Hurry Up! We Need to Fix This!

Do you ever feel that you just can’t wait to get a problem fixed?  There’s a gnawing tension in your relationship and you just can’t let it rest.  “We just need to discuss this some more and get it resolved.  I know I can get her to see what I’m talking about and she will understand and we can get this behind us.  I know it’s creating tension and there are unspoken feelings that are getting in the way of us being close.  Why can’t we just get this resolved now?”

I’m reminded of a time when we worked on one of those “impossible” puzzles.  You know the kind where they take a panoramic picture of hundreds of buildings and every piece in the puzzle is exactly the same shape and size.  So you first look for the edge pieces and build the frame of the puzzle.  At least we know that it has four corners.  The point is that we make progress.  We start with the obvious pieces and then work, sometimes slowly, to find a piece here and another there.  These puzzles often stretch our patience and it’s understood that we probably won’t get it done in a day.  It may take several days or even weeks to get it finished, but with patience and persistence we can usually get it together.

Deep rooted relationship issues also take the same patience and persistence.  If we attempt to solve them with a mindset that they can be quickly resolved, we get frustrated and tempted to withdraw and give up.  Then we try to cope by ignoring the issue since we can’t get it fixed quickly.  When it surfaces again, we once again have a hurry-up attitude and a quick fix mentality that really sabotages our ability to be successful at finding a long term resolution.

Men especially want resolution right away.  They particularly dislike leaving problems unresolved.  So they approach issues with a fix it mentality and by that they mean “fix it now”.

The key here is patience and an understanding that incremental progress is good. Just like the puzzle, we need to start with some basics.

  • First of all, understand that most issues should not be bigger than your commitment to your relationship.
  • Try to remember all the positive things in your relationship with your spouse and get the issue in proper perspective.
  • Be thankful for even small changes in the direction of resolving the issue.
  • Shift perspective and empathize with what your spouse is feeling.  This will help keep you from falling into the trap of a self-centered point of view.
  •  Be thankful.

Yes, even when it takes time to work through our thorny issues, we need to be thankful for our spouse.  Neither of you are perfect and both of you need to extend grace to each other.  Make it a priority to love each other and the time needed to finish the puzzle and resolve the issue won’t seem so overwhelming.

Take Time to Understand Each Other

Have you ever totally misinterpreted something your spouse said?  I sure have!   It is so easy to do and so destructive.  We think we know what our spouse is thinking at the moment so we assume the worst.  Here’s an example…

He asks, “What kind of spices did you use on this steak?”   She declares, “You don’t like it do you?  You always want the same old thing.  We can’t ever try anything different!  Dinners just get more boring all the time.”     He exclaims, “Well you got me pegged!  I was going to say I liked it, but I guess I don’t according to you!”

See how she wrongly assumed what he was thinking, and then blamed him for boring dinners?  Most of us could recover from this with a simple apology and move on to what those spices actually were.  But what if a wrong assumption was made during a discussion in which both spouses were passionate about their positions?  In that kind of situation there is more possibility for deep hurts.  Consider this scenario…

After much debate about which relatives to visit this summer she states, “I just can’t go to Florida this summer!”   He blurts out, “You know, I always wondered if you even liked my family. Sounds like you don’t and you’re ready to just write them off.  You know, I could do without your family too.  Maybe I should just go alone!”

 Some things to consider:

  • Are all the facts out on the table?  Instead of making an assumption, ask what else there is to consider, what else is on your spouse’s mind, what else he or she is feeling. You may be totally surprised what is behind a comment or question.
  • Do you let past issues build up?  Sometimes we make wrong assumptions when resentment leads us in the wrong direction.
  • Think back on times you have made assumptions about your spouse. Is there anything about these situations that made you feel inadequate?  Did a lack of confidence cause you to assume your spouse was criticizing you?
  • If you are getting emotional during a simple factual discussion, perhaps there is an issue that truly needs resolution.  In the first example, maybe she feels that she can’t cook with as much creativity as she’d like and that frustrates her.  She needs to express this so they can find a solution together.
  • Making wrong assumptions often leads to unwarranted blame that is very hurtful to your spouse who will wonder how you could think such a thing of him.  Walls go up between you.
  • Unspoken assumptions fester in your own heart and get blown up over time into bigger mountains.  You may think they are secret but they affect your attitudes and actions toward your spouse.

