’d be having a different conversation.

2) If not that, then what? (Note: “I don’t know, it just bothers me” is not an acceptable answer.)

So if “the thing” in question isn’t inherently bad or evil, and it bothers you, there must be something behind it. Don’t be afraid to dig or look for the why. And don’t judge your why either. It is what it is.

For me—this part took the longest.

After some careful thought, I figured out that for me — bugs are “dirty”. Even dead ones. My mother kept an immaculate home. The standard was set high.

The other part of the issue was that my fear coupled with the delicate work of this particular hobby created a lot of separation from each other.  As silly as it sounds, I felt slightly 2nd tier to a bunch of bugs! Not cool! Interesting to note that I never felt this way when he started up 2 different martial arts classes that take up WAY more time. See what happens when you value something as opposed to not?

3) Look for points of compromise. The major reason why Step 2 is so important is because it creates the foundation to figure out points of compromise.

Is there a way we can make this work? Compromise, in case you haven’t heard is a huge part of creating a healthy marriage. And in this particular case, since the issue largely existed between my two ears— the solutions were relatively simple.

4) Approach your spouse and consider trying the following formula.

Using “I” statements:

  • Identify the problem
  • Briefly explain your rationale.
  • Offer some solutions or compromises and see where the conversation leads.

For us, we were able to reach a meaningful compromise. The bugs now reside in a designated area of the house that I don’t typically use. (The home office is dead to me.) Out of sight, out of mind. At some point, I plan to overcome my ‘issue’ so that I can appreciate the work he’s currently doing— but for now— this will have to do.  On his end, Greg has agreed to be a little more mindful of our home time together.

Sound Off
Does your spouse have any interests or hobbies that take up a decent amount of time that you just can’t understand? How have you worked through this?

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Dealing with ‘The Mistress’: 4 Considerations for Balancing Work and Home

By E.J. Smith | Help

ID-100138621For the last couple of months, we’ve been focusing on the various relationships that can have a negative affect on marriages and send them into the Danger Zone.

We discussed what the “fun” of fielding unsolicited (albeit well intentioned) advice from loved ones, and also how to spot the signs that a friendship might be inching towards fulfilling needs for intimacy rather than platonic connection.

This month, I’d like to about something that impacts my family—and a lot of others out there too–

I’d like to talk to you about mistresses. The truth is that my husband has had one for years now.  And actually, so do I.

They call in the middle of the night—sometimes requiring us to drop everything and attend to them.

They cause us to sometimes stay out well past when we thought we’d be getting home—and even when we are home, sometimes they STILL need our attention.

They’re constantly emailing, texting, calling… putting us up in hotels away from home—and even have the gall to pull us away on birthdays, anniversaries and even holidays!

I hope by now you’ve figured out that I’m not talking about another woman—I’m talking about our careers.

Doctors, nurses, counselors, teachers, a lot of business folks… we just go go go all the time, it seems! And at that break-neck pace, it’s no surprise that often one of the casualties such a consuming professional life is our family life.

How and Why does our Work-related Stress Impact our Relationships?

Families in counseling are sometimes referred to as family systems. The family system is much like any other—it’s a series of parts that interact and relate to one another. More importantly, the health and well-being of each individual part, as well as the health and well-being of the relationship between the parts impact the system as a whole.

Ever notice that when work is particularly stressful, your libido all but goes into hiding? And how many times has that helped your marriage?

Is Your Work Place or Career Toxic to Your Relationship?

This is such a difficult topic to navigate. I mean, what if you say “Yes?”

What do we do? Do we quit our jobs and change careers in favor of more family friendly options? I have to admit, I know a lot of families where at least one partner did just that. And for some it really has seemed to work.

However, I’ve also seen situations where the spouse who made the change ended up resenting his/her spouse and family—having felt forced to make the change– and that created a whole other dilemma.

And let’s be honest—for some people (myself, my husband and many of our friends, included)—a simple and immediate change of careers isn’t particularly realistic or desirable. I love my job as a counselor, and I would be extremely upset if I was asked to give it up.

Besides, isn’t a major career change as a one-sized solution kind of like throwing the baby out with the bath water? Before we get there, let’s consider a few items that might help clarify the issue, and perhaps identify some paths to resolution.

 

Consideration #1: Examine the Health of Your Workplace

Fellow EM.com columnist Kim Hall just wrote a fantastic article on 5 Workplace Lessons for a Healthier Marriage. If you think your work place could be at cause for some undue stress in your marriage, I’ll invite you to read Kim’s article through two lenses.

