A New Year

Photo by Shondra Hull

Photo by Shondra Hull

Can it be? 2016 is almost over! It’s amazing to me how fast each year goes by. And many of us engage in the practice of making a list of what we want to get done in the next year. The “Resolutions” list.

Admit it! You’ve done it. Some of you even write them down. You cross off a few. And by February you’ve lost the list.

Some of you have a mental list. That’s easier to dispose of since you don’t even have to lose it. You can just quietly forget about it.

OK, I’m be being a little hard on you. Actually, I’m being hard on me. I have done this over and over. My resolving is a habit. But, to be fair, I have done some of what I resolved. But some things keep showing up, year after year. Ah, some day, I will have the old things done and will start the new year with a fresh list.

Optimism is what we need. An optimistic view. We can do this. Yes, we can!

So, this year, let me help you with a basic ready-made

Resolutions List for My Marriage

I Resolve to Love my spouse, not just in word but in action.

  1. I will look for ways to demonstrate my love to my spouse.
  2. I will actively seek what tangible acts I can do to show my love.
  3. I will make a point of saying “I love You” every day.

I hereby RESOLVE to love my spouse.

I Resolve to Forgive my spouse.

  1. Let this be the year I truly let go of anything I am harboring against my spouse.
  2. I will forgive my spouse.
  3. I will just “Let it go.”
  4. I will pray for God to give me the grace to forgive as I have been forgiven.

I hereby RESOLVE to forgive my spouse.

I Resolve to take time with my spouse.

  1. I will spend quality time with my spouse each week.
  2. I will get a babysitter if needed to get alone time with my spouse.
  3. I will not allow my time with my spouse to be second, third, or fourth on my priority list.
  4. My time with my spouse will be number one.
  5. I will plan a weekend away once every three months.
  6. I will plan a week away once this year.

I hereby RESOLVE to spend time with my spouse.

I Resolve to work on my marriage.

  1. I will make my marriage a priority.
  2. I will work on better communication.
  3. I will read a book or two on marriage.
  4. I will attend a marriage seminar.
  5. I will make every effort to make my marriage better this year than last.

I hereby RESOLVE to work on my marriage.

Photo by Roger Kirby

Photo by Roger Kirby

That’s a great start!

Prayerfully consider the above list and modify if you must, but do RESOLVE to get closer to the wonderful spouse the Lord has given you.

Christmas Time Again

image by Krzysztof Szkurlatowski

image by Krzysztof Szkurlatowski

What a wonderful time of year when the sights and sounds of Christmas are everywhere. Trees are decorated with beautiful lights, the nativity is placed for all to see, familiar songs play in the background every place you visit. Christmas cards are sent and received with letters updating us on how other families are doing. Gifts are wrapped and ready to give. The grandkids are all excited about coming over to visit. The plans for dinner are made and the house has the familiar decorations here and there. Ah, what a wonderful time of the year.

At this time of year, we are reminded about peace and goodwill to all which brings back a particular memory for me. In high school one year, I was privileged to get the part of Scrooge in the play “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens.

What a wonderful story of a man who lived his life in pain and total lack of peace and joy, consumed by greed and self-interest. He was filled with regrets and despair. He was isolated and separated from his world. The name Ebenezer Scrooge has become synonymous with selfishness and greed.

A sad tale in one sense. On the one hand he had everything. Rich and wealthy, he could have anything he wanted. Money was no object. And yet, he had nothing. His life was empty. He did not open his heart to relationships. He closed himself off and walled himself in. He was a bitter and angry man who lacked compassion and understanding.

A sad broken man.

But this is also a story of redemption. A story about how this sad lonely man chose to turn from his despicable ways and be transformed. He got a glimpse into his past life to reflect on how things were before he hardened his heart. He could see he did at one time have joy in his life. He also had a glimpse into his present life, a life filled with selfishness, greed and a total lack of compassion. Finally, he was allowed to look into the future. A bleak, dismal, and dark future.

And then he made a choice.

“I can choose this day to change. I can choose to open my heart.”

Scrooge was redeemed. He was filled with joy, compassion, and love for others.

Photo by G-Man

Photo by G-Man

My prayer for each of you this Christmas, is for you to open your heart to the wonderful spouse the Lord gave you. Or if you are in a strained relationship with someone in your family, then open your heart to them. Seek forgiveness, restoration, and healing. And open your heart to your friends. Seek to heal the hurts of the past and let go of the bits of “Scrooge” in you.

