Feeling overwhelmed in marriage is common. It shouldn’t be normal, but many couples reach a point of high stress when trying to keep their relationship headed in the right direction. We offer these six tips to help you overcome your overwhelm. [Infographic below]
Did you hear the story about the young man who inherited his uncle’s wealth?
He was called to the office of the lawyer for the reading of the will. The lawyer began:
‘According to your uncle’s instruction, you will receive your inheritance based on the choices you make.’ In his hands, the lawyer held two business opportunities. He then held out his hand and asked the young man to choose.
‘Which hand do you choose?’
The young man chose the right hand. He lawyer opened his hand to reveal a nugget of gold and a piece of silver. He then said, ‘If you had chosen this hand, you would have inherited either a gold mine or a silver mine in South America.’
He then opened his left hand to reveal a nut and a coffee bean.
“You get to choose between a coffee plantation or a nut manufactory in Brazil.”
The young man thought for a minute and finally settled on the nut manufactory.
A week later the young man went to Brazil to check on his inheritance. When he arrived he discovered a fire had destroyed the warehouse and his business was ruined. To add insult to injury, gold and silver prices had increased by 30 percent and coffee had doubled in price.
The young man was despondent. And broke. He barely had enough money to go back home. At the airport, he was told he had a choice between flying through Los Angeles or Houston. He chose Houston.
He boarded a small twin engine plane with barely enough room to move his legs. As he sat on the runway he noticed a large luxury jet beside him. He was told that jet was headed to Los Angeles. Another bad choice on his part.
During his flight to Houston, one of the engines went out and the plane was going to crash. The pilot told him to grab two parachutes.
As he plummeted to the ground, he couldn’t decide which chute to open. He finally picked the one on the right. The rip cord tore and the chute wouldn’t open. He quickly pulled the second chute only to find the lines were tangled.
As he got closer to the ground, he cried out, ‘St. Francis, save me!’
Suddenly, a great hand reached down from heaven and took the young man by the arm. As he dangled in the air, a voice asked, ‘St. Francis Xavier? Or St. Francis of Assisi?’
I laugh every time I hear that joke. It hits home to a lot people who feel they are stuck in overwhelm with their marriage. Nothing seems to work. They try everything to make their relationship better, but they feel their decisions only make things worse.
What Causes Overwhelm?
Overwhelm doesn’t come because there are lots of work to do. It comes from not knowing what to do.
Think about it.
We all have stacks of stuff that needs to get done, yet we somehow manage to waddle our way through it. What doesn’t get done today, we will do tomorrow.
It’s get overwhelming when we look at everything that needs to be done and we don’t have a clue where to start. Or what to do next.
That’s when things spin out of control emotionally.
What can you do if you feel overwhelmed in your marriage?
We offer these six steps when you face overwhelm in your marriage.
#1 Identify What You Want
Although this sounds easy, it’s often complicated. But knowing what you want is the single most important step you need to take.
Clarity is vital. You can’t move forward if you don’t even know which way is forward. Getting clarity helps you know where you are, as much as what you want. Without it, you will continue to struggle.
Tips on Narrowing Down What You Want
Ask yourself these questions to narrow down and pinpoint what you really want in your relationship.
- What is not working that troubles you the most?
- If you could change one thing about how you relate to your spouse, what would it be?
- If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
- What do you think is your biggest marital challenge?
- What would your spouse say is your biggest marriage issue?
- Do you feel your spouse understands your relationship?
- What one thing needs to change to make you happy in your relationship?
These questions are just the jumping off point. Dig deep. By asking yourself questions, you will hone in on what really matters. Don’t stop with surface issues (we don’t talk that much), instead, answer these questions then ask ‘why?’ Why did you answer like that? Why do you feel that way.
This is how you probe your own heart and dig deeper.
Digging deep allows you to identify the real issues, which helps you understand what you really want.
Tip: When you find something you don’t like, it is an indicator of something you desire. It’s like the symptom to a disease. The symptom let’s you know something is wrong.
#2 Pick a Plan of Action
Once you know what you want, you can choose a plan of action to move your marriage in the right direction. Remember, you can’t go in the right direction if you don’t even know where ‘right’ is.
Don’t be paralyzed with making the wrong the decision like the young man in the story. You may feel like life is dealing you blow after blow, but it’s not. You were meant to have a great marriage. Don’t sabotage your own work by thinking the worse.
The main point at this stage is action. You have to do something to get where you want to be.
