Entries in relationships (20)
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.
I just passed two couples walking while in my neighborhood. The first couple, togive you a visual picture, was rather ordinary from the first glance. They wore old, dirty tennis shoes and rather old and plain sweatshirts. They looked as though they were walking for exercise, but they walked rather slowly. The second couple was much more attractive and “put together,” and their pace was much faster. They had their arms pumping back and forth to generate speed.
But I noticed something…
The first couple was working harder to stay on the sidewalk. It looked laborious, actually. They even accidentally bumped into one another a few times. They were working hard to stay side-by-side. The second couple was walking with more ease and speed, but the husband was one step in front of the wife.
The challenge is that the narrow sidewalk, much like life, can be managed easier if one just steps in front of the other. But I don’t think the easier way is usually the best way. It’s kind of lonely to be looking ahead onto your path without your spouse in your periphery. And it’s a difficult to always be the one lagging behind. It certainly is more work to not rush ahead and take the lead or to also not let your spouse always rush ahead and clear the path. Some walks we can only take alone. Some walks we lead others. And some walks are meant to be side-by-side. I think the walk of marriage is most beautifully lived out when we bump into one another.
The tradition of Thanksgiving started in 1621 in Plymouth, Massachusetts, and was attended by 52 Pilgrims and 90 Native Americans. The purpose of the celebration was to give thanks to God for His provision and protection for the newcomers to the New World. In 1863, Abraham Lincoln signed a proclamation making Thanksgiving an official national holiday, to be held the fourth Thursday of every November.
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It’s the simplest of all holidays with the greatest emphasis on family and relationships. And it’s the holiday that keeps on giving… turkey sandwiches and meals of leftovers can last for days! All in all, it’s a good time for relating and relaxing. But what about the thankfulness part?
I would encourage you this holiday season to realize three things and suggest that you commit to do one thing that will make this time more meaningful. The three things to realize are that first, we have needs. In a country like the United States, we sometimes fail to differentiate between needs and wants. But health, vital relationships, and spiritual growth all fall under the category of needs. Assess your needs this season and then go to the second realization: humility. Having humility is simply knowing that you are not able to meet your needs alone. In fact, to meet some of these needs you might have no ability at all to affect a change. Which leads to the third realization: ultimately only God can meet our needs.
So as you enter this season, I would suggest that you make a list of what you are thankful for and pray that list back to God with a spirit of thankfulness. Speaking your thanks will go a long way to internalizing that thankfulness so it will be part of your character. Since we are all so blessed, it would be a good gift to give back to the Giver of all good things!
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.
Who or what gets you angry? As you do an inventory, let me give you some of my biggest pet peeves. First, ridiculous traffic light sequences make me angry. We can put a man on the moon but we have yet to figure out how to improve and expedite traffic flow. I cannot tell you the number of times I have sat at a light waiting for the green and see no other traffic travelling on the street I have intersected with. My comment more often than not is, “This is just ridiculous!” (emphasis added J). Those lights make me so angry! Another regular frustration is the instrument that I’m using to record this blog… my computer. I love the convenience that it brings, but when it’s acting up, I don’t think that there’s anything more aggravating and time-consuming. My frequent comment here is, “Oh no, not again!” Do you feel my pain?
So, where does anger (frustration, irritability, aggravation) come from? My thought is that it does not come from the actual precipitating events, it comes from inside me. It is a response to my life and its daily activities not going according to my plan. Someone or something has interposed himself or itself in my life to take me off my plans… plans for time usage, plans for productivity, or plans for rest. But those people or events aren’t producing my anger, they are revealing it. Anger is a God-given emotion and is not inherently bad or evil. But anger is prone to go in very dysfunctional directions if we do not handle it correctly. Our anger, properly viewed, is an invitation to a more accurate self-perception and growth. Why do I get upset when my wife does that? Why am I so stressed when I’m late? Why does my lack of knowledge and ability make me so mad? The answer is not a cookie cutter one… one size does not fit all. But our regular irritations are a call to a deeper place where God can speak to us in a more profound manner. God speaks to Cain’s anger at his rejected sacrifice and says: “Why are you angry? …if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.” The goal is not to stop being angry, but to be its master and not let that anger lead us into sin. So stop blaming others or events or even God for your anger, and allow Him to take you into a place where you can use that anger to lead you to greater personal insights and more healthy relationships.