Letting assumptions remain will never bring a couple closer together.  But it happens so quickly.  I just did it to Alan today after I’d written this blog!  It totally surprised me how fast I fell into it. So think about it ahead of time…what will you do the next time?  Will you be defensive and let it escalate further or will you stop and take time to understand each other?

Be Your Spouse’s Best Friend

Lots of married people we know started their relationships as friends.  Alan and I were part of a group of friends.  We cooked dinners all together, went to church and school events, and met up at restaurants.  It’s like we were a crowd that often participated in the same activities.  Some in that crowd were dating each other, but not Alan and I.  In the process we got to know each other without romance clouding our vision.  I have always appreciated that we started out as friends.

According to John Gottman, as he explains in his book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, “Happy marriages are based on a deep friendship.”  He goes on to say,

 By this I mean a mutual respect for and enjoyment of each other’s company.  These couples tend to know each other intimately- they are well versed in each other’s likes, dislikes, personality quirks, hopes, and dreams. They have an abiding regard for each other and express this fondness not just in the big ways but in little ways day in and day out…

Note that Mr. Gottman says respect is mutual, and they know each other intimately.  Friendship is a two way street and both parties must value and pursue the relationship for it to deepen.  If you have a true friend, you know you can always be yourself; you are accepted and safe, as is your friend with you.  You often do things intentionally to make your friend happy.  This is the type of friendship that is a foundation of the happy marriages Dr. Gottman has observed.

Do you have that kind of friendship still or has it started to wane with time and stress?  For most of us it does wane unless we cultivate it along the way. So how do we do that?

How about making your friendship with your spouse the focus of your date times?  Whatever thing you decide to do with the time, always use it to know each other more intimately, or to express your fondness.  For example, if you are going out for a cup of hot chocolate, talk about your hopes and dreams.  If you are going to a play or concert, find out what your spouse thought about it afterwards.  If you go for a walk together, hold hands and remember your courtship days.  If you just stay home, give your spouse a back rub and talk about what happened that day.  If your spouse needs to vent about a stressful situation, listen, empathize, and be glad he or she feels safe to vent with you.

Here’s a challenge:  Do something in the next week specifically to build a positive atmosphere of friendship in your marriage that helps you keep the inevitable negative times in perspective.  And have fun in the process!!

Love is Forgiving and For Giving

I saw an interesting story the other day online that I’ll paraphrase here.  A lady bought a parrot and when she got it home it started a barrage of insults at her lasting for days.  “You’re so ugly.  I can’t stand you.”  Tired of the ranting parrot, she put it in the freezer and closed the door.   After a few minutes, the parrot got quiet.  She opened the freezer and the parrot begged for forgiveness.  “I’m so sorry.  I’ll never do that again.  I know I’ve been awful.  Please forgive me!”  The lady accepted the apology.  Then the parrot asked, “What did the chicken do?”

I’m sure we would all be quick to seek forgiveness if we could truly see the consequences of withholding forgiveness.  Why is it we have a hard time forgiving each other?  When we have been hurt by our spouse, we tend to attack or withdraw.  We are often left with residual hurt feelings, resentment, and bitterness.  My passive aggressive tendency is to absorb the hurt until I am flooded; then I will attack.  Either way, absorbing or attacking, we often hold on to our hurt feelings.

Picture this:  When we withhold forgiveness, we by choice, go into a room, locking oueselves in.  The room is filled with resentment, bitterness, anger and self-justification.  “I have a right to be mad. Do you know what he did to me, again?  How long do I have to put up with this?”  We choose to remain a prisoner in a cell we have locked ourselves in.  We are choosing to remain angry, bitter, or resentful.

But we can choose to love.  We can choose to forgive.  But how can we do that when we are so hurt?  Good question.

