Making It Count

Last week we watched the movie Titanic with Leonardo DiCaprio.  It was 100 years ago today that the Titanic sank!  In the movie, at the formal dinner, Jack describes the freedom he has in his life and concludes his philosophical monologue with a toast.  As he raises his glass of champagne, he says “To Making it Count”.

Each of us has a chance every day, a choice actually, to Make it Count.  Our days are busy and the schedule is usually full with work, meetings, the usual chores, bills, and taking care of the kids.  But what are we doing each day to Make it Count with our spouse?  To Make it Count we need to be intentional and not simply reactionary.  We must choose to make it a priority to think about those special things that will make our spouse feel loved and cherished and that they truly are the most important person in our life.

I’d like to address the husbands.  All too often we husbands are short on words and many times short on actions.  We get caught in the trap of taking for granted things around the house and in our lives.  We expect our home to be well cared for, dinner to be ready, the clothes washed.  And when things are expected, they are usually not appreciated.  It’s time to Make it Count.  This week I want you husbands to put into practice three simple steps to make your wife know she is appreciated.  I want you to: Write It, to Say It, and finally to Do It.

First of all, take some time and reflect on all the things that you are really thankful for about your wife.  Let your mind reflect on even the simplest things that she says or does.  It could be something about her kindness,  thoughtfulness, or her generosity.  Then write her a note expressing three of the things that you really appreciate about her.  Give her the note before bedtime and let her know you love her.  Your wife will probably love getting a special note from you.  Somehow when it’s in writing, it speaks to her heart.

Later this week I want each of you to think of three of your favorite dating memories.  And again, before you go to sleep one evening while she’s lying next to you, tell her that you wanted to share your special memories and why those times have made you love her so much.  Just hearing you verbalize this to her will warm her heart.

And finally, you need to just Do It.  Find those special things that she loves so much and take the time to make her feel cherished.  For my wife, a twenty minute foot massage is just about the best thing ever.  Maybe it is flowers, accomplishing something on her honey-do list, or a dinner out with you.  Better yet, dinner in and you are the cook!  Find that unique thing your wife loves and just Do It.

That’s it, guys.  Write It, Say It, and Do It.  Make it Count this week.

Keeping Your Spouse’s Tank Full

Last time we looked at the comparison between our emotional lives and an empty gas tank.  We all know when our gas tank is near empty, we need to fill up, or else we can look forward to a long walk or a long wait, even if we do have AAA.  We have common sense enough to know it’s foolish to let our gas tank get to empty.

How can we apply that same common sense to the “emotional tank” of our spouse?  Here’s where personal growth comes in.  We first need to be skilled at recognizing his or her condition.  This usually doesn’t take an expert, just an observant spouse.  Marriage is like a classroom and we are all in school every day.  Lesson plan number one:  Learn your spouse’s idiosyncrasies.  Become a student of what makes him or her tick.

There are two books that speak directly to the needs of husbands and wives, some of which they share.  In His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair-Proof Marriage by Willard F. Harley, Jr. the needs are broken down into five common needs for men and five for women.  In The 5 Love Needs of Men and Women, Dr. Gary and Barbara Rosberg address the five love needs of husbands and wives.  Some of these needs include:

  •   Unconditional Love
  •   Commitment
  •   Companionship
  •   Emotional Intimacy
  •   Communication
  •   Admiration
  •   Affection
  •   Honesty
  •   Financial Support
  •   Sexual Intimacy

Recognize that you are the person uniquely positioned to meet those needs.  When you meet those needs, your spouse’s emotional tank is more than likely at or near full and they can better respond to you and your needs.  Water your spouse so they can be strengthened to water you.

 Here are a few practical ideas that you can work with to better understand your spouse’s needs:

  1. Ask.  Yes, ask your spouse what makes them feel loved in various circumstances.  This is a great topic for a date night.  What are the FIVE keys ways that I can best show my love for you?  Be specific.  “I really feel loved and appreciated when you _____________.”
  2. Discover, by asking and observing, the kinds of comments and actions that de-energize your spouse.  Change how you respond to avoid emptying your spouse’s tank.
  3. Read up on it.  Become a student of your spouse’s needs and then work on getting an “A” for the year.  Better yet, get a Master’s Degree.  One of the books we’ve read says that if you don’t work at meeting their needs, someone else might.

