Sunday, May 31, 2015

The 5th Axiom: Don't let it die!

     There is an art and a discipline to healthy communicationWords can convey love, provide encouragement, offer hope, build intimacy, provoke life-improving discernment, flow with praise, express gratitude, sooth broken hearts, bring reconciliation, and draw spouses close together.  Words can also smack of hatred, bitterly discourage, smash dreams, tear down connectedness, enable destructive cycles, reek of criticism, cut deeply, drive a wedge, and reinforce painful isolation and loneliness.  Without a doubt, words have power.
     In Christian marriage, positive, godly, Christ-centered communication is one of the greatest gifts God has given us.  The 5th Axiom of Marriage says, “Without communication, a relationship will die.”  There is no way around this truth.  Communication is essential to any relationship.  Healthy communication (which is not the same as agreeing with your mate on everything, or only talking about the good stuff) will bring about a healthy marriage.  Unhealthy communication will create an unhealthy marriage.  And constant unhealthy communication will often lead to no communication, which will ultimately kill a marriage relationship.
     Even in the best of circumstances, communication is tough.  It is important to remember that in every communication, three things happen:

  • First, there is what is said. What are the actual words that are formed and spoken out loud?  Do they help the marriage or harm it?  Do they bring life or death to the relationship?  Do you speak out of love and concern for your spouse and the relationship, or do you speak out of anger, pride, or selfishness?
  • Second, there is what is heard. What did you understand to be the actual words your mate spoke? Have you ever thought your spouse just said the craziest thing?  "What do you mean there's a ninja monkey in the front yard?" Sometimes we simply do not correctly understand the words spoken.  When that happens, do you give your mate the benefit of the doubt, or do you immediately assume the worst of your lover?
  • Third, there is what is interpreted. What did your spouse mean to convey? Are you accurately understanding his/her intention? What does your tone of voice and body language communicate?  When you and your spouse talk, do you live in an environment of mistrust and animosity, or in an environment of God-centered, marriage-blessing communication?
     As you and your mate talk, are you talking with each other or are you talking at each other? Below are some tips for healthy communication.  Read through them, and honestly and carefully consider if you’re really communicating or just talking.

Reminder Tips for Clear, Healthy Communication

  • 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.  Listen to your mate fully and carefully.
  • Speak up—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).
  • Speak for yourself only—Don’t presume you can answer for your mate.  Resist the temptation to say things like, “Oh, I know how you’ll answer that question,” or “It’s obvious that you think…”  Speak for yourself only.
  • Be specific—If you only talk in generalities, you will tend to have lots of good intentions, but no real direction or solutions.  Also, avoid simple “yes” and “no” answers, or short answers that don’t really tell your mate anything.
  • Ask clarifying questions—Take the time to ask if you don’t fully understand something your mate has shared with you.  Again, you cannot read your spouse’s mind, so make sure you truly understand what he/she is trying to communicate to you.
  • Resist the impulse to lecture or give unwanted advice—Some people communicate from a “fix it” stand point (that is, they want to be problem solvers for their mate) and others communicate from a “vent it” stand point (that is, they know what to do, but they just want to share with their spouse).  Too much “fix it” can shut down communication, and too much “vent it” never leads to positive, marriage-improving action.  Share and find workable goals and solutions together.
  • Remember you are one flesh, not competitors—If some of your conversations involve different points of view, remember that you are covenant marriage partners, not bitter rivals.  Regrettably, in communication, some spouses are more determined to win the argument than they are to do what is best for the marriage.  Make sure you see your conversations as cooperative not competitive.
  • Don’t assume motivation—Unless it is clearly stated, you cannot presume to know someone’s motivation, or his/her thought process that led him/her to make a specific statement.

     Above all else, remember to practice your Christian life first and foremost at home with your spouse.  “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Ephesians 4:29) The art of healthy communication is to keep your conversation centered in Christ, always mindful of the relationship.  The discipline of healthy communication is to not become apathetic or lazy or jaded and let your communication die, because without communication, the relationship will die.

