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How Getting Support for your Marriage Works

You’re listening to the Dare Greatly Podcast with Danielle Vaughn, episode # 58, How Getting Support for Your Marriage Works


Hey my beautiful friends. How are you doing? It’s been a minute. Well, longer than a minute, as I’ve had a very full winter and spring. Lots of neat things have been happening. It’s been a time of growth, a lot of growth. Since I’ve last talked to you, I did a virtual book club that might be one of my favorite ways I get to connect with you in person. 


We had an amazing group this go-round, and it was inspiring to see the topics you brought to your personal coaching around habits - we read the book Atomic Habits by James Clear, which is one of my top five favorite books, I re-read it every winter in January and use it as a guide for self-assessment and areas I want to improve on moving forward. So working with you with that book as our guide was magical. I loved it.


One of the things I did differently this time with the book club is everyone who joined received three private coaching sessions. And so we all really were applying what we were reading, and using the concepts from Atomic Habits in a deeper way, discussing the book, and it was an inspiring time for me. One of the highlights of my coaching career so far. 


I decided to take a brief intermission with the podcast since I had more people sign up for the bookclub than I had anticipated, and I used that time to coach and to do research for this podcast. Also, I was informed by my undergrad program that my requirements changed, and I still needed to finish six more classes to get my diploma, and so I used these last few months to do five of those six classes and focus on the bookclub and private coaching. 


The classes I took were demanding and time consuming, it was a lot, they were mostly upper division, but I had two classes that were easier, an introduction to marriage class, and introduction to parenting, which I’ve already completed all the undergrad classes for, and so they were condensed versions of what I’d learned in my Marriage and Family Studies degree. I took lots of notes, organized them into outlines and will be sharing them here on the podcast in the coming months because I think they’re so worth sharing with you. 


With my degree, I was doing my internship when Covid hit four years ago. I just needed to finish that internship and the one class I was in at the time. But Covid shut it all down. And while I was doing that last semester, this was winter and spring of 2020, I was certifying with the Life Coach School and doing both at the same time. 


2020 still has some lingering effects on some of us, I know it isn’t just me. And that’s also the year my husband had his epic stroke. So that has been a lot to recover from, and as I reached out to BYU about finishing my degree, the department of Marriage and Family Studies has since changed their requirements, and so instead of one class, I had six. And I’ve worked too hard and come too far not to wrap up this awesome degree, I just really want to see it through. 


But what a beautiful community we have here. Many of you reached out and asked about the podcast, if I was continuing or where it went, and I appreciate you asking, and reaching out - I love you all for caring and for missing me, and it’s good to know this podcast is helping you and that you look forward to it. 


I also just came home from Italy for my third trip with my cute friends, Maria and Gina who run these amazing women’s retreats, and I get to go along and do a concert for the women in the music parlor of this enchanting, Italian villa we stay at in the Italian Tuscany countryside, dreamy is the only word for it, and  I get to sing and tell stories, and share and I love it so much, it’s magical for me, getting to do that. I hope you’ll join me on a trip soon! This time I took my daughter Kate along. She got to see beautiful Italy, and we extended our trip and spent a few extra days in Florence because she’s an appreciator of art and architecture, so we had an amazing time together. 


One thing that is so important to me is that I always make work compliment life and life compliment work and that that balance is working for me and for our family. And so when school and coaching and everything else that I do with working with the young women, as well as helping my son with special needs, sometimes something has to give. So for those of you who were missing the podcast, I appreciate you all being so understanding. 


Today we’re going to talk about what getting support for your marriage looks like and how it works. I want to articulate what to look for when hiring someone to help you in your marriage. Sometimes I’m asked this, and I hear stories of how hard it can be to find support. I am working on a mini program right now about the five vital skills all marriages need and I am really trying to help people understand these skills that nobody teaches us in school, but how to learn them, what it can look like and how to integrate them into your life. How to start looking around with finding your people who will help you fight for your marriage and why it is so powerful.


I always have been really interested in Marriage and Family. I’ve always been really intrigued by what makes a marriage happy or what makes a happy family and finding ways to be a good mom and to strengthen my relationship with my husband and to heal from a difficult childhood and feel better. And I think I’m not alone in this. And there are many of us who experienced hard things growing up in our childhoods, and not because our parents aren’t good people, but they inherited their own hard things, and for me, being a serious minded little girl as a child, observing the adults I grew up with, it put me in a state of mind to be an observer of human behavior, and with that came a lot of unanswered questions, and some anxiety. 


So in order to make sense of how happy marriages work, I’ve watched people over the years, I’ve asked people I look up to a lot of questions, and I’ve read a lot of books. I feel like this kind of thirst for understanding how people can be happy and how people can be miserable, it has quite literally saved my own marriage to be thirsty for knowledge on this topic, and it has saved my life. And I don’t mean to be overly dramatic about that, it’s just true. If I didn’t put in the work or time to understand what I’ve learned, I know I would be in a very different place with my own marriage and happiness. 


