The Importance of Friends

A while ago we took a trip to the beach with friends for a few days and I was deciding which games to bring to pass the time since it looked like there would be rain.  That led me to ponder how much fun we were likely to have no matter what we did!   We went with 2 of the couples we meet with weekly.  One of the husbands, a teacher,  celebrated the last day of the school year.  The rest of us were just happy to get away from the daily grind for a while.

I am so thankful for the couples we meet with weekly.  We talk a lot on this blog about communication between husband and wife, about selfless service, listening and meeting needs.  That is all so essential for a good relationship.  But have you ever thought about how important it is to have other like-minded committed couples that you know well, and who know you well too?  They can add so much to our lives that we’d miss without them.

It takes time to develop the closeness I’m talking about but it is worth it.  Being a good friend will go a long way towards building  the trust needed  to have a relationship where all couples can share openly.  We all tend to open up at different rates depending on our background, but a good friend will be patient.

The benefits go both ways when couples relate on a deeper level.

Of course there are the fun times like we had.  Laughing and joking around lower our stress levels.  Often, playing together will open us up for sharing of trials and struggles, and problem solving together.

Sometimes we include families and other friends.  Then we get to see our friends relating to their loved ones, deepening our knowledge of them.  We begin to see creative and amazing ways they relate to their family; things we may want to adopt for ourselves to improve.  In the process we will notice hurtful or destructive habits and behaviors also.  If our relationship is close we can see those blind spots, point them out gently, and share ideas about what might work better.

And most importantly, we will know how to specifically pray for our friends.  We’ll be able to uphold them in their struggles and help in times of need.  In turn, they will do the same for us!  Our marriages will be improved and our lives enriched in the way that only serving others can do.

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.       Galatians 6:2 (NIV)

A Great Marriage – The Ten Keys Part 2

Last week we looked at the first five keys from the book How to Make A Good Marriage Great –Ten Keys to a Joyous Relationship  by Victor Cline, Ph.D.

Now we’ll look at the remaining five keys.  Here is a summary with my added editorial comments:

  • Sixth Key –  Develop Effective Communication / Negotiation Skills  –  Successful communication with our spouse is essential to a happy marriage and comes with practice, patience, and hard work.  Become a student of the best communication style with your spouse.   The good Dr. has these suggestions:
    • Get quiet time ALONE together, even if that takes an overnight away together. Never discuss critical issues when tired or exhausted.
    • Be a good listener without interrupting.
    •  Don’t flee or run away, rather stick it out and work at issues peacefully.
    • Be honest with each other sharing true and honest feelings.
    • Avoid blame statements and convey how certain actions or statements are making YOU feel.
    •  Remember to be positive and express your thankfulness for what is right in your relationship.
    • Avoid criticism.
    • If it is too difficult to discuss, try writing it out and sharing this letter with your spouse so you can discuss it.  This will allow you to share all your feeling without being “run over.”
  • Seventh Key – The “Extra Dimension”  –  Remember God desires you to have a richly blessed relationship.  Pray for each other and pray together as you work at growing your relationship.  Pray that the Lord will bless you with a patient and understanding spirit and that you learn how to selflessly love your spouse.
  • Eighth Key  –  Acute Stress can Kill Love – Deal with It!  –  Our lives are filled with a variety of stressors including the usual issues of small children (or larger teenage types), job or lack of a job, financial stress, health issues, or family and extended family issues, to name a few.  These can add extreme pressure on even the best of relationships.  But don’t quit.  Look at these times as the “white water days” of your marriage.  Much like a river raft trip, there are calm water days and white water days.  During the white water days you need to really hang on.  Find ways to simplify and de-stress your lives.  I believe that God will restore us to the calm water but remember to love each other even in your white water days, for then you need each other most.
  • Ninth Key – Participate in a Marriage Enrichment / Marriage Encounter Experience – Take time to grow in your knowledge together.  A weekend seminar together should be a major priority.  Find a marriage book to read and discuss together.
  • Tenth Key – Pair-Bonding, Renewing the Magic  –  Work daily at these things:  Make a daily decision to love each other and express that love, shower each other with positives and take time daily to share feelings.

Dr. Cline has shared some valuable ideas on how to have a Great Marriage.  But head knowledge alone will not bring about the desired results.  You must commit to work at these things.  The rewards are worth the effort.

