Conditional Watering

Previously we talked about our spouse being like a plant.  We each have the ability to properly “water” our spouse so that they can flourish.  We need to actively grow in our understanding of what unique needs our spouse has so that we can meet those needs.  We have been given the unique responsibility to provide for the nurturing of our spouse and therefore you must look every day at what you can do to help your spouse grow and mature, even if it means putting aside your own needs.

What if you withhold the “watering” that your spouse needs?  What if you are waiting on your spouse to “water” you first?  What if you adopt the attitude, “My needs aren’t being met.  Why should I pay attention to your needs when you aren’t paying attention to mine?”

This is what I call “Conditional Watering”.  In other words, I’ll only pay attention to your needs “IF” you first pay attention to mine.

Does this kind of selfish standoff ever work?  Doesn’t this reduce the relationship to a kind of blackmail:  I’ll give you what you want only if and when I get what I want?  That doesn’t sound like a foundation on which to build a soul mate relationship.

Why is it important to adopt the principle of unconditional love?  Think that through for a minute.  If we give to our spouse only if and when they give first to us, then we are telling our spouse that I’m only willing to give to you “IF” you give to me.  That’s not love.

That’s similar to a business contract.  I’ll give you some money if you give me a widget that I want.  No money, no widget.  Relationships do not work best in a contractual environment, because a contract is by nature self-seeking and self-protecting.  I’ll only give if I get something back.

We all want to be loved unconditionally, not because we do something, but because of who we are.  Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrated His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  God acted in love, not out of contractual obligation.  Moreover, God acted in love when we were utterly undeserving!   Our relationship with our spouse will grow and flourish if we begin by modeling that kind of selfless love to our spouse.  Husbands are commanded to love their wives as Christ loved the church.  They are commanded to love unconditionally, to love “no matter what!”  Just as God did.

In Luke 6:38 we are told, “Give and it will be given to you.”  The context of this verse is dealing with money, but I feel that the principle of “giving first” applies here as well.  We are to consider the needs of others first.  In the context of selfless serving we can create a foundation for a relationship that will last for years, grow in quality, and be the place where we experience unconditional love.  It’s not “I love you if,” but rather “I love you no matter what.”

Water often and always be willing to water first.

Time can be on your side

We’ve all heard it said over and over again that the biggest gift that you can give someone is your time, and for some reason, mostly by default, we have our spouse on a rationing program.  We seem to have time for work, kids, chores, volunteer programs at church and school, and we rarely miss out on watching that baseball or football game.  We have time for so many things and for many of us the day ends with us crawling in to bed at night exhausted, having spent precious few minutes with the most important person in our life.  When we consider a weekly date night with our spouse we lament there is no time left for that.  How does that happen?

Remember in an earlier blog on Common Sense I spoke about the couple that had enough money to buy two packs of cigarettes a day and then complained that they didn’t have enough money to buy milk for the kids?  In reality, they had more than enough money; they were just smoking the milk money.   In relation to time available each day, there is no rich or poor.  No one has more or less time per day.  Much like the cigarette smoker, you already have the time.  The question is better put, “What are we doing with the time that we have?”

How is it then that as we look back over the day or the past week, we have spent so few of those hours in meaningful relating with our spouse?

As with finances, we need to make choices.  And right choices follow right priorities.  The first thing that you need to do is determine what your priorities are.  For example, a financial planner will tell you that savings should be a priority in your monthly budget.  So they recommend taking 10% right off the top and put it into a saving program.  They don’t say to wait until the end of the month and see what’s left over.  That would be foolish.  You take your savings off the top and then live on what’s left.  Why?  Because you predetermined that saving was a priority.

And isn’t that what we need to do with our most important relationship? Why give your time and energy to everything else and then give your spouse the leftovers?  Doesn’t make sense, does it?

Here’s a challenge:  Do you want to have your relationship with your spouse be the number one priority?  Great!  Commit to this:  Set aside two evenings per week – two to three uninterrupted hours, for “special time” with each other.  No phone calls, no emails, no TV, no ball games (you can record them!), no Face Book, no blogging, just time for each other.  Later in the evening is fine, especially if you have kids.   And at home is fine too.   Remember:  water often. Trust me.  Your spouse will love you for making them your number one priority.

Personal Growth

Here’s a fun date night suggestion –

Go to your local book store and go to the self-help section or the relationship section.  What a selection you’ll find there.  Here a sample of what may be available:

 

And the following obviously missed the memo about sticking to the number seven if you want to have a successful relationship book:

Then there’s the overachiever who went way beyond:

I really like the books that tell me right up front that something’s a secret.  Going to have to read that one for sure.  Or the one about Ten Stupid Things Couples Do  —  Only ten?  I think us guys can get a lot of benefit out of 1001 ways to be Romantic, mainly because we can usually only come up with three, and the third one is just a slight variation on number two!

