Navigating a Life Changing Event

Recently, and fairly suddenly, Alan and I chose to embrace some changes in our life that are having a big impact on us. Alan was laid off his job late last year and was pursuing another job. If that wasn’t enough our church’s leadership team fell apart and urgently needed help to fill in the blanks. Never ever did we contemplate Alan volunteering for the board of directors of a large church, but that’s what he did after we prayed, sought counsel, and agreed together that the Lord was leading him there.

Photo by Andy Stafiniak

Photo by Andy Stafiniak

Within a week he was attending several meetings a week. Evenings, mornings, long meetings, emergency meetings. Lots of phone calls, email and text communications. It was a very different schedule, sort of like when we prepared for our daughter’s wedding. Those last few months were non-stop and we never felt caught up.

We have always been extremely protective of our time alone for dates and intimacy and it took a few weeks to notice that this new schedule was taking a toll. We also felt the effect on our exercise goals that fell to a lower priority. We were tending to eat fast food on the fly. The long hours, less exercise, and poor food choices meant less energy for intimate time and getting everyday chores done.

Though this has been a big change for us, I know that some couples live in this state of busyness constantly and it doesn’t ease up for them. So temporary or constant, how can we navigate these times and keep our marriages fresh and passionate?

There are the obvious things:

  • Is there anything you can let go of?
  • Decide together if you should add something new.
  • Intentionally shut the phones off for time to connect.
  • Stop things that just waste time- TV, web surfing, gaming.

And schedule intimate time if you have to but be open to unconventional or spontaneous times. When a meeting cancels, don’t waste the opportunity! On the other hand, let go and be content if your time together gets postponed once in a while.

Most important are your attitudes. It’s easy to blame and resent your spouse when they change the plans. But that attitude will only hurt you both if you hold on to it. Don’t ever doubt your spouse’s commitment and love. Making assumptions about their intentions never helps. When your feelings get hurt or your hopes dashed, talk about how you feel

Photo by John Nyberg

Photo by John Nyberg

and work together to get the time you need.

And finally, don’t forget to plan for and go on that get-away time where you can relax and enjoy each other without any interruptions!

The Rest of Our Story

This last week as we visited our daughter and her family, I watched my husband playing ball with the grandkids. A simple game, him throwing the ball out in the yard and they’d retrieve it and throw it back. There were wild screeches of delight every time the ball landed in the kiddie pool as the kids announced another “wet ball.” Such a simple game, yet such fun was had.

It reminded me of times Alan would play with our own children. He has a way of making anything fun. I am really thankful for this quality in him and it made me so happy to see it again impacting another generation.

There have been other instances too when I think about how glad I am that we stayed committed in our marriage and worked out the problems so that we could still be together to enjoy moments like that ball game. We had some really hard things to work through, and it took years. There were many times that I thought maybe it would just be easier to split up. I wondered if it would ever get better. I know Alan had those thoughts too. But we got through it with the grace of God.

And now we are living “the rest of our story” together. Moments like the ball game become poignant because they could have been lost to us. If we’d split up I wouldn’t have witnessed that scene. So the hard times we went through seem so worth it to have the rich relationship we have now.

Of course, life isn’t perfect. There are stresses. But this is the part of our story when we experience calm in the storm together. We feel the support of the other even during a disagreement. And we come to understanding more easily.

My hope for you is that you too will persist in love and forgiveness so that you can joyfully live the rest of your story together.

 

The Importance of Friends

A while ago we took a trip to the beach with friends for a few days and I was deciding which games to bring to pass the time since it looked like there would be rain.  That led me to ponder how much fun we were likely to have no matter what we did!   We went with 2 of the couples we meet with weekly.  One of the husbands, a teacher,  celebrated the last day of the school year.  The rest of us were just happy to get away from the daily grind for a while.

I am so thankful for the couples we meet with weekly.  We talk a lot on this blog about communication between husband and wife, about selfless service, listening and meeting needs.  That is all so essential for a good relationship.  But have you ever thought about how important it is to have other like-minded committed couples that you know well, and who know you well too?  They can add so much to our lives that we’d miss without them.

It takes time to develop the closeness I’m talking about but it is worth it.  Being a good friend will go a long way towards building  the trust needed  to have a relationship where all couples can share openly.  We all tend to open up at different rates depending on our background, but a good friend will be patient.

