Seven Secrets to Building Resilience in Your Marriage


 Resilience is the ability to resist the manifestations of clinical distress, impairment or dysfunctions that are often associated with critical incidents and personal trauma.
Dr. George Everly, Psychological Body Armor.”Last week Sara got so mad she threw her shoe at me. It missed my head by about three inches!” Larry said.”At the time I thought he deserved it,” Sara admitted. “But the fact that I could do that really scares me! I feel as if our marriage is in serious trouble.”While not every couple throws shoes—or anything else—that sense of uncontrollable anger is not uncommon for many couples regardless of creed, ethnicity, or social status. Unfortunately, some feel that the heightened level of emotion is the beginning of the end of their relationship.

In my more than 35 years of counseling and  45 years of married life, I’ve observed that how couples respond to an event such as Sara’s shoe-throwing can help them develop resilience, the ability to bounce back or recover quickly from change, misfortune, and unmet expectations.

As we explored their past ten years together, I knew that even though they were now in a difficult season, Larry and Sara had built resilience into their marriage. To create a resilient marriage, your commitment to the relationship must be stronger than your history, mood, or situation. Couples who are resilient have these seven qualities in common.

1. Resilient couples don’t fall prey to misconceptions about marriage. 

One thing that can damage our resilience is the mistaken notion that a good marriage equals a calm and peaceful one. In the ten years, Larry and Sara had been married, five jobs, one miscarriage, five harsh financial seasons, four moves, and two adventure-filled boys had taken their toll. Not to mention the fact that they came from two different family styles: Sara’s parents were divorced. Her dad had cheated on her mom multiple times, and then abandoned the family when she was ten. Larry, on the other hand, grew up in an intact family—his parents are still together more than 40 years later.

As we talked, Larry nailed one of the great Christian misconceptions about marriage: “We had no idea how difficult marriage would be. If you listen to people at our church talk about their marriages, it would be easy to believe nobody has been through what we’ve experienced.”

It amazes me that in this day when marriage ministries and materials are so prevalent, couples still believe a great relationship will be a peaceful one. They often feel invincible, especially in the early stages of marriage. This can lead them to deny the impact of stress and family history.

Many couples mistakenly think that loving each other means always getting along. But conflict is an inescapable part of marriage if the couple expects their relationship to grow and mature.

2. Resilient couples find help when they need it.

Many couples “go it” alone—trying to deal with their issues without getting outside help from a trusted source who can offer biblical encouragement, guidance, and support. Those are typically the couples who end up with broken relationships.

Larry and Sara had always been involved in small church groups, which had been invaluable sources of strength when difficult circumstances such as miscarriage and job loss came along. But when they felt more “out of control,” such as Sara’s shoe throwing, they knew it was a signal to seek professional help.

3. Resilient couples remember the good things about their marriage and each other.

“He’s a good father to our boys,” Sara mentioned when I asked them to list each other’s good qualities. “And he’s patient. He puts up with my quirks.”

“I love how loyal and passionate she is,” Larry added. “Sometimes she goes overboard, but I know her heart’s in the right place.”

The longer we talked, the more relaxed they became. “We’re not quitters,” Sara said. “When I see how many of our friends have crashed and burned in their marriages, I’m glad we’ve hung in there.”

Larry looked embarrassed but said, “We had no idea what we could endure as husband and wife. But we still love each other.”

Resilient couples choose to focus on the good as opposed to camping out on the bad.

4. Resilient couples accept the differences in their personalities, views, and ways of getting things done.

Sara entered marriage fearing the sharp conflict she’d watched her parents experience, while Larry came expecting the intimacy and commitment he’d seen his parents enjoy. For several years, they acted out based on the marriage models and communication styles they brought with them.

Sara tended to over-talk everything. Then if she felt Larry didn’t “get it,” she’d become angry. “When I try to talk to Larry,” she told me, “he always seems to run and hide. He’ll either collapse in the recliner and be sucked into the television, or he’ll retreat to the computer room. When he does that, I feel like going ballistic, and sometimes do.”

Larry responded, “She has an opinion about everything, and when I don’t engage in the conversation, she gets heated, so I retreat. Then she throws a shoe at me!”

