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My Deep Dark Secret that I Have to Share

By E.J. Smith | Help

In the year and a half or so that I’ve been writing for EM, I feel like there’s been this secret I’ve been keeping from you all.  

And simply, it’s got to go.  It’s not something that I particularly intended to keep from you all, but rather, I didn’t quite know how to address this particular topic on this particular website.  The more I thought about it, however, I recognized that the shame I was carrying regarding this thing— is tied wholly to my faith-based upbringing. 

I am trusting that some folks will be able to relate, and I hope the rest will hear me out.

I’m divorced.

And there you have it.  My scarlet letter. 

Actually, that’s not entirely true.  I am currently married to Greg and we have an amazing, loving, wonderful marriage.  He is truly my partner in life, and in love.  Our home and our marriage are testaments to the endless effort and attention we give to them.

But before Greg, there was someone else.  We’ll call him Mark. (Judas, would be a little over-dramatic, don’t ya think?)

As paradoxical as it may seem, I feel like part of the reason my current marriage is so healthy and happy is due in large part to how much of an epic catastrophe #1 turned out to be.

And please don’t think I’m going to spend the next 500+ words bashing Mark.  The marriage was short (only 18 months).  Despite that short timeline, we were able to make a ton of mistakes— very hurtful and sometimes permanent ones.    

4  Things I Learned by Getting Divorced

1) Hiding your problems doesn’t make them go away.  It just befuddles everyone in your support network (friends, family, coworkers even) when the pieces finally come crashing down.

Raised in a family where loyalty was king, I felt very alone and isolated when things weren’t seeming quite right.  But everyone was so happy for me.  I couldn’t let them down!  And I also didn’t want to air my dirty laundry.  When I reached out to a few select folks, I got a lot of “the first year is the hardest…” or “Well, it’s a done deal now— make it work.” 

2) Just because you can’t see bruises, doesn’t make it not abusive.

Mark was not physically abusive.  He never hit me.  True, I can’t hear as well in my left ear as in my right because he screamed into it one time— apparently loud enough to cause permanent hearing loss— but that is not the type of thing that would get me a Lifetime movie.  But there were other types of abusive patterns on both our parts that I don’t think anyone should tolerate. 

  • Verbal Abuse — Name calling, Labeling, Non-constructive criticisms and other personal attacks are the most common forms.  Sometimes the abuse is more subtle, “You know a good wife would _________.”
  • Financial Abuse — Does one person have complete and total control over the finances? Is one partner “barred” or “banned” from working— even if s/he really wants to? Does one partner verbally abuse the other for spending money? (I’m not talking about racking up $30k in credit card debt, but say— buying a new pair of jeans?)
  • Emotional Abuse — Withholding love or affection from your partner as “punishment”, allowing others to verbally or otherwise attack your partner unfairly without seeming to care, expressing indifference towards your partner.
  • Sexual Abuse – Despite long held beliefs to the contrary, spousal rape is a real thing.  This wasn’t something I experienced in my marriage, but I want to put it in here because it’s such a widely held myth that vows some how give complete ownership over one’s body do another.  That’s not marriage. That’s slavery.

3) Pre-Marriage Counseling is Worthless…

Got your attention, didn’t I?

So hear me out— I have been through pre-marriage counseling twice now.  Once through my local Catholic church’s Pre-Canaa and once with a chaplain (Christian). I much preferred the Pre-Cana program to the other.  I loved the topics the couples who facilitated each session brought up for the most part — I’m still slightly scarred from the word viscosity being used with respect to intercourse. 

The problem is that I feel like the whole experience was framed as some necessary “check in the box”.  Other than a “You need to be honest.” at the beginning, there really wasn’t an emphasis on why that honesty was so important for this process.

And at least in my group, there was no real attention to the fact that some people who go through Pre-Cana correctly will (and should) actually come to realization that they should not get married. And then, there was nothing there to support people who would come to that decision— how to handle calling up a reception venue and inform them you’re canceling.  How to have the conversation with your mother or maid of honor.  What to do with this person that was going to be your spouse, but now isn’t even your boyfriend. 

4) The miracle of Life is more precious than the Sacrament of Marriage.

