Couples, Listen Up: ‘Fight for Your Relationship and Not Against Each Other’
~ What’s a relationship without its problems?
Jana Kramer and Mike Caussin have certainly had their fair share, but unlike most couples, they’ve been forced to hash things out in the public light while facing criticism and judgment from all sides. As you can imagine, that hasn’t made for the easiest few years of marriage. Following the birth of baby girl Jolie back in 2016, the former NFL tight end found himself on the outs when tabloids broke that he’d been having affairs with various women.
Although they did split for a brief period, Kramer didn’t exactly pick up and leave altogether after that, however, supporting her husband as he entered treatment for sex addiction to uncover the real trigger that led him down this path to infidelity. By 2018, the two were back to some sense of normalcy, vows renewed with a second child, Jace, added to their clan.
But did their reconciliation suddenly make them a golden couple? Certainly not. The pair still have their cracks, openly airing out their problems on the “Whine Down” podcast. But now, Kramer and Caussin are taking it a step further, being as vulnerable as possible in their new book “The Good Fight” with the promise to “not hold anything back.”
“There’s definitely things in there that are some pretty heavy fights, arguments that we’ve had,” Kramer tells AskMen. “Also, some revelations that we’ve had with Mike getting re-baptized and just our journeys with our faith. And then, again, just some of those stories that are painful to relive, that we’ve never talked about, but we’ve been so open and so honest… I think we did our best to open up even more because people have been on this journey with us.”
Caussin promises “The Good Fight” is 100 percent authentic, with every word written down by the pair to ensure it maintains its authenticity.
“Part of our big goal was for people to read it and minutes into reading it, realizing, ‘Oh man, this is me or this is my partner, or I can totally relate to how they feel in these situations,” he adds.
In line with the big release of “The Good Fight,” AskMen spoke with Kramer and Caussin about using arguments as a way to heal, being a voice people believe in, and becoming more emotionally mature.
AskMen: When piecing “The Good Fight” together, how therapeutic was it? Did it force you to rehash moments you’d buried away?
Jana Kramer: It was definitely hard to relive some of our stuff. It’s not easy to open up wounds that were super painful, but I also think we were able to find some humor and light in it. There’s been arguments where we were so immature, and to kind of see our growth and how far we’ve come, and where we hope to be in the future.
The book has a really unique approach in that it highlights both of your perspectives. What was the intent behind this structure?
Mike Caussin: To give people a glimpse. We’ve even gotten these comments from our podcast that people are like, ‘Oh, I appreciated Mike’s perspective because it gives me an insight of what my boyfriend or what my husband may be thinking.’ It’s similar with this book and what we want the partners in a relationship to see. It’s like if a guy hears Jana talk about something and open up about her feelings or experience in a situation, and maybe he’s able to empathize with his significant other a little bit more because it’s not coming from her directly.
Sensitivity and vulnerability somehow corresponds to being weak or less than for men. Mike, at what point did you swallow that down and become comfortable with discussing this topic, especially coming from a sports background where feelings were rarely a point of conversation?
MC: Really, it was Jana and her invitation for me to first start coming on the podcast, which is now ours, but it started off as hers, and she encouraged me to open up about these things. I’ve always been a sensitive person, but like you said, I’ve always kept things close to the chest at the same time. That’s how I was raised, and that’s what I knew. Seeing the positive feedback from both men and women, appreciating the vulnerability and encouraging that, has been empowering for both Jana and I to be able to open those doors and embrace that this is what a relationship in our minds should look like.[With football], we dealt with stress, anxiety, and depression, but it was all sports-related. No one really talked about what they were feeling, maybe outside of the stress in the environment that we were dealing with on a regular basis. That culture definitely emphasizes your ability to get over things, move on, be tough. You have to be resilient, persistent, all of that, which is great for the game to be successful, but for your personal life, you have to be able to turn that switch on and off. Unfortunately, for a lot of professional athletes, so much of your time is dedicated to your trade, it’s difficult to do that sometimes.
What would you say it means to “be a man” these days?