Men and women really do have different needs.

For guys, we want to feel competent and needed. We want to feel respected. One friend of mine used to say, “Men are like dogs, they need three things: someone to feed them, play with them, and occasionally say, ‘Good boy.’”

I encouraged Sara to be more mindful before sharing an opinion. She also became intentional about giving Larry positive feedback on things he did around the house and with the boys. She even began to find herself being more sexually provocative with him.

For women, the key is to help her feel valued and cherished. If she feels her husband can love her the way she is, then she feels more secure. When a man listens to his wife, without trying to fix her, for instance, he’ll be amazed to see how she can engage him physically. Larry noticed that as he listened intently to Sara, she actually talked less. He even began to buy her flowers, knowing how much she appreciated the gesture.

Sara and Larry became more focused on their communication styles and began to senseless tension and more hope. Larry was choosing to stay connected and not withdraw, and Sara was trying to lower her intensity level.

“We’re not the same,” Sara mentioned. “And I’m starting to appreciate the fact that that can be a good thing.”

5. Resilient couples develop and maintain an internal locus (focus) of control rather than an external focus.

I asked Larry and Sara to recount some of the difficult times in their marriage and how they got through. They told me that six months into their marriage, Larry lost his job. It could have been devastating, especially since Sara’s part-time job didn’t bring in enough money to cover their bills. When many couples would take out their frustrations, fears, and worries on their spouse, Larry and Sara decided instead to focus on the possibilities.

“We knew we loved each other,” Sara said. “It wasn’t Larry’s fault he was downsized. We weren’t sure how it would work out, but we believed Larry would find a job and that God would lead us through this difficult time. And he did.”

“So what keeps you two together?” I finally asked them.

“I love him and want us to get better,” Sara told me.
Larry agreed. “We believe God can and will help us work things out, but it’s tough.” They both took their marriage vows seriously and didn’t want to become another statistic. They hoped to survive this rough time and were committed to the process.

6. Resilient couples manage their emotions.

Larry admitted to me that he can be a “control freak” at times. Sara, on the other hand, is a “free spirit.”

As the weeks went by, Larry and Sara started to focus on their personal responsibility for their portion of the relationship’s troubles and move forward.

After Sara’s fourth overdrawn check, Larry had had enough. Instead of blowing up or withdrawing from her, which had previously proved unsuccessful, Larry took another approach. He waited for a couple of days so he could calm down. Having a measure of control over his emotions, he could talk to her in a calm, rational way and they were able to resolve their money issues.

7. Resilient couples reinterpret past failures and use them as growing points instead of perennial negatives.

In other words, they look at past mistakes to make positive, life-changing applications.

Sara admitted she felt she had to punish Larry with angry outbursts to get him to do anything. As she worked on her side of the responsibility equation, she realized some of her anger was rooted in bitterness toward her dad. So Sara began to pay close attention to the things that could trigger her emotions. In the course of our counseling, she was able to see the hurts for what they were and began to come to terms with the damage. In the process, her feelings about Larry grew softer.

Both Sara and Larry let go of the old hurts and took active measures to reconnect. Larry is “staying in the room” when Sara is struggling. Sara is feeling more secure in her relationship with Larry as she sees the changes he’s making. They use the words, I was wrong. I’m sorry I hurt you. Will you forgive me?

In the six weeks, they were in counseling with me, Larry and Sara were able to receive enough mercy and grace to forgive each other and make adjustments necessary to move forward
Today they report that shoes are no longer a weapon of choice, but something to wear.

Call to action:
Are you interested in getting help in your relationship?  Feel free to email me:

Comments welcome.

Shade of Grey-Shades of Love

Shades of Grey rolls out this weekend. The book series took the world by storm, and I am sure the movie will do the same.

But wait a minute.

One of the foundational principles of building and repairing a relationship is to understand the foundations of intimacy. It is not about technique, positions, or power, but about getting to know someone deeply.

Dwight Bain, a long time friend, therapist, and life coach shared some great thoughts in a recent presentation that I would like to pass along. It sets a good starting point for the next few weeks. Dwight was addressing married couples, but the points he makes are critical to developing any romantic relationship.