William James, (he helped start Harvard’s Psychology Departmentt) once said:
When you have to make a choice and don’t make it, that is in itself a choice.William James
If you are still paralyzed and don’t know what to do, we recommend Lee Baucom’s ‘Save the Marriage’ system. One of the great benefits he offers is a quick start guide that helps you identify where you are and gives practical, step-by-step instruction on what to say and do at that stage.
#3 Pick One Thing
Find one thing you can do to help your relationship and do it.
Too often couples try to change too much at once. This rarely works. You feel overwhelmed because you are trying too many things at once. And your spouse is confused by all the radical changes.
Our philosophy is simple. Find the one thing that will give you the most positive change, and do that one thing. Do not add too much to the mix. Especially at first.
Do the one thing. That’s it.
Give it time to work, and be consistent. Changing one thing and doing it well (and consistently) adds more value that doing a lot of things poorly (and inconsistently).
As things progress you can do more. But perfect the first thing before you add another thing.
For example, if your marriage suffers from lack of communication, don’t try to change everything in your marriage. Find a way to connect at least once a day and do that.
A good illustration of this is Rob and Jen.
Rob knew he needed to communicate more with Jen, but he felt overwhelmed. He asked Jen what she wanted (needed) from him. She talked for half and hour telling him how she wanted him to talk more, instead of grunt out answers during dinner. She wanted to take walks and talk about their day. She loved it when he wrote her little notes. She listed several dozen things that made her feel connected.
Rob tried to do them all. He committed to write her a note every day. Send her two text messages while he was at work. Take a walk every evening. He even had a list of questions he planned on using to stimulate discussion at dinner.
It was a great plan. But it failed. Not because Rob didn’t care. He cared deeply. It failed because it was too much change at once. He was focused on trying to do too many things.
He needed to find the one thing he could do that would move their intimacy and communication forward. Trying to do everything on his list only made him lose focus on what really mattered.
He became obsessed with the list and lost touch even more with Jen.
Question: What is the most important thing you can do to help your relationship?
Is it better communication? If so, decide on one thing you can do to be better.
Is it intimacy? Find one way you can connect on an intimate level with your spouse.
Whatever that area is, find one thing to work on. Then do it consistently.
#4 Avoid Distractions
This is complimentary to the previous thought.
Here’s what I mean:
Overwhelm almost forces you to distraction. You look at your relationship and see so much that needs to change, so you jump from one thing to the next hoping it will work and things will get better.
You’ve decided on a course of action, and you feel good about making positive changes in your life and marriage.
Your spouse comes home and complains about something. What do you do? You shift your focus off your game plan and try to trouble shoot the new issue.
Here’s why this doesn’t work; your attention is divided and you become inconsistent in your behavior. This fuels frustration to your marriage because things are already troubled. It becomes one more added irritation to your relationship.
I’m not suggesting you ignore the complaint. But you can’t lose focus. Your major priority is to change the one thing. Work on that.
Address the problem but don’t shift your mental and emotional energy every time something new happens. Stay focused.
How do I stay focused when so many issues come up?
Use the 80/20 rule. I’m sure you’ve heard of it. The basic premise is 20% of your focus produces 80% of the results.
In the business world this might be 20% of your clients produce 80% of your revenue. You get the point.
Avoiding distractions doesn’t mean you ignore problems when they come up. It simply means you focus your attention on the few things (the 20%) that will provide the most benefit for your marriage. The 20% (in this case) is the ‘one thing’ we discussed earlier.
Remember Rob? He needed to find the one thing and see everything else as a distraction.
When he finally focused on one important thing he could do consistently, their communication improved. AND, once his new habit became second nature, he was able to add other things.
He learned a great principle: You can’t add things until you make the main thing a habit.When you are working on your marriage, don't add too many changes at once. The rule is: Don't add things until you make the main thing a habit. Click To Tweet
#5 Reset Your Default Response
This is vital. But not easy.
Here’s what I mean: We all have a default setting on how we respond to problems. A default setting refers to the way you do things when you aren’t thinking about it.
Let me give you a practical illustration of this:
We have a thermostat in our house that governs the temperature. We set it on a specific temperature, and the thermostat triggers the AC to turn on when there is a 1 degree variation.
If it is set at 70 degrees, the AC unit will turn on if the temperature rises above 71 degrees. It’s automatic. I do not have to stand there all day and watch the temperature gauge.
If there is a variation in the temperature, my thermostat adjusts to bring it where I want it to be.
We have internal mechanisms (emotional and mental) that do the same thing. We’ve built these internal thermostat settings for our emotions.
Unfortunately, most of our settings are wrong. They were programmed because we were hurt, disappointed, or rejected. We set the internal response to act a certain way to protect ourselves.
