Friday, February 24, 2017

"Yes, but..." communication

     It can be easy for a couple to engage in what I call “Yes, but…” communication.  It usually begins with one expressing a negative emotional response (anger, frustration, guilt, shame, sadness, etc.) over something the other said or did.  Rather than acknowledging his/her mate’s feelings and taking some measure of responsibility, the other quickly dismisses the hurt he/she caused and moves into a defensive justification, rationalization, or redirection.  So, conversations go something like this:

     Lois:  It really hurt me when your family was laughing at me.
     Clark:  Yes, but you know they really didn’t mean anything by it.
     Lois:  Still, I wish you would have stood up for me.
     Clark:  Yes, but you’ve always been too sensitive about this kind of stuff.
     Lois:  How is it being sensitive when I don’t like being the butt of their jokes?!
     Clark:  Yes, but my brother Bruce’s wife doesn’t seem to have a problem with my family!  What’s wrong with you?!

     Whether the actual phrase “Yes, but…” is used or not, this type of communication becomes destructive to the relationship.  We all have an innate need to feel heard, because when you have a voice you have value.  “Yes, but…” communication immediately says, “I am dismissing anything you are thinking or feeling as irrelevant.”  It subverts healthy communication, and active listening is lost as each person strives to be heard—one from a place of pain and the other from a place of apathy, indifference, or selfish pride.  Conversations normally escalate as one or both mates feel invalidated and uncared for.  Typically the negative emotion present at the beginning of the conversation is intensified rather than healed through loving attentiveness.
     So, how do we say what we want or need to say, and still maintain loving, productive communication?  First, learn to really listen.  Research has shown that most people don’t hear what a person says past the first sentence because they are already formulating how they are going to respond or defend a position or action.  Listen fully, reflecting back to your mate what you are hearing.  Ask clarifying questions if needed, but not in a way that is argumentative or belittling.  Second, when it is your turn to speak, speak only for yourself and not for your mate.  Too many times, a person will say things like, “I know what you’re thinking,” or “I know how you’re going to respond to this.”  You might be right, but you can only speak for yourself.  Third, discipline yourself to practice wholly non-judgmental responses.  If you’re mate tells you he/she is hurt by something, don’t diminish or try to explain away his/her pain.  Whether you feel the same way or not, the pain is real for your mate.  When something hurts you, do you want to hear “Get over it.  You have no right to feel that way,” or do you want to hear “I’m sorry.  Is there anything I can do?”  And most significantly, freely give and received forgiveness.  When you and your spouse cultivate an ongoing environment of forgiveness, you eliminate the roots of anger and bitterness before it can take hold.
     Absolutely perfect communication doesn’t always happen, but good communication can be commonplace if we treat our spouses the way we want to be treated, especially when he/she is hurt.

Thursday, February 9, 2017


     Last week I wrote a post on letting God bring “the breath of life” into your marriage (you can read that post HERE).  While receiving that breath of life from one’s mate can greatly enhance a marriage, the healthiest relationships are when each spouse is also healthy within themselves.  So part of restoring the breath of life into your relationship with your mate is giving yourself room to breathe as well.
     Because we live in such a frenetic world in which a person’s worth is judged by his/her busyness, even the most basic self-care can be routinely compromised.  What would it mean for your spouse if you made sure you were operating at your best so that you could better engage with him/her?  Remember, you can only pour so much out of a cup before you have to refill it.
     I know it sounds simplistic, but if you and your spouse attend to the following five things, so many of the other stresses in life that can impact your covenant marriage relationship will be significantly diminished.

