Before we dive in here I want to let you, my readers know how much I value you. I try to listen to your emails and comments and let your ideas dictate my post topics.
And I don’t try to sell you junk. Although, I could. Last week I was offered $200 to promote an electric razor in a post. These opportunities come frequently- whether its a mattress or pizza rolls or various other products.
But I don’t pitch those products in my posts because I know it wouldn’t bring you, my readers any value whatsoever and I care about valuing the time and attention you spend reading my blog.
I bring all that up so you know if I ever bring up a product you could buy, I only do so if I REALLY believe it would improve your marriage (hence, I usually just bring up books).
I have come across such a product and I’m going to tell you about it (and I’m not getting paid to do so).
Recently I took Jennifer Finlayson-Fife’s relationship course and it DEFINITELY fulfills the above-stated requirement of improving your marriage.
When I anticipated taking a marriage course, my initial thought was, “what so it tells you how to communicate and spend more time together?”
No my friends, this course goes much deeper than that. It cuts through any surface-level relationship ‘tips’ and gets right to the very core of why and how our marriages are making us miserable and how to fix that (and if you’re going for long-term solutions, there are no easy fixes).
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife is a liscensed psychotherapist with a PhD in counseling and she’ll help you dig way down deep to the foundation of your personal integrity and growth (where all strong marriages live).
If you are looking for a course with quick, easy and painless relationship help where you won’t have to change yourself at all, look elsewhere. And if you are looking for a ‘please fix my spouse’ course, well, this isn’t that, but you should probably ESPECIALLY take this course. Although you’ll have to leave those fixing-anyone-other-than-myself desires at the door.
But, if you are ready and willing to take a deep, introspective and honest look at yourself- your behaviors, habits and mindsets that are holding your marriage back (or making it actively miserable)- this is the course for you!
I read a few marriage books each year and I still learned A TON! JFF (we’re to the abreviation stage of our relationship) called me out on negative behaviors I hadn’t even considered and brought to my attention unhealthy mindsets I’ve let sit for far too long.
Specifically, here are 4 things I’ve learned that I unintentionally do to harm my marriage from taking the course:
1 Hold my spouse responsible for my feelings.
I’m really glad JFF called me out on this one because I’ve been trying not to do it and I feel more psychologically responsible and healthy.
I had this misconception about self-expression- I thought if I have a strong feeling or emotion, I HAVE to express it to Rich. I felt like in order to connect and feel understood, I must tell him EXACTLY what is going on in my head- good and bad.
Expressing myself to Rich does help me feel understood and isn’t dangerous UNLESS I unload on him only to put the responsibility of my feelings off myself and onto him.
If I dump all my negative emotions on him and pressure him to accomodate and validate the way I feel about something, that is a problem, and I learned it is a covert form of control. I never thought of it that way, but it rang true.
Self-expression at its best helps us connect and understand one another. But unbridled self-expression at its worst is forcing someone to deal with the worst in me, when that is my job.
“We want to say, ‘if you love me for who I am, you would accept me as I am.’ But that is not love. Love is, ‘I will deal with my limitations for your sake.'” – Jennifer Finlayson-Fife
I now understand that validating my negative emotions and self-soothing is my job and putting that job on my husband makes our marriage worse. I try to vent primarily via journaling now and am seeing much better results.
2 Hold myself responsible for my spouse’s feelings.
JFF had this great description of boundaries. All well-rounded and psychologically healthy people have firm boundaries- meaning they don’t put the responsibility for their negative emotions on someone else (as described above) AND they also don’t accept other people’s negative emotions as their responsibility.
JFF explained this concept with an allegory as if we are a house and a fence represents our boundaries. Some people’s fence is actually a firm wall- little goes out and little goes in. These people do not wish to be really known or seen and they don’t take in much of anything from anyone else- good or bad. These walls look like withdrawal. There are lots of kinds of walls- anger, superiority, busyness, politeness, depression. These kinds of walls may be constructed to try to protect themselves from their partner’s difficulties, but ultimately they keep them from giving and receiving love.
