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

All Posts by E.J. Smith

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

A Reality Check for Marriages Gone Flat

By E.J. Smith | Communication , General

Today, I feel like I need to address one of the most insidious myths about troubled marriages.  Ready?

The myth is that trouble marriages appear at random, seemingly out of nowhere.

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Troubled marriages don’t just happen.  They are created.

It might seem like they just happen.  And despite our perceptions to the contrary, the undoing of many marriages is written into the daily grind of life.  With our lives full of commitments—the job, the kids and their 90 hobbies, your 90 hobbies, making time for friends, fixing up the house, paying bills… and then there’s that spouse who is also asking for your attention…

You get the idea– the stress of managing all those hats causes many people to simply check out mentally and emotionally from their lives and subsequently, their marriages.

Pain or Pleasure? 

Honestly, checking out mentally and emotionally is nothing to beat yourself up over.  First off, playing the self-blame game does absolutely nothing to set your relationship back on track. Second, studies have shown that humans will go to great lengths to avoid pain, far greater than even for pleasure.  So it really shouldn’t come as any surprise that people check out for days, weeks, months, or even years, only to wake up one day shocked to see their relationship has gone awry, astray, or just completely flat.

But EJ, I am surely at least partially to blame!

Sure, I’ll give you that.   And to be fair a little humility and a sincere apology are often a welcomed olive branch for a marriage gone flat.  But after…

Quite frankly, you don’t have time for hours upon hours of self-blame.  You’ve got a marriage to resuscitate!

Which leads me back to my point:  flat, passionless, disconnected or otherwise troubled marriages often break down while our attention is elsewhere.  The fact that we co-create our relationships with our partners, however, means we have the power to start changing these relationships just by readjusting our focus.

Action Steps

Just like troubled marriages, good, fulfilling, exciting marriages don’t just happen either.  They’re cultivated when we invest in the relationship with our partner.

So here are 3 Simple Solutions you can implement today:

1) Start talking. 

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It’s fairly common knowledge these days that communication (or lack thereof) between partners is one of the best indicators of the health of the relationship.  So first, ask yourself, “Do I talk to my partner?”

If so– about what?

Is it mostly about the bills, the kids, coordinating schedules, and other surface topics?  These are all conversations that you could have with your accountant, babysitter, or the neighbor up the street.

Do you share genuine secrets, dreams, hopes and stressors—the kind of stuff you shared when you were dating?  Moreover, do you seek to get to know your spouse more?  Or do you just assume you know them so well that you don’t even bother to ask anymore?

Want more? Check out EM.com’s 7 Tips for Talking to Your Spouse.

2) Invest in Yourself

Chances are that when you and your spouse first started dating, you invested a little more in aesthetics—physical appearance, keeping your space neat and clean—and in personal interests.  A lot of people would refer to this as the “Honeymoon Phase.” And yes, eventually Prince Charming reveals his physical inability to put socks in the hamper, and Princess Charming reveals that flipflops and yoga pants make up more of her wardrobe than originally thought.

While there’s nothing inherently wrong with getting “comfortable” around your spouse, sometimes folks use “comfort” (or even necessity) as a reason to stop investing in themselves whatsoever.

Chances are, your spouse found something about you that was interesting, enticing, and intriguing when you first met.  You had individual interests, thoughts, dreams and activities.  If those have fallen by the wayside, it might be time to invest some personal time in rediscovering them.  Allowing yourself to find passion and joy in life may ultimately re-light the intrigue and passion that initially brought you together.

3)  Grow Together

Of course you can’t just grow as an individual if you want to save your marriage.  Great marriages also possess the quality of couples growing together as well. Share a new experience.  Go to an outdoor concert together.  Agree to pick different activities from each other’s areas of interest—or possibly something entirely new.

Play!

Rediscover the joys of spending time with the person who vowed to accept you and all your quirky weirdness. While you’re at it, remember that you vowed to accept all their quirky weirdness too.  And if all else fails… consider attending couples counseling together.

