Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Learned behaviors...

     Around six and a half years ago, due to a severe head injury, I lost my senses of smell and taste.  A few months after the accident, Lisa and I were out at a restaurant.  As I went down the buffet line, I loaded my plate.  But I skipped over a particular food that is known to be good for you—packed with vitamins and antioxidants and other healthy stuff.  Lisa noticed that I didn’t put it on my plate, and the following conversation occurred:

     Lisa:  Why didn’t you get that? It’s good for you.

     Me:  I don’t like it.

     Lisa:  But what does it matter, you can’t taste it.

     Me:  Yes, but I still know that I don’t like it.

Like many things in life, taste is often a learned behavior.  With a 40 year history of knowing what I did and didn’t like prior to my head injury, it was easy to reject a particular food item even though I could no longer physically taste it.
     We see the same principle at work with people who haven’t lost any senses.  One kid hate veggies, but another loves them.  Why?  Isn’t the taste the same?  Yes, but one kid has trained her mind and her palate to appreciate the veggies and to understand the long term benefits for her health and energy level.  The other has trained her mind to believe veggies are something to be avoided at all costs, and that the temporary satisfaction of not eating something considered yucky is more important than the long term satisfaction that would come from eating the veggies.
     The same thing applies to marriage.  Why do some couples seem to be happy and content and others seem to be constantly tense and quarrelling?  More often than not, it is because of the learned behaviors each bring into the relationship.  While our families of origin can set a “default” behavior within us (after all, the family you grew up with is the first and most formative experience of family you have), your marriage is not doomed to be a messy mash-up of each spouse’s family of origin.  We can choose to continue the good practices, but replace the not-so-good behaviors with new ways of interacting.
     Positive learned behaviors set an environment for your marriage relationship that has a continual effect.  The simplest things—regularly speaking gratitude, encouragement, and blessing into your mate’s life, listening with eye contact and attentive body language, saying “I love you” often, doing a chore that your mate normally does, being intentional about intimacy, living in forgiveness, conscientiously integrating your faith into your daily practices, and rejecting selfishness while embracing the Divine mystery of living as“one flesh” with your spouse—these types of words and actions make a relationship strong.
     What are some of your spouse’s learned behaviors that have blessed you and made your marriage better?  What behaviors do you need to learn to enhance your covenant union?  It’s never too late to learn something new that will bring you and your spouse closer to each other and closer to God.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Blank space...

“I know I should have told you, but…”

How many times have you or your mate said those words?  Maybe it ended with, “…but I didn’t want to hurt your feelings,” or “…but I knew how you would react,” or “…but I wanted to fix it myself and not get you involved.”  Regardless of how the sentence ended, the end result was probably the same.  Someone’s feelings were hurt.  Someone was angry.  Someone felt minimized, criticized, or disrespected.
     There are any number of reasons a person might not tell his or her spouse something.  Fear.  Shame.  To control a situation.  To control one’s mate.  Because you legitimately forget.  Because you really do not believe that it is important.  In an attempt to protect your spouse.  Whether born of pure motives or not, silence can have devastating effects on your mate.
     Why is silence deafeningly problematic?  Silence often leaves a blank space that your mate’s brain tries to fill in.  If a person is missing information, he or she will often try to fill in the blank space.  We want to know what is being hidden from us.  And regrettably, in our human nature, we often go to worst-case scenarios—and more so if there is already tension in the relationship.  “Why didn’t she tell me she would be two hours late.  Has she been in a wreck?”  “He’s working late again.  Is something going on between him and that new co-worker?”  “She didn’t tell me she friended him on Facebook.  I wonder what else she’s trying to hide from me?”  “He should have known I would want to know about that.  What’s game is he playing by not telling me?”
     So, what do we do when there is a blank space in the relationship?  First, dispel the opportunity for misunderstandings by being committed to sharing openly with your mate.  Second, if you are leaving something out to try and protect your mate, trust that he/she is emotionally mature enough to handle whatever you need to say.  Third, when information is missing, give your mate the benefit of the doubt and trust that he/she isn’t deliberately trying to deceive or manipulate you if you have no conclusive, concrete proof otherwise.
     Secrets, whether real or perceived, kill relationships.  With your spouse, work to eliminate the blank spaces by committing to an open and honest relationship.  It is healthy to ask questions and seek clarification, but it is detrimental to accuse and make assumptions.  The more mental real estate that we spend on filling in blank spaces, the less mental and emotional energy we have to work toward a Christ-centered, healthy, productive, covenant marriage relationship.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Why do I do that?