After what felt like an eternity, but was actually less than 3 years between moving to Maryland and our separation— the emotional, verbal, and financial abuse had worn me down to a state where I was almost completely unrecognizable — even to myself. 

I became severely depressed.

A former social butterfly and lover of people, I was isolated, withdrawn and even developed a fear of other people.  I became paranoid that they were judging me— ashamed for them to see the terrible, awful, failure of a person I’d  become. 

Mark, although I can empathize with some of his frustration, was all too willing to reinforce these beliefs.  He reminded me time and time again that this (me) was not the wife he signed up for.  Friends constantly posted on Facebook how much they loved being married— whereas I couldn’t understand why people would willingly do this to themselves.     

An Honest Question

One day, Mark walked up to me— I was sitting curled up in an overstuffed chair (one of the few things I still miss from that time in my life) — and asked me if I was going to kill myself.  Just like that.  I swear I heard the tiniest bit of hope in his voice.

I looked at him, and I said what was true for me in that moment:  “Why bother, I’m already dead.”  I was serious.  I never thought of killing myself.  Too much effort.  Not worth the end result.

Several months later, I started experiencing odd symptoms that started out as food allergies and the progressed into what I can only describe as biological chaos.  They thought I had celiac, lupus or rheumatoid arthritis— possibly M.S.  After having a panic attack in the specialist’s office—the doctor finally said to me, “I think this is all due to chronic stress.  Whatever it is that is causing this stress— it needs to go.  Because it’s actually destroying your body.  If you don’t get rid of it, you’re looking at a future of autoimmune disease.

And that was my permission slip— my sign, if you will — to get out. 

Choosing Life

I have tears in my eyes as I write this because I remember thinking, “I know God loves marriage… but He loves me too.” And so within a few weeks— the separation papers were signed.

I know I wasn’t perfect in my marriage and that my lack of ownership for my thoughts, feelings and beliefs at the beginning of our relationship allowed certain circumstances to fester— whereas now, I doubt I would stick around long enough from the beginning. 

I have experienced judgement and harsh criticism from fellow Catholics and other Believers.   But the truth is — I know God created me for some Purpose— and being sick, depressed and isolated was not it.  I believe that the current health and the current life, and the current relationships that I enjoy with both God and my husband, Greg,  are directly related to the fact that divorce is part of my history.

So while I don’t want to sounds like I’m advocating for divorce,  I do want readers to understand that getting divorced is not some horrible death sentence in every single case.

Sound Off — Can you connect? Does this relate?  I look forward to hearing your thoughts in the comments. 

6 Reasons She Freaks Out About Porn

By Dustin | Help

6 Reasons She Freaks Out About PornMike writes, “My wife doesn’t want me to watch porn but she reads erotic literature. She is very defensive when I tell her that is a double standard.”

Porn is everywhere, it seems. TV and movies keep pushing back standards of decency. Even many mainstream websites are plastered with suggestive images and links promising more sexual content.

Like many men, Mike enjoys checking out that stuff. He likes the more explicit stuff, too.

From what he can tell, he’s no more caught up in it than any of his buddies. And yet if his wife finds out he’s been on porn again, she flips out.

Why does porn bug her so much? She seems just as turned on by erotic novels as he is by porn. So why is it such a big deal to her?”

I hear all the time from women who are upset by their partner’s porn viewing. Here’s what they say:

1. I hate that he’d rather be on porn than with me!

“But that’s not true!” many men insist. “Porn is just something to pass some time, she is the actual woman in my life. They don’t even compare!”

And yet their women have the distinct feeling that porn can hold a more potent influence on him than she does. For Gwen, it’s the intensity of her boyfriend’s fascination that gets to her.

It seems to her that he’s more into porn than he is into spending time with her or having sex with her. “Every chance he gets, he watches porn. I popped uptown for an hour the other day – come back and he’d been watching porn.”

Myztikone commented: “I’m pretty cute: 5’1, 100 pounds, blonde hair, petite. Yet my boyfriend loves porn. In fact, he watches it more than he pays attention to me! It hurts me so much. I cry about it when he’s not around. If I bring up how much it hurts me, he gets really upset and a fight starts.

He makes me feel like crap when I try to tell him how I feel. It’s like he doesn’t care at all that it hurts me. After we clear everything up, he’s leaving me alone in bed the next morning to go watch porn on his iPhone and pretend he’s in the shower. I don’t know what to do anymore. I love him more then anything, but he would rather look at other girls’ bodies than mine.”

