Month One: Sabotage Prevention
Objective: Connect as a group, define group rules and goals, and discuss sabotage prevention.
Welcome to the first month of Mastering Your Marriage (MYM)! If you joined us on the MYM Orientation Retreat, we covered lots of ground together including communication, vision casting, and even intimacy. If you are just now joining us, don’t stress- we will cover all these basics and more together over the next six months.
Six months may sound like a long time, but compared to the years you have already invested in your marriage (or hope to), six months will be over before you know it. A lot of life can happen over a six month time period including changes in health, marriage, family, and in your career. Which is why CKFF and Baylor University teamed up together to create the curriculum you are starting today. Marriage, much like other areas of your life, happens in seasons and takes work, dedication, and sacrifice. As much as we would love to have a weekend away create lasting change for you, research shows that it is the effort you put into your marriage afterwards that leads to lasting changes and increased satisfaction. So, while six months seems like a long time to commit to MYM and your Squad, we hope you will trust us that you will not be disappointed in the work you put in.
While we are talking about it, we want you to know that we understand that a lifestyle of service, even after you retire, can be pretty chaotic. This curriculum has been designed with convenience in mind. Each month consists of:
Reading the assigned monthly topic (15 minutes, only what you need to know, no fluff)
Watching the supplemental Testimonial Video (20 minutes, optional but awesome)
Talking through the couple dialogue questions with your spouse (30 minutes+, bonus points if you go over that!)
Meeting virtually with your Squad to process it together (1.5-2 hours , you’ll thank us later).
That’s it! What we know for sure is that teaching you new material is only a small part of the equation. What you decide as a couple to put into it and your Squad group is where the true magic happens. Our biggest piece of advice is:
Show up for you, show up for your spouse- try. Be willing to give MYM a chance to teach you new concepts, ideas, and skills. If you do, everything we hope will happen in your marriage, will- or at the very least will get you on the right path moving there. Let’s get started !
“I don’t know whether this is the best of times or the worst of times, but I assure you it’s the only time you’ve got.”
– Art Buchwald
We all have the best of intentions. By now, you and your spouse have visualized what it would look like to have a miracle happen in your marriage. Together, you created a few goals and action steps on how you might get there. Regardless of how hard it was to create those goals, visualizing the changes you want to see in your marriage (and wanting them) is the easy part. Waking up the next day and actually implementing them is the hard part.
You may have had the best intentions to work on your MYM goals, but even the strongest and healthiest of couples find themselves quickly focusing on “more pressing matters”. Sabotage is when you have a plan, and every intention of seeing that plan through, only to have something happen to accidentally or deliberately obstruct or destroy it.
Sabotage: to accidentally or deliberately obstruct or destroy something.
While it is completely possible to deliberately sabotage the goals you’ve set for your marriage, most of the time it is accidental or out of your control . Perhaps there is something pressing going on with your children or in your family that needs your immediate attention. Maybe it is your career or the lifestyle as a first responder or military family. People and situations that sabotage your time and energy aren’t always negative, though. Sometimes really good opportunities, other goals, and positive relationships can distract you from something else you really wanted to do. Here are a few things that could sabotage your goals before you realize it:
- Activities/goals for your kids
- Parenting through the challenges of raising kids
- New military orders (training, moving, deployment, etc.)
- Shift/job schedule changes
- Politics on the job/stressful relationship dynamics
- Volunteer commitments
- External family dynamics
- Unplugging after work
- And others
Other times, we sabotage ourselves. Making changes in your marriage can be harder than you thought, especially when you have patterns set that have been in place for a long time, perhaps years. Self-sabotage can happen when you resort back into old patterns even though you really want to have something better.
For example, one first responder couple said that they wanted to be more intentional with their evenings together. Every night they had a habit of collapsing on the couch after a long day at work and watching TV. Of course there is nothing inherently wrong or destructive about watching TV, but this couple decided it was robbing them of time they could otherwise be spending together. They made a plan to take a walk every night after dinner before they collapsed on the couch. It was a great plan that they both agreed to. However, on the first night, one of them had a particularly rough day at work and they agreed that “vegging out” with the TV show would be fine “just this one time”. Without realizing it, they were back in the old pattern.
New patterns don’t happen without effort and accountability. Accountability, or being held accountable, is when you have an agreed upon relationship in which you must justify your actions and behaviors. Sounds a lot like marriage, right?
Accountability: an agreed upon relationship in which you must justify your actions and behaviors.
By deciding on your goals together, you become each other’s accountability. Even bigger, by sharing your goals with your Squad, you add extra accountability that provides the support you need to reach your goals. Not to be confused with a controlling relationship, accountability is something agreed to on both sides. You as an individual recognize your need for your spouse, and as a couple recognize your need for accountability outside of you from your Squad. How much more likely would the first responder couple mentioned above have achieved their new goal of walking every night had they invited their neighbors to walk with them? When their neighbors came knocking, they would have had to get up off the couch!