There are so many failed marriage stories in the headlines it can make you wonder, “Is an intimate relationship even possible anymore?” and if so, “How do you get one?” It seems that some couples quickly move from being fired up with romantic passion to wanting to just fire each other like a bully boss does to an exhausted employee. 

 It is no wonder people are more cautious about opening up their hearts to another person because they have likely witnessed the process of intensely romantic chemistry quickly eroding into hateful rejection and ugly conflicts. Everybody talks about wanting a meaningful relationship where he or she are loved and accepted, yet few are willing to take the chance of being vulnerable or hurt again.
Marital intimacy is about seeing into the heart and mind of your mate and learning to connect with them in multiple ways such as feeling close, accepted and loved on the inside, no matter what kind of pressure might be happening on the outside. Listen to the word intimacy slowly spoken… ‘Into-see-me’. Since real intimacy is about complete openness, and coming closer together to connect in the most intense ways.

To experience this kind of an emotional relationship, you need to understand both sides of an intimate connection to grow to a new level of purpose and passion together. These different levels of connection reflect the differences between a cultural view of relationship where romance is the primary goal; and a long-term perspective of marriage where learning to connect together with the realities of daily life is joined alongside romance to build intensity, regardless of the circumstances. You need both sides to make your relationship go the distance from short-term infatuation to build long-term success in your marriage.

My friend, Dr. Kevin Leman has an excellent resource that can help you heat it up at your house.

Sunday I will introduce the five levels of intimacy.

John Thurman is a Counselor, Speaker, and Author of Get a Grip on Depressionorder your personally autographed copy today.

Lighten Your Relationship Part 3

Lighten Your Relationship – Part 3

John H. Thurman Jr., M.Div. M.A., LPCC

In the past two articles we reviewed the overall benefits of Lightening Up Your Relationships, today, I will give you five proven tips you can use to lighten the load and enjoy the road in your relationship.

The benefits of humor and laughter to a relationship have been shown to improve physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health. When you are relaxed and energized those closest to you also become energized.

So here are 4 the tips: (this is adapted from Laughter is the Best Medicine)

1.     Make sure both of you are in on the joke. Humor and playfulness can strengthen a relationship – but only when both of you are in on the joke. When playfulness is one-sided, it could be cloaked sarcasm, which is a form of anger. Playful and fun communication in a relationship should be mutually funny and enjoyable. Hint: If your partner is not laughing – it is not funny and might be hurtful.

2.     Learn to use humor to defuse conflict. This is one of the tools Angie, and I had developed over the years. One that our counselor encouraged. When things heat up in your relationship, one quick way to defuse the situation is by inserting a little humor and playfulness into the situation. When used appropriately it can help turn the energy of the conflict into a place of shared intimacy and fun.

3.     Don’t use humor to mask other emotions. As I stated earlier, humor, laughter, and playfulness are proven resilience enhancers when times are tough. However, there are times when humor is not healthy – mainly when used as a way to avoid or cover up painful emotions. If you tend to use humor in this way, it will backfire. Why? Because you create confusion and mistrust in your relationship when your tone, timing, or intensity is off. If humor is the only emotion, you know how to express, working on some other normal emotions such as sadness, fear, anxiety, and anger.

4.     Develop your sense of humor, playfulness, and joy by looking at what you already do as a couple that is fun or playful. Here are some ideas:

Telling jokes or funny stories

Watching funny movies, TV shows, or You Tube™ videos

Reading the funny pages

Dancing around to cheesy music


Go to a comedy club

Spend time with funny people

Goof around with kids

Being silly

5.   Want to increase your laughter and joy capacity? Read Wednesday’s Blog.

Have fun lightening up your relationship this week.

© 2015 John H. Thurman Jr.

After You Say “I Do” Part #3

After You Say “I Do” 3 of 3

By John Thurman, M.Div., M.A., LPCC

I hope you have enjoyed some of the “before and after” comments. Some of these happen to all of us in our relationships. One of my professors used to say, “You date the adult, but you marry the child.”

One of our goals as couples is to be intentional about turning towards each other. Many couples slowly forget to do this which can begin to erode the relationship.