The benefits go both ways when couples relate on a deeper level.

Of course there are the fun times like we had.  Laughing and joking around lower our stress levels.  Often, playing together will open us up for sharing of trials and struggles, and problem solving together.

Sometimes we include families and other friends.  Then we get to see our friends relating to their loved ones, deepening our knowledge of them.  We begin to see creative and amazing ways they relate to their family; things we may want to adopt for ourselves to improve.  In the process we will notice hurtful or destructive habits and behaviors also.  If our relationship is close we can see those blind spots, point them out gently, and share ideas about what might work better.

And most importantly, we will know how to specifically pray for our friends.  We’ll be able to uphold them in their struggles and help in times of need.  In turn, they will do the same for us!  Our marriages will be improved and our lives enriched in the way that only serving others can do.

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.       Galatians 6:2 (NIV)

It Only Takes 5 Minutes

Sometimes when time is short we tend to focus on the urgent tasks and not on our loved ones.  But being busy isn’t an excuse to ignore our spouse.  He or she is just as important to us in busy times and really, when aren’t we busy?  If it is a chronic state for you, then it is crucial for you to think of some easy  and quick ways to show  your spouse you cherish him!

Here are some fun things you can do:

  • Going to the grocery today?  Walk through the bakery section to pick up a cupcake, a chocolate éclair, or something else your spouse likes. Share it after the kids go down.  Make sure to tell him why he’s getting treated.
  • When he is at the desk doing the bills give him a quick neck rub because you appreciate his efforts.
  • Make a big sign (the bigger the better) and hang it up in front of where he parks his car at home.  Say something endearing, like you’re glad he’s home.
  • Text him or leave a voice message during the day saying how you miss him.
  • Send him a love note in the mail to his place of employment.  Your perfume on the envelope is good!
  • Make a coupon for something he really likes, a massage, back itching, favorite dinner, or intimate activities. You know what he likes!  Be creative, but no expiration date…

None of these things take more than 5 minutes, yet they will speak volumes about your love and affection.  The fact that you took time and effort to think of your spouse during your busy day will confirm to him that he is important to you and everyone craves that feeling of being cherished.

So put your spouse on your task list and make him an “A” priority!

Who Will I Be?

We heard a talk by Gayle Haggard, wife of Ted Haggard, and she challenged us to ask ourselves the question, “Who am I going to be in this story?”  She had to answer that question when her husband was accused of a secret life of infidelity and drug use.  Her perfect world turned upside down and she chose to stay and fight for her marriage, not give up on it.  The story would be told one way or another; she decided to be a part of a hopeful healing story, not one of division and defeat.  Such a courageous decision!  And the story she now tells is of the power of Jesus to heal deep wounds between spouses.

All spouses are actors in the story of their marriage and we all have a choice of who we will be in that story.  The script is not written for us; we make it up as we go.

Personally, I spent a lot of years blocking progress and closeness in my marriage because of wrong thinking.  Our marriage wasn’t a happy story and I was not doing my part to change that.  Here are some of the destructive ways of thinking that I employed:

  • Black and white thinking– it was either all right or all wrong, a total success or failure, all good or all bad.  I didn’t acknowledge the little bit of progress or good along the way.
  • Overgeneralization– when a negative thing happened I thought nothing would ever go right.
  • Awfulizing– thinking the worst, everything is just awful.
  • Negative mental filter– I could always see the negatives, seldom the positives. I filtered out the good things and ignored the positives.
  • Magnifying and minimizing– blowing things out of proportion, magnifying my weaknesses and minimizing strengths.
  • Blaming– I blamed myself for things whether it made sense or not just to reduce the stress level.  Some people blame others for the same reason.
  • Labeling– accusing ourselves or others of wrongdoing based on a few negative instances.
  • Emotional reasonings– I let my feelings guide how I interpreted reality. For example: “I feel like I am a failure so I am a failure.”

I’m sure you see how destructive these patterns are.  They are ingrained and we use them because they seem to reduce our stress level at the moment.  But in the long run they only increase it.  They block good constructive conversation.  And if you do get some clarity and resolution at times, it will all be forgotten when caught in the negativity trap again!