Part of the answer may be a proper perspective.  I remember years ago that I would get really upset if Darleen left the stove burner on after she finished cooking.  She would remove the pot and forget to turn off the stove burner.  I would get upset seeing it still on thirty minutes later, thinking it was such a waste.  So how did I get over this little forgetfulness on her part?

First of all, it dawned on me that the burner being on may have cost twenty cents!!  Big deal.  What was I so upset about?  Secondly, I  thought what kind of bad habits do I have?  And wouldn’t I want her to overlook my mess ups?  You bet I would.  I wanted to be forgiven, and so I knew I needed to forgive.  The other thing I knew is that I shouldn’t make a big deal out of a little issue.  Life’s too short to get all worked up about trivial issues.

Are you withholding your love from your spouse because you haven’t forgiven him or her?  Are you locking yourself in a cell?    I hope and pray you can choose love, because love is for giving.  And choose forgiveness, because when you open the door of that cell and free yourself, you open your heart to intimacy.  After all, you don’t want to end up like the chicken.

I Do.

Remember the day when you said “I do?”  How did you feel that day?  What were your hopes and dreams for your marriage relationship?  Do you remember what exactly you promised your new spouse at your wedding?

Most of us had a combination of the following  and maybe a few others:

  • to have and to hold from this day forward
  • for better or for worse
  • for richer, for poorer
  • in sickness and in health
  • to love and to cherish
  • from this day forward until death do us part.

We promised to love forever, in all circumstances, when things were good and when bad.  There were no ifs, ands, or buts that day.  We meant what we said and we were sure that love would conquer all in those bad times, if they ever came.  But maybe they wouldn’t because we were perfect for each other!

A ways down the road of married life reality hits and we see each other for the imperfect people that we are.  Sometimes we hurt each other with words or actions.  We disappoint our spouse.  We find out things about our spouse that we didn’t know before, like habits, coping mechanisms, addictions, and extended family. Maybe some of our dreams will never be realized because of sickness or financial strain.  These are the worst, the poorer, and the unhealthy times.

When in those hard times, some couples lose sight of their wedding vows, me included.  I acted like my vows read more like this:

  • I will have and hold you when it’s better
  • When it’s worse, I will probably keep you at arm’s length.
  • I will love you as long as you love me.
  • Maybe I will cherish you, unless you hurt me.
  • I will take care of you when you are sick
  • But I will take you for granted when healthy.

That’s not what we dreamt of ever!  How can anyone possibly undo all the damage?

If you see yourself in some of that, there is hope to turn things around.  I discovered that Jesus has the perfect remedy for the sin of selfishness—confession and repentance to him and your spouse.  And because healing rarely happens all at once—continual confession and repentance.  There was freedom from selfishness and joy in serving when I turned from sin to Jesus. And now, instead of shame and guilt after each failure, there is forgiveness and reconciliation.

At the center of our marriages there should be the same unconditional love that Jesus has for us.  His love for us does not depend on what we do, say, think, or even how we treat him!  When we can love our spouse like that then we can truly have, hold, and cherish in all times.

Sometimes it’s good to go back to the beginning to evaluate the direction of your path.  For your own growth look at how you have kept the promises you made to your spouse.  If you’re really brave, ask your spouse how you’ve done!  Listen and learn how you can be a better servant to your spouse.  You will find the path to a soul mate marriage!

Are We Clear? Crystal.

Many of you remember that great movie with Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson, A Few Good Men released (oh my!) twenty years ago in 1992.  (No wonder Tom looks so young.)   There is this great line in the movie when the young lawyer Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise) is questioning his witness Col. Nathan Jessep (Jack Nicholson).  The colonel thunders a question at the persistent lawyer, “Are we clear?” The lawyer replies, “Yes sir.” Driving home his point the colonel raises his voice and repeats the question with a guttural, “Are we clear?”  The young lawyer this time says, “Crystal.”

Is your communication with your spouse clear?  Would you say it is crystal clear? It’s true that we tend to suffer from “miscommunication” affliction.  There are times when we just don’t say what we mean and then there are times when we say exactly what we don’t mean to say.  We speak in veiled innuendoes and mask our true meaning, thinking that somehow our spouse will be able to unlock the code, and rightly interpret what we are not saying and what we really meant to say.