2. I hate how porn makes me feel about myself and my body!

Gwen finds that it makes her feel worse about herself: “I hate it. It makes me feel disgusting, knowing he’s doing it.”

Senen said, “I checked out his browsing history and was able to see every picture and video. I’m nothing compared to those girls. I hate going out with him now – in fact I can’t, because I feel ugly and I’m aware that he may be looking at girls with big boobs and butts. I wonder if the girls we see in real life look like the girls he’s been looking at online. I don’t know what to do.”

Rachel agrees: “I really hate porn and how it makes me feel. I feel fat and ugly, I feel the need to make myself look better than those women–although I never could.

Why can’t people be decent nowadays? If you’re in a relationship, realize you are making this woman’s self esteem flush down the toilet. They may even hate themselves. I wish men could empathize better.”

3. I hate how porn affects our sex life!

Rachel noticed, “Sex with my boyfriend has just been mechanical lately.”

MK described how it interfered with her and her husband’s ability as a couple to connect sexually: “My husband’s addiction came long before we were married. Since he already had very false ideas of how sex should be, how I should be, sex didn’t work very well.

And why would I want to have sex with him when I always came up short, no amount of sex was enough, and sex was far more about lust and his ‘needs’ than it was about love or emotional connection. I tried to be that wife that ‘fulfilled his yearnings’ so there wasn’t a problem with pornography, and it didn’t work. No amount of sex will keep him away from pornography.

For the most part, I orgasm every time we have sex. Does that make me want sex? No. Because even with orgasm, it’s not fun to feel like a piece of meat, have no emotional connection, and wonder if he was with me or the woman he saw on the screen.”

Najat wrote, “For the 12 years we’ve been married, my husband hasn’t been interested in sex. I have to beg him for it. He was happy if we only did it every three or four months. When we did have sex, it was the same routine.

I want him to open up to me; he just wants to do it quickly. We had loads of talks about it and every time he said he will try but after few days he forgets about every thing I said. It went on so long I stopped asking him. There was a time we did not have sex for two years. He was not slightly bothered.

He finally said he would go to the doctor to find out why he has a low libido, but he never followed through. Well, recently I accidentally found porn on his phone. He only admitted to watching it when I showed him the proof.

The worst thing is that he has been doing it for long, long time with out me realizing it. That entire time I was blaming myself for the problems in our sex life.”

4. I hate how porn affects his personality!

Tristan said, “I know when he’s back on porn because he gets more irritable. He flies off the handle over the littlest things. He yelled at our four-year-old for spilling his juice. He threw the hammer and left the house for an hour because he couldn’t get a hook to hang right for a picture he was trying to put up.”

GW wrote, “The emotional absence can be crippling. In fact, the emotional disconnect was one of the first signs I noticed. While he was into porn he never did anything around the house, was angry much of the time if not allowed to do his own thing, and put nothing into parenting.

His logic was skewed, too, and he sometimes seemed to have the emotional maturity of a preteen. As he’s progressed in his recovery from the addiction to porn, I’ve watched my husband go from a completely disconnected spouse and father back to the loving man he once was.”

5. I hate that he lies about it!

Sandra said, “I’ve been with my boyfriend two years. We agreed to not watch porn at the beginning. I found out that he did four times in the last four years yet he still denies it.”

Senen commented: “He gets mad when I accuse or ask about porn. He claims he stopped four months ago, but he’s lied so much I don’t know whether I can trust him.”

Sharlene described her heartbreak: “My boyfriend told me when I was pregnant that he didn’t look at pictures of naked women anymore. He lied to me for months, saying that he’d only watched a particular sex video because his friend showed it to him at work.

Then I found it on the search engine in the ps3. And last night I found other porn websites on his ps3. I am really disgusted because he used one of my pajama tops to wipe it on! I am really angry. I’ve always tried to be there when he needs me. I can’t get over the fact he lied to me all that time while I was looking after our baby.

If he can lie about that he can lie about anything else. I confronted him last night and he shouted that every guy does it.

6. I hate that I feel so confused and helpless!

Most of the women who comment on my blog say, “I don’t know what to do!”