I’ve had many mentors over the years help me heal and make sense of my own patterns, my own emotional life, my anxiety, my difficulty to trust when my husband would let me down, my own role in that, and my own patterns, and the outcomes I was creating at a very young age. I got married at a very young age. 


I have found that one of the most powerful habits someone can have is being a life-long learner and seeking good mentors. And when I was growing up, it was very common for me to talk to my professors in college after they’d comment on a paper I’d written, or to stay after hours and talk to my music teachers. I still have friendships with some of them even now after so many years. This is something I consider a great gift in my life. 


And this is because nobody told me I should keep my hard things to myself. And I’m glad. I’ve had clients share with me that in their family, they were taught not to air their dirty laundry. And I think there is some wisdom in that. But I also don’t think it’s good to be so private about our hard things, that we don’t have people we can share and confide with and learn from. There needs to be a healthy community of people you build for yourself to share with outside your family so you can get an objective point of view and learn and adapt and tweak. 


During My time in Italy, I go into my familiar mode of people-watching. In the small village where the villa is where we stay, there is a town square with tables and iron chairs set up on the cobblestone pavers. Every morning that I’ve walked into town, I’ve found a group of older men who are always gathered in this town square talking, and laughing, and drinking their coffee together and enjoying good conversation. Their faces are often smiling and their laughter echoes off the stone buildings that surround the square. I don’t speak Italian, so I don’t know what they are saying, but I can tell they are enjoying each other’s company. I can tell they are good friends. I find myself thinking of my own dad, or my husband’s father, and how they’ve shared with me that getting older can be lonely. I long for them to have a gathering place like these Italian men with good food and good conversation - a place they can gather and rely on and enjoy friendship and community. These older gentlemen are there every morning. They must get something meaningful out of it. They must know a lot about each other’s lives, and each other’s families, and their work, and I long for this for anyone who doesn’t have it. 


Here in our culture, we don’t see this in our public spaces. We don’t have time, we are busy and I often hear how lonely we are. And so being more intentional about finding people to talk to, there’s legitimate challenges in making this happen for ourselves. 


And so getting support for your marriage, having people to learn from and draw perspective from is something we’ll want to figure out if it isn’t happening naturally in our family life or friendship circles. 


I want to give a few pointers on what to look out for as you get support for your marriage, who to let into your inner circle, and how to vet if they should be in your ‘take to heart’ bucket or ‘don’t take this advice to heart’ bucket. 


What I’ve found is that there are many voices and opinions on marital advice. And maybe you’ve found this to be true, too. And some of those voices will fall into the ‘Marriage Builders’ bucket and some will fall into the ‘Marriage Underminers’ bucket. Sometimes the Underminers can be close family and friends.


And the brain, when it’s in a state of distress or pain in a relationship, it will try to find voices or influences that support our pain - on default. That may sound strange, but it’s true, The brain, when it’s in distress or discomfort, is trying to protect us and seek comfort, and it is inadvertently finding evidence why we should stay in our current state and protect us from using more energy to learn new things or change patterns. 


So when you are in relationship distress, the normal tendency for the brain is to want to talk to people who are in our corner, who will validate our pain and who will agree with us. 


But some of those people will be what I call Marriage Underminers. They won’t view your marriage as something to fight for, they will have a bias toward your individual satisfaction more than marriage responsibilities and they won’t challenge you in a kind way in what your part might play in the distress that is happening. 


So getting support for your marriage can be a challenge. 


When you become genuinely dissatisfied in your marriage, it is important to talk to someone who will tell you the truth. Our friends and extended family can’t or won’t always be that person who will tell you the truth. 


And so working with a counselor or therapist or coach or a mentor from a book will be so helpful. You’ll want to find someone who can help you identify your patterns and do your own inner work and teach you new skills of how to resolve conflict, how to identify core needs, and how to have productive communication instead of fights that escalate and stay spinning in stuck patterns. 


For my husband and I, this is some of the best time and money ever spent on our marriage. We had to therapist shop. We had to find our people and it took some time and effort. But my only regret is that we didn’t do it sooner. 


When you hire someone, make sure they have a bias toward working things out and fighting for your marriage versus personal satisfaction over marriage. 


Let me explain what I mean by this: starting in the 80’s, there began a therapeutic bias toward individual satisfaction over marriage responsibilities. This is defined as focusing mainly on what you are not getting in the marriage and how your partner is not meeting your needs, and how to work with your spouse to meet your needs versus learning how to meet your own needs. It also shows up as a bias toward leaving the marriage if your spouse is unable to meet your needs.  


