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.

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.

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.

 

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.