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

Growing Together

One of the most important things that you can do to improve the quality of your relationship is to take personal responsibility for your own personal growth.  Take a look at those boxes in the shop.  How many of them are YOUR boxes of clutter?  Do an honest self-assessment.  Independent of your spouse, you need to evaluate what areas in your life need work.  And then communicate that to your spouse so that she can be actively involved in the process of helping you deal with your issues.

  • Discuss the particular area of concern
  • Pray about it together
  • Allow time for change
  • Remember to be thankful for even small movements in the right direction

And you need to be realistic about the time frame to deal with these issues.  Some of the areas we need to grow in most have been habit patterns ingrained in us for years and it will take some time to reverse the habits.  You’ll need to exercise a high degree of patience with yourself as you work at overcoming issues.  And further, if you are the spouse helping your partner, you need to be patient even more.

Then we need to face the issues that surfaced since we’ve been married, our JOINT baggage so to speak.    Face it… when we first got married, we did not have extensive training in how to be a good life partner.  We were single and the only needs that we paid close attention to were our own.

To be sure, our family background should have taught us the importance of the following character qualities:

Sharing                                                          Humility

Patience                                                        Self-Control

Forgiveness                                                   Sensitivity

Generosity                                                     Tolerance

This may come as a shock to some of you, but most of us did not come from perfect families.  To one degree or another we come from damaged backgrounds.  We each begin married life needing to work on those areas in which we are lacking.  At the same time, we need to develop the skills necessary to be a good spouse.  We are basically working on growing up while we are working on developing the skills necessary to build a fulfilling relationship.

So it is a process. If we really understand this, we can have the patience and tolerance necessary to allow our spouse the time and space necessary to grow, much as we need the same patience and tolerance.  We need to have an attitude of encouragement.

Here’s a good example.  Your husband has a pretty bad habit of leaving his socks on the floor.  He takes his shoes and socks off, get undressed and jumps in the shower, leaving the socks on the floor.  What, is he blind?  He steps over them and then when you bring it up he says, “Oh right, I guess I forgot!”  So here’s the plan.  When he does remember, don’t say something like, “Well! Finally!”  Instead, snuggle up to him, nibble a little on his ear lobe and whisper to him, “I am so proud of you.  It makes me happy when you remember.”  Then, just sit back and watch how often he remembers.

Next time we’ll look at the questions, “Why water often?”

 

   

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!

Cleaning up the Mess

Last time we talked about your relationship being like a shop. Over time it gets cluttered with boxes of “stuff.” Hurt feelings and unmet needs hinder a relationship from being close. Some of us begin our marriage with baggage that we carry from when we grew up. We seldom begin with a “clean shop” so to speak. Before we come back from the honeymoon our shop is already piled with clutter.

So how do we apply common sense to clean up the clutter in our relationship?

First, honestly assess the quality of your relationship. Both spouses should independently score themselves from 1 to 10 on the following:

  • overall quality of our relationship
  • time together
  • communication
  • finances
  • physical health
  • free time
  • relatives
  • kids
  • romance
  • sex life
  • mutual trust
  • household chores
  • handling problems and decisions
  • spiritual life
  • church involvement
  • goals
  • dreams
  • desires

Add additional items if you feel they are needed.

Now, each should list about 10 items that you really appreciate about your spouse and any items that are a struggle. Honesty is important. Hiding issues lets “boxes of stuff” remain covered.

Now list four things that you feel would help your relationship grow closer.

And finally, list anything that has really hurt you. This can be difficult. It requires that you dig deep. Often when we have been hurt, we bury our feelings because they are too hurtful to talk about. But these particular “clutter boxes” can be the very issues that keep us from being truly close. We can easily overlook socks left on the floor, but deeply felt wounds are like invisible forces that keep us from being close. (More on Hurt and Forgiveness in a future blog.)

Completing the assessment above is merely a first step to let you know if you have clutter in your relationship. The list and your answers will help you to begin a discussion on how to take a particular area and begin the process of making it a 9 or a 10.

Here are some helpful tips:

  1. The shop is “our shop.” It isn’t “your box of junk.” Both must realize that in order to have a close relationship you both need to be responsible to work on getting it healthy. Look at an area of concern in this light: What can “we” do together to work at making this issue less of a hindrance to us having a close relationship.
  2. Patience should guide your actions. It took us a week to clean up our messy shop. Relationships are much more complex and patience is needed to allow time to resolve issues. We bring issues into our relationships that have been issues since we were young children. They take time to work through. Don’t try to resolve them all at once. Take a few steps and be thankful for your progress. Be patient and gracious with each other.
  3. Communicate with each other in a kind, loving, and non-demanding manner. Remember that you are working at cleaning issues up so you can enjoy the richness of a soul mate relationship.

Big Problems

What if we have big problems? Can Common Sense help us to resolve these problems?

I remember several months ago we needed to clean up our shop. It’s a large shop and we had accumulated 30 years of stuff like garden and shop tools, and boxes of things we had moved from California. We had several old used appliances and lawn mowers, old rugs and stuff not even worthy of saving for a garage sale. The kids had used the shop for playing air soft games and so various barriers were built as hiding places. One of the lofts had old furniture. The other loft was full of old files and boxes, some from college and high school classes. There were ping pong tables and piles of old wood. You’re right, a cluttered mess. When we removed one pile, it uncovered another with more stuff to be sorted, cleaned, organized or thrown out. Embarrassing. How did we get so much junk? How did it pile up into such a mess?

We knew the shop needed to be cleaned out. Starting at one end, we moved things out to sweep, vacuum, rearrange, and set up a garbage pile. It ended up being a very big pile. And just for the record, we swept and vacuumed up thousands of air soft pellets. But after almost a full week of cleaning and a few trips to the dump, we got it done. We even took pictures!! A pretty big task when we started but it looked so good when we got it done.

Sometimes our marriages, just like the shop, get all cluttered up. We begin with small problems. Those problems, when left unresolved, cause other problems. A husband may have a habit of not remembering to call when coming home late from work. At first, his wife gets upset about the cold dinners, eating alone and disappointed children. She lets him know how upset she is about his lack of consideration, and then she nags him about it for several months with no fruit. He gets upset about the nagging, and she eventually quits bringing it up, burying her feelings. Resentment and bitterness fester causing a noticeable distance in their relationship. He comments about how cold she has become and how he misses being affectionate. She responds in cold silence. He is totally unaware that his lack of consideration has snowballed into a mini cold war. What started as a simple problem grew into a huge problem. Over time, add five or six other issues into the mix, compounded by unspoken needs and expectations, and you have a real mess. Just like the shop. And you’re left wondering how you begin to get this mess cleaned up.

Something to consider: Does your relationship have clutter? Are there boxes of unresolved issues? Are there issues that you don’t even talk about? When you first got married, did you and your spouse bring boxes or “stuff” and put them in your shop? Did you have goals, dreams, or desires that never materialized and are a source of tension or disappointment?

Next time: What steps can you take to deal with the Mess.