Thankfulness

Photo by monmart

Photo by monmart

This week we celebrate the annual tradition of Thanksgiving Day. We gather with family and friends and partake of far too many calories in the finest turkey, mash potatoes, gravy, and of course pies and other treats. We enjoy each other’s company and engage in lively dinner time chats.

I am reminded during these times to be thankful for the wonderful blessing I have been given in my wife, Darleen. Come to think about it, each day has something to be thankful for. Here are just a few of the many things that come to mind:

Darleen has been a wonderful wife for the past 40 years. I often call her my “Proverbs 31” wife. She is thoughtful, kind, and considerate. She does so many special things for me and around the house I can hardly begin to count. She is an amazing cook and can make anything from an elaborate Christmas dinner to a simple backyard BBQ. She decorates the house for special occasions and keeps our home neat and clean for when guests are over. She is a thrifty shopper always on the lookout for bargains and specials. She is patient and long-suffering (I added this because she mostly needs patience for me. I am often slow on the uptake with tasks around the house that need to be done.)

Oh yes, she’s my live-in nurse, on duty twenty-four hours a day. I once got a deep cut on my finger, and passed out after seeing my blood. I hit my head and cut open my chin as I fell over. Yes, I know, it sounds funny now, but I could have bled to death had my nurse not been there to take care of Mr. Wimpy. Now you see why I have a lot to be thankful for.

Photo by Armin Hanisch

Photo by Armin Hanisch

She has not only been a fantastic mother to our three children, but now she has the role of best Grandma Bear ever. Just the other night, the evening before Thanksgiving Day when we had a house full of family and friends coming over for dinner, she was up until 11:30 making doll house furniture for a doll house she bought for our granddaughters. She hand-crafted elegant beds preparing the doll house for the next day when our granddaughter was coming over. Wow!  What a woman I have been given. And she has made a point to make a quilt for each grandchild when they get to two years old, each with a special verse sewn in to the corner.

In Proverbs 18:22 it says,

“He who finds a wife finds a good thing”.

My special wife. Truly a good thing. I am so thankful that the Lord has blessed me with such a wonderful soulmate, best friend and lover. She is truly the most special gift in my life and I love her now more than ever.

So, to all you men out there, take some time and think about your wife and what you are thankful for, and then tell her, over and over. Be thankful for the blessing God has given to you.

Who Are These Otters?

The Lions, Bees, Bears, and Otters are four temperaments explored in Dr. Sandra Scantling’s book Extraordinary Sex Now. Previously we explored the structured, organized, and disciplined Bees. Now we’ll go on a wild ride with the enthusiastic, frolicking, and spontaneous Otters.

There’s no doubt if you’ve married an otter. They will often be heard saying with exuberance,

“Let’s just go do it!.”  

Martin Simonis

Martin Simonis

Before you know it, you’re off another great adventure to the coast, or a five hour drive to Canada straight up I-5 in the snow. Or you’ll find out that in two hours you’re hosting a party and twenty people are coming for BBQ. “But it’s OK,” you’re told, “Most of them are bringing their own beer!” Well la te da, aren’t you thrilled. They’re bringing their own beer. What do we have to worry about?

Here are a few tell tales signs that you’re an Otter or you’re living with an Otter:

  • They are charming, lovable, fun loving, and often very generous
  • Neatness is not their strong suit – after all, we can clean up tomorrow
  • There is never a dull moment – spontaneity reigns supreme
  • They love to make life joyful and take adventures just for the fun of being with you
  • They can be creative, imaginative, and great practical jokers
  • They like variety. Too much structure confines and restricts them
  • Being supportive and accommodating are some of their better qualities
  • They can easily spend all they have because money isn’t a primary concern to them
  • They are free spirited risk takers

Otters should try to remember these things in order to live in closer harmony with a non-Otter spouse:

  • A little structure won’t really hurt you
  • Try a little long term planning and set some goals with an action plan
  • Hold back on some of your impulses and reflect on choices available to you
  • Think through your options keeping in mind other’s feelings – your spouse will thank you
  • Remember to balance your need for fun with practical things, like the bills

For those of you blessed with the joy of being married to an Otter:

  • Don’t make it your life mission to change your Otter – Learn to love them as they are
  • Appreciate that their spontaneity can add passion and excitement to your lives
  • Avoid being a nagging parent type reminding your otter of chores and tasks
  • Finds ways to get things done together without crushing their otter spirit. Get stuff done and then go have fun. If fun is at the end, you’ll be surprised how fast tasks get done.
  • And finally, remember your otter is a kid at heart. Embrace and love their uniqueness.

Thank God for the Otters in our lives. They don’t see boundaries; they see possibilities. They don’t create walls; they envision the wide open expanse. They are full of joy and enthusiasm.