Sharlene feels torn: “Inside I desperately want to leave.” But there’s another part saying, “Don’t! Just be a family.” Then there’s a part saying, “I’m not happy constantly being lied to, I would be happy without him.”

One woman commented, “I started to feel crazy for feeling the strong emotions I had. I had to recognize the betrayal and heartache and hurt that I felt and work through it and turn it over to God.”

K recalled feeling disturbed by sex early in her marriage to a narcissistic porn addict and not understanding why. “I wanted this lovely, tender connection and instead it felt dark and vulgar. Later I read Jaycee Dugard’s memoir, A Stolen Life, and realized that I related to a lot of how she felt. Instead of just concluding that he must be involved in disgusting things, I felt a dirtiness inside myself.

I couldn’t get rid of a gross feeling in my torso. It got so bad I remember wishing one time that I could take a razor blade and cut that icky feeling out. Looking back now I can see it more clearly, but at the time it was very disorienting.

Sex, this way of connecting that’s supposed to be beautiful and wonderful, instead was a constant downer, a drag not only on the relationship but on my entire life. After years I realized that he was never going to change, and I finally left him. Only now that I have some distance from the entire experience do I see all of the ways it effected me.”


Mike and the rest of us need to take these women’s feelings to heart. They’re not overreacting. They don’t need to get over it and realize all men look at porn.

As men, we need to respect women for who they are and trust their sensibilities. We can find it within ourselves to empathize with them and let that empathy guide our behavior. When we feel drawn to porn, we need to take women’s reactions and perspectives into account as we decide whether or not to act on our desires.

We have a choice whether to cause such harm to the woman we love…

How has porn affected your relationship?  Please share in the comments below.

Note from Dustin: I am so glad that Mark shared this testimony about the deep pain that porn is causing in marriages.  If you’re looking for help right now, I’d encourage you to check out Mark’s site and also take a look at Covenant Eyes.

Covenant Eyes not only prevents porn use by men, but by women and teenagers as well.  Given that the fastest growing users of porn are women under the age of 25 and that 43% of kids first view porn before the age of 13, now’s the time to take action.

Mark Chamberlain loves helping people heal from the effects of sexual addiction. He is a psychologist and the Clinical Director at Suncrest Counseling in Salt Lake City, which offers an intensive treatment program for individuals and couples struggling with porn and other addictions.

He is the author of several books including Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity and a blog on the same topic. He has found that most clients’ recovery is greatly strengthened by deeper emotional connections in relationships.

Their clinic uses Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy to help couples heal the negative cycles that can sabotage such closeness. His greatest reward comes as clients discover that true, deep attachment is “the real deal” that old addictions could never counterfeit.

Do You Like Your Spouse?

By E.J. Smith | Help

ID-10034280A few years ago, I had the opportunity to attend a conference where Mary Ellen O’Toole, a former criminal investigator and FBI agent from the Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU), was the keynote speaker.  Yes, fellow Criminal Minds fans, the BAU is a real unit.  Although she was there to speak about criminals and the personalities that often accompany those who would seek to do us harm, she offered an anecdote about marriage that stuck with me.

Essentially, she said that by our early 30’s, the personality was solidly formed.  While there are some who would argue that change is always possible, Mary Ellen shared that in her experience, unless dire circumstances presented themselves, the personality of a person remained consistent from that point onward. 

Stuck Like Glue

Breaking from her discussion of psychopathy and criminology, she shared that this solidifying of the personality was why when couples complained of how their spouse had “changed” over the years — thus leading them to have an unsatisfied marriage– she was rarely convinced.  Rather than the personality changing, O’Toole suggested that the personality remained consistent (truly for better or for worse) and that it was life stages and contexts around the couple that shifted instead.

Simply put, she warned us that we’d better really LIKE the person we were married to— Because they probably weren’t changing: 

The person who showers us with attention while we’re dating, years later may be spoken of as “clingy” when they insist on accompanying us even in the most inane activities. 

The person who gives attention to every little detail of the wedding, might years down the road be called “nit-picky” when she insists on organizing the home in a certain manner. 

Admiration as a Marriage Preserver

In keeping with the FBI Profiler’s insights as to personality, John M. Gottman (of the world famous Gottman Institute) in his NY Times Bestseller The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work wrote simply that couples who like and admire each other’s transcendent qualities— such as the aforementioned devotion to family, or attention to detail— will tend to have a happier, longer marriages. 

