Emotional Consequences

One of my favorite parts of marriage is that I can be completely and totally honest with my husband without any judgment. I used to fear conflict, thinking that any conflict could cause a break in the relationship. Now that I’m in a stable relationship and we can fight without worrying about destroying our marriage, I feel safe.

Although I’m safe to say what I want, what I say has emotional consequences.

Words have the power of life and death. We speak what we don’t mean sometimes. We speak to control. We speak to encourage. However, our words have consequences, good and bad.

When you’re uncomfortable, you have defense mechanisms, like sarcasm, insulting, or joking, but those defense mechanisms can get you into trouble if you’re not careful. Since it is part of our spouse’s job to shape us, God can use our spouses to help us surrender our defense mechanisms.

As listeners, we can’t let people speak to us however they want. I have trigger words like “What is your problem?” that will shut me down in an argument. If Lenny wants to shut me down, he can use that, because he knows it will make me stop talking. But he also knows that if he uses those words, he’ll be breaking our trust, and he could put some emotional distance between us. Lenny will accomplish what he wants (shutting me up) but it comes with consequences.

We have different boundaries, and we have to be clear about them. We can’t let people get away with their words. We can be clear about what we expect, and if people don’t respect our requests, we have to follow through with our consequences.

We hate being parented by anyone, including our spouses. However, you are not parenting your spouse. You are sticking up for yourself. Your job is not to train your spouse; your job is to protect yourself from experiencing and causing emotional damage.

So, talk about your boundaries, and what would happen if your spouse were to cross those boundaries. Now, you obviously can’t threaten to leave, unless there is abuse involved. However, you are entitled to request counseling or to say that you are not going to be as trusting of your spouse. Remember the vows you made to each other and remind your spouse of them.

If you are in a dating relationship, breaking up IS still a viable option for you. There is nothing binding you together. Unfortunately, it’s not obvious anymore that insults, sarcasm, and threats hurt people, so you need to be clear about how those words make you feel. If your SO has a history of hurting you with his/her words, and you’ve made it clear that his/her actions are bothering you and nothing has changed, you have every right to leave. Do that for yourself. Do not keep hurting yourself when you know he/she can use words to hurt you.

To demonstrate how to have emotional boundaries in the midst of defense mechanisms, I’ll use a hypothetical situation. Jack confesses to Polly that he gets fearful around the topic of family conflicts, and that when the topic arises, he uses sarcasm to deflect his feelings. Polly understands this, but she confesses that she gets angry when people make fun of her family, so she could respond to his sarcasm with an angry outburst. Polly promises that she will try not to bring up family conflicts around him, and Jack promises that he will try not to be sarcastic or make jokes about her family.

Since we’re not perfect, Jack and Polly may have some issues with this at first. But now, when they fight about Polly bringing up family conflicts and Jack making fun of her family, they have an understanding about why the conflict is happening, and they are able to develop consequences as a result. If Polly brings up a family conflict, Jack will use sarcasm. If Jack uses sarcasm, Polly will have an angry outburst. Eventually, Polly will learn not to bring up family conflicts (or will at least approach the conflict in a different manner) because she will not want her husband to be sarcastic. Eventually, Jack will learn not to react with sarcasm because he will not want his wife to have an angry outburst.

While grace is needed in this situation, do not get too comfortable with emotional tension. If your spouse is using defense mechanisms against you, continue to love him, but don’t allow the behavior to continue. Do not punish your spouse, but be clear about your expectations and continue to remind your spouse about them as the behavior continues. Remember your vows, and remember that you are both in the process of growing.

Photo by Michał Parzuchowski on Unsplash


You Know What Happens When We Assume…

The other day, Lenny and I were driving home from a long day out together. I mumbled something about wanting to watch TV and go to bed, and he simply said, “Nope.” He told me he’d rather play video games. The nerve! He complained all day that he was tired, and now he wanted to stay up and play video games instead of going to bed?

In that moment, Lenny didn’t do anything wrong. was in the wrong this time, because I didn’t clarify my expectations.

Over the summer, I participated in a program for leaders at our church. We followed a curriculum created by Pete & Geri Scazzero called Emotionally Healthy Relationships. They have taught me so much about relationships and marriage, I’ll probably be referring to them pretty often on this website.

My favorite topic from this workbook involved clarifying expectations. Unfortunately, I assume all the time, especially because my husband doesn’t speak that much. When he’s quiet, I assume he understands. Since we’ve been married a little longer now, I know his silence means he either doesn’t hear me, or he disagrees but doesn’t know how to tell me.

I was in the wrong when I assumed Lenny would want to cuddle with me instead of play video games because I didn’t clarify my expectations. I assumed he wanted to do the same, because cuddling helps me unwind, but he isn’t wired the same way. Video games help him unwind. While I had the itch to lay on the couch until I was ready for bed, he had the itch to play a couple of games. His itch is one I don’t understand, but if I don’t clarify my expectations, I can’t judge him for his behavior.

In Emotionally Healthy Relationships, the Scazzeros lay out several pointers to remember when clarifying expectations. I will use the example of how we spend the holidays. Not only are the holidays a cause for conflict in our household, but it is also a topic of debate among most newlywed couples.