1) First, read it for what it is—a great lesson on marriage.

2) Go back and read it considering how closely your workplace resembles the one that Kim describes.

The truth is, there are precious few (if any) career fields where there is only one option for where you will work and with whom you will work.   So often the people, rather than the job itself can make or break a work environment.

 

Consideration #2: Consider what “Work” means for You and for your Spouse

(…And Recognize the Two may be Different.) 

ID-100191175Did you know that work doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone? For some, working is a means to fulfill what one considers to be his or her life purpose. Others are driven by the need for achievement. And there’s a whole other group who strive for affiliation. Finally, there are those who simply see work as a means to an end of some sort.

You can place me firmly in the first category. Counseling, and working with others through trauma, is solidly part of my personal identity.

For the second category, of people who become doctors, lawyers and CEO’s—they constantly strive to meet certain “benchmarks”—and often report satisfaction from the chase more so than the catch.

Third, those who strive for affiliation might be those folks who seek to fulfill a “legacy.”  Although there are many examples from which to choose, I always think of how many young people choose to attend certain colleges, join certain fraternities or even certain branches of the military because someone in the family had done so.

Lastly, there are always those people who don’t fall so neatly into those neat little boxes…

The point is, understanding how and why you or your spouse’s career is so important to them can help re-frame the sacrifices both you and they are willing to make.

 

Consideration #3: Your Spouse is Not Trying to “Ruin Your Career” by Expressing Concern.

This type of statement is just begging for someone to come in with a personal story that points to the contrary. And while I do not doubt the existence of some uniquely vindictive people out there, if that is truly the case, then “the problem” really isn’t about you career or work environment being toxic.

If your spouse it taking the time to voice some concern, try to take the time to listen to them. Afterall, you’re in this together, right? So if one of you has a problem with something, then essentially, you both do.

 

Consideration #4: Define Your Version of “Full.”

Earlier this summer, I had the opportunity to attend a presentation by a fellow counselor, Anne Stonebraker. (Anne specializes in working with women, and more specifically—people pleasers!) During her presentation, Anne challenged each attendee to look at our respective ‘plates’ and find what full meant to us. She gently chided us that full meant satisfying—not completely-at-capacity-and-about-to-overflow.

Was that working 40 hours/week or something else? Was that time spent solely doing one particular thing really well? Or were there a few different tasks or roles we enjoyed?

Of course, she was mainly focused on counselors in private practice looking at how many clients or other ventures we’d take on—but as I listened, I starting thinking about what “full” meant in other areas of my life.

How many outside hobbies, interests, or social events could I take on and still enjoy them rather than feeling pressured and even more exhausted?

How much time did I need with my spouse, or family in order to feel fully connected to them?

Finally, what were my priorities? And what was I willing or able to do to modify accordingly?

The Take Away

So what’s the take away from all of this? The take away is that while it’s perhaps normal to feel second-string to our spouses careers every now and then, that doesn’t mean it should be passively tolerated. It also doesn’t mean that all hope is lost.

The best way I can think to navigate a career or work related stressor that is impacting your marriage is to:

a) Come together as a team

b) Examine the facts

c) Get creative when possible

d) And start setting goals. Even if the resolution isn’t immediate, just knowing there’s a game plan in place and a united home front can make a world of difference.

 

Sound off! Let Me Hear You!

What’s been your biggest marriage challenge with respect to work?

Which of my “Considerations” do you think you’ll be pondering?

SHARE your tips and suggestions for future articles. Hands down, my best articles (and some of the best tips) have come from when you—the amazing wonderful readers—have shared your needs.

Relationships are so unique—if these articles aren’t speaking to you, tell me what will! I promise I’m listening!

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Just Friends: 5 Red Flags to Help You Steer Clear of an Emotional Affair

By E.J. Smith | Help

ID-100237782_zpsdc3e4a28A few weeks ago, I asked a question on my Facebook page:

Once you’re married—What are your thoughts on having friends of the opposite sex? Yay or Nay?

Much to my delight, the responses came rolling in—each with equally unique perspectives and degrees of passion.

One contributor offered a simple “Absolutely not. Completely inappropriate”.

Other’s created some wiggle room by way of caveats for prior existing friendships (“He’s like a brother to me!”), or evolutions of friendships (aka: Jack and Jill may have started off as friends, but then Jack married Jane, and Jill married John. Now all four of them are friends and hang out together, but not 1 on 1 across the genders).