Yes, I do realize this statement is far from earth shattering.    

But consider the following:  If the above statement is so mind numbingly simple, then why— WHY— do couples flow through the doors of counselors’ offices across the country insisting they want to save their marriages, but at the same time project such profound contempt for the person they are trying to stay married to?

Please note that I’m not talking about being angry with someone because they hurt your feelings, or feeling betrayed and needing time to heal.  That’s injury.  It’s also (hopefully) temporary. 

I’m talking about are hand-wringing levels of disgust, deep-seated resentment, or maybe even pervasive numbness that poison or skew the lens through which one even begins to consider their spouse.

How can love for another thrive in the presence of intolerance and contempt for that same person? As far as I know it can’t. 

Do You Like Your Spouse?

Recently, I’ve been seeing more couples and families for sessions.  When a patient discharges from the hospital, we like to bring in some significant members of their support networks. Typically, these are parents/guardians or spouses.

Considering the acuity of the work at the facility, this is a time when we frequently see people (patients and family) at their most emotionally vulnerable.  And it can be both inspiring, and heart-shattering to see the reactions of family members to their loved ones— especially spouses.

What I’ve learned is that there are an abundance of married folks walking around who say they love their husbands or their wives, but they don’t particularly like them.

So ask yourself right now— even if there are parts of my marriage that I’m not happy with— in general, do I like my spouse?

Would I like my spouse if I weren’t married to him/her?

Like Over Love

I think part of the problem is that we’ve sold ourselves on the idea that love is the ultimate end of human emotion.  And maybe it is.  However, when it comes to marriage and building a relationship that will span decades or even a lifetime— even the ultimate in human emotion— just simply isn’t enough because emotions change. 

As one of my Theology professors so eloquently put it, “50-year marriages aren’t built on emotion.”  He went on to say that they were built 25% on emotion and 75% on choice.  Maybe that’s true, but I also see a lot of people choosing to be 75% miserable.

Sometimes, and especially during rough patches in relationships, I think it’s helpful to take a step back and think of your spouse not so much as a spouse or lover, but like anyone else with whom you share time.

There’s a tendency to fall into the trap of thinking of our spouse as “someone who does stuff for me,” and we forget that our spouse is a person.  And while I understand that remembering all the reasons you liked your spouse in the first place during an argument might be really REALLY difficult, I’m going to assume there was something about them that you liked.  And maybe just trying to remember that is enough.

“Somewhere, there is something I liked about this person enough to marry him/her.  I can’t feel it right now.  Heck, I can’t even remember what it IS right now.  And, I know it’s there.  So I’m going to trust that for now.”

The Weirdest Person in the Room

Sound absurd?  I get “accused” (lovingly) of saying “weird stuff” a lot.  One client comes to mind, “Seriously, who walks around saying this stuff… besides you.”

One reason is because I don’t think a whole lot of people have trained their ears, heart, mind and mouth to identify and speak their truth on a regular basis.  And secondly, a mentor friend from when I was teaching once advised me to “be the weirdest person in the room” when working with my students at the beginning of a school year.  She said, “It’ll show them that being unique is safe.  And it’ll really take the pressure off.”

So there it is.  Come up with your own version of this stuff, and you won’t sound nearly as weird as me!  (haha!)  The truth is that Marriage itself, working on your marriage, and especially working through the grit that sometimes leaves us chaffed or chapped from time to time in our marriages doesn’t have to sound smooth, or pretty, or worthy of a Hallmark card. It just needs to be real.

Try this:

Think about the people that you genuinely enjoy being around who you don’t necessarily love in a romantic way?  Do you appreciate friends who are interesting, funny, charitable, maybe even a little bit of a hot mess from time to time?  Do you have someone that you respect or admire for their professionalism or thoughtful advice?

Who are these people?  Does your husband/wife share any of those likable attributes?

Again, I know this seems simple.  And yet, it’s important. 

When we focus too much on simply loving our spouses because they’re our spouses and forget to LIKE them as people, we miss huge opportunities to see them for the dynamic, imperfect, beings that the rest of the world gets to enjoy. 

