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, 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.

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

Be Thankful For Struggles

Are there struggles in your marriage that never seem to go away in spite of many times talking it through?  When struggles happen over and over without getting resolved, we often try to bury the issue  and avoid the triggers.  Obviously nothing is solved and those issues have a way of popping up again at the most unexpected or worst times.

I think there is a better way to approach marital problems in general, and especially the recurring ones.  Let’s look at a verse from Romans that you have probably seen before…

And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance;  and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope… Romans 5:3-4 (NASB)

For me, being thankful in struggles is difficult!  I may feel angry or sad and thankfulness is far from my mind.  It is important to feel those emotions though; to analyze where they are coming from and what from our past prompts them.  The point is to learn from them, decide which feelings make sense and which don’t, which square with the facts and which to let go of now that we are adults.  In the process we learn about ourselves and our own personal issues.

Struggles are a constant part of life and we need to keep up the self-evaluation and discussions with our spouse to get through them.  This is perseverance.  Dictionary.com defines perseverance as a “steady persistence in a course of action, a purpose, especially in spite of difficulties, obstacles, or discouragement.”   Keep your purpose forefront in your minds- a better marriage with this person to whom you have committed your life.  Your course of action is to keep chipping away at the issues that plague you individually and together.  When a problem recurs for the nth time, that is the time to persevere all the more.

When we develop a habit of persevering through struggles with our spouse we have developed our character!  We have fought for a closer marriage.  Our intentions to honor our marriage vows are proven over time.  Bit by bit issues are resolved, we understand and empathize with each other, we cherish and love with greater depth.

And with proven character we acquire hope.  From Wikipedia: “Hope is the emotional state, the opposite of which is despair,

  • which promotes the belief in a positive outcome related to circumstances in one’s life.
  • the feeling that …events will turn out for the best
  • looking forward to with desire and reasonable confidence.”

It is a good thing when you really believe your marriage will get better, that all will turn out for the best, and that we have confidence in each other!  That is hope. And it is worth the persevering to get it.

Let’s go back to thankfulness now… When you have persevered through a few issues and come out with a closer relationship on the other side, then thankfulness starts to make more sense.  You begin to see that struggle is an essential part of the path to a soul mate marriage and should be accepted with gratitude.

When I hear older couples say they love each other more all the time, I think that they must have thankfully practiced perseverance over many years!  In the midst of struggle, try to remember what you have to look forward to and be thankful.

Hurry Up! We Need to Fix This!

Do you ever feel that you just can’t wait to get a problem fixed?  There’s a gnawing tension in your relationship and you just can’t let it rest.  “We just need to discuss this some more and get it resolved.  I know I can get her to see what I’m talking about and she will understand and we can get this behind us.  I know it’s creating tension and there are unspoken feelings that are getting in the way of us being close.  Why can’t we just get this resolved now?”

I’m reminded of a time when we worked on one of those “impossible” puzzles.  You know the kind where they take a panoramic picture of hundreds of buildings and every piece in the puzzle is exactly the same shape and size.  So you first look for the edge pieces and build the frame of the puzzle.  At least we know that it has four corners.  The point is that we make progress.  We start with the obvious pieces and then work, sometimes slowly, to find a piece here and another there.  These puzzles often stretch our patience and it’s understood that we probably won’t get it done in a day.  It may take several days or even weeks to get it finished, but with patience and persistence we can usually get it together.

Deep rooted relationship issues also take the same patience and persistence.  If we attempt to solve them with a mindset that they can be quickly resolved, we get frustrated and tempted to withdraw and give up.  Then we try to cope by ignoring the issue since we can’t get it fixed quickly.  When it surfaces again, we once again have a hurry-up attitude and a quick fix mentality that really sabotages our ability to be successful at finding a long term resolution.

Men especially want resolution right away.  They particularly dislike leaving problems unresolved.  So they approach issues with a fix it mentality and by that they mean “fix it now”.

The key here is patience and an understanding that incremental progress is good. Just like the puzzle, we need to start with some basics.

  • First of all, understand that most issues should not be bigger than your commitment to your relationship.
  • Try to remember all the positive things in your relationship with your spouse and get the issue in proper perspective.
  • Be thankful for even small changes in the direction of resolving the issue.
  • Shift perspective and empathize with what your spouse is feeling.  This will help keep you from falling into the trap of a self-centered point of view.
  •  Be thankful.

Yes, even when it takes time to work through our thorny issues, we need to be thankful for our spouse.  Neither of you are perfect and both of you need to extend grace to each other.  Make it a priority to love each other and the time needed to finish the puzzle and resolve the issue won’t seem so overwhelming.

Talk about It

In order to experience a truly fulfilling soul mate relationship, be vigilant to ensure that you don’t allow issues to go unresolved.  The ones that are the most difficult to discuss are issues that have deep hurts attached.  You may have said or done something that has deeply offended your spouse and be totally unaware that he or she is harboring hurt feelings.  As a matter of fact, the actual incident may have happened years ago, and your spouse “buried” the issue because it was too painful.  It didn’t get fully resolved when talked about originally.  This is one of those boxes that clutters up the shop and is marked “DO NOT OPEN.  DO NOT TOUCH”.

These issues are the most damaging to a truly close and intimate relationship.  They create an emotional barrier keeping the relationship at a superficial level.  The day to day interactions function just fine but real depth and intimate connection is illusive.  Ignoring them is perilous because they will seriously damage your relationship.  The longer you wait to open a discussion, the harder it is to talk.

 All couples experience disagreements and say and do things that are hurtful.  How you deal with the problem is what will make the difference.  Do you approach issues as adversaries or as teammates?  Remember you are on the same team.  Working through an issue to a resolution that satisfies both spouses means your team wins!

Here are a few ideas on how to handle these issues:

  • Pray and ask for special grace
  • Be honest and take the risk of bringing the issue up again
  • Set aside uninterrupted time when you have the freedom to focus
  • Actively listen as you each share feelings and endeavor to understand your spouse
  • Try not to blame or bring accusations
  • Remember that you are bringing this up again so that you can have a closer relationship
  • The goal is a heartfelt resolution where a deep understanding is achieved
  • Be willing to apologize and ask for forgiveness.  This needs to be genuine and not superficial
  • Have an attitude to forgive.  It may be hard to forget, but you will need to truly forgive
  • Allow time to reflect for several days or even longer if needed.  Be patient
  • Never be demanding.  Be patient and calm
  • Seek counsel if you come to an impasse

Always keep in mind that the objective is to strengthen your relationship so that you can be closer together and experience a deeply fulfilling relationship.  True intimacy can not happen when we harbor unspoken resentment and hurts.  You must have the courage to continue to work at all issues.

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?”