Nature vs. Nurture

At the time, I questioned whether my readers, followers and friends (really, I feel like I surveyed just about EVERYONE) felt that males and females were just biologically hardwired for romance, or if it was the way people were raised to socialize with the opposite sex influenced their thoughts and feelings.

For example, young men and women whose only interaction with each other past puberty was in a romantic setting (i.e. dating, dances) might feel differently than those who experienced more casual platonic interactions, such as working on projects together for class or co-chairing committees.

As always, the responses I received were a lively mixed bag.

Facebook Folly or Social Psychology? 

Some folks might be tempted to shrug this discussion off as social media fueled fluff, but believe or not, cross-gender friendship is actually something that has been revisited over and over again by social scientists. Just the other day, I read an article on Psychology Today that extolled men and women, could in fact be friends and outlined four different types of heterosexual attraction.

And a few years back a study was conducted (you can read it here if you like that sort of thing) that looked at the perceived benefits and costs of cross-gender friendship. Turns out that men and women shared many of the same thoughts for why having a friend of the opposite sex was a good and useful thing! It’s probably worth noting here that none of these participants were categorized as being married.

But don’t worry—for every study that argues for the legitimacy of platonic friendships, there are just as many offer the other side of the debate as well.

Apparently in this instance, social science is no less confused than the rest of us.

So what does this have to do with YOUR marriage?

5 MAJOR Red Flags that You’re Crossing the Line from Platonic Friendship to Emotional Affair

1) You Change Your Appearance.

Our friends are the people who are supposed to enjoy our company regardless of a good or bad hair day, right? But when we’re invested in attracting someone to us in a not-so-platonic way, a common change we make is to our appearance. And please don’t think this is only for females. Women may tend to do it with clothing, and men seem to do it through physical transformations. If you’re trying to look more attractive for your spouse and coworkers/friends happen to notice, that’s one thing. But if you’re trying to catch some side-eye across the cubicle—look out!

2) Electronic Communication Habits Change.

My Facebook followers and friends are so brilliant. Nearly everyone mentioned the issue of electronic communication as a good measuring stick for whether or not a friendship was problematic. Simply stated: If you wouldn’t want your spouse reading your texts or messages between a person and yourself—that’s probably not a great sign.

One time a coworker (male) asked my husband if I knew the password to his phone. When my husband answered that I did, the man asked, “Why would you do that?!” Greg’s response? Because I’m not trying to keep her out of my phone, I’m trying to keep you out of it. (Sometimes he really makes me proud!)

3) You’re Comparing Them to Your Spouse…

Ideally, your spouse and your friends shouldn’t even be on the same level for comparison. That being said, some people seem to view the world through the lens of compare and contrast. The problems only really seem to emerge when the comparisons start, and your spouse starts coming up short.

He’s so much more fun than…

She listens to me more, and understands me better than…

I’d much rather spend time with…

If you find yourself thinking these types of thoughts—resist the temptation to allow yourself to be carried away by the fantasy of someone who is exponentially more fun, more understanding and better to be with. Instead, talk to your spouse about what you’re missing and how to infuse more of those things into your lives.

4) You’re Lying… Yes, Even White Lies

It’s fairly obvious why lying to your spouse is a bad idea. However, I always find it equally interesting and frustrating to hear about the messy calculus people try to contrive to make lies seem like something other than what they are.

For example, “I had to work late…” when in reality, you chose to work late because working late meant you could see a certain person.

Or “The team grabbed some food after the game…” when really, only 2 of you went out get something to eat after the game.

If it were as innocent as you claim, you wouldn’t have to lie about it, would you?

5) You Light Up Like a Christmas Tree When They’re Around (and you shut down just as quickly when they’re not).

I’m not sure this one requires a whole lot of explanation beyond the obvious. When the state of your emotions is directly tied to any person, it’s probably not healthiest of habits. However, it’s easy to understand why when your spouse is having a rough day, your emotions might dampen as well.

But when that person isn’t your spouse?

Or if your entire mood for the day is based on whether or not you’ve seen, spoken with or texted this “friend”?

Watch out! That’s a sign of some serious emotional investment.

Your Turn!

I want to know what you think! Can men and women just be friends? Are there any other red flags that you would add to the list?

 

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Advice from Friends: Why You Might NOT Want to Ask or Listen!

