How to Forge Integrity (and why the strength of your relationship depends on it)

When I was first married and for years afterward, if you had asked me what a “good spouse” looks like, I would have said, “Someone who puts the needs and wants of their spouse ahead of their own.”

Full stop.

I left very little room for caveats to that sentiment. Meaning, when I had a need or want that conflicted with my husband’s and I wasn’t giving in, I thought it meant I was just being selfish. That’s not something a “good spouse” would do.

My default mode when we would disagree was to give in and get over it.

via pffgif

While I think getting over things and not holding grudges is an excellent idea, the ‘always giving in’ thing had some negative side effects.

I’ve come to realize that the truth is there are no default modes. It’s not a good idea to always default to prioritizing our spouse’s desires over our own. It’s an equally bad idea to always default to prioritizing our own desires over our spouse’s.

Allow me to play devil’s advocate with myself:


But our desires often conflict! (I want to buy a new car, my spouse doesn’t. My spouse wants more sex than I do. We disagree on how to discipline our children.) What then? We have to think through each different scenario individually?


That sounds hard.

It is.

What do I need?


A solid marriage lies on a foundation of a million little decisions made in integrity. Sometimes you will prioritize your desires, sometimes you’ll sacrifice by prioritizing your spouse’s.

But how will I know when to do what?

Your inner compass (ie your integrity) will tell you.

Sounds like I need a pretty strong inner compass.

Yes! You do!

But, how?

Thanks for asking devil’s advocate Celeste, that’s what this post is all about!

How to Forge Integrity

4 Ways to Forge Integrity

1. Notice your feelings without judgment

The first step on any route to change is awareness.

Pay very close attention to how you feel. How do you feel when you know you are in the wrong? How do you feel when you know you made a good decision even if it upsets your spouse?

What causes you to feel resentment in your relationship? What causes you to feel love? What thoughts lead to love? What thoughts lead to resentment?

Start being a very close observer of your thoughts and feelings in your relationship. Start defining what acting out of the best in you feels like FOR YOU and chase that feeling as often as possible.

This will require both self-honesty and self-compassion. If we can’t course correct with love, we will avoid looking too closely at our course and thus avoid growth and forging integrity.

Chase the good.

Course correct with self-compassion through the bad.

2. Understand your personal integrity stumbling blocks

If integrity is so great- if it feels great and benefits us and everyone around us, then why the heck don’t we all just act out of our integrity all the time?!

Many reasons. Integrity, intentionality, honesty, taking responsibility for our actions- these things are so much harder and require more thought and effort than being reactive, blaming others, and numbing our negative emotions.

If we are serious about improving our relationships, we have to be serious about improving ourselves by forging more integrity. In order to do that, we must first identify and second seek to understand what is blocking us from our own integrity. That answer will be different for everyone.

Can’t avoid your own pitfalls if you haven’t identified them. Ouch.

Here are a few reasons we don’t always act in our integrity (notice which of these resonate):

  • We don’t like to be wrong. It’s uncomfortable. It requires humility. We unconsciously stick to our own ideas rather than consider new ones that defy our initial beliefs and opinions.
  • It is easier to be reactive to things that happen to us, rather than be proactive about how we respond. It takes much more energy and intentionality.
  • Integrity requires regular self-confrontation and self-confronting is hard and potentially painful. We don’t always like what we unearth once we start digging. We’d rather leave our imperfections buried deep where no one, least of all ourselves can confront them.
  • We want the worst in us coddled. We are naturally self-conscious about our weaknesses and imperfections. Often we are so insecure about them that we want those around us to make us feel better about our mistakes and character flaws. We would rather have someone tell us that it’s fine- no need to change- than to confront our imperfections and improve them.
  • Taking responsibility for our actions and feelings is hard and requires self-compassion as well as compassion for others. In a recent podcast interview, Tony Overbay gave the example of a husband who knocked over his wife’s glass of water off the table. Instead of saying, “Oops, sorry about that.” He said, “Why would you put a cup so close to the edge of the table?!” Blaming others is easier than owning up to mistakes.
  • Plain old busyness can be an integrity blockade, since it requires creating an inner atmosphere of peace and quiet where integrity loves to thrive. Busyness creates a lot of inner chatter rather than inner quiet.
  • Integrity requires vulnerability. Vulnerability is risky. It requires a giving up of control, and we as humans LOVE control. Integrity means giving up both pressuring your spouse and disengaging with your spouse- both of which feel safer to us because we can control outcomes. Love, based in integrity means you can’t control any outcome. This is hard. This requires courage and full hearts.

What of those above bullet points caused a little pang of self-understanding?

In order to forge integrity, we need to be intimately familiar with the things that block it in our lives.

3. Practice RADICAL self-honesty coupled with RADICAL self-love

Integrity requires honest self-reflection. If we can’t take an honest look at our behaviors and imperfections without recoiling in shame, we will never reflect and consequently, we will never improve.

If on the other hand, we can take an honest look at our behaviors and weaknesses with non-judgment and radical self-love, we will be able to handle seeing our reflection and lovingly course correct where necessary.

