Hey You! Listen Up!

Has your wife ever said, “You’re not listening to me!”

There are times when these words come out tearfully and loaded with overwhelming emotion or with anger and frustration.  Either way, the message is clear:  All of us guys can do a better job at listening to our wives.

Photo by CELAL TEBER

Photo by CELAL TEBER

The familiar scenario has the husband getting home, rummaging through the mail for bills, making a quick run to the bathroom, and returning to the family room to open his laptop to check the last few work emails. He yells back to his wife in the kitchen the obligatory, “How did your day go?”  She reviews the challenges of raising 3 active kids, and the stressful issues that came up.  When she looks around the corner to discover her husband with his gaze fixed on the laptop, she asks, “Have you been listening to me?” to which he replies, “Of course.  I just have to get this one email done.”  And that means he should be done in 20 to 30 minutes.  She walks back to the kitchen thinking, “Right! One email.”

Has this scenario ever happened in your home? Some of us, habitually turn on the TV or read the newspaper.  Still others disappear to the office to put things away, emerging in 45 minutes.  So much is vying for our attention, we often are drawn away from attending to the ones we love.

And then we hear that this pattern of behavior is justified because, well…. Men just need some time to unwind.

Photo by Janelle Siegrist

Photo by Janelle Siegrist

We basically just get our priorities all wrong.

Am I guilty?  Convicted to the core.  I have done this for years.  It is a worn-in pattern.  But it can and should be changed.  If we love our wives, we should first look to their needs, giving them our undivided attention.  How did their day really go?  We should actively listen to hear not only the message but the heart.  Maybe she revealed the facts about her day, but if you listen to hear her heart she is really saying “I just need a hug.  Today was rough.”

I have a bad habit of “kind of” listening.  That means I do something else and listen in the background.  I have even caught myself needing to “play back” what Darleen has said, as if I have a tape recording in my head.  Ouch!!!  Yes, I do love you, but I only half listen when you talk to me.

So here’s the deal.  listen and pay full attention to your spouse.  No more half-baked efforts.  On the way home from work, decompress and use the time to transition your mind to the people love. If this applies to some of you ladies out there, then so be it.

It is often said that God gave us two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak!

Who Are These Bees?

Our last blog was an overview of a book by Dr. Sandra Scantling: Extraordinary Sex Now. In her book she examines four basic temperaments: The Lion, the Bear, the Otter, and the Bee. Today we’ll take a closer look at the Bee personality.

Andrea De Stefani

Andrea De Stefani

 Generally speaking bees tend towards the following traits: Practical, ambitious, predictable, security minded, task oriented, very detailed, meticulous, good money managers, and logical. They take control and avoid impulsive behavior. They like facts over feelings and when others are patient with them, allowing them to think things through. They are all about fairness and proper balance. They value cleanliness and like things scheduled. They are good planners, but not good at delegating since they prefer to do things themselves so that they are done right. They tend to be very exacting with themselves and demanding of others.

Do you see your spouse in the list above? Or do you see yourself? Perhaps you’re a bee who married a bee and things have been very orderly since your well planned wedding.

Dr. Scantling has several hints that are quite helpful if your spouse is a bee. Here are a few:

  • Understand that they need order and structure
  • They can best communicate with facts and are overwhelmed by feelings and emotions
  • Share your admiration for their strengths and how much you appreciate them
  • Feelings don’t come easily for your bee so be open whenever they attempt to share theirs

Bees, while having so many positive strengths such as being good providers, dependable, and well-mannered, can be a handful with their constant attention to detail and need for structure. Because they are so task oriented, they may overlook many common social sensitivities. They may stress the facts rather than trying to understand what you are feeling.

And finally Dr. Scantling has a few suggestions for you if you are a bee:

  1. Learn to understand the feelings of others. They may not always seem logical to you, so you will need to learn empathy.
  2. Set aside time for a date night with your spouse. Don’t worry so much about an agenda that you overlook the joy of just spending time together.
  3. Look for the positives in your spouse and compliment them regularly.
  4. Work on sharing your hopes and dreams and plans. No need keeping all of this to yourself.
  5. Cultivate some spontaneity in your life. Drop what you’re doing and go have some fun.
  6. Work on changing your “absolute” thinking. Life isn’t always about right or wrong.
  7. Let yourself have some space if something isn’t “just perfect”. Sometimes things can be good enough as they are. Don’t stress and fuss over perfection.

We can all appreciate the wonderful qualities of Bees. After all, life is sweeter with a little honey.

That Really Bugs Me!