By E.J. Smith | Help

ID-10055079Have you ever asked your friends and family what they think of your spouse? Have they ever offered up an opinion regardless of you asking for it? Should you listen to what they say? And if so, how seriously should you take their opinions to heart?

Is there any benefit to hearing feedback about your relationship?

Relationships in general – let alone marriages— do not exist in a vacuum. They are intricate tapestries woven from not just two lives becoming intertwined, but rather two complete lifetimes full of families, friends, and all of those individual and shared histories.

Given the amount of moving parts involved, is it any wonder relationships are often complicated?

Don’t get me wrong; it’s a good thing to have people in your corner cheering you on as you face life’s challenges! However, it gets a little bit tricky when those challenges include your romantic relationships and marriage.

Learn the WHEN’s and WHEN NOT’s of feedback:

When should you ask for feedback?

There are times when asking for feedback is not only appropriate, but also very helpful.

One of the major benefits of asking for feedback about a situation or dynamic in your relationship is that it provides the opportunity to hear a different perspective. Especially when we believe strongly or passionately about something, it can be really difficult to shift our lens to another viewpoint.

Asking for feedback may help you to see things from your partner’s perspective, gain empathy and even bring you closer together.

When should you not ask for feedback?

Can I take off the professional hat for a second here? As someone who was her friends’ go to ‘feedback giver’ long before I ever decided (or learned how) to do it professionally, I feel like I need to advocate for all the dear glorious friends and family members out there who so patiently lend an ear when needed:

Please do not ask for honest feedback if you’re not ready to receive it. No one likes the experience of feeling baited. (Am I right?!)

Do not ask for feedback when what you want is a box of tissues, your best friend nodding along and a cheesecake a la The Golden Girls.

On a more serious note, asking for advice about something to a friend or family member that involves very intimate, personal details about your partner could really backfire—especially if it was something that person shared with you in the strictest of confidence.

If that person breaks confidentiality—even by accident… ugh! By going that route you’re taking a tremendous risk with your partner’s faith and trust in you.

If you absolutely need to speak to someone about something your partner has disclosed in the strictest of confidence, then I highly suggest you seek out a professional or clergy member.

Sometimes you ask for it, and sometimes you don’t.  

Folks may offer feedback under a variety of reasons and circumstances—but when should you actually listen to it?

ID-10024387When should you listen to feedback?

It’s important to listen to feedback—even if you don’t like it—as it comes. It’s whether or not you choose to see it as a valid point, throw it away like junk mail, or file it away as something to revisit.

My best advice? Listen for patterns.   Patterned feedback is feedback that has a similar theme or message and comes from several sources.

For example: If one person expresses concern over how your spouse speaks to you in front of others, it might be easy, and perhaps even reasonable to dismiss their concern as ‘just a bad moment’ or something ‘caught out of context’.

However, if your mother, your best friend, a coworker and your running partner express concern over how your spouse talks to you in front of others at different intervals, you might want to consider whether this behavior is a pattern.

You should also take note of positive feedback. Listening to positive feedback from others about your spouse or your relationship can help you rediscover aspects of them that you’ve grown accustomed to and therefore, kind of take for granted.

“Your husband is such an attentive father.”

“I really respect your [spouse] as a professional/colleague/coworker.”

One time, my mother-in-law (who is a woman of few flowery words) told me, “You are very good for my son. He is happy. I can see it.” Receiving that reaffirmation of our relationship felt awesome!

When should you not listen to feedback?

For all the times that feedback is great, it’s also important to acknowledge the times when you should take someone’s feedback with a grain shaker of salt.

I’m sure we all know at least one person who wouldn’t recognize a healthy relationship if they got smacked over the head with one. Ask yourself: Does this person have relationships I admire, even if they’re not currently in one? Are they honest and forthright, or do they play games?

Another issue to consider is whether or not someone has anything to gain from drawing attention to negative aspects of your relationship.

Truly toxic people will place a negative spin on almost anything.  For example, when someone’s feedback focuses on a truly superficial issue—like someone’s appearance or how his or her job/profession stacks up against perceived “social status.”

Feedback can be a really great tool to have in your marriage toolbox, if you know how to ask for it and when to listen to it.

Feedback can add valuable perspective when it is offered from a place of integrity, love, and concern.

Chime in!

Now it’s your turn!

Who do you think would be good sources of feedback? Who would you NOT ask for advice? Tell me in comments below or on social media!

On Twitter?  Remember to include @EngagedMarriage@SimplyEJS in your tweets! 

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