This requires a strong knowledge of our own innate worthiness.

Sin is a  word often laced with shame, but I love the meaning of the greek word for sin, ἁμαρτία hamartia. It is an archery term that means “off the mark.”



When an archer misses the bullseye, a good coach wouldn’t berate him, “What are you doing?! You are off!!! Aim better! Shoot further! Get your head in the game!”

Rather, a good coach would gently nudge the bow a little to the right, or a little to the left and say, “Try again.”

I like to think of this and lovingly coach myself when I see that I am “off the mark” in my marriage or some other area of my life. No need to berate or beat myself up. Just nudge myself a little to the left or a little more to the right. With love.

4. Consult your inner compass as often as possible

I don’t know about you, but decisions in my life often get made without even a sideways glance in the direction toward my inner compass. It is easy to just go along and let the daily demands carry me along without much thought or intention of integrity on my part.

In order to make decisions from my inner compass, I have to be really intentional. I have to get quiet and start noticing what is going on around me and what is going on INSIDE me. I have to quiet my mind and make my heart peaceful (not necessarily happy, but peaceful). If I truly have a quiet mind and peaceful heart, my integrity thrives and I find I make decisions that lead to further peace and contentment.


In conclusion, yes integrity is hard, yes integrity requires energy, and yes integrity demands we are intentional with our decisions, thoughts and behaviors. And no, integrity is not forged one time or overnight. It is the result of a million little decisions where we intentionally quiet ourselves enough to seek out our inner moral compass, where we choose to act out of the best in ourselves even when its hard.

Without integrity, life may be easier, but it will also be so much emptier. Integrity is the key to feeling unstuck in our lives and relationships. It is how we feel brave and fulfilled. I would encourage all of you to take some time this week to really ponder what is keeping you from living from integrity and to work to chop down your own stumbling blocks. I promise it will be a worthwhile endeavor.

Integrity: What is It and Why it Will Affect Every Other Aspect of Your Relationship

For most of my marriage, I’ve had this question, that I just COULDN’T puzzle out.

It is this: when do I need to bring something up with Rich and when do I just need to let it go?

I face this dilemma every Sunday when we hold our weekly marriage check ins.

This incident kinda bothered me. Bring it up or let it go?
I’m feeling anxious about this- is that because I’m overreacting?
We’ve been fighting about this- who is wrong and who is right?
Who is blinded and who is speaking truth?

I’ve read a lot of marriage books and articles in search of a 1,2,3 step system to decipher when to bring something up and when to let it go. Or to figure out when I’m in the wrong and when I’m in the right.

But alas, my searches have yet been unsatisfied.

However, as I’ve matured, I think I’ve figured out the missing piece to my puzzle: INTEGRITY.

Integrity in relationships is how you know you are making right decisions and can act confidently even when its hard. Click through to read more.

Integrity doesn’t provide a 3-step plan (c’mon integrity, get on that!), but rather it provides me with an inner compass where, when I quiet myself, I can FEEL in my gut whether or not I’m in need of course correction. I can FEEL when to bring something up and when to let it go. I can feel when I’m acting out of the worst in me or the best.

I wish my inner compass were stronger. Sometimes, it is clear as day, but other times, my compass feels clouded over and I’m unable to see clearly.

I also wish these things were easy fixes, but developing integrity is anything but a quick fix, it is a long road. Integrity is forged over a life time of quiet, unheralded choices to act out of the best in us.


Google told me the definition of integrity is this:

“1. the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness.”

or this:

“2. the state of being whole and undivided.” (Totally love this definition- more on it later)

But, I’m going to define integrity as:

the ability to ACT OUT OF THE BEST IN US.

This sounds simple, but is shockingly hard. Mostly because the worst in us LOVES to be coddled and parade around like its the best in us. We can fool even ourselves! I have been shocked at my own moral failing more times than I can count when I do something that seems outwardly “right” or “good” but then realize its all for the praise of others and not actually based in my own integrity.

Personal integrity does have a lot to do with honesty (thanks Google), since forging integrity requires RADICAL honesty with ourselves as we have to explore and own up to the real reasons we do the things we do.


Forging integrity is one of the hardest things to do in life, it’s true. I won’t rose-color it for you. It can be a painful process to dig down deep inside us and figure out we don’t like what we find. It can be exhausting to apply our integrity to everyday decisions when merely reacting to our situations without much thought is SO much easier. Taking responsibility for our behaviors, motivations and attitudes is infinitely more difficult than putting that responsibility on others. (am I selling you yet?)

via WiffleGif

But forging integrity, acting out of the best in us, and building a strong inner compass is, I think, the most important and worthwhile work we have to do on this earth.


Remember that second definition of integrity? “The state of being whole and undivided.” (thanks Google!) Being whole and undivided is both the what and the why of integrity. Without integrity, we will never be whole, we will always be divided within ourselves. At war with ourselves.

