It’s been said that a great marriage can be the best thing in the world, and a bad marriage can be the worst.  There’s no getting around it that marriage is hard, and it takes a lot of work for it to go well.  My name is Jon Stiansen, and I’m a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist.  I am more importantly a husband to an amazing and beautiful wife and a father to three wonderful children.  I’ve been providing therapy to couples and families and also diligently working on my own marriage for many years now and wanted to answer some frequently asked questions that may be helpful for some of you out there who are working on having a great marriage of your own.

How do I be healthy without being selfish?

Whenever I do couples therapy the question that goes through my mind as I listen to those who are in my office is “How is this person being selfish in this situation?”   One thing you have to understand is that your marriage will never work if you think of yourself first all the time.  With that being said we all need time away from the stress of our work and family life.  The key to getting that time is communication and creativity.  I work 2 jobs, help run a business, have been married for 15 years, and have 3 young children.  I volunteer at my church and coach my kids’ sports teams.  All that to say my plate is pretty full, and I sleep well when my head hits the pillow at night.

In order for me to get some time to stay healthy I have to first ask for it.  If I don’t open my mouth and communicate my needs I can’t expect my wife to read my mind.  Too often in marriage this is the case, and it creates bitterness and division when one’s needs aren’t being met.   Make a plan you and your spouse can agree upon, so that you’re on the same page.

How do I keep my boundaries with people of the opposite sex?

This is an often problematic issue in marriages that grows into sexual and emotional affairs if it goes unchecked.  I work in a very female driven field and have to be very aware of my boundaries with the opposite sex.   Research has shown that all marriages are susceptible to affairs, even the most healthy.  The biggest factor that predicts if an affair is going to happen is opportunity.  Do we create the opportunity for it to occur?  With that in mind we need to be aware of what we are doing and saying.  I don’t go out to lunch with a female coworker by myself.  I limit my communication with coworkers after hours.  I introduce my wife to my coworkers, so that she knows them.  To me it’s about respect and guarding myself.  I intentionally create boundaries that prevent the opportunity for problems to arise.

How do I connect with my spouse when our lives are ridiculously crazy?

There’s an exercise/technique in couples counseling where one partner talks for 15 minutes without being interrupted.  They can talk about whatever they want.  When the 15 minutes is up the other partner summarizes what they heard.  Then they switch.  The point of the exercise is to create a safe place to begin to communicate with one another again.  When your life and schedule are very crazy you have to work at creating that space with one another in order to connect.  For me personally that means either my wife and I talk very early in the morning before the kids or the sun is up or we talk at night after the kids are in bed.  I have to turn off the TV and put away my phone and focus on my spouse.  Communication in any relationship, but especially your marriage, is extremely important so make it a priority.

Sometimes talking to my husband feels like I’m talking to a wall.  What do I do?

I would say easily the majority of the time my wife is more communicative than I am.  I tend to need my “cave man time.”  What I don’t think people often understand is the difference between how the genders think and process.  Women think and process things verbally.  They talk through what they’re thinking in order to reach a conclusion.  Men on the other hand think through and consider their options in their head before verbally expressing what they want to do.  I know it can be frustrating for my wife in communicating with me when I’m in that processing place.  Also the opposite is true for me when my wife is going on and on, and I just want to problem solve and “fix-it” as opposed to just listen to her.  Communication takes patience and persistence, and we have to verbalize what we need.  I will ask my wife when she is talking “Do you need me to just listen right now or do you want advice?”  That helps me know what she needs and how I am to respond.  Women need to do the same thing in giving their spouse time to think and process.  “Honey do you just need some time right now?  Let’s talk later tonight after the kids go to bed?”  We need to learn how each other operate and respect one another in that.  This is not a license for men to not communicate, but it is a way in which we create a safe place in order to do so.

Let’s talk quickly about money.

Volumes have been written about money in the context of relationships, and it’s often stated that disagreements or issues revolving around it is the impetus for divorce.  The key in a marriage is that you are on the same page with one another.

Money- The biggest issue I see at times when it comes to money is that couples don’t talk about it very much.  Because of that it becomes difficult to broach the subject or just taboo altogether.  There are two concepts that I think are important: consistency and transparency.  Couples need to consistently be talking about their financial picture and goals.  In terms of transparency it’s not necessary that you share a bank account (although my wife and I do), but I do think it’s necessary to budget and run purchase decisions by one another.  I know that seems like a pain, but transparency and agreement is paramount.  If not I have seen we tend to hide things from one another, and couples tend to get resentful towards one another.  Our money represents our time and effort (in fact most of our time and effort) and should be viewed and treated in that light and respect.