I Don’t Feel Like It

Well, there they are – those famous five words – “I don’t feel like it”.  You’ve thought those very words many times before and being honest, you’d have to admit you have spoken them to your spouse at times when faced with the need to selflessly serve your spouse.  They are at the heart of what drives a wedge between us and our spouse.  They embody the essence of being focused on self and they center around our very illusive “feelings”.

Why do we struggle with Jesus’ exhortation in John 15:12, “…Love each other as I have loved you”.  May I suggest we struggle because we are faced with the pressure to feed “self;” this is what I want and this is what I need.  Not only are we feeding our needs and wants, we are driven by our feelings.  These can be feelings of fairness, injustice or anger and resentment.  When we mix a focus on self with our ever changing feelings, we have a recipe for a dysfunctional relationship.

This is a hard message.  It’s hard because it causes us to look inward, to examine our heart and motives.  In Ephesians 5:25 husbands are commanded to “love your wives just as Christ loved the church”.  Note that this was a command to obey.  It didn’t say to “feel love for your wives” but rather it commands husbands to “love your wives”.  A command.  Nothing is mentioned about if she deserves love because this is unconditional love.  Jesus says again in John 15:17 “this is my command: Love each other”.  Further in Luke 6:35, “But Love your enemies, do good to them…”  We probably don’t  have all warm and fuzzy feelings towards our enemies but we are nevertheless commanded to love them.  Love in this context is an action.  We are to act lovingly, in spite of our feelings, our personal agenda or the actions of our spouse.

So how does this relate to you and your spouse?  Remember that we talked about watering often and filling your spouse’s emotional tank.  Well, that can be very hard to do if we are consumed with and focused on ourselves, thinking… But what about me?  What about my needs?  When do I get what I want?   And then our feelings kick in as we remember prior hurts and resentments.  Yes, it’s hard to love unconditionally.

But think about this:  How does a wife feel when she is loved unconditionally?  How does a husband feel when he is loved by his wife even though he struggles with numerous shortcoming and failings?  In those moments when they experience that unconditional love from their spouse, in that moment they experience the love of Christ, coming from and through their spouse.  They experience the touch of Jesus in their lives.

When you are tempted to say to yourself, “But I don’t feel like it,” remember that He died for us and I’m quite sure that He didn’t feel like it.  So, love, and love unconditionally, and soon by the grace of God, you will feel like it.

 

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.

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?”

 

   

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!!!

The Soul Mate Dream

It’s true that when first married, we all envision an idyllic relationship.  We believe we have found our perfect match.  We enjoy being together; romantic music plays in our heads and our hearts beat a little faster. We’re so lonely when apart and we jump when the phone rings because we just can’t wait to hear that voice again.  This must be the right one.  Everything will be oh so wonderful…

After the wedding, reality is eventually exposed.  When the light turns on we uncover the boxes of issues both spouses brought to the marriage.   Over time, more issues pile up as our unique problems interplay with those of our spouse.  The intimacy we had is hindered and inevitably, we realize the ideal relationship we envisioned is but a dream.

We have spoken of our relationship being like a shop that is filled with clutter and boxes of old stuff.  The problems and issues in those boxes hinder us from being close.  And that’s where we live, in an old messy shop with problems, issues, fighting, and nagging.

Pause for a moment to reflect on this:

Can the dream of an ideal married life with a deep soul mate connection become a reality?

Imagine that you won a fantasy vacation to the most beautiful destination, a picture perfect private lover’s beach house with tall palm trees and white sand beaches.  Each room has sweeping views and tasteful decor.  As you look around you notice that there is no clutter, no boxes of old stuff. Each of you has been transformed. No issues keep you and the love of your life from being together, from enjoying each other fully.  Every day you feel a depth of love for each other that is otherworldly.  He is kind, understanding, and romantic.  And she really understands your deepest needs. You deeply love one another and you want to spend the rest of your lives together, right here.  You have begun to experience the joy of being soul mates.

Here’s the question: Where do you choose to live?  In a cluttered messy old shop with issues and problems that keep you apart?  Or will you choose to live in that idyllic location?  Yes, it is a choice to be soul mates but you can’t be effortlessly transported there.  We all start out in an old messy shop that we can transform into a soul mate relationship by hard work.

We must work every day on

  • personal growth and
  • selfless serving

In the journey, we will each grow and mature, getting rid of the old boxes and clutter.  We’ll clean up the mess over time, and we’ll discover a depth of love for each other that few experience.