Do it. Just do it. Not just when you feel like it.  Not when the time is right. Don’t wait for a full moon.  Just do it.  Today. Tomorrow.  And the next Day.  Selfless lovers understand giving and receiving.  Be a giver and your well-loved spouse will see that you are a receiver.

Your Spouse’s Tank is Almost Empty!

This past week we visited our son and daughter-in-law and had a wonderful time.  Great news… our next grandbaby will be here in September.   While driving around one day, I noticed the gas gauge showed almost empty.  As a guy, I knew it didn’t mean anything because the idiot light hadn’t come on yet.  It’s the one that tells you the tank is REALLY getting empty.  I know when the light comes on I have about a gallon and a half left.  Someday they will have a car that has an “idiot voice” that says, “Hey you, I’m almost out of gas.  Fill me up now!”

What if your spouse had a gauge?  A gauge that told you he or she was running on empty and needed refueling soon.  If your spouse emptied completely you’d be in real trouble because then life around the house wouldn’t  be much fun.

If you think about it, spouses do come with gauges…

When your husband comes home from work unusually quiet, a bit grumpy, and heads for his man cave, saying without actually speaking “Hey, leave me alone,” he probably didn’t have a good day at work.  And if you read his “emotional gauge,” you’d know his tank is almost empty.

Think about the husband that comes home and sees the house is kind of upside down, his wife looks exhausted and doesn’t give him the usual “Hi Honey, glad you’re home” kiss; and she looks like she could burst into tears at any moment.  Chances are pretty high that her “emotional tank” is nearly empty.  Not a good time to bring up a shortcoming you might be noticing.

When you can read your spouse’s needs, I call that “situational awareness.”  Your spouse is telling you through his or her actions that their tank is empty.  Some signs you may see are:

  • A short fuse and getting agitated, angry, or frustrated by small stressors
  • Quietness, sadness, moving slowly, spending more time ‘veging’ or wanting to be alone
  • Not making eye contact with you
  • You may feel ignored, taken for granted or emotionally distant when your spouse’s tank is running low.
  • You may think your spouse is mad at you about something.
  • Attempts to initiate physical intimacy may be rebuffed

Have you noticed when you spouse’s tank gets low?  An aspect of personal growth is to mature so that you become an expert at quickly recognizing your spouse’s needs.  When you are aware and get good at reading the tell-tale signs of an “emotionally empty” tank, you can focus on a fill-up.  A selfless serving spouse will take personal responsibility to refill their spouse’s tank well before the idiot light comes on.

And as long as you’re filling her emotional tank, check her oil and clean her windshield too, just like they used to do years ago.  Become a full service selfless loving spouse, and she’ll do the same for you.

Next time we’ll look at some practical things you can do to keep your spouse’s tank full.

A Full Bank Account

Last time we talked about making deposits to our relationship bank account and that according to studies that have been done, it takes five deposits to cover up one withdrawal.  In other words, it takes five affirmative interactions with your spouse to make up for one “foot in mouth” negative interaction.

So how do you keep focused on giving enough positives in each day?  How do you remember to make deposits?

I really believe that it is a state of mind.  You have to have a “thankful” state of mind.  If you are looking for things to be thankful about, you can take steps to express that thankfulness.  As an example, let’s say your lovely wife has gotten up early on Saturday morning and made a special breakfast for you.  She knows exactly what you like.  And BAM!  There it is, right on the kitchen table.  After you have breakfast you can get up and say nothing and start your chores, because, after all, she always makes you a special breakfast on Saturday.  Or you can actually express your thankfulness by telling her how much you appreciate her making a special effort each week.  Here’s where you can sneak in a couple of kisses too!!

