Thursday, October 30, 2014

Taking off the mask...

     Tis the season for dressing up and pretending.  What are you going to be for Halloween?  My kids will be Captain America, a cowgirl, and Minnie Mouse.  I’ll probably be a superhero of some sort or another.  I’m not sure what my wife Lisa will be, but I'm sure it will involve dressing warmly.  It’s fun to run around the neighborhood, acting silly and having fun.  But when Halloween’s over, it’s time for the masks to come off.  I’m not going to work the next day dressed as Spider-man, we aren’t going to send the kids to school in costumes and make-up, and Lisa doesn’t want the strange looks she’d encounter if she wore a mask at work all day.
     But in marriage, one of the most difficult things to do is to

take off our masks.  Transparency and authenticity are buzz words that are heard a lot nowadays, but the actual practice of being honest, open, and even emotionally raw with your mate is no easy task.  Now, I’m not suggesting using your anger, or sadness, or confusion, or even joy and exuberance as an excuse for being disrespectful to your mate or acting out inappropriately.  But I am suggesting that when we continually lock out our mates and refuse to let them know who we really are “behind the mask,” we limit intimacy, hamper communication, and create barriers to a fulfilled marriage.
     When we’re dating and early on in marriage, most people try to “put their best face forward,” showing a potential spouse their strongest, most admirable qualities.  After marriage, a real fear can set in that one's spouse might “see you for who you really are,” and that’s a scary prospect, because no one knows my faults and flaws better than me.  So, it can become a lifetime distraction to continually try to hide behind the masks of the tough superhero, or the never-serious clown, or the helpless princess, or the tragically misunderstood monster, or the impish elf, or the crazy cartoon character, or the perfect adventurer…the list could go on and on.  It is easy to pretend to be Superman or Wonder Woman.  But it is hard to say “I’m scared,” or “I’m confused,” or “I can’t do this alone,” or “I don’t have all the answers, and I don’t know what to do.”
     Masks can appear at any time in a marriage.  They can last for a short time through a specific stressor, or they can last for years to try and hide a perceived deficiency.  Sometimes a person wears a mask intentionally, and sometimes he/she will do it subconsciously.
     Taking off the masks and being transparent with your mate means admitting weakness, accepting help, and surrendering yourself to someone else.  Our pride works against us doing that.  The culture tells us we shouldn’t do that.  But a healthy marriage demands we do that.
     So how do we do it?  First, you have to create a safe environment for your mate to be transparent with you.  We tend to expect from others what we know we would get from ourselves.  You will never feel safe to take off your own mask if you can’t have empathy, love, kindness, and forgiveness for your mate in his/her weaknesses.  When both mates create an ongoing environment of safety, it is infinitely easier to show one’s real face.
     Next, you have to be willing to take a risk.  It is hard to trust someone with information about yourself that is potentially embarrassing or hurtful.  But, if you don't take that leap of faith, you will never know the freedom of being yourself and how that will bless your marriage and your relationship with your mate.
     Finally, when you take off the mask and the issue is laid bare, prayerfully decide how you are going to proceed together.  Whether one of you need to seek forgiveness, or you need to grieve together, or cry together, or figure out how to reignite intimacywhatever the issuerecognize that you are one flesh, working for the same goal, the good of the marriage. 
     Again, taking off your mask isn’t an excuse to become a victim, or to be verbally, emotionally, socially, or spiritually abusive to your mate.  It is a chance to find strength in your weakness so that you can bless each other and glorify Christ in your marriage.  Are you wearing a mask that you need to take off?

*Please note in this post, I am not talking about ongoing affairs, substance abuse, or pathological issues that require professional intervention.