My first counselor I worked with, I worked with her for a good three months before I realized she was biased towards individual satisfaction versus working things out with my husband. She focused on his limitations and character more than challenging me on my own. I knew this because I was full in on my Marriage and Family Studies degree, and was taking a class on conflict resolution. I entered therapy so I could have an objective point of view on my own limitations and what I could do to improve. I knew my husband wasn’t perfect, don’t we all? But my goal wasn’t to pay her money to have her tell me how to change him. Somehow, instinctively, I knew that was a backwards approach. 


When a therapist or counselor or coach confuses hard reasons for divorce versus soft reasons, I think it causes unnecessary divorce. I define hard reasons to be what is unacceptable behavior such as physical abuse, chronic infidelity, alcoholism, emotional cruelty, or chronic lying. And I define soft reasons with behavior that disappoints me or saddens me, such as a spouse not giving enough affection or emotional support, working excessive hours, having some prickly or unlikable personality characteristics. And if we’re not careful, then marital disappointments can quickly turn into marital tragedies and can undermine constructive efforts for improvement, and can cause unnecessary divorce. 


On a personal note, as my own marriage has endured for over 30 years now, I have come to value the bond my husband and I have BECAUSE of how hard it’s been, and even more now than when I was younger, even if our marriage does not meet all of my needs or my husband’s needs. It’s impossible for any one person to meet ALL of another person’s needs. 


But a shared, long life together, starting out young and then growing old together, having birthed and nurtured children into young adulthood, makes the rewards of a long-term committed marriage surpass those of any other kind of relationship. 


The paradox here is that you get these rewards only when you don’t keep focusing on the rewards. 


When a client is coming to me for help on their marriage, I help them distinguish between soft reasons for ending a marriage, and hard reasons. I know that soft reasons cause genuine distress and pain. And I don’t minimize that. But they aren’t reasons for ending a marriage. 


When we expect our needs to be met by others, we can be mightily frustrated when other people don’t come through. 


What I see more clearly now is that this pain and distress often comes from dwelling on what one is not getting from the marriage, of complaining about the spouse’s failings, of listening to the spouse defend and criticize back, of comparing one’s marriage to other imagined relationships, and of gradually becoming more distant and resentful. 


A sense of personal entitlement to a high-quality marriage leads us to focus on what is wrong with the other person, which leads to more things going wrong, and eventually to misery, which justifies leaving. 


But the turning point in all of this, the two things that you can do to turn this around is to get support for yourself with someone who will tell you the truth. That’s number one. And number two: is to take the story you have about your spouse that’s in your brain and look at it as just a story and evaluate it, whether you want to keep believing it or want to keep thinking it, or decide if you want to change it. 


Thoughts are optional. 

The stories we tell ourselves are optional. 


Ask yourself this great question, I love this question in so many contexts, but especially when I’m hyperfocusing on something another person is doing that is bothering me, ask yourself: “who would you be without this thought?” 


It’s a good question. It’s incredibly powerful. 


We live in an incredibly consumer driven society. And it is impossible to live in America without absorbing a good dose of the consumer culture into how we think about marriage: we might think we can trade in our marriage or our spouse like we can trade in a car that we don’t like anymore, or a wardrobe, or getting a new job. 


I’m serious. We might be thinking things like:


“The relationship wasn’t working for me anymore.”

“Our needs are just too different”

“I deserve more”

“We aren’t the same people we were when we got married”

“The relationship became stale”


I used to hear many of these as valid reasons to end a marriage. If the marriage is not meeting your needs, especially if you have tried hard to change it, then it is reasonable to leave. But as my experience in coaching has grown and I see more of the ongoing pain of divorce for adults and children, and I see people returning to coaching because things don’t get magically better once the marriage ends, often with second marriage complaints that mirror the first marriage complaints, I’ve become more curious and skeptical of the ‘my needs aren’t being met,’ thought that many people think is their spouses problem to fix. 


And so getting support in your marriage works best when you can challenge your thinking and identify where you are causing yourself the most pain. And when that is too challenging to do, finding someone who will help you identify your own patterns, hopefully with so much love and accountability too. 


For example, I don’t hire my tax accountant for her to tell me how good I am at keeping track of my business expenses. I don’t expect her to tell me, “yep, you’re perfect at this. I don’t have any work to do here.” I hire her to show me where I can save money, to see things I can’t see on my own, and to identify where I can do better. And that’s why you get support in your marriage. So you can have someone help you do better where you can’t see your blindspots. 


So taking a thought that you have often about your marriage, maybe its a persistent thought that feels true, but asking yourself, “who would I be without this thought?” and turning that sentence upside down on its head, turning it around, and making the opposite of it to be possibly true to think instead, can be incredibly powerful. 


For example: “my spouse is so hard. He’s really hard to love.” 


Who would you be without that thought? I’m being really vulnerable here in sharing that thought, because it used to be one of my own in my own marriage. 


