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How to handle CHANGE in your marriage

Feb 27, 2022

One of our favorite things to do is hop in the car and drive around.  Sometimes we drive through neighborhoods and look at houses, sometimes we travel an hour for our favorite pizza, and other times we take a full-on road trip.  Mark likes to drive fast and beat the predicted GPS ETA.  He also likes to maximize efficiency of stops by combining gas, food, bathroom breaks into one experience.  Considering this tiny bit of information, you can imagine it’s a bit frustrating when we hit a detour. 

 

It’s no different in our lives.  We all have some sort of idea about where we are going and an expectation of how long it will take to get there, but life almost always throws us a detour or two.  We’ve been quiet on the blog and in our email communication as of late because we had a minor detour…Mark broke his collarbone after a little fall skiing.  Thankfully this is a minor setback, but we have had to adjust a bit. As a result, we thought some change management skills for couples might be a helpful topic as we know it doesn’t take much to feel like you are off course or stalled out in “traffic.”  See if some of these common detours we have helped couples work through resonate with you:

 

  • Kids (all things kids): Kids are awesome but unpredictable.  Adding your 1st or adding 1 more can shift your plans enough to require some expectation adjustments.  Each season from toddler to teen provides a new set of variables to be managed.
  • Job Bumps: Our trip from home to work or coffee pot to home office is one of the most predictable things in our lives…until it isn’t.  Working from home, layoffs, starting businesses, promotions/raises, etc. all impact our “travel” plans in both good and bad ways.
  • Moving: Buying and selling a house is stressful, packing is exhausting, and moving to a new city, state, or country is a mix of excitement and overwhelm. Moving is often a confusing mix of happy and hard that can change on a dime.
  • Family: Adding in-laws, nieces/nephews, parent retirement, or dealing with new challenges as our parents age is for sure going to change your path and/or slow you down. You can only prepare so much for what lies ahead so the best thing to do is develop the skills to navigate change rather than control or prevent the change from happening.

 

Regardless of which detour or detours you may be working through, we have a few tips for navigating them well.

 

“Successful couples are not measured by the absence of adversity.  They are measured by how they navigate adversity.”

 

On this road trip called marriage, we will experience detours…it’s inevitable.  Our ability to adjust and adapt to the changes we face is the difference maker.  While change is often out of our control, we typically have a surprisingly high amount of control over many variables including our attitude toward the change.

 

Here are the top 4 change management skills we apply to best navigate life’s detours:

 

  1.  Get a Drone Perspective:

There is an age old saying, “You can’t see the forest for the trees.”  When we plan a road trip we essentially see the entire forest, but once we get behind the wheel of the car we only see the trees that are immediately in front of us.  Both are important, but in the midst of change, we have to intentionally pull out or away from the traffic jam in our life plans and get a drone perspective.  A drone perspective allows us to remove ourselves from the storm we may be in and see the weekly forecast or maybe even as far out as the seasonal forecast.

 

A drone perspective doesn’t just happen.  We have to intentionally stop what we are doing and zoom out.  Having a marriage vision can really help as you zoom out to see the bigger picture.  Seeing how this bad day, week, or season fits in to the entirety of your life’s direction doesn’t remove the current life altering reality, but it does put it into proper perspective.

 

Instead of changing who we are and where our end destination is, we have to alter our course/path, adjust timeline expectations, and check our behavioral response against our desired values and characteristics.  We work hard to be the same couple we desire to be while stuck in traffic as we will be when we arrive at our desired destination.

 

A few questions we like to ask are:

  • How does this change/adversity adjust our course?
  • How can we still embody our desired characteristics and values while facing difficulty?
  • If we never arrive at our destination, how can we be true to ourselves along the way?
  • Are there any silver linings to this pivot or shift?

 

  1.  Mind Your Oars:

We often picture marriage as 2 people who willingly climbed into a rowboat together.  The goal of that rowboat, is to row it as straight as possible down the river knowing full well that there will be rocks and rapids to navigate along the way. 

 

We really like the rowboat analogy because it provides us a “vessel” (pun intended) for which to discuss the many complicated elements of living our lives alongside someone else. 

