Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Look what you made me do!

     “Ooh, look what you made me do.”  Sadly, this isn’t just the lyrics from a Taylor Swift song.  It is the mantra of our culture.  We live in a society that for the most part wants any unfavorable outcome to be someone else’s fault.  Isn’t it always easier to say, “Look what YOU made me do” than it is to be accountable, take responsibility for our own choices, and say “look what I chose to do.”
     Sadly, this same mentality permeates too many marriages.  But it’s not a new problem.  It goes all the way back to the beginning of time.

God:   Adam, did you eat from the tree that I told you not to eat from?
Adam:  Thanks a lot Eve.  Look what you made me do.  Oh, and thanks to you too God.  After all, you gave me this woman.  Look what you made me do.
God:  Eve, did you eat from the tree that I told you not to eat from?
Eve:  Don’t look at me.  It was the serpent.  Look what he made me do.

     The blame game continually invades marriages.  A person gives in to his/her selfishness, and immediately, there are accusations, rationalizations, and justifications for why a really bad choice, a choice that wreaks havoc in the marriage, was made.

“If you’d had sex with me more often, I wouldn’t be looking at porn all the time.  Look what you made me do.”

“If you would have listened, I wouldn’t have had to yell at you and call you all those awful names.  Look what you made me do.”

"If you had just given me what I wanted, I wouldn’t have had to open up that secret credit card.  Look what you made me do.”

     Whether mundane matters of life or more serious issues, and whether you use the actual words or not, if you catch yourself thinking any variation of the idea, “Look what you made me do,” it’s time to take a step back and examine yourself.  What is your motivation for saying such a thing?  What part of your own responsibility are you denying in the current situation?  How is blaming and belittling and disparaging your spouse going to affect your marriage?  What words and actions do you need to choose to successfully walk through a dark valley with your spouse, rather than isolating yourself by throwing your spouse under the bus?
     There are a lot of things in this world that we can’t control, but the one thing you can control is you.  No one, including your spouse, can make you do anything you don’t want to do.*  Rather than continually living in, “Look what you made me do,” what do you need to do to be honest with yourself and say, “Look what I did.  What do I need to do to heal, restore, and reconcile our relationship?”

*This post is intended to address normal marital conflict.  If there is physical coercion, intimidation, abuse, or other behaviors that represent a danger to your well-being, seek immediate protective help.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

TBT and the danger of social media...

     Today has become known as TBT, or Throw-back-Thursday, on Facebook.  People typically post photos anywhere from a few years to a few decades ago—
reminiscing on events or relationships from the past.  Certainly, there is nothing wrong with remembering good times from your history, so long as they are relegated to their proper place.  But too often, they are not.  And that can be very, very destructive to a marriage.