     There is no truer statement in the world than “When you marry someone,  you marry their whole family.”  Even if you never interact with your spouse’s family, you are still seeing characteristics, behaviors, and attitudes that are a direct reflection or response to what your mate grew up with.
     And your mate sees the same in you.  How many times have you caught yourself doing something the same way you saw dad or mom doing it?  How many times have you used certain phrases when disciplining your kids that you swore you’d never say when you were younger?  How many times have you yelled because you grew up in a loud family, or went silent because your family tended to avoid conflict at any cost?
     Parents, grandparents, siblings, extended family—they all contributed to everything from how you communicate, to how you handle conflict, to how you think about intimacy, to the things you obsess over, to how you see God.  No family is perfect, but I pray that you had a good family growing up.  I pray your mate had a good family.  Because good or bad, you will either repeat or rebel against what you’ve experienced (and either can be good or bad depending on the behavior or characteristic being accepted or rejected).
     Our families of origin often set a “default” in us.  After all, the family you grew up with is the only experience of family you’ve had, so it is easy to become ingrained with the thought that this (whatever “this” was for you) is how family is supposed to be.  Certainly we want to bring into our own marriages the good things we got from our families.  But we are not doomed to repeat the not-so-good things.  Thank God we have the ability to choose and to be intentional.  It is a cop-out to say “Well, you knew that’s how I was when you married me,” or “That’s just the way I am and I can’t change.”*
     As you think about your family, and your mate’s family, consider talking about/ doing the following:

  • What are the good things you see in your mate’s family that you are glad he/she brings into your marriage relationship?
  • Are there any actions/ patterns/ characteristics from your family of origin that you don’t want to bring into your own relationship with your spouse?  (Let each person talk about his/her own family only so that you don’t open the door to saying anything that might be hurtful or misinterpreted.)
  • Write a letter to your spouse’s parents (or whoever their primary family influence was growing up), thanking them for blessing your life through the good things they gave your mate.

In-laws and extended family is often one of the most challenging parts of a marriage relationship.  But the qualities that made you fall in love with your mate were in some way influenced by his/her family.  Thank God for who your covenant spouse is, and ask God to lead you to speak blessing and encouragement into your own children’s lives, as well as the lives of their current or future spouses.

*Obviously there are some things that are beyond one’s control to change, but I am referring to individuals who consistently make excuses for hurtful words and actions with no real effort to make changes.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Remembering Marriage

     When I was in college, I missed a couple of weeks of a history class.  It’s not that I didn’t want to go to class.  I actually literally forgot that I had a class.  For those two weeks, I left the preceding class thinking in my gut that I was supposed to be somewhere, but for whatever reason, I couldn’t remember where.  So, I went back to my dorm room and took a nap.  When it finally clicked with me, I immediately got back into the class (and managed to still pull out an A for the course).
     Memory can be a very tricky thing.  Often memory is selective, reinforcing a perspective we already have begun to develop.  That can be a very good thing if we choose to have a positive perspective, but if we’re not careful, it can become a destructive thing.  Memory is a powerful indicator of love, priorities, a Christ-like character, and how powerfully the Holy Spirit is active within a couple’s lives.  After all, we talk frequently and passionately about what we love and what is important to us.  Memories are built through big events in couple's lives, but also through regular daily activities that intimately connect husband and wife.
     What drew you together and made you fall in love with each other?  Were there difficult times but you still renewed your commitment to not give up on each other?  What are the memories that make you cry?  That make you laugh?  That make you want to honor your covenant marriage vows?  As you and your spouse reflect on your story together, what were the defining moments—memories that allow you to keep falling in love over and over again?  As you continue to write your story together, what are the things you need to do to build powerful memories—memories that speak of cherishing your mate, freely extending forgiveness, building intimacy, and always being a place of safety and blessing and encouragement for each other?
     If you’ve “forgotten” your marriage, if you’ve let other things distract you from what’s really important, it’s time to immediately return to your mate, figure out what you need to do, and remember.