Do some of the things your spouse does really bug you?  You know those little habits that are so annoying.  For the most part, you have probably developed a coping mechanism that keeps things on an even keel.  Well, most of the time things stay on an even keel.  But in reality, you are just coping.  You are burying it.  You keep yourself from saying anything because you just don’t want to have another argument over a simple little thing.  Why bring it up again and make a mess out of things.  It’s easier to ignore it and forget it.

It certainly can be handled by using the “ignore it” method.  Is that really the best way to deal with it though?  Remember, when you “bury” things, even little things, it creates an unspoken barrier between you and your spouse.  It may even be a little barrier, but nevertheless a barrier.  These small unspoken issues can dampen the spark in your relationship.  You need to be on guard and not allow the little things to grow into big things.

Let’s look at an example like the classic clothes on the floor.  To be sure, he’s gotten better over the years but for some reason he still can’t seem to remember where the clothes hamper is.  Home from work, he goes in to change and sure enough, he leaves his clothes strewn on the floor again.  So, what do you do?  If you pick them up  —  again  —  and say nothing, what will change?  If you bring it up, you feel like you’re just nagging, again.

How about a new strategy?  Remember, many of life’s issues need to be lovingly negotiated.  You need to collaborate together to come to a positive resolution.  Try to be optimistic without being overly expectant.  In other words, be hopeful that things can change, but be realistic.  Some habits take years to change.  Be willing to work together without a harsh or negative attitude.  Try opening a discussion with “Can we talk about something later when you have a little time?”  Set aside uninterrupted time to have a talk together.  Bring the subject up with a spirit of wanting to work things out so that you can enjoy a closer relationship. The goal should be that you are closer and have a better relationship, not just that he remembers to pick up his clothes.

When you have time, try to work out some possible solutions to the issue.  Let him know how you feel and why it is important to you.  Be willing to work toward a solution over time.  Usually there is no need for an immediate fix.  Things truly can get better over time.

Also, always apply the rule of loving each other, even when daily annoyances bug you.  Work at resolving your issues, but work more at committing to love and forgive one another.

Imagine

Often song writers are able to capture the essence of some of life’s most perplexing issues.  In a few simple lyrics they can capture the complexity of life, touch our hearts, and move our souls.  I’ll date myself here, but one such songwriter that accomplished this mystical feat was none other than John Lennon of the Beatles.  He wrote a dreamy, idyllic tale of how peaceful life could be in his song Imagine, written in 1971.  He envisioned a utopian world at peace with no hunger or war, nothing to kill or die for; a fanciful happy world where mankind lives with neither territorial boundaries nor possessions.  He admits that he’s a dreamer and invites us to dream with him.  (A footnote here for my purest brethren – He also wanted us to imagine no heaven or hell, something with which I disagree.)

In a world where the only breaking news is bad news and where critical comments dominate our dialogue, we are often caught up in the negative onslaught that bombards our lives every day.  A local town in the Midwest has actually passed a law to fine people for swearing in public because public swearing reached epidemic levels.

Can you imagine a world less negative?  Can you imagine a marriage less negative?

I believe that we need to have a vision for a better marriage.  If you are like most couples, your relationship with your spouse is, to one degree or another, less than perfect.  To be honest, some of you would probably admit that your marriage has hit a few bumps along the way.  And some may further admit that the bumps are so severe that you feel like you’re driving in the ditch.  Still others just feel like giving up.

Here’s where I need all of you to take a step of faith.  Take a step and imagine.  Open your mind and your heart to see a better marriage, to see a closer more fulfilling relationship.  Open up to seeing yourselves as best friends and lovers.  Envision a time when your communication with each other is effortless.  He really does understand you and takes time to hear you and even empathizes with your feelings.  You both have found a way to quickly forgive when wrongs are done and hurtful words are spoken.  There is a daily joy of being together because you know just how to build each other up and encourage each other.  Words of praise are easily spoken; hurts and fears are shared with love and respect.  You have a deep desire to enjoy a passionate intimate relationship and you long to share the joy of holding each other close.  Imagine and have a vision for a marriage that improves and grows better every day.

Now for the reality check.  Don’t get lost in the daydream.  Imagine where your marriage can be and take responsibility each day to do what you can do to make that dream a reality.  Yes!  Do what you can do and day by day you can transform your marriage into what you imagined it to be.

Just What the Doctor Ordered, Part 2

Last time we looked into the prescription for a superb marriage as presented by Ed Wheat, M.D. in his book Love Life For Every Married Couple.  His prescription calls for four therapeutic activities to enhance your relationship with your spouse and get the B.  E.  S.  T.  results.  Here they are:

Blessing, Edifying, Sharing,    Touching.