We know deep down we should act more honestly or compassionately, but we don’t. This act divides our behavior from our conscience and we feel that dissonance. We often try to numb it, but it doesn’t go away.

Peace lies in acting out of the best in us because when we don’t, we will be at war inwardly. Most people try to numb this war away with their favorite numbing devices (alcohol, sugar, social media, porn, rage, perfectionism, pick your poison), but the problem with numbing devices is, while they are temporarily effective, they are a terrible long-term solution. They do nothing to make us whole and undivided. Only forging true integrity can do that.

Kylo knows what I’m talking about. Via Giphy


So glad you asked!

Integrity has so many benefits in marriage- inner peace even in the face of conflict, self-confidence, trust, loyalty, honesty, and compassion to name a few.

But I think one of the most useful benefits to having integrity is what I alluded to in my story above- the ability to know you are making a good decision and the confidence to act even when it is hard.

via gfycat

A few concrete examples:

  • Let’s say you and your spouse are fighting about the state of the house- should you give into their demands or hold your ground? You can be confident in your decision if you are acting out of integrity.
  • Let’s say you need to know whether or not to leave a relationship. How do you know whether you are being reactive or acting for the best of everyone involved? You’ll know by your integrity (and it could totally go either way!)
  • Let’s say your spouse is pressuring you in the bedroom and you set a boundary. Your spouse is making you question whether or not you are just being selfish. You can hold your ground if you are confident you set the boundary in your integrity.
  • On the flip side, let’s say that your spouse continuously shuts down activities in the bedroom and you ask them to re-evaluate. They get reactive and call you selfish. You are able to hold your ground without blame if you are confident you brought it up out of your own integrity.
  • Let’s say you want to go on a certain vacation and your spouse doesn’t. You pressure them to agree to it. Later, you realize it didn’t feel quite right. You’ll feel you were in the wrong based on how strong your moral compass, or your integrity is.
  • Let’s say your father-in-law is imposing on how you want to raise your family, so you set a boundary with him. If your moral compass is strong, you can be confident you made the right choice even if it creates disorder in the family. If your moral compass is weak, you’ll be constantly questioning that decision and will likely retreat and resentfully accommodate the status quo.
  • Let’s say your spouse has made a lot of expensive purchases lately and your budget is in the red. If your moral compass is strong, you’ll be able to have a hard conversation for the best of everyone even if your spouse becomes angry. If your moral compass is weak, you’ll avoid having the conversation or you’ll have the conversation and then have a lot of self-doubt.
  • Let’s say something your spouse said really bothered you. You want to bring it up, but can feel that you are tired and not in your best frame of mind. Out of your integrity you decide to hold your tongue until you are better rested and can make a better decision one way or the other.

Forging integrity, forging a strong moral compass is what allows us to be confident in the millions of little and big decisions and interactions with our spouse. If we lack integrity, we will be constantly questioning ourselves, we will be at war inwardly. If we act in our integrity, even if we create discomfort in our marriage by setting a boundary or having a hard conversation, we will be at peace.

Integrity is the key to inner-peace in a relationship.

via tenor

I still wonder what to bring up and what to get over. I still wonder sometimes whether I’m “in the right.” But when I take time to meditate, to quiet myself and seek out my moral compass, I can feel I am increasing my ability to confidently know what to do without doubting myself. Even if I need to disrupt the outward peace, I feel inner-peace.

Now that we know it’s important, HOW do we forge it?

That my friends will be the subject of the next blog post. Stay tuned!

Embracing Negative Emotion 101: How to Feel All the Feelings

I had this thought for most of my life.

A thought that seemed innocuous, but really kept me from connecting with myself and others. The thought was that I should ignore my negative emotions.

I can remember so many times being bothered by something Rich said or did and consciously telling myself, “Just ignore it. Let it go. Don’t think about it. Nothing’s wrong. La la la la la.”

via gfycat

Now, when I’m bothered by Rich it is more a reflection of what is going on with me and my head than whatever it was he did or said, so it IS a good idea not to dwell on the circumstance or incident that bothered me.

What isn’t a good idea is stuffing down and avoiding my negative emotion. This is an important distinction between frustrating circumstance and our feeling about the circumstance – we should always deal with our feelings, but not every circumstance requires action.

Embracing Negative Emotion 101: How to feel all your feelings instead of numbing them. Click through to read 4 ways of confronting hard feelings.

I used to think that ignoring or avoiding my own feelings of annoyance, frustration, and anger was what being a “good person” looked like, a Christ-like person even.

But this way of thinking has some major negative side effects. Namely, when I ignore my negative emotion, it never goes away. Whenever that inciting annoying incident occurs again- here’s that negative feeling popping up again, only stronger this time. And ugh, the circumstance is just so annoying, now I’m snapping at my kids, at my husband, at myself.

Ignoring negative emotion parades around like its the nobler thing to do, but all avoiding negative emotion really does is just hold it’s power over us. When we are able to confront and FEEL our feelings of disappointment, anger, or sadness, they release their hold on us.