And then we can all say with joy the last lines in the play,

             “God Bless us, Every One!”

I Forgive You

Photo by Kinga

Photo by Kinga

When we first met our spouse, we dated for a season of time. For most of us, dating was an exhilarating time filled with fun and excitement, surprises, happy moments, and getting to know each other. We were each at our best. We were kind, thoughtful and considerate. Guys remembered to be on their best behavior and the ladies took that extra time to be were pleasant and accepting, even if he did do a stupid thing that made you cringe for the tenth time.

We made allowances for each other and maintained a positive demeanor. We smiled and maybe even laughed at the failings we endured because, well, we were dating. We overlooked those “slight flaws” and didn’t make a big deal about it.

Do you remember those days?

And then we got married. The joy we experienced in dating continued for a while until we began to settle in to life. The life long journey of togetherness. Things that we used to overlook got elevated to the major leagues. We no longer laugh at the “funny little way he does that” because now it’s not so funny. How many times do you have to ask that they just stop doing that? When will they realize what they are doing is really hurtful? It’s just not funny anymore.

In some relationships it’s much more than a few inconsiderate actions every now and then.

There’s been a major violation that has rocked the core of your relationship. Some thoughtless action hurt you so deeply that you’ve withdrawn from your spouse and you can no longer even talk about it. You have been truly hurt and it seems they’ll never understand how much pain you are in, how it cuts you so deeply that you are numb and even deeply depressed.

Adding further to your dilemma, your spouse admits he was wrong. He’s expressed to you how sorry he is for hurting you. Yet the pain and memory of what he did just won’t go away. It’s hard to move on when you have been hurt so deeply. In your mind you know that he feels badly about what he did or said, but you just can’t seem to get over the pain. It remains an open wound, still raw and bleeding.

To begin to heal, you need to make a choice. An admittedly difficult choice to begin a journey of forgiveness and to find the strength and courage to say those three words, “I forgive you.” And you’ll need to say it in your heart over and over until, by the grace of God, you begin to experience the freedom of letting go of the hurt. I believe that your relationship can begin the journey of restoration once you make the choice to truly forgive as you would want others to forgive you. Not an easy journey of personal growth, but one that God promises to walk with us.

In Our Lord’s Prayer that we know so well, it says “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Ask God to open your heart to forgive and you can begin restoring your relationship so that you can return to the joy you once knew.

Hey, I Need Help! Part 2

Last time we looked at how chores around the house can cause major stress in your marriage. If one spouse feels they do a majority of the chores while their partner relaxes, this can lead to resentment and anger.

So how do you divide these chores up so  no one is feeling  they are doing an unfair percentage of the work load?

First, do either or both of you need an attitude change?

Photo by Rachael Ball

Photo by Rachael Ball

Maybe you do most of the work…. But do you have expectations of your spouse that cause you to demand things your way? Have you lost your servant heart in all the resentment? Fix your attitude and get in a place where you can forgive and start a new discussion with a servant heart.

And if you suddenly realize that you are the one relaxing, then it’s time for you to think through why that is. Do you notice when things need to be done or your spouse is exhausted? Do you wish he or she was more relaxed? When you think of helping out with chores, how does that make you feel? Maybe you are OK with messiness, or maybe you just don’t want to help out. Figure it out and make a decision to be a servant to your spouse and take part in keeping your household orderly.

Now you can have a discussion to clear the air and start fresh. Listen to understand each other. Forgive if needed. Bend if that helps. Throw out any unrealistic expectations.

List all of the tasks that you both do around the house by frequency.

Photo by Belinda Bohlken

Photo by Belinda Bohlken

Decide which tasks you each prefer to do on a regular basis. For example: One may prefer to cook. That’s great. You’re probably better at it and don’t mind doing it. Narrow the list this way.

The rest you need to creatively work at dividing up.

Maybe neither of you want to vacuum. But you can trade off every other week. One may decide to do the vacuuming if the other spouse mops. You can horse trade. I’ll do this if you do that. Try to work through the list with this give and take cooperative attitude. Be creative. The goal is to equitably share the chores.

If there are items left on the list still, you could agree to do those together. Four hands work faster!

Every family is unique. Your situation may determine who does what chore. If only one spouse is working, the other spouse will usually have more on their list. Find a way to work at sharing the work load around the house so that no one feels they are doing an unfair amount of the work.