Looking for a fun, practical, Biblically-based, couples' study that can be used with individual couples, in small groups, or in a Bible class?  Check out Marriage: A Blessed Promise.  It's less than four bucks and available now from 21st Century Christian.  Order online here.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Pancake conversations

     “Daddy, will you stack my pancakes up so that I can pour the syrup over the top and eat them like you do?”  That was my son’s request Wednesday night while I was flipping pancakes for supper.  Up to this point, my son has always wanted his pancakes pre-cut into bite-sized pieces.  “Yeah, no problem,” I told him.  This makes things easier for me, so I’m glad to let him cut his own pancakes from now on.  But there was something more significant in our pancake conversation.  With the words like you do, my son reminded me that he is always watching me, learning from me, and imitating what I do.
     There are a lot of obvious parenting observations that can be made, but this is a marriage blog, and in our pancake conversation I saw something incredibly significant to marriage.  My son is watching, and (at least for now) he wants to be like me.  In every word and every interaction, I am setting his “default” for how he sees relationships in general, but specifically how he sees marriage.  As he watches, I am teaching him how a husband is supposed to treat his wife.  He is continually taking in how I interact with Lisa, how I express love and care, the tone I use with her, how often I encourage her, and how I handle conflict.  He sees how I show Lisa respect, and when I'm selfish or selfless.  He sees when I make mistakes, and he sees how I give and receive forgiveness.  He sees whether or not I make my and Lisa’s marriage the primary relationship for our family, or let other relationships (children, friends, work, etc.) take center stage.
     I never thought I was learning about healthy marriage when I was watching my own Dad, but I thank God that I had a Dad who taught me a whole lot about being a good husband by the way he lived his life in front of me.  If you didn’t have a good father figure who helped you learn how to be a good husband, I’m sorry for that.  But whether you are continuing a positive legacy that goes back for generations, or you are breaking a history of dysfunction and starting a powerful new legacy in your family, take advantage of the pancake conversations and teach your sons how to love their future wives, and teach your little girls to seek out a husband who will treat her with the respect and dignity she deserves as a daughter of the King.
Looking for a fun, practical, Biblically-based, couples' study that can be used with individual couples, in small groups, or in a Bible class?  Check out Marriage: A Blessed Promise.  It's less than four bucks and available now from 21st Century Christian.  Order online here.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The hardest words to say...

     In my last post (which you can read here), I noted that the five hardest words to hear are often “Honey, we need to talk.”  If those are the hardest words to hear, then the five hardest words to say might well be “I’m sorry, please forgive me,” especially if you are having to say them to your spouse.  Those words are tough to swallow for several reasons.
     In asking for forgiveness, you acknowledge that you’ve hurt your spouse in some way.  Whether it was something minor that you did unintentionally or something major stemming from a really, really bad choice, you know you’ve caused pain to the one you love.  When that happens, it normally causes you pain too, as you experience feelings of guilt, or anxiety, or depression.  These are normal reactions, but unpleasant nonetheless.
     Recognition that you hurt your spouse often leads to fear.  Depending on the severity of the offense, you might fear that you won’t be forgiven.  Or, you might fear that things will never again be like they were prior to the conflict.  And sadly, fear of fear can cause a variety of reactions that can make the situation even worse.  Fear of fear can cause a person to not accept responsibility and even deny that he/she did anything wrong (“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”).  It can cause you to cast blame on your spouse (“I would never have done this if you hadn’t _______ first.”), or lead you toward a victim mentality (“This wouldn’t have happened if everyone wasn’t against me.”), or create a misdirected sense of pride and self-importance (“Your overreaction to this is not my problem.”).  But where there is no accountability, there can be no reconciliation or healing of the relationship.
     So, what’s the answer when you know you have to say the five hardest words?
  • First, as soon as you realize your spouse has been hurt by something you said or did, say “I’m sorry, please forgive me,” immediately.  Delaying only allows resentment to build up.
  • Second, don’t make excuses.  Regardless of whether or not you believe your spouse overreacted, or whether or not you felt justified in what you did that hurt your mate, say “I’m sorry, please forgive me.”  And don’t go into long rationalizing explanations.  “If you knew the day I’ve had, then I think you would be able to understand why I snapped at you.”  Just say, “I’m sorry, please forgive me.”
  • Third, don’t apologize for your mate. “I'm sorry for your part in this misunderstanding too.”  Just say, “I’m sorry, please forgive me.”
     Remember, a healthy, godly relationship demands accountability.  Depending on the level of the infraction, an apology isn’t an immediate restoration of trust.  But if it is said sincerely, from honest sorrow and remorse, and from a desire to protect and elevate the marriage, then it is the first step toward a place where healing and reconciliation can begin.  For a whole variety of reasons, the hardest words to say are “I’m sorry, please forgive me,” but they are also the most liberating words in a good marriage.