When a variation in life (problem, trouble, disappointment) comes along, our inner psychological thermostat kicks in to adjust our expectations.When a variation in life (problem, trouble, disappointment) comes along, our inner psychological thermostat kicks in to adjust our expectations. This is our default. Sometimes we need to reset the thermostat. Click To Tweet
This is our default setting.
Some people have a default of explosive anger. They scream and cuss when things don’t do their way.
Others cry. Some hide in a shell of avoidance. Many choose to over medicate with alcohol or drugs.
All of these behaviors can be destructive, especially if they are default settings.
We need to be aware of how we respond to problems so we can create new behaviors. Identifying your defaults is the first step.
- What do you continually do that messes up your relationship?
- How do you respond that has a negative impact on your marriage?
These are great questions. Until you answer them and identify what you do that is sabotaging your relationship, you can’t change it.
Take some time to think about your automatic responses. Admit them. That’s step one.
Next, you need to retrain your brain to respond in a different way.
When you change your default setting, you reset the way you respond to life. This alone will transform your marriage.
Our problems are usually the result of underlying emotional garbage. We act in certain ways because of pain and disappointment in our past.
When we ‘live out of our pain’ we do destructive things in order to protect our emotions. We need internal healing so we can reset how we respond to life.
If you want help with this, here are a few recommended programs:
Laser Focused Concentration by Think Right Now
Anger Management by Think Right Now
#6 Take It Slow
We all want change to happen immediately. That seldom happens. I often tell couples, you didn’t get here in a day, you won’t get where you need to be in a day either. It takes time. If the journey is worth it, keep moving forward. That’s the goal.
So be patient. With yourself, and with your spouse.
It’s the little, small shifts in your thinking that changes your behavior. Take it slow so it will last.
Many quick fix solutions do not work because they only address the symptom, not the real problem We want lasting change, so we address the deeper issues. This takes time.It's the little, small shifts in your thinking that changes your behavior. Take it slow so it will last. Click To Tweet
Don’t despise the slow pace. Fast movement is often counter-productive.
Think of it like this:
Our spouse is like a wild animal. Any quick movement makes them flee. If you approach them slowly, quietly, and easy they will not get spooked.
Crude analogy. But the principle works.
I’ve seen couples move too quick in making changes and it actually hurt the marriage. The other partner was confused and unsure of what was happening. This caused them to be even more distant.
Point is, take it slow. Don’t confuse the pace with the result. Do not assume that because things are not happening right now, things are not happening at all.
A ship doesn’t turn all at once. It takes time and a lot of ocean water to turn an ocean liner around. Same with your marriage.When working on your relationship, don't confuse the pace with the result. Do not assume that because things are not happening right now, things are not happening at all. Click To Tweet
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Below are a few common questions we get when we discuss the issue of overwhelm with couples.
FAQ on Overwhelm in Marriage
Common questions about dealing with overwhelm and change in marriage.
Can I do two things instead of one?
Yes, if those things are related. The objective is not the number. It’s the focus. These principles are given so you can eliminate overwhelm. Doing too much adds to overwhelm, which is the opposite of what you need.
How do I know which thing to start with?
There is no simple answer, but we recommend asking yourself this: What is the biggest problem in my marriage? (This is not to place blame on your spouse. In fact, ask it with YOU in mind. What is the biggest problem “I” deal with?) Identify the major area of concern and ask, ‘What is one thing I can do every day to make this just a little better?’
Do I need to get my spouse involved in this process?
Not necessarily. This is more about you working on you than you working on them (or even working together). There is a time for joint effort, but to start with, just focus on what you can do. The goal is to let them see the change in you. That will change your relationship.
What if I have trouble changing my default? Will my efforts still pay off?
That’s tricky. They will not if you continue to respond out of your own negative, broken, hurt past. Any lasting change must come from deep within. Changing a few external things is like putting a band-aid on a gaping wound. It may slow the bleeding, but it will not heal the wound. See the links below (or above) and check out our recommended programs.
We all feel relationship overwhelm at times. The problem is usually not the amount of things that are needed to make a marriage work. It’s not knowing what to do next that causes emotional stress.
We’ve covered five things you can do to eliminate overwhelm in your marriage.
Here is a brief recap:
- What Causes Overwhelm?
- FAQ on Overwhelm in Marriage
I mention a few programs to help you work on your internal thought life. These are highly recommended if you want ‘reset your thermostat’ and change the way you think.
Laser Focused Concentration How by Think Right Now
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If you are having serious marriage struggles, we recommend starting with ‘Save the Marriage System‘ by Lee Baucom.