Entries in love (11)
I still remember the first time my wife and I went into counseling. Our counselor, having noticed that we sat on opposite sides of his couch, asked us if we still loved each other. “Sure,” I said “I love her, but I don’t like her.” My wife gave me a sour look only to communicate that she felt the same thing but wasn’t quick enough to say it. I have always been better with words.
Much to my surprise our counselor said, “That’s good, I think that’s really good.” And he added, “I can work with that.” He then began to explain how all married couples make their vows with a certain ignorance of who the other person is. Here’s what he explained.
The Old Contract
We basically stand at the altar and say to our future spouse: “The way you look at me, make me laugh, lift me up when I’m down, care for me—all that makes me feel really good. If you keep up this good feeling in me, I’ll sign this contract.” Of course the other spouse is saying the same thing: “The way you look at me, help me out when things get tough, how you touch me, talk to me and love me—it all makes me feel really good. If you keep up this good feeling in me, I’ll sign this contract too.” And off they go to their honeymoon, hand-in-hand, believing they have found the love of their lives and that their spouse will go on making them feel as good as they have been, until…
Why it Doesn’t Work
...one or both partners realizes they don’t feel as good as they used to anymore. Then they often blame the other for not living up to their end of the contract. You would rarely hear this said out loud but internally one or both of the partners is saying: “You used to make me feel good, but now you aren’t doing it anymore. Please live up to your end of the contract or I won’t live up to my end either.” And that’s when a couple will come in and see me for counseling.
Since my wife and I have been in this situation before, I understand what is going on with a couple in this state and I understand why my counselor so many years ago said: “That’s good. I can work with that.” If we are committed to loving the other and staying in the marriage, but we don’t like something or many things about our spouse, then at least we are being honest about how we feel. The contract isn’t working for the couple anymore and it needs to be re-written. \
Assessing the Damage
But before we can do that, we need to assess the damage done under the old contract. Instead of being overly hopeful and creating what counselors like to call a “win-win” situation, I like to create a “lose-lose” situation in which we account for all the things our spouse has disappointed us with over the years—a bad habit that seemed mild early on but has now grown into a full-blown addiction, the passivity and carelessness towards household chores, the lying, the lack of involvement with the kids, the disinterest in sex, the financial burden brought on by one or both spouses, the hurtful words said, the embarrassment—the list can be very long.
But to properly re-engage in your relationship with your husband or wife, you need to make this list and have feelings about it. You will probably be angry, mad, resentful or bitter about how things didn’t turn out. Only after looking at these things and properly addressing them, can we grieve the loss of a marriage we thought was ours but never was. Only then can we work towards forgiveness, acceptance and repentance. Repentance, because your spouse has the same kind of list and is also working through their feelings of loss over a marriage that never was.
The New Contract
After creating the “lose-lose” situation in which we’ve properly dealt with our losses and have let them go (to the best of our ability), we can start looking at creating a “win-win” situation. Here we re-write our marriage contract to include the negative aspects of our spouse we didn’t think we’d have to live with. In this scenario we together as a couple find ways to overcome an addiction, work towards healthy financial responsibility, commit to being more involved with the children or help out around the home, have regular date nights and regular sexual encounters.
We re-write our marriage contract not by expecting our partner to make us feel good, but by making ourselves feel good by expecting to do the best we can. Then when your counselor asks you, you can say: “I love my wife and some days I even like her.” Or “I love my husband and some days I don’t like him.” This is a more realistic marriage and healthier one, too. As you begin living out your new contract, you’ll find that more often than not, you will not only love your spouse, but that you will like him/her too.
Eleven years ago this day our nation was brutally assaulted by enemies that wished to do our nation great harm. It was a day of horror and disbelief, but also a day that ushered in a great sadness for the thousands of lost lives and the hundreds of thousands who had direct links with those who died. Losses of this magnitude cannot be totally comprehended, but we all felt some sense of loss in our own way.
Dealing with loss is the process of grieving. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, in her classic book On Death and Dying, gives the stages of grieving: 1) Denial, 2) Anger, 3) Bargaining, 4) Depression, and finally 5) Acceptance. My first response to 9/11 was flat out denial. My wife and I were in Hilton Head, SC, on vacation and I refused to even respond to the first reports of disaster. My response was totally selfish: please, not on my vacation! My second major response was indeed anger. I was so angry at… but who was there to be angry at initially? Osama Bin Laden was not a known name to me, and so what I was left with was raw anger with no place to land. Bargaining was not one of my major responses until I saw the thousands of family members searching for missing loved ones. I bargained vicariously, asking God to have some father or brother or uncle just show up out of the bowels of the New York City subway system. Few, if any, did. I did join in the corporate and national depression. It was too sad, too awful, and I just wanted to sleep it off, imagine it gone. I was sad for days on end. And finally, acceptance.