We can (and often do) spend our lives running and hiding from disappointment, self-doubt, loneliness and anger, but this chase will leave us empty, numb and disconnected.

When we stop and think about it, it is CRAZY the lengths we go to in order to avoid feeling our feelings. And at what cost?!

– We want to avoid feeling embarrassed, so we keep our thoughts and feelings to ourselves.
– We want to avoid feeling awkward and saying the wrong thing, so we keep quiet when our friends experience tragedy.
– We want to avoid feeling lonely, so we eat.
– We want to avoid feeling stressed, so we turn to our phones to distract us again, again, again.
– We want to avoid feeling disappointed in ourselves, so we don’t set goals.
– We want to avoid feeling rejected, so we don’t branch out and try to make new friends.
– We want to avoid feeling shame, so we never confront our own imperfections and work on them.
– We want to avoid the discomfort of displeasing our spouse, so we avoid bringing up hard conversations that would ultimately make our marriages better.

Is this blowing your mind? So many lost opportunities and growth all for the avoidance of feelings!

The cost of avoiding negative feelings is high indeed my friends. Too high! And in the world’s biggest paradox, the avoidance of negative emotion is actually CAUSING us MORE negative emotion.

NOOOOO! Don’t do it! Feel your feelings!

I catch myself doing this all the time in my parenting. I want to avoid MY KIDS’ negative emotions so I give into their tantrums and whining. I think, “Ugh, I don’t want to hear my kids whine at dinner over trying new foods, so I’ll stick to the same old ones.” “My son could totally put on his own shoes and zip up his coat, but I don’t want to deal with him crying about it, so I’ll do it.” “My daughter might be sad to miss out on this activity that we’re too busy to go to, but I would hate for her to be sad.”

And what’s worse, I often teach them the very numbing and distracting techniques I’m trying to avoid. “Aw, you’re sad? Here’s some fruit snacks.” “Aw, you’re feeling upset? Here, why don’t you watch a show.” Instead of “Aw, you’re sad? Need a hug?” “You’re upset? Want to talk about it?”

(Disclaimer: the very last thing I want to do here is add to mom-guilt (enough of that already! everyone is doing great!))

I find myself fearing my kids negative emotions so much that I stymie their growth along with my own. All for just silly old feelings! I keep forgetting that the worst that can happen is negative feelings. And oh yeah, I can feel negative feelings.

Friends, the world needs YOU and all you have to offer. And in order to offer your gifts, you need to get good and comfortable with negative emotion. In order for our kids to offer the world all they can, they need to get comfortable with negative emotion.

Not only the world at large, but YOU need you! Your kids need you and your spouse needs you.

Let’s stop letting the fear of feelings stop us from courageously being our best selves.


1. Remind yourself: this feeling is not a problem.

To feel angry, lonely, and bored is to be human. These feelings will happen to all of us. What do we do when they come? Most of us MAKE it a BIG problem. We make our anger mean, “Oh no, everything is wrong! This isn’t fair! Everything is bad!” We make our loneliness mean, “Something is wrong with me.” We make our boredom mean, “I need to feel better- where’s a quick fix?”

Instead of making our negative feelings mean something more than they need to, try thinking, “This feeling isn’t a problem” instead. I’m feeling upset? Yeah that happens, not a problem, let’s deal with the issue at hand with peace of heart. I’m feeling lonely? Yeah that happens, not a problem. Why not call a friend? I’m feeling bored? Yeah that happens, not a problem, let’s just be bored!

And then, AND THEN! Extend this grace to your spouse. My spouse is feeling upset? Yeah that happens, I wonder why?

Try this one on guys, it is powerful!

2. Open the door and let the feeling wash over you.

So often when negative emotions rear their head, our knee-jerk reaction is to SHUT THE DOOR on them immediately and without thinking.

“Just ignore it. Don’t think about it. La la la la la la.”

Instead, I’ve been trying out OPENING THE DOOR to my negative emotions with much better success.


When I feel overwhelmed, instead of reaching for a handful of chocolate chips (I swear my feelings sprout legs and walk themselves over to the treat cabinet without my brain even showing up), I try take some deep breaths, open the door to feeling overwhelmed and let those feelings wash over me for a few seconds.

When I feel upset with Rich, instead of trying to force myself to ignore my feelings, I think, “Oh, I’m upset.” I take some deep breaths, open the door to feeling upset and let those feelings wash over me.

I ALWAYS feel so much better after I do this. If you take this on, one important tip: DO NOT JUDGE YOURSELF FOR YOUR FEELINGS! You are human. As a human, you have feelings, it is part of the package.

Think of what to do with your frustrating circumstance in a minute, for now, breathe, open the door and let those feelings flow through your body.

3. Get curious- how does the feeling feel in your body?

Warning: if you’ve never done this, this tip may sound like hippie-dippie nonsense, but don’t knock it till you try it!

As you are letting your jealousy, self-doubt or apathy flow through you, take note- what does it feel like?

When I am feeling anxious about what others will think of me, my body feels all jittery, I look around a lot and want to do something with my hands. My heart starts to beat on overdrive.