We can take our spouse for granted or we can begin to mention even the little things that we are thankful for, the things that we appreciate about our spouse.  Here are a few ideas:

  1. Give her a big hug and tell her you appreciate your clean laundry
  2. Thank her for cooking a great dinner and then give her a kiss
  3. Rub her neck while you tell her how glad you are that you married her
  4. Tell her that after the kids are in bed she can have a foot rub for no particular reason
  5. Leave her a note in the morning and tell her she needs a break so you’ll take her to dinner
  6. Call her during the day and tell her you have been thinking about her
  7. Send her a mushy love note in the mail and don’t wait for Valentine’s Day
  8. Get up on Saturday morning and make her favorite breakfast
  9. On the way to church get her favorite cup of coffee
  10. Tell her often that you love her  (All the ladies agree with this one)

Ladies, you can morph the list above into one that fits your man.  Be creative.  Look for ways to be positive.  There are so many things that we can appreciate about each other and we need to express them more often.

Remember this:  We are going to stick our foot in our mouth and say or do something that really does warrant us being in the dog house.  That’s why we need to build up a big balance of positive deposits in that bank account.  And when we do say something dumb, our spouse who has been lavished with praise this past week, is more likely to forgive us.  And then we’ll only have to spend one night in the dog house, or only about as long as it takes to say you’re sorry.

Why Water Often?

In our previous blog “Water Often” we discussed the importance of nurturing your spouse by making sure that you provide for them daily, much like a plant needs water to survive.  But why it is so important to provide that on a daily basis?  Why is it needed?

All of you engineer types will really like this:  Our relationships can be impacted with two types of charges – positive charges or negative charges.  When we do or say things that convey love, support, and encouragement, those are positive charges that energize the relationship in a positive way.  When we say or do things that belittle each other or make hurtful comments, those are negative charges that harm the relationship and decrease our connection.

So if I make one unkind, thoughtless comment to my wife, I only need to make one kind comment and she’ll be fine, right?  One act of kindness balances the effects of one unkind act; that sounds logical.  NOT!!!

In his book Why Marriages Succeed or Fail, John Gottman, professor of psychology at the University of Washington, tells us that it takes FIVE positive actions/interactions to overcome the effect of ONE negative interaction.  From his findings we can see that it is not a one to one ratio.

Think about it from your own personal experience.  Think back to a time when someone made a particularly negative remark to you.  It may have been when you were in school, or perhaps it was something one of your parents said to you.  As you reflect on it I’m sure that you will remember how much it hurt you.  Certainly, one positive comment would not begin to outweigh the deep hurt that you felt.  Even if the person apologized and asked for forgiveness, it didn’t immediately take away the pain that you felt.  Reflect on these:

  •   1 Thessalonians 5:15 “…but always try to be kind to each other…”
  •    2 Timothy 2:24 “… (he) must not quarrel; instead he must be kind to everyone…”
  •    1 Corinthians 13:4-5 “Love is patient, love is kind… It is not self-seeking…  It keeps no record of  wrongs…”

Many authors in their books on marriage refer to this dynamic being like a bank account.  You need to continually make deposits in order to keep a positive balance.  If all you make are withdrawals, you will soon overdraw your account.  To complete the analogy, you will need to make at least five deposits for every withdrawal.

  • “You really look nice today” – Ding – Deposit.
  • “That was such a great dinner” – Ding – Deposit.
  • “I love spending time away with you” – Ding – Deposit.
  • “Thanks for taking care of me when I was sick. You’re the best nurse  ever” – Ding – Deposit.
  • “How come you never get the dishes done” – BONG – Withdrawal.  BIG withdrawal.

Remember that we all put our foot in our mouth occasionally.  Just remember to have plenty of positive deposits in the account so it is never empty.

And try to keep your foot out of your mouth!

Next time:  Some great ideas on how to have a full Bank Account

Time can be on your side

We’ve all heard it said over and over again that the biggest gift that you can give someone is your time, and for some reason, mostly by default, we have our spouse on a rationing program.  We seem to have time for work, kids, chores, volunteer programs at church and school, and we rarely miss out on watching that baseball or football game.  We have time for so many things and for many of us the day ends with us crawling in to bed at night exhausted, having spent precious few minutes with the most important person in our life.  When we consider a weekly date night with our spouse we lament there is no time left for that.  How does that happen?