     Research has shown that social media is playing an ever increasing part in marital conflict and failure.  The scenarios are all too familiar.  A husband and wife have a fight.  It might be their first really big fight, or it might be yet another in a long string.  Things are said in anger that are hurtful. Or, after years of marriage, feelings have grown stale as one spouse feels unheard yet again.  Or, over time, rather than looking for the good in each other and in the marriage, spouses are focusing on what’s wrong with the other person.  It doesn’t matter what triggers it, the response is the same.
     Whether it is the same night or days later, a still disgruntled mate scrolls through the Facebook feed, only to find a friend request from an old flame.  “What’s the harm?  We’ve haven’t seen each other for years.  We live 150 miles apart.  Besides it would be nice to catch up.”  And then it begins.  Posting on each other’s wall becomes private instant messaging.  IM turns into emotional sharing.  Boundaries begin to be crossed as things are said, pictures are shared, and fantasies are created that further and further alienate one’s spouse.  And even if it never leads to a physical affair, the emotional affair is in full swing before you realize it.
     One of the biggest dangers of social media is that it allows people to create a fa├žade.  Everything from what they say to what they look like can be carefully crafted.  Only the best pictures are shown, or the most thoughtful comments are posted, or the most exciting activities are reported.
     And once the fantasy world begins to form in one’s mind, we begin to rewrite history.  You see, one of the greatest dangers that we present to ourselves is that our memory is very selective, emphasizing one thing or deemphasizing something else to help us cope with (or escape from) the reality of the world we are in.  So, we see someone from our past on social media, and suddenly, the stench of too much perfume she wore in middle school becomes the sweetest smell he ever remembered.  She rewrites his reckless behaviors that endangered himself and others as thrilling adventures.  The raging teenage hormones that would have made you feel drawn to anyone who might reciprocate, suddenly becomes “she was my only true love.”  The selfish physical relationship that lacked any concern for the other person is now recalled as “he was the most passionate anyone has ever been toward me.”
    Once we begin to engage and entertain the fantasy, we forget to ask questions like, “Why is he suddenly so eager to reconnect?” or “Why has she been involved in a string of short-term relationships over the past 10 years, but seems certain that she can have something lasting with me?”  We begin to feed the lie that God is somehow involved, leading us away from a covenant marriage to a predestined “soulmate” from our past.
     Here are a few ideas to help control social media and keep it from becoming a problem:
  • Share passwords.  There should be no secret accounts or restricted access.  Secrets kill relationships.
  • Don’t accept someone’s friend request or connect with someone that your spouse feels uneasy about.  Whether it is ex-girlfriends/boyfriends, co-workers of the opposite sex, people you find yourself physically attracted to—listen to your mate's instincts.  And even if your spouse trusts you and is okay with the people you add, have the discernment within yourself to not plant the seeds of possible temptation.
  • Cut off social media from time to time.  Turn off the electronics and build a real social connection with your spouse.  Take a walk together, play a game, watch something funny together.  The stronger your social intimacy with your mate, the less likely you will be to run to others on social media as an escape when conflict occurs.
     Social media allows us to stay connected, but don’t connect to an illusion that can damage the reality of your covenant marriage relationship.  When TBT comes, laugh at the big hair and mullets, ooo-and-awww over the baby pictures, and even use it to fondly remember good times in your own marriage.  But let the past stay in the past so that you can put your efforts into building a great future with your mate

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Password Please...

     Does your spouse have a right to know all of your passwords—social media, phone, email accounts, PIN numbersand to have full, unrestricted access to every resource or entertainment venue you use?  In the Marriage and the Christian Home class that I taught at Lipscomb University a few years ago, I asked students (none of whom were yet married) how much privacy they believed they were entitled to after marriage.  Many of the students bristled at the thought of giving someone else—even someone they claimed to love enough to marry—free access to all of their currently-secret information.  “A dude has the right to his privacy,” said one young man.  “I don’t think I should have to give him everything.  He should trust me,” declared a young lady.
     Withholding information from your spouse is essentially a power play.  It is one spouse telling the other that he/she is not worthy to know something you know.  No matter what stage a couple is at, premarital to post-golden-anniversary, I tell couples to insist on full disclosure of all passwords, PINs, and account accesses.*  Is it really that important?  I think it is, and here’s why:

  • Refusal to share denies the core of Christian marriage— Even if it seem like not sharing some piece of information should be “no big deal,” you are called to become one flesh—when you marry, you are giving up your “rights” for the good of the relationship.  You have entered a covenant relationship that says everything that is yours is your spouse’s too.
  • Secrecy opens the door to temptation—When you section off a part of your world that your spouse is not allowed to enter, you are setting yourself up for problems.  Email accounts that your spouse can’t access, restricted or secret financial resources, and blocked social media is a breeding ground for infidelity when there is no accountability.
  • Trust comes from mutual disclosure and mutual vulnerability, not through isolation and closing off your world from your spouse.  When your spouse asks you to share, it should not be seen as a question of trust.  In fact, it is the opposite.  It is a venue to build even greater trust because it says, “I want to fully know you, and I trust you to fully know me—both the good and the bad.”  Unless you are willing to open up every corner of your world, you and your spouse cannot help each other become what God is calling you to be, as individuals or as a couple.
  • It is capitulation to a culture of fierce independence rather than embracing a God-centered oneness.  When the societal value of self-sufficiency is prized above the biblical concept of “the two shall become one,” then you have effectively thrown up your hands in defeat and centered your marriage on something other than Christ.