 

A few keys to the rowboat:

  • Everything you do in that boat impacts everybody in the boat including yourself. If you behave in a way that essentially shoots holes in your boat to prove a point to your spouse or family, you are sinking your own boat.
  • Each person in the boat has some responsibility for rowing and maintaining the boat. It’s our boat…not his, hers, or theirs.  We each have an oar and we have to coordinate our rowing to some extent or we smack oars.  If one person decides not to row, the boat goes in circles.
  • When change happens, the boat gives us a chance to discuss and reassess each of our responsibilities even if for a short period of time. If one person can’t row, the other person may have to row both oars for a period of time.

 

In this inconvenient time of injury, I (Ashley) have had to step into some of the things that Mark typically does because he doesn’t have 2 fully functioning arms.  I have had to row both oars for a short period of time.  I don’t know why, but the boat has helped us more willingly grab the other’s oar in times of need.  Even in times of calm water, we use the boat analogy to discuss what we need to do and who is going to own which part.  We regularly steer, help each other for short bursts of energy, and adjust to balance things out when things get a little turbulent.

 

  1.  Voice Activated Directions:

If you have ever turned off course while using voice-guided directions, you know that the incessant “make a U-turn” coming through your speakers is one of the most annoying things on earth.  If you are already frustrated by the detour itself, the nagging navigation could be enough to throw your $1000 device out the window.

 

If you continue driving along this new the route, the GPS will eventually catch up and adjust to where you are along the detour.  In our relationships, we have to resist the urge to turn off navigation altogether.  We need to manage 2 things: 1. Continue moving forward while you adjust, and 2. Communicate more often in the meantime.

 

The only way to recalibrate and get an updated set of instructions is to keep moving.  If we stop, we get stuck.  This is not necessarily suggesting that we just push forward without any care, but if we can keep the wheels turning, we have a better chance of adjusting accordingly.  If you keep moving, it can help you feel in control on a few minor things inside a chaotic life stretch.  If you picture your life inside the road trip analogy, you can probably imagine that looking ahead at traffic to understand how long the slow stretch is, research options for alternative routes, or consider places to eat or stay for a short while actually help control elements of the challenge rather than feeling helpless.

 

Additionally, when we are cruising along on the expressway, the voice directions don’t give us many instructions.  However, when we hit a complicated interchange or find ourselves on backroads, the voice guided instructions become more frequent.  As a couple, it has helped us resist the desire to pull away from each other, not talk until it’s all figured out, or repetitively point out that we are off course.  In the midst of change, we need to communicate more often even if we don’t have all the right answers.  Guessing what the other person is doing and thinking will only add to the feeling of being lost on our marriage road trip.  You don’t need to have all the answers to communicate more.  More communication can be as simple as communicating the things you are thinking about while “re-routing.”

 

  1.  Take a Few Deep Breaths:

When we are facing difficulty, we find it’s best to acknowledge that emotions are involved.  We make it obvious and share our feelings throughout the course of our detour.  We both have different natural reflexes in dealing with change.  I (Ashley) tend to get more vocal and wear my emotions on my sleeve.  Mark tends to think more and process internally.  Our conflict styles are a little different in that way.  When I am mad or frustrated; I say things.  Mark shows his frustration quietly through body language, grinding his teeth, and holding a scowl.

We recognize that neither of us are mind readers, so we do our best to make space for each other to express our emotions so that they don’t get the best of us.  Mark does his best to allow room for my initial reaction, and I am fairly intentional about turning down the intensity after expressing my initial strong words. I also know that I have to give Mark a little space to think and gather himself, while Mark is aware that he has to share something at some point, or we run the risk of moving further away from each other.  Are we perfect?  Heck no, but inside this road trip, we often have to find ways to pull off to the side of the road and regroup.

 

No matter your conflict or fight style, recognizing that emotions are involved is the first step in regulating those emotions.  We do our best to make room for each other to take a few deep breaths in between expressing our emotions and moving toward solutions in the detour.

 

I have to admit that sitting in a coffee shop and writing this blog makes it really easy to say, “just do this, and all will be good.”  At no point are we trying to say that this is easy…it’s not.  However, it is so important to be intentional along the path when change happens.  In marriage it’s not “if” problems arise or “if” things change; it’s all about how you handle things when they don’t go as planned.  We hope that these 4 tips help you survive the rough waters, traffic jams, and frustrating detours.

 

If communication and conflict are a regular challenge in your marriage, check out our Talk & Fight Styles mini-course to have a guided conversation together so that you can better navigate the imperfections we all face on this marriage road trip.

 

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