For your date night, you and your spouse can browse the various titles.  Read the back cover or the inside flap of the books, which usually gives a quick overview of the book.  Find three that appeal to you and have your spouse find three. Swap your selections and narrow them down to the top two for each.  Then, put all four on the table and together pick the one you feel would benefit you both the most.

Next:  Over the next few weeks go through the book together.  You can read several chapters by yourselves and take notes and then discuss what you have read, or you can read it together and discuss it as you go.  I have found that most books have several real gems, real key ideas that particularly apply to you individually or to you as a couple.  Make it your objective to find something that is spot on, something that really resonates with you, that makes you say, “There’s some real truth there.  I need to work on that”, or “We need to work on that”.

The objective should be to uncover things that would help you grow as a person or help you grow closer together. Focus on being positive and avoid the “I told you so” trap.  We all need to grow and we can grow best when we are supported by a loving spouse.

Water Often

Previously we spoke about your relationship being like a plant that needs water every day to flourish and stay green and beautiful.  Let’s expand upon that.

Let’s pretend that you and your spouse are like “people plants”.  You’re both standing in large pots with beautiful dark soil and you look like leafy green ivy growing strong and tall.  Each of you has a large watering can with a spout and your pots are close enough that you can reach over and water your spouse’s soil.  Now let’s further imagine that your watering can has the exact additives that your spouse’s plant needs to flourish, including the nitrogen, and the perfect dash of phosphate, potash, zinc and iron.  In other words, you have the perfect mixture of ingredients uniquely blended and balanced to make your spouse grow beautiful and strong and green.  The best looking spouse plant on the whole block.

What happens when we withhold water from a plant?  It begins to turn brown and the leaves begin to fall.  It becomes limp and weak.  Withholding nutrients will eventually cause the plant to die.  And remember this:  When you properly provide nutrients to your spouse, they then have the strength to be able to give back to you the nutrients that you need.  It’s a cycle – water them and they are strong enough to water you.

I believe that God wants each of us to have a watering pot uniquely blended with the exact nutrients and ingredients to enable our spouse to flourish, grow, and blossom.  We need to take seriously our responsibility to figure out what those unique things are that our spouse needs.  For example, the book The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts by Gary Chapman talks about how each of us has a special love language.  We can express and receive love through quality time, words of affirmation, gifts, acts of service, or physical touch.  When you know which of these five love languages your spouse prefers, you can begin to express your love for them in their unique language.

Seek to understand your spouse.  Know what their particular needs are and what fills them with joy.  Does she prefer a red rose or help with the dishes?  Does he prefer to chat about his day when he comes home from work, or does he appreciate 15 – 20 minutes of quiet time to unwind?  How do you know?  You can know because you can ask.  Agree with your spouse to take a few minutes and write down ten things that your spouse could do on a daily or weekly basis that would make you feel really special.  “I really appreciate it when you_________. It makes me feel so loved by you”.  Discuss the lists with each other and really listen to your spouse.  You could also read The 5 Love Languages book together.  Work at it every day.  What can I do to bless you today?  After all, I love it when you get all green and leafy!!!

Say it Often

It’s been a fairly typical day at work.  The usual projects that needed to get done and emails answered, nothing too pressing.  When you get home you immediately notice the kids shoes are in a muddy heap by the front door.  The kitchen sink is filled with dishes and the kitchen table is covered with bags of groceries.  You put down the mail and go over to the family room for a moment of relaxation.  Grabbing the remote to catch up on the news you see the sofa covered with three baskets of laundry.  Your wife is just coming down the hall and the first thing you say is, “What have you been doing all day?  The place is a mess.”  No warm “Hello” or “How has your day been?” or “Can I help you with anything?”  Nope.  Just go for the jugular.  Assume the worst and point out the obvious.

Pause for a moment and picture the same getting home from work scenario.  But this time the house is neatly kept, the shoes are put away, the floor is clean, the groceries are put away and the sink has no dishes piled up. Your wife comes down the hall and you ask the same question that every man asks when he gets home, “What are we having for dinner?”  Not a word about how neat and clean the house is, or how wonderful and beautiful your wife looks.  Nope.  First things first.  What are we going to eat?

If we are honest, this sounds all too familiar.  Why is it that we are so quick to see the flaws and blurt out a rebuke or a harsh word, but we hardly ever notice when things are good and deliver a compliment?  We can be so quick to harshly remind him that his socks are on the floor AGAIN but do we remember to encourage him when he remembers where the hamper is?

There’s an old story about a wife who said that she wished that her husband would say more often that he loved her.  He replied, “When we got married I told you that I loved you.  If I change my mind, I’ll let you know.”  Hey Guys:  Let her know… and let her know often!!  Encourage her every day.  Look for things that you appreciate and verbalize it to your spouse.  Shower her with words of love and affirmation.  Your words will be like the cool water that a plant needs every day to flourish and stay green and beautiful.