This week I want to give you a short, practical, communication tip list that is guaranteed to boost your communication. While the focus is on your relationship, these tips work will work in your day to day living. I will use the word LISTEN as a mental hook for you.

          L       Lean forward and look into your partner’s eyes. Don’t do a stare down it is normal for people to look away from time to time while talking.

            I         Use “I” statements as opposed to “you” statements.   This lets your partner know that you are trying to understand, but might need some help.

            S        Shared Responsibility. Most of us work really hard to find ways to blame our spouse, family of origin, in-laws or others for the problems in our relationships. The truth is that most of the people in relationships share the responsibility for when things go good or bad. A friend of mine used to say, “If you make a mess, take ownership of it, confess it, then clean your mess up.”

            T       Tenacious. Don’t get stuck being wimpy or whiny. Lean into the relationship, unless it is abusive, and do what you can to make it better.

            E       Encourage. The word means to give courage, hope, and confidence. Several years ago, Angie and I were going through a rough patch and went in for some counseling. I will never forget what our counselor said during one of our sessions. “Angie, you and John, despite this rough time you are going through still have a sense of humor and manage to encourage each other despite the challenges. That is part of what is going       to get you through this season of your life.”

            N     Negate the negative. Make surely don’t over think the negatives about the relationship. It is so easy to become stuck in a negative rut. That state of mind will destroy a relationship. Instead, look for positive things. Be intentional about looking for the positive.

I can almost guarantee you that if you begin doing just a couple of these, the results will be immediate.
 (c) 2014 John Thurman

After the “I Do’s” 2 of 3

By John Thurman, M.Div., M.A., LPCC

Last week we looked at some of the ways Mr. Wonderful had lost his luster. This week it is the ladies’ turn. By the way, be sure to let yourself laugh a little as we review the before and after scenarios.

It is the first time you have served him a meal at your place. The table is laid out nicely. The food is in nice dishes waiting to be served, and you actually serve it to him with a smile, when he arrives.

Now, he comes home from work and you say, “There are some leftovers in the refrigerator you can heat them up in the microwave, the remote in on the coffee table.”

You invite him over to your house or apartment and say come in and make yourself comfortable

Now, with a straight face, and a rather condemning look you say, “Hey, put the lid down when you finish, you are not the only one living here.”

You hear him pulling into the garage, and you think to yourself-“My sweet-hearted man is home.”

Now, you hear him pulling into the garage, and you sigh to yourself – “Oh my Lord, he is home!”

You see your boyfriend after a long day of work and being a loving, caring person that you are; you massage his shoulders and ask about his day.

As soon as he sits down, you tell him all the things that need to be done in the house and remind him of the list of things that he has not done. He cringes and wonders why he did not hang out with the guys from the office, before coming home.

You took pride in how you looked and made sure you always had your hair and makeup done nicely. Your girlfriends used to brag on how “put together you were.”

Your wardrobe now consist of jeans, T-shirts, flip flops, and your hair is held up with the morning newspapers rubber band. You get very upset when he does not pay you compliments or if he innocently looks at another woman who is just walking past, but happens to look gorgeous.

Now don’t get upset. We all fall into different types of ruts once we are married.

Next week I will give you six things you can do to boost your communication.


After the “I Do’s” – Part 1 of 3

 Marriage is more than a ceremony. Here are some tips to help you along the way to a long-term marriage.

By John Thurman, M.Div., M.A., LPCC

I want you to think back to the first time you met Mr. or Miss Wonderful.Like most people, you probably felt a rush of excitement when you thought about being with this special person. Those loving looks, he opening the door for you, she telling you how handsome you are.  Well, here is a fun look back at what it was like before you said, “I do” and what has happened after you did.

Guys first. (Disclaimer, I am a guy and hopefully I will not be giving away trade secrets.)

In the workplace you say to your supervisor, “Man, I cannot wait to get to the house tonight and spend some quality time with my bride.”

Now he says, “Hey boss do you have any overtime or extra projects for me to do?’

You never read the menus from the left to right because price did not matter, after all you were in love.

You gently remind her to read the menu from right to left, because you  are trying to save money, and you forgot your Entertainment™ book. 