  •                Don’t listen to the words that I’m saying, listen to what I meant to say!
  •               If you could just understand me better.
  •               How many times do I have to tell you?
  •               Why can’t you just understand what I’m feeling?

Any of that sound familiar?

How about the husband who turns out the lights and gets into bed at 11:30, reaches over and softly touches your shoulder, saying, “So what do you think?”  And you say to yourself, “What do I think?  What do you mean, what do I think?  It’s late, I’m tired and I’ve got to get up at 5:30 and you’re seriously asking what do I think?  Are you kidding?”  The truth of the matter is that he’s been thinking about it since right after dinner.  He just didn’t say anything to you.  He didn’t even hint at it.  And then at 11:30 he says “So what do you think?”

Or the wife who is frantically getting dinner ready and she says to her husband, “The trash is really getting full.”  He says, “Yep, it sure is,” as he walks over to the family room and sits down.  She wanted him to take the trash out and he simply acknowledged that she’s right.  The trash is full.

Many fights and arguments in marriage are caused by miscommunication.  We somehow expect that our spouse will magically interpret what we are saying.  Sometimes we act like our spouse is a mind reader, stating, “Well, you should have known what I was feeling!”

Here’s a personal growth item for the week:

  • Practice clear communication.
  • Say clearly what you need or what your expectations are.
  • Wait till you have your spouse’s full attention.
  • Be aware of your spouse’s mood, agenda, and energy level.

For example…. She says, “Honey the trash is really getting full.  Would you mind taking it out for me please?”  To which he may reply with a twinkle in his eye, “So what do you think?”

Do You Remember When We….?

Have you ever shared a time of reminiscing with your spouse about your courtship years, or your engagement?  Perhaps you have thought back to the deliveries of children, or hard times like being unemployed, moving, and problems with relatives.  Or maybe you are a young couple who doesn’t have a lot of shared history yet.

Turns out, these times of recalling shared memories can be a part of a successful and close marriage.  John Gottman in his book Why Marriages Succeed or Fail…and How You Can Make Yours Last calls it “finding the glory” in your marriage.  It is worth doing, helps strengthen our bond with our spouse, and gives hope for the future.

In my own marriage reminiscing played a key role in keeping us together during our desert years when we were committed but not close.  Many times we tried to work through the issues.  At times we’d even have understanding of each other, but somehow it didn’t translate into action or growth.  But that’s another story…  For now, know that we took care of responsibilities, but not each other.  When I look back and realize the state we were in it is amazing that we made it to the great marriage we have now.  Many things contributed to our longevity, like our stubborn commitment to our vows, but reminiscing is the thing that brought us back to the oasis where we could find joy together now and then.

Taking time together was a priority for us.  Every three or four months we’d take off overnight to the beach.  We’d go out for special occasions.  We started celebrating the anniversary of our first date and our engagement (which happens to be my birthday!)  All these celebrations gave us time to remember our beginnings, the romance, getting to know each other, and happy carefree times.  It was time to connect again with what we loved in each other.

As time passed we weathered many storms together.  There were periods of unemployment, difficult childbirths, sick children, stressful family times.  All the usual life difficulties.  But we’d look back at those and see how the Lord brought us through together.  It gave us a sense of camaraderie and confirmation that we were still right for each other after all.  As Dr. Gottman would say, we were “glorifying our struggles” and remembering them in a positive way that gave us hope for a bright future.

When we finally did work through those long-standing issues we realized what a role those times of reminiscing played.  They really did give us little oases of positive feelings to hold on to through the next desert trek!

I hope this story encourages you to take time with your spouse to remember back to your beginnings, to happy times, and even sad or stressful times.  Share the joy and blessings together.  Find meaning and growth in the hard times.  Just don’t forget your past.  Lessons from your history together may be just what you need to get to a soul mate marriage.

Share some of YOUR special memories in the Comment Box below.