More From Dr. Gottman – Defensiveness

We’ve been looking at the Four Horsemen from The Seven Principles for Making a Marriage Work by John Gottman, Ph.D. Today we’ll take a look at the third of the four negative relational interactions, defensiveness.

We can all think of times when we have responded to our spouse in a defensive way. We point out why something did or didn’t happen that way. We’re saying,

“Hey, it’s not my fault because…”

We go on to explain why we aren’t to blame. We deflect a perceived attack by shifting the blame to someone or something else.

“Yes, I said that, but it’s because you did this and caused me to say that!”

Defensiveness deflects the attack and changes the focus to someone or something else.

Dr. Gottman says that this rarely has the desired effect. The attacking spouse usually doesn’t back down, tending to ignore the excuses and continue the attack. The defensive spouse does not apologize and is trying to shift the focus off themselves. The battleground is set with repeated attack and defend, attack and defend cycles.

Are you thinking this sound a lot like your arguments? You bring up something to your spouse and immediately they’re defensive. They never admit to doing anything wrong, but instead come up with every excuse in the book to justify themselves.

If you have a habit of being in this kind of a cycle, try using the “take a break” approach. When you feel attacked, ask your spouse to tell you what they think you did wrong. Listen and repeat back what you heard. Then ask, “Is that accurate?” Listen only to clarify their perspective.  Ask, “Is there more?” When you both agree that you understand ask, “Could I have time to think and we can talk about it later today? I need time to reflect on what you are saying.”

Photo by Julia Freeman-Woolpert

Photo by Julia Freeman-Woolpert

Whenever things escalate into a tense hostile exchange, it is usually best to step away so that we can calm ourselves down. Remember that your relationship and closeness is more important than winning a particular argument. Make it your focus to have your relationship win.

Hopefully, your spouse will respond by giving you the time you need and not just continue the attack. Then use that time to truly self-evaluate. Be honest with yourself and take responsibility for your own wrong-doing in the matter.

If you recognize yourself as the spouse who usually is the attacker, I hope you will be convicted that attacking is not a loving way to approach your spouse. When you are in an argument, try asking questions that seek to understand why your spouse responded a particular way.  You may hear new data points that change your perspective.

Seek to understand, not attack. It may be true that they did something wrong, but be quick to forgive and give them space to come to that conviction on their own, not because you railroaded them in to conviction.

Stop attacking and start loving.

I Said I Was Sorry!

Have you ever heard those words or spoken them?  Why is it that so many times we need to come back and say again, “I SAID I was sorry! What more do you want me to say?”

Cecilia Johansson

Cecilia Johansson

The Apology is needed in every marriage tool box.  Why?  Because we all mess up. We all make mistakes, and do things we promised not to do.  We say things that are insensitive and hurtful, and the list goes on.

Generally speaking, we are not very good at apologies.  We often mouth the words but true repentance is far from reality.  Inwardly we are saying, “I’m sorry, but ….”    So our spouse doesn’t believe us for a minute and thinks if you were REALLY sorry, you’d stop doing whatever and quit making lame excuses.  Ouch.  I guess it doesn’t look like I’m really sorry.

How do we apologize?  I mean REALLY apologize.  So that it is accepted.  How do I honestly convey my regret?

Fortunately, there an app for that!!  Oops, I mean a book for that.  There may be an app for that, but for now a book will do.  I’m referring to The Five Languages of Apology Amazon by Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas.  Yes, you’re right.  This is the same Gary Chapman who authored The Five Love Languages.

What an insightful book.  It looks into the ways that we typically apologize, our apology temperament if you will.  Here are the five languages of apology:

  • Expressing Regret – I am sorry
  • Accepting Responsibility – I was wrong
  • Making Restitution – What Can I do to make this right?
  • Genuinely Repenting – I’ll try not to do that again
  • Requesting Forgiveness – Will you please forgive me?

Most of us are looking for an apology to be sincere.  An apology that has an excuse built right into it is worthless.  You are simply absolving yourself on the back end of a hollow “I’m sorry”.

We also like to hear the offender take ownership of what happened and not spread the blame onto others.

There are a series a questions in the book that help you identify your particular language of apology or what’s important to you when someone is apologizing to you.  Is it enough that they express regret, or is it important to you that they also clearly accept responsibility.

And so, I’m sorry for not going in to more detail in this blog.  I know it’s my fault and I could have done a better job. Next time I will.  Will you please forgive me?

Now, go home and tell your spouse you’re sorry.

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.