In Hebrews 3:13 it says, “But encourage one another daily”.  In Ephesians 4:29 it says, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but  only what is helpful for building each other up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”  Encouraging words are helpful and they build us up and they are just what we need.  Use them often.

Personal Growth item:  Work every day on being quick to compliment and slow to be critical.

Why Settle for Less?

I knew a couple who had been married for over forty years.  They had a comfortable home, no real financial worries, and their children were all married. But they had baggage. Their “shop” was severely cluttered with boxes of issues.  Some of the boxes of deep hurts were buried and marked with the labels “DO NOT TOUCH – CAUSES TOO MUCH PAIN”.  They lived at opposite ends of the shop, careful not to disturb the status quo.  They would share some meals together, the bills got paid, the clothes got washed and the day to day things got done because they had learned to co-exist in a standing truce.  They shared their house; how sad they didn’t share their lives.

 We can all visualize that perfect “10” relationship; we’d call them soul mates, best friends and lovers.  There is a giddy euphoria and joy in their lives and they just love being together.  For some of us that perfect “10” is a lofty ideal, something you read about in fairy tales. It’s not reality, not for us, not now, maybe never.  And for others, it seems we’re almost there; no major problems have cluttered our lives and we experience the joy of being together almost every day.

 Several years ago I reflected on the state of my relationship with Darleen.  I knew on a scale of 1 – 10 our relationship was at maybe a three.  Oh, there were good days that we could get to a 5 or 6, but those were few and far between.  The “Oasis Days” is what I called them.  When you live day to day in a desert, being in the oasis is like being able to breathe and get a fresh drink of water. The desert years were awful.  I tried to deal with the pain by telling myself the lie that “I just don’t care”.  I tried to cope using apathy.

 Being a “passive-aggressive” temperament, I never really faced the baggage and issues that we had in “our shop”.  I would either ignore the issues, or I would attack them.  Ignoring them was simply immature stupidity, and attacking them alienated Darleen and made her withdraw further into a protective shell.  Since I didn’t face the issues, I stayed in the desert.  Here’s a bit of Common Sense:  If you ignore the problems, they don’t go away and if you attack the problems and your spouse, you just create a whole new layer of problems.  Think:  Personal Growth.

 After seriously reflecting on the couple who settled into a “coexisting marriage”, I knew I was tired of being in the desert and I did not believe the lie that I just don’t care.  I woke up to the pressing reality that at my core I didn’t want to settle for a lifeless loveless marriage.  I did care and I deeply and truly loved my wife.  I wanted that soul mate relationship.  I wanted to live in that “Oasis”.

 Choices:  We all have choices.  My next step was to face the issues and begin the work of dealing with them.  And that took personal growth on my part and understanding the need for me to love Darleen through selfless serving.

How Much Patience is Enough?

I cannot tell you how to keep being patient with your spouse when there seems to be no movement on his or her part in a direction that brings you closer.  I can only tell you that patience may be what will turn a cold or bitter spouse warm.   You see, I was the recipient of my husband’s patience for many years while I dealt with hurts and some of the baggage I carried into our marriage.

We have been married for 35 years and in the middle years 3 children, church and school activities, and other things I volunteered for caused us to drift apart.  Then there was a hard issue and a comment made to me that was particularly hurtful.  I pulled further away. We were on parallel roads, still cooperating to do all we committed to, but we were not close.  Alan calls these “The Desert Years.”  For almost 10 years I was not responsive to his needs although I did what needed to be done around the house and the children were cared for.

Once in a while, Alan would open a discussion about it and attempt to talk it out.  I would speak of the hurt I felt and admit that I was neglecting him.  We had long, emotional discussions and I’d forgive him but I would go back to the same behavior.  His patience was seriously challenged during those years!

Don’t get the idea that he was a saint through it all though.  We had all the usual daily stresses and blow-ups.  He had his baggage and he’d rub me the wrong way too.  With the up and down of neglect, promises of change, and then neglect again he would grow apathetic.  When his needs welled up again he’d open a discussion again.  10 long years this crazy cycle went on!

This morning at church we were reminded that God’s love for us will outlast every time we turn away from him in rebellion.  He will patiently be waiting for us to turn back to our relationship with him.  When we do, there is nothing but love and acceptance.  God holds no grudge; He does not condemn.  There is no need to fear returning to his loving arms.  It was years of that kind of love and patience, coming from my husband, that turned me around inside.  He was the instrument of God that started the healing and refining in my soul.

You can see we are not perfect people and that is just the point.  He did not have to be perfect in all areas to do this and neither do you.  Even his patience grew thin at times.  But over and over and over  again I was accepted back and patiently loved in spite of my failings, and this started the healing.   As I grew personally, we grew together and now have a close relationship I never thought possible.

I encourage you to greater patience and anticipation of how your marriage relationship will grow!