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Is There Hope for My Troubled Marriage?

By E.J. Smith | Communication , Help

Is There Hope for My Troubled Marriage?Almost every couple I see in the counseling, at some point during that first meeting, will say, “Is there hope for us?  Can this get better?

For the sake of our discussion, let’s assume the couple asking this question is not in any way, shape or form in an abusive relationship in which an [exit stage left] is not only imminent, but necessary for the health and wellbeing of at least one person in the relationship.

No, for our purposes, this is the couple that looks like the perfect American family on the outside:  Nice house, nice cars, 3 nice kids—the Soccer Mom and the Dutiful Dad.

On the inside, however, their relationship has slipped into insidious ambivalence.  Most of their time is devoted to hauling children hither, thither and yon—as all good parents try to do.

But where there is time for each other, there is no passion.   Bride and groom, even in each other’s eyes have become “Mom and Dad” or worse, simply a cohabitant.

So, Is There Hope for Us?

When someone asks me this question, I usually respond with “I don’t know.  It’s not my marriage.  Do you think there’s hope?”

I understand that people may think I’m being glib here, but honestly, asking a third party who barely knows you if they think your marriage can be saved is like asking a stranger on the street whether or not he believes you’re going to go to Heaven when you die.

Usually the couple answers somewhat exasperated, “Yes, that’s why we’re here…”

Then it’s time to assess motivation.  How motivated are you to change your marriage?  What is it about your marriage that’s worth saving?  

About that last question… What is it about your marriage that is worth saving? 

One of the saddest experiences I’ve witnessed with a couple in therapy was when the wife answered this question with a list of very pragmatic reasons that had everything to do with convenience (finances, the kids, stability, safety, social standing), and absolutely nothing to do with the person sitting next to her.  The husband was profoundly hurt, and rightfully so.

I’m sorry, but you don’t go to marriage counseling to save your kids from being a statistic, save your degrees of comfort or any other external thing.

Well, maybe that’s what got you in the door, but if we can’t adjust that mindset from saving my level of comfort to saving my marriage—my sacred bond to the person I vowed to love and cherish til death real quick, I have absolutely no idea how to help you—at least not with working on your marriage.

The Real Question to Answer

So what am I saying?  Is that person beyond help? Is that marriage doomed?

No, not necessarily.

Again, I don’t think its my role to tell you that.  At the same time, we have to realize that people cannot go around spouting off that marriage is a sacred covenant between two people and God, and then present to counseling with the idea that a marriage has to last because if it doesn’t, I can’t keep the car I want because I won’t be able to afford the payments!

It just doesn’t work like that.

As for the couple, I posed a very difficult question to the wife, “Let’s pretend that you could keep all those components that you just mentioned if you two were to separate — would you still be here working on your marriage?

I’m not going to tell you what her answer was… her answer isn’t important.  You, my reader, who may be in a quandary about what to do—your answer is what is important.

Why There’s Still Hope for Your Marriage

And let met tell you, that even if you answered, “No.” That’s okay… even then; there is still hope for you and your marriage.

Why?  Because you were honest and you expressed your truth in this moment, there is hope.

I think you’ll find many experts that say truth and honest communication are the foundation of the most rock-solid marriages.  For you, however, our goal might not be fixing the marriage directly, but doing some personal soul searching to figure out when you lost sight of your spouse, and how you might take steps to regain vision of them as your partner for life.

Call me “fluffy” or “idealistic” but I truly believe that the couple within the marriage already possesses the answers to her fix a relationship.

Counseling doesn’t give answers as much as it gives you the space and tools to uncover them.

And if you don’t like what you find, well… we’re here to address that too.  The caveat to that is that all parties need to know where they’re starting from, and that the other will reciprocate the efforts of one.

Even from the deepest, darkest, seemingly blackest pit of a painful dysfunctional marriage, two strong individuals and partners can emerge.

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