To see the 10 Axioms of Marriage, click here.
To read a more detailed explanation of
The 1st Axiom of Marriage, click here
The 2nd Axiom of Marriage, click here
The 3rd Axiom of Marriage, click here
The 4th Axiom of Marriage, click here

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The 4th Axiom: Please hear me

     It hurts to be ignored.  To be dismissed.  To be disregarded.  Within all of us, there is a deep-seated need to feel heard.  When we feel heard, we know we matter.  When we do not feel heard, we feel rejected, discounted, as if we do not matter.  This is true of all relationships, and especially true in marriage.
     The 4th axiom of marriage is “We all have an innate need to feel heard.  When you have a voice, you have value.” In marriage, it is critical to let your spouse know he/she has a meaningful say in your relationship.  Healthy, respectful communication requires the courage and humility to realize and acknowledge that—whether it is what you want to hear or not—your spouse has worthwhile input.
     The problem for most, however, is the false belief that if someone does not agree with me, they have not heard me.  When someone cultivates that erroneous thinking, he/she will go to one of two extremes.  On the one side, you will repeat the same thing over and over, believing your mate is simply choosing to ignore you.  Or you might attempt to present your beliefs from various angles (though usually it is just rehashing the exact same thing).  Some immediately divert to yelling.  (I’ve never understood why anyone would believe their spouse would say, “You know, when you were speaking quietly and respectfully I thought you were wrong, but not that your screaming at me, I can see how right you are.”)  Whatever the method, it becomes an endless tirade of sameness as communication degrades into questioning the other person’s love, or his/her intelligence (after all wouldn’t an intelligent person agree with me?), or questioning his/her spiritual nature.
     On the other extreme, a person may shut down communication if his/her spouse disagrees.  “Why continue talking if my mate refuses to listen,” is a common thought process.  Once communication is shut down, isolation grows deeper and deeper, and animosity and hard-heartedness toward one’s mate increases.
     Regardless of the response, communication is destroyed.  Blame, anger, disappointment, and other negative feelings quickly surfaces.  If you’re goal in communication is to make sure that your spouse believes and understands everything exactly as you do, then you are not participating in a marriage relationship—you are simply seeking to control another individual.
     So what do we do?  Even in disagreement, lovingly, gently, and respectfully acknowledge that you really, truly have heard your mate and you are aware of his/her feelings and emotions.  Accept that you are not always right, and even if you are right, your mate may need to come to the same place in a different way or at a different time.  Recognize that you have changed over time—you have not always believed everything you now believe or thought about everything exactly like you think now.  And most significantly, reaffirm your love for your spouse and your commitment to the marriage.  Pray together and seek Christ’s will and especially Christ’s peace in your life.  Remember, you are one flesh, so listen and respond to your mate in the same way you would want someone to listen to and respond to you—EVEN IN DISAGREEMENT.
     We all have an innate need to be heard.  Actively listening to and hearing your mate is critical to a healthy marriage.  But don’t shut your mate out just because he/she doesn’t always see everything exactly like you do.  God made us unique for a reason.  Use you and your mate’s uniqueness to help each other grow and mature.  And above all else, listen.
To see the 10 Axioms of Marriage, click here.
To read a more detailed explanation of
The 1st Axiom of Marriage, click here
The 2nd Axiom of Marriage, click here
The 3rd Axiom of Marriage, click here