When I feel worried for someone I love, it feels like my heart is constricted. My chest gets all tight, my shoulders want to slump in. I feel like groaning.

When I feel annoyed at someone, I can’t look at them. My brain aches for a distraction. My head gets hot.

It is important to get curious and notice what is happening in our bodies when negative emotion strikes because the more you do, the less afraid of that feeling you become.

Now, when I feel that jittery, heart-quickening anxiety of pleasing others, I think, “Oh yeah, this. This feels familiar. Hello anxiety.”

When I feel my heart is constricting and tight, I think, “Oh yeah, this. Hello worry. Sit with me for a minute.”

When my head gets hot I think, “Oh yeah this again. Hello annoyance. Welcome.”

via gifer

As I notice my feelings and welcome them, they lose their power.

Give your feelings a name, acknowledge them, get comfortable with them and you won’t unconsciously reach for detrimental distracting or numbing techniques nearly so often.

4. Be unwavering in your compassion toward yourself

In my on-going quest to be a better human being, it is so easy to get down on myself for my own feelings.

I feel intense frustration at my kids? Good people don’t do that!
I feel like rolling my eyes and plugging my ears at someone’s comment at church? Good people certainly don’t do that!
I feel judgmental toward my spouse? Good spouses don’t do that!! (do they? (yes sometimes they do))

Guys, these lies enter our heads without us ever questioning them! Question them!

Remember, we are human. As humans, we have feelings, it is part of the package.

Be unwaveringly kind to yourself as you notice and embrace your negative emotions.

The best way to do this, is just to take on the role of a curious observer. I’m feeling upset? Interesting. How do I feel exactly? I wonder what caused this? Hm, interesting.

Yes situations need to be dealt with, of course, but it is a million times better (and more effective!) to deal with difficult situations with peace in our hearts than from a place of anger, bitterness, jealousy, or disappointment.

Deal with feelings first, deal with situations second (such a good marriage tip!!)

And deal with feelings AND situations with boundless, courageous self-compassion.

via giphy

I hope you’ll experiment with this one lab-mates. Opening the door to our all of our emotions instead of shutting them out is a better way to live.


Why “Being Happy” is a Pretty Costly Life Goal (and three better alternatives)

What percentage of the time are you happy? 30%? 80%?

Now, what percentage of the time do you think you SHOULD be happy?


Up until fairly recently, I thought the happy to unhappy ratio in my life should be about 90/10. I thought I should be happy about 90% of the time. (I never actually quantified this, but unconsciously I assumed I should be happy the vast majority of the time).

But recently I read something that sounds maybe obvious but sort of blew my mind. It said that we can expect to experience positive emotion about 50% of the time and negative emotion about 50% of the time. About half of our day we’ll feel content, excited, loving, cheerful and about half we’ll feel bored, anxious, sad, upset, or apathetic. Same goes for weeks, months, years, etc.

Wait what? Aren’t I SUPPOSED to be happy all the time? Isn’t that the goal of life? Aren’t negative emotions the enemy? To be shunned, shut down, avoided at all costs?

As it turns out, nope.

In fact, thinking that I SHOULD be happy or experiencing positive emotion 90% of the time was causing me some serious problems. Because I wasn’t in fact happy 90% of the time, it was only about 50%.

So when I would experience disappointment, anger or sadness, I thought something was WRONG. Something needs to CHANGE. This is something that shouldn’t be, it needs to be fixed. Ideally, like RIGHT NOW! Quick! Where’s the Oreo’s? Where’s the internet to distract me?

Why Being Happy is a Pretty Crappy Life Goal. Click through to read about three better alternatives.

I’ve come to realize that dealing with negative emotion poorly (or avoiding so as to not deal with it at all) causes most of our problems in life. Here’s why:

  • Numbing the bad also numbs the good
  • Distracting ourselves away from our anger and sadness doesn’t make those feelings go away, they just come squishing out sideways (often at not ideal times and onto people who have nothing to do with it)
  • Avoiding negative emotion makes it difficult for our partner to connect with us
  • Not coping with negative emotion increases anxiety and decreases our ability to self-soothe (which we know is the most loving thing we can do for our spouse)

Now that I know I can expect to experience negative emotion about 50% of the time, its no longer a crisis whenever I do. Now when I feel lonely or frustrated or exhausted I think, “Oh this? Yeah, this happens. About half the time in fact. Nothing is wrong here. Call down the guard.”

Why then is it so hard to let go of our happiness goal?

The problem is our culture is OBSESSED. WITH. HAPPINESS.


When asked what people want from life, they’ll say, “I just want to be happy” (see every Humans of New York post).

What’s more, most people cite happiness as their primary goal for their kids. In fact, Oprah said that in the 25+ years of the Oprah Show interviewing all sorts of parents from all sorts of places- they all had one thing in common- when asked what they wanted most, they all said, “I just want my kids to be happy.”

For my kids to be happy.

Heck, that’s all I want in life!

Happiness has become our measurement of a “successful life.”