  • Sleep.  God created our bodies to need daily rest.  The average adult needs 6 to 8 hours of quality, restful sleep per night.  Just think about how many of your emotions, actions, and reactions are compromised when you are tired.  Consistent sleep allows our bodies to detox and renew, regenerate, and rebuild.
  • Diet.  Eating regularly and eating healthy are necessary for a balanced life.  Are you getting protein, fruits and vegetables, and other necessary nutrients every day?  A healthy diet is the fuel that makes our bodies go, and neglecting it empties your tank.
  • Exercise.  As strange as it seems, energy begets energy.  When we exercise, it recharges us.  Not everyone is going to run a marathon, or work for a bodybuilder’s physique, or be super competitive, but even a brisk walk several times a week can make a significant difference in how you feel.
  • Spiritual health.  This is not just about going to church (although it is important to be connected to a good faith community).  It is about finding shalom in your life.  Shalom is the Hebrew word that we normally translate “peace,” but it’s more than a temporary absence of conflict.  It is an abiding contentment that anchors your soul in Christ even when life is swirling around us.
  • Time for self.  What do you have a passion for?  What makes you feel alive inside?  How do you stretch your creative and/or intellectual muscles?  For some, time for self seems… well… selfish.  But we all need time to disengage from everything else and engage in the activities that refill our cups and give us a boost.

     All of the five things mentioned above are desperately needed and must be prioritized to breathe life into us individually.  But, like everything else in life, they are needed in balance.  Out of balance, any of these can become a distraction, an obsession, or an addiction and take away from a healthy, Christ-centered marriage.  In balance, they allow you to breathe so that you can be the breath of life to your mate.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Ground Hog's Day and Marriage

     Well, Punxsutawney Phil, the nation’s unofficial official ground hog, has made his appearance for 2017. The ultimate question that he has to answer every year is, “Is winter almost over, or is there more bad weather to come?”  Now, if you live in a climate that is warm year round, then you probably don’t care.  But if you live in a place that has been slammed by snow and ice, you’re probably looking for the light at the end of the tunnel.  You’ve survived, but you are tired, isolated, and ready for something better.
     Have you ever been at that point in your marriage?  Marriage is always a challenge, because you are bringing together two imperfect people who will make mistakes from time to time.  Any marriage will have times of joy, excitement, and life, but it will also have times of sadness, stress, and lifeless broken heartedness.  When we are walking through the dark valleys of pain and loneliness, we want to know when it will finally be over and we will see the sun again.  “The car repair will cost how much?”  “Are you sure that is the diagnosis?”  “Our child was caught doing what?”  “My job is being ‘phased out’ how soon?”  “How much longer does my sister have?”  “Why is our church in such an uproar?”  “Where will we find the time to take care of that?”
     When the days come, and your marriage feels the strain of your seemingly never ending "winter of discontent," here are a few things that can make the long nights easier.
     First, do your best to maintain a healthy environment for your marriage.  Encourage each other.  Show gratitude.  As you are able, take on tasks the other one normally does.  Speak your love and show your love, even if the emotion is not present at the moment.  This is not always easy, especially if you feel like lately all you do is argue, but it is so important during these times to do everything you can to cultivate a good environment.
     Second, pray together often.  Pray during times of conflict.  Pray honestly.  Pray humbly.  Give God thanks as much as you pray for things you need.  Pray for each other.  Especially pray with each other.
     Third, don’t isolate yourself.  It is easy to feel alone during stressful times.  Sometimes a spouse doesn’t know what to say to his/her mate, but the mistake we make is withdrawing if we don’t know what to say.  If you mate is hurting, just be present for him/her.  One of the greatest blessings of marriage is that you have someone to walk with you through the dark valley. 
     Fourth, forgive.  Your spouse will make mistakes, but you will too.  If you both keep score of offenses, you will be locked in a downward spiral.  Failure to forgive is poison to a marriage relationship.
     Fifth, find hope.  During stressful times, it is easy to see everything through a dark filter.  Celebrate every victory, no matter how seemingly insignificant, and keep your hope alive.  If a dark shadow is hovering over your relationship, look for any place that a sunbeam can break through.  Our perception becomes our reality, and hope creates a positive perspective that will help a couple survive.
     In case you didn’t hear, Punxsutawney Phil did see his shadow this morning.  If you believe large rodents can predict the weather, winter will be around for six more weeks, but spring is still on its way.  Even if the shadows of your current circumstances mean prolonged or even permanent changes in your relationship, find your hope in God and your strength in each other.  Spring is just around the corner.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Breath of Life