 

Let take a look at the last two, again with my editorial comments:

  • Sharing – We are reminded here that we are to share our lives.  A growing thriving relationship is built up when we do things together.  We can share our time, our interests, and hobbies.  We also should share our deepest concerns and fears.  Our spouse should be our closest friend and confidant, someone who knows deeply our innermost emotional, physical and spiritual needs and desires.  This level of intimacy only happens in an open and honest relationship that strives for ways to selflessly serve one another.  Why is selfless serving so important?  If your relationship is built upon each partner trying to get his or her needs met in a selfish demand context, then the very nature of sharing will be based upon “What can I get out of this?”  But when we build our relationship around serving one another, then our shared experiences can be enriched by knowing that our spouse is lovingly seeking to serve us.  By contrast, a dysfunctional relationship will have each spouse pursuing self-interests at the expense of a shared context.  This is what can be referred to as the “roommate relationship.”  You share the same living space you just don’t share your lives.
  • Touching – Physical touch is a cornerstone need for every human being.  We all long for the emotional connection of touch.  A gentle touch of the hand says, without a word, that we care.  We can communicate comfort, calm fears, and soothe pain.  A superb marriage will have daily doses of comforting and heartwarming non-sexual touch.  Holding hands while on a walk.  A gentle neck rub.  A soft touch of the cheek before a good morning kiss.  These forms of touch are especially important to women who often feel that men only touch in a sexual context.  Women generally appreciate the simple cuddling, snuggling, and soft gentle touches.  These touches warm the heart and emotions.  And when we are emotionally open and satisfied, we can enjoy the beauty of the more intimate touching between spouses.  Be generous with your touches.  This is clearly the most intimate way of having a shared life.  The dysfunctional couple will withhold touching as a sort of blackmail to get what they want driving a wedge into the relationship.  Selfishness is usually the culprit behind withholding physical touch.  Touch selflessly and generously and you will enjoy a deep and truly blessed relationship.

The B  E  S  T  prescription:   Blessing – Edifying  –  Sharing  –  Touching!  The good doctor has spoken.

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.

A Great Marriage – The Ten Keys

This week I’m sharing with you advice from a book that’s been on my shelf for quite some time,  How to Make  A Good Marriage Great –Ten Keys to a Joyous Relationship by Victor Cline, Ph.D.  Most of the time when I see “Ph.D.” next to the author’s name, I think, “Ugghh, another 9000 pages of endless psychobabble that will take me three years to plow through.”  But then I come across a book like this one that breaks down complicated issues into basic strategies for success.  Get a copy of this book.  I’m sure you will find it useful.  In the forward Dr. Cline says, “I have never seen a happy divorce.”  How true is that?  Broken relationships even if they end amicably are painful and leave deep lasting scars.  He goes on to say that “we are all flawed.  We make mistakes…”   But then he says, “We have choices.  If we wish, marriage can be a wonderful, exhilarating adventure with almost no limits…” So I encourage you to choose the wonderful and enjoy the adventure of marriage.

Here is a summary of his first five keys for making a marriage great – with my added editorial comments:

1.        First Key – Shower Positives, Minimize Nagging  – Too often we focus on the five percent of the daily things that happen that are negative, such as a harsh word or insensitive comment.  We overlook the positive.  We need to get in the habit of being thankful for all that is good in our spouse and have grace and patience with the negatives.  Remember: five positives overcome one negative!b

2.       Second Key – Let Your Spouse Know the Facilitators of Love – Here he encourages us to clearly and verbally let our spouse know what our needs are.  Don’t expect he will somehow read your mind.  When your spouse expresses his needs, listen and do your best to give him what he needs.

3.       Third Key – Defuse Anger  – Find a way to step away from tense boiling points when they happen.  Sometimes writing it out and sharing notes can help.  Take time to calm down and when cooler heads prevail, the issues may be easier to work out.

4.       Fourth Key –  Positive Sexuality  –  This is such an important key in marriage relationships and it is the basis of true emotional intimacy.  Men need sex to feel emotionally connected and women need to be emotionally connected to truly enjoy the richness of sexual intimacy.  Work at understanding each other’s needs.

5.       Fifth Key –  The Power of Commitment – Love is a Daily Decision  –  This is clearly a cornerstone to a lasting marriage.  We must make an unconditional commitment to each other – For richer / For poorer – For better / For worse – In sickness / and in health – ‘Till death do us part.  Familiar words.  We need to be committed to each other and committed to growing our relationship into a “joyous relationship”.  It’s not good enough to be committed to a lifeless relationship.  We also need to be committed to and working toward a joyous relationship, a soul mate relationship.

Next week we’ll look at the next five Keys according to Dr. Cline.