Hopefully, some of that will rub off on all of us.

Next time we’ll take a look at the Lion.

Imagine, Part 2

In my previous blog I spoke about the need to imagine a better marriage, a closer more fulfilling relationship in which you enjoy being together and where you truly feel like best friends.  How is that possible?  How do you get close to each other when there are so many nagging issues making you so annoyed you could just spit?  How many times have I told him about…?  I wish she would just… and get over it already?  Why does she have to keep nagging and nagging about the same old things?  Why don’t we ever just hug and cuddle like we used to?  It seems that we are so busy and we never get enough time together.  Why does it seem like we are drifting apart?

Why indeed.  Relationship Drift is seldom caused by one or two incidents.  It develops over a long period of time, with many of the same incidents happening over and over again.  The painful hurts caused by words spoken in anger or insults and insensitivity add up into a heaping pile of pain that now you just ignore and bury.  This leads to a dull numb lifeless relationship.  Too much pain and too many issues have broken your relationship apart so that a cool distance now dominates your day to day interaction.  Moments of intimacy are few and far between and usually accented by another fight or disagreement.   If this sounds like your relationship with your spouse, then you have choices to make.  “Really?  I have choices?”  Yes, you do have choices.

First Choice:  Accept the status quo and live with a lifeless loveless relationship that will eventually get worse.  Keep in mind that doing doing nothing rarely results in the relationship getting better.  This is a fatalistic approach that builds on the lie that “it will never change”.  Have you ever heard that lie?  Maybe you’ve spoken that lie to yourself in the past.  Maybe you’re still speaking that lie to yourself even now.  During these moments when we listen to the lie, we usually drop into apathy, telling ourselves that it’s really bad and it will never change, but I don’t care anymore.  Or we attack our spouse to force them to change or else.  Attacking and apathy are not recommended solutions.

 Second Choice:  This is a tough one.  It requires that you sooth yourself and calm yourself down.   Visualize a better relationship.  Imagine a closeness that approaches a nine or nine and a half on a scale of ten.  Now, the next two steps are really tough.  First, work every day at loving and accepting your spouse.  See the positive and verbally relate your appreciation daily.  Surely the things that annoy you won’t immediately go away, but purpose to focus on the positive.  Second, reflect on what you can change about yourself that will make the relationship better.  Focus on personal growth.  What can I do to be a better husband or better wife?  Finally, work at these two EVERY DAY.  Be patient.  Don’t expect immediate change.  Be thankful for any progress.  Love unconditionally. 

 Yes, you can imagine it if you try.

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.

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.

Say it Often

It’s been a fairly typical day at work.  The usual projects that needed to get done and emails answered, nothing too pressing.  When you get home you immediately notice the kids shoes are in a muddy heap by the front door.  The kitchen sink is filled with dishes and the kitchen table is covered with bags of groceries.  You put down the mail and go over to the family room for a moment of relaxation.  Grabbing the remote to catch up on the news you see the sofa covered with three baskets of laundry.  Your wife is just coming down the hall and the first thing you say is, “What have you been doing all day?  The place is a mess.”  No warm “Hello” or “How has your day been?” or “Can I help you with anything?”  Nope.  Just go for the jugular.  Assume the worst and point out the obvious.

Pause for a moment and picture the same getting home from work scenario.  But this time the house is neatly kept, the shoes are put away, the floor is clean, the groceries are put away and the sink has no dishes piled up. Your wife comes down the hall and you ask the same question that every man asks when he gets home, “What are we having for dinner?”  Not a word about how neat and clean the house is, or how wonderful and beautiful your wife looks.  Nope.  First things first.  What are we going to eat?

If we are honest, this sounds all too familiar.  Why is it that we are so quick to see the flaws and blurt out a rebuke or a harsh word, but we hardly ever notice when things are good and deliver a compliment?  We can be so quick to harshly remind him that his socks are on the floor AGAIN but do we remember to encourage him when he remembers where the hamper is?

There’s an old story about a wife who said that she wished that her husband would say more often that he loved her.  He replied, “When we got married I told you that I loved you.  If I change my mind, I’ll let you know.”  Hey Guys:  Let her know… and let her know often!!  Encourage her every day.  Look for things that you appreciate and verbalize it to your spouse.  Shower her with words of love and affirmation.  Your words will be like the cool water that a plant needs every day to flourish and stay green and beautiful.

In Hebrews 3:13 it says, “But encourage one another daily”.  In Ephesians 4:29 it says, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but  only what is helpful for building each other up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”  Encouraging words are helpful and they build us up and they are just what we need.  Use them often.

Personal Growth item:  Work every day on being quick to compliment and slow to be critical.

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.