     In Ezekiel 37, the prophet has a fantastic vision of God’s
power to bring life to something that is dead.  In the vision, Ezekiel sees a valley full of bones—dry, dusty bones that had littered the ground for quite some time.  God asks Ezekiel a simple question.  “Can these bones live again?”
     The vision unfolds in a captivating and graphic way, as the bones begin rattling, then moving together on their own to form full skeletons.  As Ezekiel continues to watch, the bones are covered with flesh—tendons attaching muscles to the bones, the inward parts forming, and finally skin covering over the exposed internal body.
     But as amazing and miraculous as this was, the fully formed bodies still laid lifeless on the ground.  God instructed Ezekiel to prophesy to the wind, and command the wind to bring breath into the dead bodies.  When breath entered them, those that were once nothing but dried broken bones scattered on the ground, stood strongly as a vast army before God.
     What made the dry bones live again?  It wasn’t just the structure—the flesh and tendons, organs and skin—that made them live (although they were important).  No, even as fully formed people, they still laid lifeless on the ground.  What made them live was the breath of life from God.  Only with that breath of life did they rise up and stand.
     In Christian marriage, the structural elements are necessary for a good, healthy relationship—good communication, conflict resolution skills, managing resources well, fulfilling your roles in the relationship, intimacy, practicing the tenants of your faith—but you can do all of those things and still feel dead, as if you are just going through the motions.
     I don’t know where you are in your marriage relationship.  You might feel strong and alive, or you might wonder if your relationship could be any deader.  You might feel like you’ve been at every point between those two extremes at various times in your relationship.
     So what becomes the breath of life in your relationship?  What are the things that you can do for your mate to give God-centered purpose to your covenant union?
     While the structural things are necessary for a healthy marriage, the breath of life often comes in the simplest of things; the things couples can lose over time if they are not careful.  Here just are a few things that help keep the breath of life in a relationship.

  • Intimacy that focuses on more than just sex.  God created sex and sex is good, but a holistic intimacy (emotional, intellectual, social, spiritual, and non-sexual expressions of physical intimacy) lets you mate know you value him/her in a deeply meaningful way.
  • Gratitude.  It is easy to take one’s mate for granted, especially in long-term marriages when we become comfortable in our roles.  Remembering to say “thank you” for the things your mate regularly does to bless you is a good reminder for you and a breath of life for the relationship.
  • Manners.  Saying “please” and “thank you” to each other rather than demanding or expecting, holding the door for your wife, speaking well of your husband in public, being mindful of your tone and the words you chose to speak to each other—whatever the circumstance, we usually know when we are being indifferent (or even rude).  To be mindful of manners is to invite the breath of God into the relationship.
  • Joyful surprises.  An unexpected gift, doing a chore for your mate, a loving note in the lunch box, a date night, intentionally speaking his/her love language—whatever the kind gesture, pleasant surprise fills us with powerful, positive feelings toward our mates and our marriages.
  • Humility.  It’s hard to live with someone who is always right about everything and makes it a point to let you know.  Humility isn’t about being weak or compromising on your principles.  It is about valuing your mate, recognizing we are all human and have room to grow and learn, and exhibiting a spirit of peace and goodness toward your covenant partner.
  • Laughing together.  Who doesn’t like to be with someone who can make them smile and feel good?  When we enjoy life and enjoy the spouse God has blessed us with, we receive an indescribably wonderful gift from God.  But remember, there is a distinct difference between laughing with your mate and laughing at your mate.  Make sure you are doing the former and not the latter.
  • Shared ministry.  Sharing in ministry together, whatever the ministry is, allows a couple to focus outside of themselves and work alongside each other to bring the breath of life to others.  And, a couple’s service to God will not return empty if they open themselves up to allowing their joint service to breath selflessness into the marriage relationship too.

     In the Hebrew, the same word is used for wind, breath, and spirit.  Whether it is being intentional about the things listed above, learning new ways of interacting, or reclaiming something you and your spouse used to do, start now letting God’s Spirit fill your marriage and bring a powerful breath of life.  When our marriages livereally, truly livethe world sees Christ.