     Privacy is important.  Whether it is to recharge and renew, to process thoughts and emotions, to reignite creativity, or for other reasons—just about everyone needs “alone time” now and again.  Even Jesus regularly went off alone to refocus and to reconnect with God.  But if you’re not careful privacy can become an excuse to put barriers between you and your spouse.  The goal of privacy should be to use your time alone with God to become a better husband or wife.  But periods of physical and emotional privacy are very different from a controlling privacy that shuts your spouse out.  Do you have a "right" to privacy?  If it is for physical and emotional renewal, sure.  But you definitely don't have a right to keep secrets, withhold information, or seek to control your spouse under the pretense of "privacy."
*There are a very, very few exceptions in which I would not advocate full disclosure, but such cases do exist (i.e.—if one spouse or the other is working through drug or gambling addictions or other special circumstances in which unrestricted access to financial pin numbers could prove detrimental to the couple.)
Photo credit: Copyright: <a href='http://www.123rf.com/profile_feelphotoart'>feelphotoart / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Trading dollars for pennies?

     A few months ago, I was sorting a jar of coins to roll them and take them to the bank.  As I was going thru the pennies, I came across something I’d never seen before—a blank penny.  There wasn’t an image on the front or back.  I set the blank aside to show Lisa and the kids.
     They thought the blank penny was as neat as I did, and Lisa looked it up and found that occasionally coins can slip thru the engraving process without being struck by the die that makes the image on the coin.  These mistakes are supposed to be caught and removed from circulation, but on rare occasions the blank is released into public distribution.  While not worth a million dollars, Lisa found that blanks will usually sell for about a dollar.  “Not bad,” I thought.  “That’s still 100 times what it would be worth otherwise.”
     Regrettably, I haven’t sold the penny yet.  Actually, I can’t even find it.  You see, after showing it to my family, I put the special penny back into the coin jar, fully meaning to set it aside later.  But instead, I just keep piling regular coins all around it. Eventually, the jar was full and I rolled the coins again.  My best guess is that I accidentally let the one dollar penny slip into a roll of regular pennies, and have long since taken it to the bank and cashed it in.  It hurts to think that thru my neglect I traded a dollar for a penny.
     How many times do we do that in our marriages?  How often do we allow what could be special, meaningful moments to become obscured by neglect?  It’s not that there isn’t an intrinsic and meaningful value to the ordinary moments as well, but how many times have you settled for “less than” rather than experiencing the full value in your covenant marriage relationship?
     So how do you keep from trading dollars for pennies and find the full value in your marriage?  Here are a few things to be mindful of to help experience the full value of your relationship.

  • Shared faith and prayer.  Whether on a mountain top or in a dark valley, keeping God at the center of your marriage relationship allows you to experience a fullness of life that is impossible without Him.  John 10:10 reminds us that The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”  Don’t trade dollars for pennies in your spiritual life as a couple.
  • Gratitude.  Your perception will become your reality.  This is an inescapable truth in any relationship.  By focusing on the things that your mate does for which you are grateful, you help positively shape the reality of your relationship together.
  • Compliments.  Who doesn’t like to hear nice things about themselves—appearance, accomplishments, work, even chores.  What happens when you build up your mate?  You communicate your love and commitment and give your spouse confidence, and you also continually remind yourself of the qualities that keep your love for your spouse strong.
  • Laughter.  There are certainly times to be serious, but we all need some levity in our lives.  I don’t think I know anybody who doesn’t like to laugh.  When a couple laughs with each other (and please note I’m saying with each other, not at each other), inhibitions go down and the couple has a wonderful place to make powerful and intimate connections.  The more you share laughter together, the more you grow joy in your relationship on an ongoing basis.

     Not trading dollars for pennies in your marriage takes intentionality and consistency, but the pay-off is way beyond any cost in time or effort.  What other ways do you and your spouse make sure to be intentional about getting the most out of your relationship?  Please share in the comments below.