Acceptance is ultimately an act of faith. It is a faith that says that God is still somehow in control in a terribly fallen and broken world. Faith in knowing that He will still turn this tragedy into triumph, make beauty from ashes. However, this does not take the pain away, it just makes it into something that is meaningful and surprisingly beautiful. Whatever your loss, whatever your drama, the final act of acceptance is the demonstration of humility to a Divine Will that in the final act give love, grace, and heaven itself. The Old Testament blessing sums it up best: “May the Lord bless you and keep you; may He make His face to shine upon you; may He lift up His countenance and be gracious to you.” May He indeed…. Amen.
It is a difficult and lonely place to be, to work on a marriage (or any relationship) when the other has no interest in counseling, marriage seminars, relationship books, or even conversations about one’s marriage. Working on a relationship with another who is resistant to the process of growth is not a journey for the faint of heart.
At some point, the focus must turn from “How can I make our marriage better?” to “How can I be a loving, committed, healthy wife/husband/father/mother/sister regardless of the fact that I am doing this alone?” It is possible to be a loving mother to a child who will not reciprocate that love. A difficult marriage should not be a shameful fact for the husband who gives 100% for his wife. An ethic of love asks that we give even when we do not receive, that we sacrifice even when the hands of that sacrifice are stepped upon, and that we continue hoping for change when there are no indications of transformation.
This ethic of love is a journey of a disciplined mind, deliberate movements, and a well of strength.
1. Disciplined Mind
My friend Alicia Britt Chole says (I quote her a lot because she is the wisest person I have ever met), “Intellectual strength is not merely the ability to think…it is the ability to choose what and when to think.” Wow! If we could train our minds like an Olympian trains their body, can you imagine the freedom that would accompany such obedience? Racing minds, hateful dialogue in one’s head, rehearsing past and future conversations, plans of revenge, hurtful wishes toward others, self- sabotaging “why me’s?”… these are all indications of an undisciplined mind.
Questions for change:
~ What am I thinking about right now that is causing me to feel so terrible?
~ What could I think about that will help me to be a more loving spouse in this moment?
~ How can I take care of myself emotionally, spiritually, physically, so that I can have the energy to continue loving?
~ Am I in a good place to communicate in a healthy way?
~ Where should I spend my mental energy right now?
2. Deliberate Movements
One-sided relationships (or relationships which suck-the-very-life-right-out-of-you) deserve thoughtful actions after healthy thinking.
Steps for Change:
~ I suggest the book “Bold Love” by Dan Allender and “Boundaries in Marriage “by Cloud and Townsend.
~ It is important to seek counseling and friendships that will help you walk the very difficult journey of sacrificial love!
3. Well of Strength
Some call it a “Higher Power,” some cry to God, some rely on friends and family... You need not be alone.
~ Calling a friend who will support you.
~ Cultivating disciplines including silence, solitude, and contemplative prayer. There are many resources for this. I suggest any book by Henri Nouwen. “The Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices that Transform Us” by Adele Ahlberg Calhoun is also an excellent resource.
There is a freedom found at a point on the journey as you walk in obedience in the ethic of love. You no longer love the other in order to receive love back. The grip of trying to control loosens and you are free. Free to love.
The concept of Loss is so large that it is impossible to try to address the vastness of it in a simple blog. The concept, in its entirety, has been something that I have been pondering for some time. In this blog I am focusing on loss as related to death in particular.
I just spent the weekend in Denver at a memorial service for a woman with whom I grew up with. In many ways she had been given the title of second mom to me and my siblings. I have known her since I was 5 years old and our families had spent more than a decade celebrating every holiday together. Her health had been ailing her for quite some time and so Nancy's death came as more of a blessing than anything. Sitting in the memorial service, it was hard to describe the feelings that I had. I was thankful she wasn't suffering anymore, but there was such a sense of loss with it. She was the keeper of secrets. And had a memory of things that I had long forgotten or had not even remembered. Nancy could remember things that I could not. I had not lived near her for many years but whenever I saw her it was like no time had passed. She would ask me things about myself that I had long ago lost interest in, had changed my opinion on, or was in process of rethinking what I thought. I had a history with her that I have not had with any other adult woman. There is such a sense of loss in that. No one will ever be able to replace that.
I was talking with her daughter, my long time friend Tina, and she said something about our friendship that is so true: You can't replace time. No, you cannot. It has made me think more and more about time, life, dreams, and desires. Life is short. Nancy was nearing 80 but lived a full life. It was evident by what people said about her at her memorial. As I listened to what people were saying, but set my gaze on the absolutely majestic Rocky Mountains, I began to think about the concept of a full life for myself. I ask these questions of myself, but I encourage you to ask them of yourself as well. Am I living to my full potential? Am I living well? Am I allowing myself to dream and create? These are just a few to get you started.
I am in the process of asking myself these questions with no conclusions as of yet, but I am enjoying the process of asking them and letting my heart, soul, and thoughts go where they go. Nancy was not perfect by any stretch of the imagination; however, I believe she did not have regrets at the end. I don not want to have regrets either.
Twas' two days after Christmas and all through the house, all people were moving including the mouse. Exchanges were made and thank you's were said in hopes of avoiding a mess.
Hurt feelings were spared and graciousness shared all for the sake of the cause.
The cause is of peace and peace is of God so let the season of peace rest in your heart.