Do you see yourself in any of these negative thinking patterns?  If so, be encouraged that you can change your thinking and the story of your marriage in the process.  We can decide to be intentional about the way we react to things.  Start by thinking about the positive things about you, your spouse, and your lives together.  Give yourself and your spouse some slack.  We all make mistakes and we need forgiveness. Remember that the next time one of you hurts the other.

Decide to be a positive, constructive actor in the story of your marriage.

We’ll Never Solve This Issue!

Sometimes progress in your marriage relationship can be a very slow process and the same issue comes up over and over. If we talked it through and came to an understanding, why do we have to go back through it again and again?  There are a couple of obvious reasons:

  • We are all human!  We have habits that are hard to break, baggage that is hard to overcome.  Sometimes we forget or struggle with selfishness.  We need reminding just how important this is to our spouse.
  • Problems are complex and they evolve.  We may think we have resolved an issue but in fact we have addressed only an aspect of it.  Next time we’ll focus on a different aspect.  It is like layers of an onion getting peeled away.  Each time you peel a layer you get closer to the heart of the issue and the final resolution.
  • And we change!  Something important to your spouse now may not be so key at a different stage in life.  We change as our circumstances change and that is just a part of life.

My challenge to you is to think of these recurring problems differently.  As I look back on my life-long struggle with weight, I see a yo-yo pattern of limited success followed by failure again and again.  That is how I looked at it and it became very discouraging.  Why try when failure would follow?

Now I can see the layers of the onion were peeling off and the whole process brought personal growth.  And recently I have learned some things about my stinking thinking that have opened the doors to a hopeful attitude. If I continue thinking of relapse as failure then I will be discouraged and stuck.

Look at it this way… when you take 5 steps forward that is success, and 2 backwards is failure right?  No! 5 forward and 2 back will still get you to your goal if you keep moving!!   It is wrong to see failure when we or our spouse are not perfect.  We should never expect perfection from ourselves or others.  So when those pesky issues recur, don’t be surprised.  Talk them through again, practice forgiveness, and get moving in the right direction, step by step!

Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete,                        not lacking anything.                       
James 1:4

More Making It Count

So ladies, now it is time for us to make it count!

Did your husband ever do or say something that really made you feel special?  To have his undivided loving attention is like a refreshing shower, energizing your whole being. I bet you felt important to him, indispensable and cherished.  And you probably really liked that feeling!

So it is not hard to imagine that your husband would like to feel special too… that he is your hero, and you admire and respect him for his qualities.  Making each other feel cherished adds to the positive relational bank account that protects our marriages from the effects of negative, draining interactions that happen every now and then.

One major hindrance is busyness.  When I am working my way through an endless task list to keep the house running efficiently or get ready for an event, I tend to put relational needs on the back burner.  A few years into our marriage, Alan challenged me to think about putting him on my task list!  That was a big wake up call for me—just because there are tasks to be done doesn’t mean the people in our lives can be put on hold.  Tasks can wait.

We need to have an attitude of gratitude also.  Discontent saps our ability to see the positive in our husbands and the circumstances we’re in, causing a negative focus.  When we are thankful we are able to see what is good and true about people and situations.

So armed and motivated to make it count, what do we do?  Here are some suggestions:

  1. Every man wants to be admired, especially by his wife!  Verbalize what you like about his character, his body, what a leader or father he is, and the good work he does.  It costs nothing and your man needs positive affirmations from you.  Most men don’t know what you think unless you tell him, so say it, on a regular basis!
  2. What kind of affectionate touch does your husband like?  Maybe he likes to be massaged or scratched on his back, or neck.  Or a hug and kiss with a whispered promise for more later! Spontaneous touching is soothing and conveys love and acceptance.
  3. Write your husband a note now and then, expressing something you are thankful for about him.  Give it to him in his lunch or mail to his office.
  4. Pray for him.  He may not know it but what better way to support him in all he does than to bring him before the Lord daily.  It will help him and keep you thankful and humble also.

It is not very time consuming to give a hug or tell your husband he’s an incredible father.  If you have a hard time doing it, search your heart for resentment, ingratitude, or selfishness that causes you to withhold positive affirmations.  Pray about it.  Ask Jesus to reveal what holds you back and to help you break through.  Your own personal growth will contribute so much to your marriage.

 Remember it takes 5 positive deposits to your relational bank account to counteract 1 negative withdrawal.  Keep adding deposits, every day, and you will be making it count!