Expectations should always be conscious. It is more important for us to be aware of our own expectations than for others to be aware of them. When it comes to the holidays, one of my expectations is, “It doesn’t matter where Lenny and I spend the holidays, as long as we are together.” Whatever drama ensues from our holiday plans, as long as we don’t split up (as in Lenny sees his family and I see mine), we’ve had a successful year. I am aware of that, and although I don’t need to share that expectation with everyone, now you know it.

Expectations should also be realistic. We tried splitting the holidays (going to my family in the morning and Lenny’s family in the evening), but it is way too stressful for us. Expecting us to see both sides of the family every single holiday is unrealistic for our situation. I can’t control everyone in my life, and they can’t control me. If I have expectations that involve controlling other people, I will be sorely disappointed when they physically, emotionally, or mentally cannot meet my needs.

Expectations should be spoken. Before the holiday season (conveniently during our anniversary), Lenny and I talk about how we are going to spend Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and Christmas. We discuss our expectations and form a plan. Then, we tell our parents our plans for the year. This prevents us from having conflicts with our families later, when they expected us to spend the holidays a certain way.

Finally, expectations should be agreed upon. This point is the one I have the most difficult time following. I am free to share my expectations with Lenny, but I rarely pause to make sure he’s on board with them. This was the issue we had when he wanted to play video games. I expected him to come to bed with me, but he didn’t agree. Now, when I clarify my expectations, I ask him, “Are you okay with that?” If he’s not, he makes an addendum, and we form an agreement.

Expectations are not wrong to have. As a matter of fact, they are innate and necessary for survival. If we can keep our expectations conscious, realistic, spoken, and agreed upon, we will have better communication and less conflicts with our loved ones.

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Write Down to Calm Down

It’s no coincidence that I have anxiety and I love to write. When I’m anxious, I could spend hours writing in my journal, processing my thoughts, making sense of the world around me. I can articulate my emotions and better communicate them to people when I write. As a result, I’m able to maintain my anxiety. I’ve noticed that when I don’t make time to journal, I’m more restless and I’m not as in tune with my emotions.

Truthfully, I haven’t journaled in the past couple of days, so I’m finding it hard to sit still as I’m typing this. My mind is also swimming with ideas to a point where I don’t know what’s going on up there. So maybe this advice is just as important for me in this moment as it is for you.

Make Time to Write
The #1 response I hear to why people don’t journal is, “I don’t have time.” The truth is: We don’t have time for everything. Life is busy, but I believe it’s because we want to be at all places at all times, but we can’t. God gave us twenty-four hours in a day, no more and no less. If journaling is something you want to try, you should make it a priority to carve any amount of time out for your day.

Think about the things that consume your time. You say you don’t have time, but you unwind by watching Netflix or scrolling any one of your social media sites. You make time to spectate other people’s lives, and yet you don’t make time to process your own. If you want a better life, make time to assess where you are now and make measurable goals of where you want to be later. Journaling is the perfect first step for that.

Face Your Fear of Yourself
Before I had a dishwasher, I used to dread washing the dishes. Days would go by and my dishes would pile up. At the end of the week, I wouldn’t want to know what disgusting crusts and smells would arise when I would finally turn on the hot water and start rinsing off my old plates. Although the process was nauseating and painful (I would often burn my hands in the hot water), I would get through washing the dishes and would have sparkling clean dishes.

Similarly, I don’t want to journal when I know I’ll be confronted with my depression or anxiety. I have this fear that I’ll process my feelings for hours only to find out that I’m overreacting and that, overall, I’m a mess. I’m comforted by the fact that God doesn’t look at me that way. God does not despise my broken and contrite heart. He accepts me with my mess, and He helps me sort through the murky waters of my emotions.

If you are afraid of what you will find when you journal, start by affirming yourself with Scripture. God has a lot of great things to say about you in His word. Psalm 139 has been my anthem lately as I’ve struggled with truly feeling beautiful in God’s eyes. God had me in mind before I was even born, and He crafted me to beautifully reflect His glory. Knowing this, I feel less disgusting as I search the depths of my heart.

Journaling Prompts
Pinterest has plenty of prompts to help you start your journaling journey. I’ve taken a few and created my own list. Keep in mind that I assume you’re journaling in the morning when you first wake up, because that’s when I normally do so. If you journal at night before bed, replace “yesterday” with “today,” and “today” with “tomorrow.” Let me know which prompt resonated most with you, and which one you want to try! I think I’m going to try a few of these!

  1. Where did you see God show up in your life yesterday? How are you expecting Him to meet you today?
  2. What success happened yesterday that you would want to achieve again today?
  3. What makes you feel most loved? When was that need met/not met recently?
  4. If you knew God would give you whatever you requested, what would you pray? (Forget what you’re not “allowed” to pray for, like a million dollars or for your ex-boyfriend to break up with his girlfriend. This is your journal, and if the desire of your heart is to win a million dollars or to see your ex-boyfriend suffer, God wants you to be honest with Him. I’m not saying He’ll answer your prayer, but He will give you clarity in how to align your desires with His will).
  5. Write a letter to your past self (at any age, or at a point during a traumatic experience in your life).

Your turn:
-If you’ve never tried journaling, what is stopping you from trying? Is it intimidating or boring?
-What prompts would you try from this list?
-What prompts would you add?

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