Friday, May 15, 2015

The 3rd Axiom of Marriage: Your perception will be your reality

     When you look at your mate, are you more likely to think about his/her flaws, short-comings, and imperfections?  Or does your covenant partner bring a smile to your face and immediately fill your heart with thoughts of kind deeds, encouraging words, and joyful times spent together? The 3rd Axiom of Marriage is “Guard your heart and mind, because your perception will become your reality.” So the real question is what perception do you bring to your marriage?
     Please understand that I am not na├»ve in asking this question. Just because you want to see rainbows and butterflies, that doesn't mean it's going to happen and that you will have a fairy tale marriage. Maintaining any relationship in a healthy and productive way is going to be a challenge, and because marriage is so intimate it can be especially challenging. (If a marriage relationship doesn't present any challenges, it is very likely that one partner is being repressed in some way.) But, we tend to become self-fulfilling prophecies. If you consistently focus on the things that can disrupt and destroy your marriage eventually that’s all you will see.  Those negative things will dominate and define your marriage.
     But you can also choose to see your marriage as a place that your love for God is lived out in your relationship with your spouse. You can focus on the promises of your covenant relationship, the times you laugh together and find joy in each other, and the all the other good things within your marriage relationship (no matter how big or small). You can continually see marriage as a place of blessing and experiencing the goodness of God. Then that outlook will become your default view for your relationship and for your mate.
     Guarding your heart and mind means that you are constantly checking your perspective.  Is Christ at the center of who you are as a couple?  Are you letting selfishness define the relationship?  Do you cherish your mate?  Do you freely give and receive forgiveness?  Do you look for ways to serve your spouse?  Do you guard what you allow yourself to see and hear?  It is not a matter of a living in fear of messing up, but rather making the choices that allow you to live in the freedom to love and be loved.
     Having a positive perception of your marriage and of your mate is not a cure for problems in your relationship, and it is not an excuse to overlook or minimize issues that need to be dealt with. It is, however, a powerful barometer of the path you are setting for the future of your marriage relationship.  Guard your heart and mind, because your perception will become your reality.

To see the 10 Axioms of Marriage, click here.
To read a more detailed explanation of
The 1st Axiom of Marriage, click here
The 2nd Axiom of Marriage, click here

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The 2nd Axiom of Marriage: We all have baggage

     There is no truer saying in the world than “When you marry someone, you marry his/her whole family.”  It doesn’t matter if your family was close or distant, if you get together every holiday or rarely see each other, or even if you love your family to excess or want nothing to do with your family ever again.  Your family is a part of who you are.  The things you say, the things you do, the way you think, what you believe, the way you treat people, your emotional responses—it is all influenced in some way by family.
     The second axiom of marriage says—You have baggage and your spouse has baggage, and you both bring that into the marriage.  A person’s experience of family often sets a deeply ingrained “default” in how we experience relationships.  While a multitude of things can contribute to our behaviors, it is essential that you look at your family of origin because the environment you grew up in—the family structure that (at least subconsciously) taught you what it means to be family—is always at work in your life.  It is virtually impossible to fully escape the influence of your family of origin.
     So, whether you are contemplating marriage, or have been married for over fifty years, it is incredible important to understand and be honest about your perception of the family you came from because you will do one of two things.  Either you will repeat what you’ve experienced or you will rebel against what you’ve experienced; and either one of those responses can be good or bad depending on what you are repeating or rebelling against.  To improve your own marriage, you can rebel against a bad behavior you saw modeled by one of your parents.  By the same token, you can repeat a pattern that has left generations of marriages in your family dysfunctional.  You must choose what you will do, but if you want to choose a path to a healthy, godly marriage you must be honest about the “family baggage” you are bringing into your own marriage.
     And amazingly, when we look at our family of origin, two things happen (and sometimes, paradoxically, they happen simultaneously).  First, we believe that our family experience is normative.  And second, we believe that our experience is entirely unique and no one else has ever experienced what we experienced.  As ironic as it sounds, it is not uncommon for someone who grew up with parents who yelled all the time to expect that is how families communicate (whether he wants that for his own marriage or not).  But at the same time, he might still say, “You just don’t understand.  You can’t know what it was like growing up with him as a father!”  We believe our situations to be completely unique, but we often have no other context from which to interpret other relationships, including our own marriages.
     So how do we process this?  First, be receptive to your spouse’s input.  Your spouse can recognize patterns which originate from your family that you might not recognize yourself.  Assuming that your mate is motivated by God's love and not by selfishness, he or she can help you identify behaviors that need to be maintained and behaviors that need to be eliminated for your marriage to be healthy.  Second, understand how incredibly difficult it really is to change an ingrained behavior, so continually practice forgiveness and grace and humility with your mate.  And third, never forget that in Christ, God can still work through us in spite of our messed up families to fulfill his divine purpose.  Just look at how screwed up Abraham’s family was, yet he is “the father of the faithful,” or David’s family, yet he was still “a man after God’s own heart.”
     We all have baggage, and we all bring that into our marriages.  But, in Christ, you can become, not just settle to be; and wouldn’t that make for an increasingly better marriage.

To see all of the 10 Axioms of Marriage, click here.

To see a more detailed explanation of the first axiom of marriage, “At its heart, marriage is a theological relationship,”click here.