We’re so lucky and blessed to live in a time and society where we have so much freedom to decide our own futures, how we spend our time and what we want to be. Centuries ago, people didn’t experience the same freedom of choice to the extent we do. If your father was a farmer, you would also most likely be a farmer, as would your kids. Success was slightly easier to measure. The rules more straight-forward.

But now? The goal isn’t to be the same thing our parents were. Our parents want us to be whatever we want, JUST BE HAPPY.

But happiness is a terrible goal because it’s not a check mark you can ever really check off. Happiness is illusive, shifting and immeasurable. You’re left thinking, “Am I happy now? How about now with this new job, am I happy? How about now with THIS partner, am I happy? How about now with this new house and new car, am I happy NOW?”

And in that 50% of the time when we aren’t happy, when we are feeling anxious, unfulfilled or lonely, we think, “Uh-oh. Something is WRONG! I’m not happy!” And since our measure of success is happiness, when we don’t feel happy, we feel like we’re failing.

This makes us unable to handle the negative and causes us to chase the many happiness counterfeits the world has to offer. Pleasure, or hits of dopamine to our brains, come in many forms and all of them become unhealthy when we reach for them every time we feel unhappy. Porn, alcohol, social media, sugar, video games- these are just a few of our society’s MANY happiness impersonators.


What to do when we don’t get our way

It is so imperative to realize that when we feel negative emotion, nothing is wrong. We’re not going to get our way about half the time.

– About half the time, we’re not going to get our way politically.
– About half the time, our kids aren’t going to behave in the way we’d like.
– About half the time, we’re not going to get our way at church.
– About half the time, we’re not going to get our way in our relationships.

These things will likely make us UNHAPPY. Then what? Fight it? Avoid it? Numb it away? OR . . . embrace it?

Say what?

I’m going to argue for EMBRACING the negative.


Mmmmm, embrace it.

I’m going to argue for embracing the negative IN OUR RELATIONSHIPS.

We need a plan for not getting our way (since ya know, it’s happening about half the time anyway, might as well be prepared). We need to not panic every time we reach a disagreement in our marriage that doesn’t come with a solution because guess what? Already happening.

Over-reacting to the negative is playing out in relationships all over the world every single day. “My wife is sort of annoying, did I make the wrong choice?” “I wish my husband wouldn’t waste so much time, should I have married someone else?” “We’re fighting a lot, something is wrong.”

Now obviously, there are relationships that need to end. Abuse, addiction, infidelity- these things are real and not every relationship that is “unhappy” should stick it out. However, our expectations that we should ALWAYS be happy with our partner may be the very thing jeopardizing it.

You should be happy with your partner. About 50% of the time 😉

It has been SUCH a break through for me to realize that when Rich and I fight, it’s not really the circumstance or subject of our fighting that is causing my suffering, it is that I turn our fights into a crisis. When I tone it down and realize, “Oh yeah, we’re not always going to agree, this isn’t really a problem.” Then my head is clear and we are able to deal with our differences a million times better than when I would inwardly freak out that Rich didn’t agree with me.

For example:

When Rich has a bad day, I always have to fight the urge to make that something bigger than it needs to be. When he comes home in a bad mood, my head gravitates towards thoughts like, “Oh great, this again. Why can’t he see that he gets to choose to be at peace? He doesn’t HAVE to be upset or negative about work or politics or twitter or whatever. Why can’t he see how this is affecting US? THIS IS A CRISIS!” (don’t think I don’t catch the irony of me thinking the problem is HIM not being able to choose to be at peace in undesirable circumstances, when in fact, that same power is available to me in my undesirable circumstance. (well . . . ya know, I catch it in hindsight while writing a blog post about it)).

But on my better days, when Rich comes home in a bad mood, I am trying to gravitate towards thoughts like, “Oh, he’s in a bad mood? Yeah, that happens. About half the time. I wonder why? What is going on in his brain? He’s human. Me too. Not a crisis. Maybe he needs a hug.”

The second is MUCH BETTER. I can self-soothe myself in my own negative emotion AND extend grace for my husband’s negative emotions. It’s a much better way to live.


So if happiness isn’t our goal in life and our relationships what should be?

I’m going to propose three alternative goals to happiness, that will paradoxically bring us much closer to increased happiness long-term even if they bring discomfort and anxiety short-term.

1. Progress.

The end result of progress IS often happiness, but the middle and the beginning? Not so much. Progress often looks like anxiety, disappointment, and overwhelm. However, it is important to remember that the anxiety of a stagnant life avoiding distress is always worse than the anxiety of setting and accomplishing goals. Yes, even if we fail. Progress in whatever areas of life are important to you in is a much better goal than happiness.

2. Feeling all our feelings.

This may sound like a silly goal. Aren’t I going to feel my feelings no matter what? No, you’re going to avoid them, numb them and distract yourself away from them like the 21st century human being you are.