Now, I don’t even think it’s true. I questioned it and examined it and asked myself who I would be without that thought, and over time, with a lot of work, I’ve changed that thought to: my spouse is so easy to love. He’s really easy to love.” 


And by turning thoughts around, taking a sentence and making it optional, it became a matter of creating thoughts and thinking new thought I choose to think deliberately instead of letting negative thinking shape my marriage.


And when you do this kind of work, this kind of challenging the way you think, your entire marriage can start to change. You’ll start to feel better. Your behavior will become easier to identify of what you want to control in yourself and what you want to change. You will get better results in your life. Not overnight! But little by little, over time. 


Who is helping you to challenge your thoughts in an objective way? Do you have those people in your life? Have you ever considered doing this before in regards to your marriage? 


A friend of mine shared with me how her grandma told her mom not to talk to her about her marriage, because every time she talked about her husband to her, she couldn’t forget about it, and it made her not like her husband, but then they would make up and things would be okay in their marriage again, but the grandmother was still thinking of the hard things the mother had shared. So the grandmother said, “I don’t think it’s good for me to hear the hard things that are going on in your marriage. I can’t let go of it and forget it when you’ve made up, and I just want to love your husband. I think it would be better if you talk about him to a therapist or a counselor.” And so that’s what my friend’s mom did. She stopped talking about her husband to the grandmother, and later, they found in her journal all kinds of writing on how much she loved this husband. 


I think this grandmother was so wise, to be able to identify that she had a hard time loving the husband when her daughter confided in her.  


I encourage you to examine and rethink who you are talking about your spouse to, and to find someone who will help you challenge your own thoughts in an objective way, do it because it will create a more purposeful marriage, and create a more fulfilling experience in your relationship. It requires us to pay attention to what we are thinking and what is going on inside our brains. And when you pay attention, you will start to see how powerful your thoughts are, and you’ll want support to think in new ways that serve you. It will no longer feel satisfying to keep complaining and only talk to people who agree with you. 


And when you do this consistently with a good mentor, someone who is fighting for your marriage, you start to realize that you are not at the effect of your negative thinking and other people’s behavior. That you actually have more power over your own happiness, and you will feel more empowered and connected to your ability to create your own happiness. 


It makes me love my husband and feel more peaceful in our relationship when I’m able to watch myself and watch my thinking and decide if I want to keep thinking about him the way I do or if I want to think differently. I can’t imagine our marriage having survived if I hadn’t learned this skill, without this ability. 


And so when people ask me how to get support for their marriage, how it works, I tell them to find a mentor who will teach them to fight for their marriage, to help them see the truth, and to help them question their thinking and find a way to think about their marriage that serves them. 


We’ve been given this amazing ability to choose our thoughts carefully. We don’t have to go through our marriages experiencing negative emotion more than positive emotion. There’s a part of us, no matter how bleak our relationship might feel, where we can access our true power and decide how we want to think, moving forward. And nobody and nothing can take away your power to choose how to think. 


I believe this is the most important thing we can understand about ourselves. Our mental health depends on it. Our emotional life is determined by what we choose to think, given the circumstances we’ve been given. We receive messages from childhood onward that shape our thinking. And if that goes unquestioned, and we are going through life unconsciously, or unaware of how we think, we will suffer more than is necessary. 


And that has been my goal in observing other people, in being a people-watcher, and trying to figure out what makes people have happy marriages and what doesn’t, is to understand, and to help other people understand if they want to, how to choose our thoughts in a way that serves us so we can handle our emotions and not make decisions from disempowered thinking. 


When I contend that marriages are worth fighting for, what I mean is that one or both spouses could save themselves so much heartache by challenging their own thinking and turning it around if they are willing to look at themselves more than their spouse. 


Divorce is a last-ditch solution to marital problems that often could have been solved in less drastic ways, or at least adjusted to without injury to either party. 


And as a child of divorce, and seeing both sets of my own parents remarry, it never got easier with new partners. They both just got better at doing their own personal work. 


How getting support for your marriage works is being willing to do some personal work, finding mentors who will tell you the truth with so much love, and who will fight for your marriage versus undermine your spouse. If you have questions and want more insights, send me an email and let’s talk about it. Or sign up for a free consultation and let’s determine if working with a therapist or a counselor or a coach would be a good fit for you. 


Alright, have a beautiful day my friends. Coming up, you’re going to hear more artist pep-talks, and more about tools to help you with parenting, and marriage, and making yourself feel proud of yourself with honoring your dreams and going for it, just all the things you’re use to here at Dare Greatly, as well as the latest offerings of how to work or learn from me if that’s something you’re wanting to do. I also have some fun guests lined up for the show whom I’ve wanted to have a great discussion with, who have incredible life experience and are the heroes of their own story. I can’t wait to share all the goodness with you so stay tuned. 


Take care of each other out there. Talk soon, bye for now. 


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