Remember in an earlier blog on Common Sense I spoke about the couple that had enough money to buy two packs of cigarettes a day and then complained that they didn’t have enough money to buy milk for the kids?  In reality, they had more than enough money; they were just smoking the milk money.   In relation to time available each day, there is no rich or poor.  No one has more or less time per day.  Much like the cigarette smoker, you already have the time.  The question is better put, “What are we doing with the time that we have?”

How is it then that as we look back over the day or the past week, we have spent so few of those hours in meaningful relating with our spouse?

As with finances, we need to make choices.  And right choices follow right priorities.  The first thing that you need to do is determine what your priorities are.  For example, a financial planner will tell you that savings should be a priority in your monthly budget.  So they recommend taking 10% right off the top and put it into a saving program.  They don’t say to wait until the end of the month and see what’s left over.  That would be foolish.  You take your savings off the top and then live on what’s left.  Why?  Because you predetermined that saving was a priority.

And isn’t that what we need to do with our most important relationship? Why give your time and energy to everything else and then give your spouse the leftovers?  Doesn’t make sense, does it?

Here’s a challenge:  Do you want to have your relationship with your spouse be the number one priority?  Great!  Commit to this:  Set aside two evenings per week – two to three uninterrupted hours, for “special time” with each other.  No phone calls, no emails, no TV, no ball games (you can record them!), no Face Book, no blogging, just time for each other.  Later in the evening is fine, especially if you have kids.   And at home is fine too.   Remember:  water often. Trust me.  Your spouse will love you for making them your number one priority.

Water Often

Previously we spoke about your relationship being like a plant that needs water every day to flourish and stay green and beautiful.  Let’s expand upon that.

Let’s pretend that you and your spouse are like “people plants”.  You’re both standing in large pots with beautiful dark soil and you look like leafy green ivy growing strong and tall.  Each of you has a large watering can with a spout and your pots are close enough that you can reach over and water your spouse’s soil.  Now let’s further imagine that your watering can has the exact additives that your spouse’s plant needs to flourish, including the nitrogen, and the perfect dash of phosphate, potash, zinc and iron.  In other words, you have the perfect mixture of ingredients uniquely blended and balanced to make your spouse grow beautiful and strong and green.  The best looking spouse plant on the whole block.

What happens when we withhold water from a plant?  It begins to turn brown and the leaves begin to fall.  It becomes limp and weak.  Withholding nutrients will eventually cause the plant to die.  And remember this:  When you properly provide nutrients to your spouse, they then have the strength to be able to give back to you the nutrients that you need.  It’s a cycle – water them and they are strong enough to water you.

I believe that God wants each of us to have a watering pot uniquely blended with the exact nutrients and ingredients to enable our spouse to flourish, grow, and blossom.  We need to take seriously our responsibility to figure out what those unique things are that our spouse needs.  For example, the book The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts by Gary Chapman talks about how each of us has a special love language.  We can express and receive love through quality time, words of affirmation, gifts, acts of service, or physical touch.  When you know which of these five love languages your spouse prefers, you can begin to express your love for them in their unique language.

Seek to understand your spouse.  Know what their particular needs are and what fills them with joy.  Does she prefer a red rose or help with the dishes?  Does he prefer to chat about his day when he comes home from work, or does he appreciate 15 – 20 minutes of quiet time to unwind?  How do you know?  You can know because you can ask.  Agree with your spouse to take a few minutes and write down ten things that your spouse could do on a daily or weekly basis that would make you feel really special.  “I really appreciate it when you_________. It makes me feel so loved by you”.  Discuss the lists with each other and really listen to your spouse.  You could also read The 5 Love Languages book together.  Work at it every day.  What can I do to bless you today?  After all, I love it when you get all green and leafy!!!