Furthermore, when we can create, safe accepting space for our spouses to be truly their quirky selves, we get to witness a level of authenticity that the outside world can’t even begin to imagine.

Your Turn

What are some of the attributes your spouse/partner possesses that you absolutely admire, value or like about them?

Let me know in the comments— and even more importantly— let your spouse know what you like about them, what you appreciate about them and what you value in them.

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The Gift of Hope: A Message of Possibility for Marriages

By E.J. Smith | Help

ID-10040285_zps2ca9762dDear Reader,

Last night I found myself strolling the familiar aisles of my local Barnes & Noble.  The Christmas season is my absolute favorite time to peruse the shelves, as so many of the items on display offer beautiful snow-scape covers, and themes of warmth, of miracles and of togetherness. I was thinking— half meditation and half prayer— of what I would say to all of you this month. 

I recalled my article from last December which, as per usual with this column, dealt with some pretty hefty doses of reality. 

This year, I would like to do something different.

This year, I want to bring you a message of Hope.

The truth is that I have no idea what the unique challenges are that you and your spouse are facing in this moment, have faced in the past or will face down the road.  I have no idea if your biggest marital concern this holiday season is the size of your gift-giving budget, or how to keep the lights on.  I don’t even know if you or your spouse have been faithful to each other in thought, word or deed. 

What I do know is that Christmas is a time of miracles, and miracles are manifested out of hope. 

Hope.  Isn’t that what this season is all about? 

Now “hope” might sound like a really fluffy term… And yet I will argue it is not.  Hope is so important, in fact, that I will say that the absence of hope isn’t merely hopelessness— but death. 

Day in and day out, I work with people who have been at the edges of their sanity— often contemplating ending their own lives.  I’ve working with individuals coping with physical death and loss of loved ones.  And I’ve worked with people who thought their marriage and life as they knew it were coming to a close. 

All of these cases shared a common theme:  Hope was no where to be found.

The Miracle of Hope

In my work, I have found this to be true:

If you want to save your marriage, your faith, your livelihood and even your life— you must— MUST have Hope. 

Hope is the acknowledgement of possibility

Christmas is a time of Hope because Christians believe that Jesus came to bring salvation to God’s people.  His birth, His life, and eventually His death all served to open up for us the possibility of Heaven. 

The possibility of something beyond death.

Of course the choice remains largely our own to make use of the possibilities that lay before us: 

To believe, or not. 

To accept, or not. 

To be faithful, or not. 

To fight for things you think are worth fighting for… or not.

Back when I first started writing for, I shared the story of a couple who asked if they were beyond help.  I think today, if someone asked me that question, my response would be, “Well, you tell me— Are you beyond Hope?”

I Said Possibility, Not a Guarantee

“But EJ—“ I can already hear someone saying, “I can have all the hope in the world and things might not work out!”

Yes.  That is true.  Hope is the gateway of possibility.  It is not a guarantee of any outcome. 

Hopelessness, however, almost assuredly is a guarantee. 

Because if you’re truly hopeless, you’ve already given up.  You’ve already resigned yourself to the death of whatever.

Having hope means that despite the possibility that things might not work out, it might be worth it to another try.  It acknowledges that, even in some pretty troublesome times there remains an alternative possibility. 

It Takes Two

Of course the complicated part with marriages is that both parties need to get on board— and that might not happen right away, or ever.

Even the best marriages are tough from time to time. 

But being in a healthy marriage with someone who truly does not want to be married to you?  Well, I don’t even know if that’s possible! 

As my mother, who is currently visiting, so aptly stated, “There’s more to marriage than not getting divorced.”  (Isn’t she great?

At the same time, sometimes one person needs to hold that hope for a while, until the other person can see.  Even better if you’re in the kind of relationship where you’re still able to communicate and show the other person why there’s still Hope to be had! 

Christmas Wish

So wherever you are this Christmas and Holiday Season, my wish for you is that you and your spouse will rediscover the will to consider endless possibilities for your relationship, and not just focus on the possible end.

Have Hope.  Do the work. And remember that the love that is supposed to exist between couples is supposed to be a reflection of God’s love for us, and at work within us. 

9 Thinking Styles that Will NOT Help Your Marriage

By E.J. Smith | Help


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.


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.


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.


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.


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?