Another area of self-sabotage worth mentioning is the past invading your present and future. Setting your marriage on a new course is scary when there is pain in your past. Your feelings can be a powerful vehicle of sabotage, especially if your marriage has intense experiences of hurt. In fact, service marriages are intense fields and lifestyles resulting in intense behaviors that can sabotage the marriage as a whole. Infidelity, betrayal, and addictive behaviors are very common. We will get to some of these topics later, but for now, if you as a couple included as part of your goals to have a new positive outlook on your marriage and behaviors to support that, trust your spouse has intentions to make changes until they show otherwise! We understand this is difficult, but it is at least a first step.
Shaunti Feldhahn, a social researcher, once evaluated thousands of the happiest couples she could find. Her results were astonishing. She found that 99.999 percent of those couple said they believed their spouse wanted the best for them, even during painful times. In other words, they believe their spouse has intentions to do no harm.
When life sabotages your plans:
Sometimes your goals are sabotaged when things happen outside of your control. Job shifts, other responsibilities, illness, and military orders are just a few. The service lifestyle is full of uncertainty that makes both the serving spouse and supporting spouse feel out of control. Deciding whether you can control it or not is always an interesting discussion and often has a lot more grey than black and white. Communicating through it as a couple is very important to bring about understanding and clarity. You will be talking through some of what may threaten to sabotage your plan this month with your spouse and with your Squad as well as whether or not there are circumstances you feel you can control. But here is a hint: The thing we most have control of is our personal response to the situation. So, regardless of what is going on in your life, what you do next as a couple determines whether you will reach your goal or not.
The thing we most have control of is our personal response to the situation.
If sabotage has already begun to derail your initial commitment for the next six months, don’t be discouraged! Life happens, old patterns creep back in, and situations outside of your control begin to invade your home. Going back to what you can and can’t control and your response will make all the difference. A couple with a positive outlook focuses on the future instead of fixating on the present or the past. The key word here is “fixating”. Having hope when things get difficult or you start to go off course is dependent on what you are focused on and whether you are supportive towards your spouse. Being resilient, or getting back on track, means finding the first small step toward achieving the goal. Find what you can master instead of focusing on what you think you cannot master.
Find what you can master instead of focusing on what you think you cannot master.
Here are some tips to help you get started:
Encourage each other: When you feel weak or down, encouragement can mean the difference between success and failure, finishing or quitting, or starting or staying. In a healthy marriage, both partners need to be open to encouraging and receiving encouragement from each other. Receiving encouragement is not a sign of weakness. It reveals a connection to that person and these connections will sustain you in even the most challenging of situations.
Gain perspective: For a situation out of your control, even the simple words of the Serenity Prayer have powerfully been voiced countless times by people facing seemingly impossible odds. In many addiction-recovery programs, it is used to help individuals focus on what small steps of change are possible versus focusing on the impossible.
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.” (Reinhold Niebuhr, 1892-1971)
Spiritual disciplines like prayer, study of Scripture, and fellowshipping with others who share your beliefs can increase your hope and resilience.
Decide what you can control: It is impossible to change others, and especially the past, but it is possible to change our response in the present. Worrying about the past changes little, and it consumes a great deal of physical and psychological energy. Managing your response today does not mean you forget about the past, deny it, or not tend to it. It means you decide how much power you give it to determine your wellbeing today and your focus for tomorrow.
Determine your next step to get back on track. If you focus on more than that, you can easily find yourself overwhelmed or discouraged again. Decide, together, what one thing you will do that will set you back on course. That could be inviting the neighbors to walk, communicating with your spouse knee to knee, processing with your Squad, or even revisiting your plan in case it needs to be adjusted.
Feelings follow action: For whatever reason, you may not feel motivated to follow through on what you both intended. Do what you agreed to do even when you don’t “feel” like it. You are likely to soon find that your actions may very well produce the feeling that makes the action worthwhile.
Communication tip of the month:
Communicating to your spouse your point of view on what could sabotage your goal over the next six months might seem intimidating- especially if it involves how you might sabotage each other!
As a quick review, you learned a new skill during the retreat called “Forming My Point of View” where you used your hand to communicate your sensations, thoughts, feelings, wants/wishes, and behaviors. This is a great tool for talking through sensitive subjects. You can even use this tool for articulating how your own thoughts and feelings could sabotage your commitment.
Sit knee-to-knee with your spouse as you go through this month’s “Couple’s Questions”. Remember, use “I” statements as much as possible and if you are the listener, use those reflective listening skills we taught you! (i.e. “What I’m understanding is…”)