Remember, when you were dating? When you spoke on the phone with each other neither one wanted to be the first to hang up. This playful banter would go back and forth until you both hung up.

Now, you drop a call while she is mid-sentence and explain to her later that your phone must have dropped the call.

If  she cooked dinner that  was either a little over done or a little under done, you smiled and said something like, “Rachel Rey would  be proud.”

Now, if she cooks and the food is a little over done or a little under done, you look at it and say something like, “I’ll just have a peanut butter sandwich.”

Next week we will look at “After the “I Do’s” from the women’s perspective.

In the third part of this series, I will give you some proven tips to power up your communication.

How to Have a Happy Wife # 3

Be More Affectionate
Before we talk about how to express affection to your wife, I want to review the job description of being a good husband.

  • Love, honor, and respect her
  • Be sexually and emotionally faithful to her.
  • Listen without being judgmental
  • Support and nurture her ambitions outside the home
  • Make good faith efforts to understand how differently she is emotionally
  • Be honest at all times and always do what you say you will do
  • Share child care and domestic work

Be Affectionate
To your wife, affection means more than cuddling or holding her hands, and it definitely means more than wham-bam-thank-you maam. She desires a sense of closeness from you because knowing you are close to her is paramount for her being able to stay in a relationship with you. For those of you that might need this simplified; if your wife does not feel connected to you, she will leave you at some level.

No matter where you have been in your marriage, you can show up for work today. You can begin, right now to protect your career as a husband by treating this day as if it were your first day on a new job called marriage.

Action Plan

  • Forget Hollywood stereotypes, and dont try to be a hero in some romance novel. Instead,  apply some of your natural strengths to your job as a married man and see immediate improvement.
  • Focus on the benefits of marriage, not the day to day frustrations.
  • Show your wife the same traits that make you valuable as an employee: focus, discipline, reliability, devotion, loyalty, stability, intelligence, and flexibility.
  • Be determined to get better at this job of being a husband.
  • Learn from your mistakes and dont get your eyes stuck in the rear view mirror of regrets.
  • Commit yourself to the duties and responsibilities of your marital job description and reassess your progress as you go along.

Thank you to Scott Haltzman, M.D., and his excellent ideas from The Secrets of Happily Married Men. This article is adapted from that resource. Another couple of resources I like is For Men Only and For Women Only by Shauti & Jeff Feldhahn

Check out my Stages and Phases of Marriage talk

How to Have a Happy Wife Part 2

This is a photo of our friends Michele and Dotie, a couple that we have known for several years, a couple that loves each other and their kids with a deep and  profound love.

In that time we have watched their kids grow into young, emerging adults and have watched Dodie support Michele as she had build her Premier Designs Jewelry business.

Dodie is a great example of a happy man married to a happy wife, but he would be the first to tell you that it is work.

Here are five more ways to have a Happy Wife.

To Support and Nurture Her Ambitions in and Outside the Home.

Roles are changing, and that is not a bad thing. More men than women work outside the home, but due, in part to the economy, more and more women are either entering or re-entering the workplace or are starting home-based businesses. As your children grow and, opportunities open up for your wife to pursue her pen dreams, will you be there to support her.

To Make an Effort to Understand How She is Different Emotionally.

Guys, our job is not to change her to be more like a man, but to acknowledge and respect your differences.

To Be Honest at All Times, and Always Do What Your Say You Will Do.

            To be clear. When I talk about being honest here, I mean there is not room for lies about infidelity, addiction problems, or other important matters that reflect on who you are (such as belief systems or underlying medical problems). You need to hold yourself accountable for what’s important-the core issues, the crucial stuff, your promises.

To Share in Child Care and Domestic Work.

 If you want to mess this up just come home from the office and tell her, you have already worked enough. Instead, come home, catch your breath and help out a little, without any drama. Trust me, this will get you some points.

To Be Attentive, Fun-Loving, and Adoring as You Were During Courtship, or Close to It.

I know you can have rough days, I spend my days with people who are in various states of crisis. I know it can be tough to be upbeat someday, but do what you can. Studies of optimistic people show that they are less affected by bad events and bring about brighter responses in other people.

How to Have Happy Wife

Want a happy wife?