It’s important to remember when things go south for us that the very worst that can happen to us are just feelings, and we can feel feelings my friends. Our worst fears are often feelings of loneliness, despair, failure, heartache and depression, but often we reek havoc on our lives by going to extreme measures to avoid feeling these feelings. When feeling these feelings is so much better with much fewer negative repercussions than avoiding them.

So our worst fears are just feelings and on the flip side all of our wildest dreams are to feel feelings. We want our business to succeed in order to FEEL successful. We want to lose weight in order to FEEL desirable and healthy. We want an amazing marriage in order to FEEL accepted and fulfilled and loved.

And now I’ve got excellent news for you . . . those feelings are available to us regardless of our circumstances. Knowing this is the key to changing your life, but this is a topic for another day.

An excellent life goal is to feel all our feelings- not to fear them, push them away or numb them.

3. Learn to act out of the best in us.

This is another one that sounds really simple, but in practice is SO HARD. And tricky! So often the worst parts of us parade around like they are the best. Do we want to go on that service trip to actually help the needy or because we love the idea (and the Instagram pics!) of ourselves as someone who would help orphans? Do we take our spouse’s turn for the dishes because we want to help them out or because we’ll hold it over their heads for payback later?

Acting out of the best of us is hard. It involves regular self-confrontation and course correction. It involves questioning our stories and deeply held beliefs. It involves being brave when we feel nothing but fear. It involves checking in with our conscience before we speak or make decisions instead of letting our lower brains run the show.

Learning to act out of the best in us is what life is all about and most definitely a goal worth pursuing, even though, it definitely doesn’t always come wrapped in a package of happiness.


So my friends, if you are not feeling happy. If you are feeling lonely, sad, upset, or overwhelmed, perhaps nothing is actually wrong with your life. Perhaps this is just the 50% of the time that those feelings come. Perhaps we should just be kind and patient with ourselves and with our lives and not make negative emotion mean anything more than being human.

Next week, I’m going to go even deeper on the topic of embracing negative emotion with some helpful tips and tricks that help me. Stay tuned!

Growth Means Getting Comfortable with Discomfort. Here’s How.

About five years ago, I set a goal that was so far out of my comfort zone, I had NO idea whether or not I could actually accomplish it: to run a half marathon.

Guys, I am NOT athletic. I never have been. I discovered this early on in elementary school when we would play Sneaky Pete where you have a scarf tucked into the back of your pants and everyone runs around trying to grab each other’s scarves and the last man standing wins. I would try to get out early every single time because I just couldn’t run as much as my peers. This was the trend of my physical activity for years, as I asked the question, “Why can everybody else run for SO long without getting tired?”


I just assumed I was not athletic and left it at that. I never played sports. Not soccer, not basketball, not T-ball, and certainly not track or cross-country.

Then, in my late twenties, a friend of mine pushed me a little and ensured me that ANYONE could run a half marathon. They just have to do the training runs.


I decided to give it a whirl. It honestly took me a few months to even be able to run thirty minutes without stopping. I had to start with running a minute, walking a minute. Then running two minutes, walking a minute, etc.

Running a 5k seemed improbable. A half marathon literally seemed impossible.

After so many runs I can remember thinking, “Who am I kidding? I’m not a runner! I can’t even run for thirty minutes!” I would be embarrassed to even tell people I went for a run, let alone that I was training for a big race. Scared they would ask me my time. Scared they would call me out on what I already was guessing at- that I could never accomplish such a task.

I felt anxious and uncomfortable. I felt out of my element and was often tempted to give up on my goal.

But I also felt a sense of accomplishment each time I ran a little more than I ever had before.

And eventually, I did run that half marathon (and four more since).


I tell you this story, not to be pat on the back, but to point out that accomplishing goals and making progress NEVER comes without discomfort and anxiety. If I were just to say, “Yeah, I used to never think I could run at all and now I run half marathons!” You wouldn’t get the full picture of all the self-doubt, the sore knees, the lack of motivation, the embarrassment of how slow I run.

But those anxieties will always be there when we want to progress. Including when we want to progress our marriages. It may seem easy- go on more dates, have more fun, have more sex, but trust me, every time I’ve tried to “up-level” my marriage, anxiety and discomfort have been constant companions in some form or another, particularly when it comes to personal progress (which will always end up improving your marriage).

This whole month’s posts will be dedicated to the topic of tolerating discomfort for growth. Last week we talked about WHY this is important. Today, we are going to talk about HOW.



I’m reminded once again of a Brene Brown quote that applies to almost any tricky situation I encounter. She says,


She knows all the things.

When it comes to improving our marriages, puffing up would look like indigence, like self-righteousness, like pride. Shrinking then would look like giving up on our goal.

Standing our sacred ground is where its at.

How do we stand our sacred ground?

I’ve come up with three steps:

1. Make sure your ground IS actually sacred.

The first step to standing our sacred ground is to make sure our ground is sacred. We have to make sure our goal is going to be for the benefit of the whole and not just to serve some selfish desire that would only serve ourselves and not our partner. We have to ensure that the goal is coming out of the BEST in us instead of the worst. We have to make sure we are acting in our personal integrity instead of merely being reactive.