MC: For me, it’s adapting. Being a man today is learning to adapt in ways that you never thought you would. Learning that being emotionally mature and emotionally vulnerable is actually stronger than not. That’s the only way that you can maximize your own ability personally, and maximize the potential for yourself and for your relationship, not just romantically, but other relationships. I’ve noticed the change in myself on who I’ve started to become since I’ve been more emotionally mature and emotionally vulnerable. And I can’t imagine not being this way now.
JK: Big balls.
You’ve been quoted in the past saying fighting just isn’t something you two would do. When did you come to the realization that fighting can be a beneficial part of the healing process as a couple without necessarily being an all-out bloodbath?
MC: Once we actually learned some actual conflict resolution through all the therapy we’ve done, we realized that fighting could be a tool to benefit our marriage and relationship, rather than be the demise of it. Early on we didn’t want to fight. We were under the false pretense that if we fight, it means things are unhealthy and we’re not doing well. It’s all about how you fight. As long as you can remain loving and respectful, which I know me personally, I’m not great at. Just this past weekend, I got triggered and got to a place where I was disrespectful and needed Jana and I was offline. We still struggle with that, but at least now we know the tools. We know where we want to be and how we want to try to fight to ensure the longevity of our marriage.
As fighting does have such a naturally negative connotation attached, how do you shake that off so it becomes a more productive part of your relationship?
MC: That’s why Jana came up with the title of this book. Our major goal here is to encourage people that it’s a good thing to fight for your relationship and not fight against each other. There’s obviously a clear difference in that. We want people to fight for what they want, for what they deserve, for what they need. Because anything worth having, you have to fight for. We’ve had to change our mindset around fighting and around the concept of it, and use it as a tool to better learn and understand each other.
A relationship involves two people. It’s Jana and it’s Mike. What do you do when one half of that partnership isn’t pulling their weight?
JK: We always talk about not mind reading, and we do these check-ins and it’s basically telling your partner what you need. And that’s a part of the check-in, but it’s just saying to your partner, ‘Hey, I really need you to do your work or to be more soft or to try and not be as defensive because it’s starting to wear on me and it makes me feel sad.’ Just to let your partner in, but come at it from a vulnerable state.
MC: When we would go to our individual therapy sessions, early on we would go in and just want to complain or kind of bitch about our partner. It wasn’t until we both started going to our individual therapist that we didn’t even mention the other person. In chapter two, we talk about cleaning your side of the street. All you can do is take care of yourself. You can’t make anybody else do something that you want. It’s up to them. As long as you’re taking care of yourself and doing your work, that’s all you can control. The rest you just have to kind of surrender to.
How do you know when you’ve reached your limit? Is that breaking point different for each couple?
JC: For me, what the breaking point would be is if the growth stops. If Mike was to not do his work on himself and not try, then it would be impossible for me to carry a relationship. Now, there are times, like he said, there were times when I may do it better than he does. I might communicate better and vice versa, but it’s acknowledging that, ‘Oh crap, I didn’t do that well. I’m going to do some more therapy,’ or ‘I’m going to really get in there and try to be better.’ So when you’re consistently trying, I think you should keep fighting for it. But when we hear that someone isn’t doing the work, they don’t want to do the work, they don’t want to try therapy. You’re just choosing to stay in an unhealthy relationship with someone that isn’t going to see that they need to change and grow.
That’s not healthy for you to stay in. If he was to just stop altogether, stop working his program, continuously being defensive and mean, that’s not healthy for me, for the kids, for him. That’s when I’m like, ‘Hey, I did my part and you’re not doing yours, and I’m going to respectfully bow out of this.’ But that would suck. When I hear that someone doesn’t want to fight for the marriage, I feel bad for that partner that is willing to show up because they made the vows, they made that family with them. I just hope that two people realize that they both have to do the work to stick it out.
With the book, do you feel you have a responsibility to really leave it all out there so that readers can truly connect with you two on a deep, personal level?
JK: I definitely feel like we have a big responsibility. Even just on our social media, we have to share the struggles because that’s why people relate to us. We do the balance of ‘we’re not good relationally’ to ‘we’re good relationally.’ It’s just showing that kind of balance that it’s OK to have good and bad days. I think the cool thing is that people that read the book are just going to see truly just how human and normal we are, and how we all have the same arguments and that it does kind of normalize us in their eyes, too, which would be nice. That’s my hope, at least.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.