I have been a married man for over 42 years and after all that time, I still do not pretend that I understand how complex my wife is. While there are several excellent books on the topic, I will mention three that will give guys some tools to help make their wives and girlfriends happier.

At the risk of failing to sounding simplistic, I think we guys do a better job in our relationship if we treat them more like a job. A left brain, task oriented, outcomes based approach.

Here we go.

First-Make Marriage Your Job – Here is the Job Description

If building your marriage is your job, what are the expectations for the company?

To Love, Honor, and Respect Her.

From these core values based in the Word and the vows that most of us shared in our weddings come all things good in a marriage.

To Be Sexually and Emotionally Faithful.

No one issue better defines marriage than the promise of sexual fidelity, and I believe that all men know this.

To Listen Without Being Judgmental.

Since 95 percent of all Nobel prizes go to men, you’ve got to believe that men know how to solve problems. The problem is that your wife may not need you to solve her problems; sometimes she just needs to know that you are there by her side.

To Support and Nurture Her Ambitions in and Outside the Home.

Roles are changing, and that is not a bad thing. More men than women work outside the home, but due, in part to the economy, more and more women are either entering or re-entering the workplace or are starting home-based businesses. As your children grow and, opportunities open up for your wife to pursue her pen dreams, will you be there to support her.

Thank you to Scott Haltzman, M.D., and his excellent ideas from The Secrets of Happily Married Men. This article is adapted from that resource. Another couple of resources I like is For Men Only and For Women Only by Shauti & Jeff Feldhahn

Lighten Up Your Relationships – Laugh

Benefits of Laughter in Your Relationship
John Thurman, M.Div., M.A., LPCC

Tuesday and Thursdays I will be blogging on things that you can do to improve your relationships. I think you will enjoy this one.

Several years ago my wife and I had come to an impasse in our relationship. I was detached and living in my career; something men often do and my wife was into other things. I wish I could tell you that I suggested some counseling, but no, I was too proud and bone-headed to do that. It was my wife who  strongly encouraged me to make a call. Our counselor was a wise man who helped us learn to re-negotiate our marriage and reconnect. As we wrapped up therapy, he made a comment that surprised and encouraged us. He said, “Angie and John, like many couples that come to see me, you guys were way off track, but even in some of the tougher sessions you both maintained a healthy sense of humor. That let me know that you two are going to make it.”

Those encouraging words were a gift to us nearly 15 years ago and have sustained us through the ebbs and flows of our marriage.

Humor, laughter, and joy have a powerful effect on health and well-being. It alleviates tension and stress, boosts the mood, raises creativity and provides a great, drug-free energy boost. Humor brings people together and helps them manage life better. An occasional shared belly laugh is an essential part of a strong, healthy relationship.

Laughter and joy and playful communication are some of the most effective, free tools that can keep your relationship vital, fresh, and stimulating. Humor and laughter can keep your relationship interesting, light, and producing joy. The by-products are increased intimacy, a sense of well-being as both individuals and as a couple. It is also one of the keys to a lasting relationship.

Here are six things that laughter and humor can do to enhance your relationship.

1.     Links you to others. We are hardwired for relationships. Your happiness and health, to a large degree, depend on the quality of your relationships. And the laughter helps strengthen the relationship’s connect on several levels.

2.     Helps smooth over differences. Using soft humor often helps you deal with sensitive subjects, work through disagreements, and gain a fresh perspective on problems.

3.     Develops resilience. A sense of humor is one of the keys to resilience. The American Psychological Association defines resilience as the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or even significant sources of stress–such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stressors.

4.     Increases energy and relaxes at the same time. Joy, humor, and laughter relieve fatigue and relax your body while recharging your batteries and helps you get more done.

5.     Renews perspective. Most relationships, life or job situations are not as bad when viewed through the window of joy and laughter.

6.     Increases creativity.  Playfulness and humor release certain brain chemicals that loosen you up energize your thinking, and inspire creative problem-solving.

Have fun lightening up your relationship this week. Want to learn ways to increase the happiness in your marriage – Listen to my talk The Stages of a Marriage. 

Send your questions or comments to John

© 2014 John H. Thurman Jr.