This is actually a lot harder than it sounds. Let’s say I’m bothered by something my spouse is not doing, and I want to call them out on it. Am I bringing it up because their improvement would be for the benefit of our relationship and both of us as individuals or would it just make my life easier?

This isn’t an easy question to answer. It requires trial and error, experimentation and developing our own integrity. I used to think that a “good” spouse would just never be bothered by anything and be able to accommodate whatever their spouse wanted from them. From years of experimentation and reading, I see now that this is not the case. Sometimes it IS for the benefit of both me and Rich and our marriage for me to not accommodate his requests, and to respect my own boundaries. It’s a thin line between this and just reacting out in anger and not integrity, but I think I’m getting closer. It’s a process.

2. Distinguish between clean pain and dirty pain.

This is an idea from Dr. David Schnarch. He says when we want to improve and we experience the discomfort of leaving our comfort zones, or when we self-confront and feel anxious about our own faults, or when we feel a tinge of guilt for wronging our partner- this is CLEAN pain because it will ultimately lead to our growth. When we experience shame, self-loathing, resentment, blame- these are dirty forms of pain because they do not ultimately lead to our growth. Quite the opposite actually- they blockade our growth and keep us stagnant.

Unfortunately, most people think pain is pain and pain is weak and pain is to be AVOIDED AT ALL COSTS! So, they keep themselves from growing because to grow means to experience pain (albeit clean pain). It is important to distinguish clean and productive pain from self-destructive pain. And then open the door to feeling clean pain instead of giving up or distracting ourselves away from it.


3. Don’t give up until you’ve given it your best shot.

It can be really hard to know when to give up on a goal. Because often, when we push ourselves, our lives will get worse before it gets better. How to tell the difference between something that is just not working and something you just haven’t given enough time? It can be tricky, but again, challenge yourself on whether you are feeling clean growing pains or dirty pain and try to eliminate the dirty and embrace the clean.

Getting Comfortable with Discomfort. It's so necessary to tolerate anxiety for growth. Click through to read three ways to do that.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about here:

Let’s take the hypothetical marriage of Sheila and Max. Shelia tends to think how I used to- that to be a good spouse, she needs to be selfless all the time and accommodate her spouse in his requests with a smile on her face. Max is a good guy, but grew up in a home where his mom did all the housework and hasn’t really challenged his expectations of his and Sheila’s respective roles. Max loves Sheila and wants to be a good husband for her. But he also dislikes clutter and disorganization, and so he makes frequent requests of Sheila to do this or that differently around the house to help things run smoothly.

For years, Sheila did her best to keep up with his requests. She often even berated herself for being unable to. Why couldn’t she seem to keep the front room picked up and the kitchen floor swept? She was the one home all day after all, not Max.

Eventually, however, she came to have a little more self-love and self-respect and realized that with young kids, keeping an orderly home is all but impossible 24/7 and messes are just to be expected. She decided to set up some boundaries for herself- rather than following around the kids picking up after them all day, she would pick up the front room at night and do the dishes once a day. Then do more on Saturdays- enlisting the whole family’s help.

If she wanted to do more she could, but that would be her new standard of what was acceptable. With her new-found time, she would practice self-care and read a book, call a friend or even sneak in a nap.

She thrived with her new standards and specifically with dropping the expectation of near perfection. She felt more free and more calm.

Max on the other hand . . . loved his new messier house and took it in stride!


Kidding. Of course, he didn’t love it. It stressed him out. He came home grumpy. Even though Sheila explained to Max how much the new lowered standard was improving her life, it didn’t change how he felt about the increased clutter. He would nicely request that she add vacuuming and mopping to her daily standard, but she held firm.

Now. Sheila at this point is feeling anxious about how her changes are affecting Max. He was mad at her. He was frequently in a bad mood. Their connection took a hit. Was this worth it? Was she being selfish? Should she go back to following her kids around picking up after them all day?

She thought of how much more at peace she’d been since she lowered her standard of household perfection and decided to hold firm.

While it took many weeks, Max eventually accepted that Sheila would not accommodate his requests like she used to. In fact, the situation forced him to do a little self-confronting and he realized how little he did to help out and how often he criticized. He saw that if he wanted the floor vacuumed, he would just have to do it himself.

This is a great example of embracing discomfort for growth. Sheila’s pain at first was dirty pain- full of self-doubt and shame. But then, when she set a new standard for herself, she experienced the inevitable anxiety that comes with growth, but she “stood her sacred ground” in part because she felt confident that her ground was in fact sacred after experiencing the positive effects of her new plan.

Max also eventually came around to the clean pain of self-confronting and the partnership was made better by Sheila standing her sacred ground even though it caused temporary discomfort for both partners.

When we change the rules of our marriage, we should EXPECT push back. We should expect discomfort and anxiety. But if we are sure our ground is sacred, stand on it.

Don’t puff up, don’t shrink, just stand your sacred ground (which will feel uncomfortable, but stand there anyway).