On the other end of the spectrum is a barely-there fence that neither protects from other’s garbage coming in nor contains their own garbage from going out. This includes being overly affected by other’s negative emotions- taking responsibility for them. If your emotions are attached at the hip to your spouse’s you may need to strengthen your protective fence a little.
From this I learned, I need to let my husband be in a bad mood every once in a while without blaming myself (or blaming him). I often try to run in and “fix” his negative emotions (which generally doesn’t end well for anyone), and if I am unsuccessful I feel like I can’t let myself be happy until he is.
Sometimes, I take too much responsibility for his negative emotions and it harms our marriage. When he is in a bad mood, I’m now trying to be empathetic and supportive without carrying his bad mood on my shoulders.
3 Use “experts” to get my way instead of stating my desires.
This. Man, this was one I’ve NEVER considered before, but when JFF described it, I immediately could see that 1. I do it ALL the time and 2. it harms our marriage.
I do this by stating my case by citing “experts” (self-help books, church leaders, etc) on a certain topic to convince Rich that we should do something a certain way without actually stating that as my desire. Examples:
“This parenting book says we should not give food as a reward.” Instead of, “Hey, I would like to stop using food as rewards for our kids.”
“Elder so and so says its really important to have family prayer every night.” Instead of, “Can we have family prayer more often? It’s important to me.” (Mormons do this all the time).
Taking the moral high ground to convince our spouse we are right is another way we neglect taking responsibility for our feelings and unsurprisingly, it doesn’t leave our spouses feeling great or wanting to do whatever we are trying to convince them to do.
The other common tactic of convincing our partner that we are right is by saying that our way is the “normal” way or taking an “everyone agrees with me” approach to make your partner seem like they are crazy not to take your side on an issue. Example:
“I asked everyone at the party last night and ALL of them have thrown away their college text books by now. ALL OF THEM!” Instead of, “I would sure appreciate it if we could talk about de-cluttering the basement and maybe getting rid of some text books.” (a purely hypothetical example . . . . .)
“This tactic is tempting because you can pressure your spouse to conform to your desires without having to actually confront or your desires OR your spouse’s desires. Instead we say, ‘this is what is normal, this is what is right, everyone agrees.'” – Jennifer Finlayson-Fife
It’s a way to prove that your perspective should dominate your spouse’s and shocker, it is not helping my marriage.
4 Not listening with the intent to understand.
In the course, JFF has a whole section called ‘listening with generosity’ and she says it is one of the very hardest things to do. The ability to put aside our wants and desires when we are hurting and listen to understand our spouse is just really, really hard.
And honestly, understanding my spouse when I’m really upset usually isn’t even on my radar as something I should be doing. I’m much more concerned with BEING understood than trying to understand.
The problem is that if I’m not actively trying to understand my spouse’s viewpoint, I’m giving him very little reason or motivation to understand mine. Respect breeds respect and understanding breeds understanding.
JFF gives an awesome structure for these difficult conversations called “constructive conversations” and I will be referring to it for years to come. Every conversation should start with calming down and self-confronting.
These four things I just listed aren’t major sections in her course, just little light bulb moments I had where I realized a change is necessary. Her course is divided into 7 sections:
- The Challenge of Mature Love
- Losing Relational Strategies
- Intimacy and Self-Esteem
- Boundaries and Intimacy
- Relational Skills of Self-Confrontation and Desire
- Speaking with Clarity and Wisdom
- Listening with Generosity
- The Art of Cherishing
Happiness is found by controlling what you can control and learning to tolerate what you can’t. Misery is making your happiness conditional on what you can’t control (spoiler alert- we make ourselves miserable this way in our marriages ALL THE TIME). Jennifer Finlayson-Fife’s relationship course will hold your hand and teach you exactly that- how to find true happiness in your relationship by controlling and changing what you can and tolerating what you can’t (or seeing yourself and your spouse more clearly to be able to make a decision based on your integrity whether or not to continue the relationship).
I seriously wish I had this course when I was first married and if its still around when my kids get married, I will definitely “gift” it to them (and by gift I mean make them go through it 🙂 ).
The course runs for $195 (she periodically runs sales, I can let you know when those come on this site’s Facebook page) and includes the course, assignments and monthly office hours where you can ask questions directly to Jennifer. Get the course here.