Looking for a fun, practical, Biblically-based, couples' study that can be used with individual couples, in small groups, or in a Bible class?  Check out Marriage: A Blessed Promise.  It's less than four bucks and available now from 21st Century Christian.  Order online here.

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Friday, October 10, 2014

The hardest words to hear...

     Do you know what five of the toughest words to hear are in any marriage?

“Honey, we need to talk.”

Those words immediately raise an “uh oh” factor in our minds.  When we hear those words, we scramble to think through the last few days.  Our minds can move from personal, “Did I say something wrong?  Did I do something wrong?” to accusatory, “What did you do?” to children, “She’s in trouble for what?” to circumstances beyond our control, “I’ve lost my job and the house is on fire.”
     With those five words, we can feel our minds and bodies preparing for a fight, flight, or freeze response.  And probably with good reason.  I’ve never heard anyone say, “Honey, we need to talk,” in that serious, dramatic tone, followed by “You are the most beautiful woman in the world,” or “Honey we need to talk.  I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the way you provide for our family.”
     So, what do you normally think when you hear “Honey, we need to talk”?  No matter what your initial response, communication has to happen.  Without communication, a relationship will die.  There is no way around it.  Without communication, a relationship will die.  So, how do you make “Honey, we need to talk” not be the five most dreaded words in your marriage?

  • Cultivate an ongoing environment of encouraging communication—Let “Honey we need to talk” be the exception, not the norm.  Let your conversations with your spouse be so filled with goodness that the occasional negative things you have to discuss will pale in comparison.
  • Listen—Most people are tempted to zero in on one specific point brought up in conversation, rush to defend an action or position, or begin to formulate what he/she will say next.  When you hear “Honey we need to talk,” listen to your mate fully and carefully.
  • Speak up—“Honey, we need to talk” implies two way communication.  Say what you think.  If you mate says something you agree with, let him/her know, but also speak up if you disagree with something your spouse says.  You and your mate cannot read each other’s minds, and silence can be incorrectly interpreted as agreement or disagreement.  So, don’t leave it open for your mate to assume you mean, think, or feel something that you do not.  But remember, when you speak up, always speak in love (and always be mindful of your tone of voice and body language).
  • Deal with the issue at hand—Sometimes, in “Honey, we need to talk” moments, it can be easy to get distracted, especially if you fear you will be on the defensive.  Deal with the problem at hand and try not to chase squirrels.
  • Ask clarifying questions—Take the time to ask if you don’t fully understand something your mate has shared with you.  You cannot read your spouse’s mind, so make sure you truly understand what he/she is trying to communicate to you.
  • Remember you are one flesh, not competitors—If your conversation involves different points of view, remember that you are marriage partners, not bitter rivals.  Don’t be more determined to “win the argument” than you are to do what is best for the marriage.  “Honey, we need to talk” should lead to a cooperative end, not a competitive stalemate.
  • Don’t assume motivation“Honey, we need to talk” is not always an attack.  Sometimes, it is a response to fear, or a genuine desire to resolve an issue that is preventing the marriage from being all it can be.  Rather than thinking negatively, let “Honey, we need to talk” be your invitation into building a better, healthier relationship.
  • And most significantly, pray together.  Even if the conversation is difficult and you don’t feel like praying, keep God actively engaged in your marriage relationship.

Life happens.  Sometimes we make bad choices. Sometimes our mates make bad choices.  Sometimes the unexpected occurs.  But whatever the circumstances, you and your mate need to talk.  Let “Honey, we need to talk” lead to healthy ways to resolve conflict, to dream and plan, to experience life together, and to be a blessing to your love.

Looking for a fun, practical, Biblically-based, couples' study that can be used with individual couples, in small groups, or in a Bible class?  Check out Marriage: A Blessed Promise.  It's less than four bucks and available now from 21st Century Christian.  Order online here.