Most people recognize this as the popular definition of “INSANITY”! It’s not clinical insanity but it certainly makes no sense to live this way. However, it is a popular exercise being utilized by millions of married couples today. You wish, you dream and you hope things will change but you keep doing exactly what you’ve been doing for years. “Maybe things will get better!” you think.
Spiritual pattern and principle #5 tells us that “What you ‘SEEK’ is more important than what you ‘SAY’ you want. (see blog post for 5/16/2011) That means the actions you take will affect the outcome much more than the head knowledge that comes out of your mouth. You say you want to lose twenty pounds but you keep shoving Twinkies into your face. How well is that going to work out for you?
You say you love your spouse more than anything else in the world but you stay at the office late every night, often bring work home and go fishing or play golf every weekend. Your spouse comes home from work but you’re busy every night with the community social calendar, taking the kids to and from all kinds of activities, surfing the net and staying in contact with your “Friends” via the social media (you don’t really have 300 friends. It’s more like 3 friends!)
Regardless, any activity that you allow to replace spending quality time and engaging in meaningful interaction with your spouse indicates that you really don’t love them more than anything else in the world! I know you have to work and make a living but you also have to “Make a life”! The question is, which is most important?
Spiritual pattern and principle #1 is, “Change the way you think about the things you think about!” (see blog post for 7/4/2011) We have all heard such sayings as: “You never see a U-Haul trailer hitched to a hearse” or “I’ve never heard a dying man say ‘I wish I’d spent more time at work’.” Let me suggest that one of the things you begin to change the way you think about is “What is most important to you?”
Is your spouse and your family REALLY the most important thing in the world to you? (I’m just saying!)
Does that sound familiar? I think the issue here is: “Communication or Conversation, what’ll it be?” We spend a great deal of time in conversation but very little of it can be considered communication. How do you know the difference?
If your lips are moving and sound is coming out conversation is likely happening! (I know, that’s highly technical talk!) Communication on the other hand, is a horse of a different color. Communication implies that what has been said has also been heard and reasonably understood. It involves a number of issues.
One issue focuses on the one who is communicating. Does that individual give thought to the person with whom he/she is communicating. Everyone processes information differently! Some like direct verbal communication (Just the facts, mam!) Others prefer you to give more background and fill in the blanks with lots of color, logic and rationale. Some prefer face to face while others are fine with an email or short note. Do you give any thought to your spouse’s preference? (I didn’t think so!)
The next issue involving the one communicating is presentation. What tone, inflection, non-verbal signals are you sending? When you sense that your spouse is feeling some consternation do you inquire with the finesse of a bull in a china shop? (For example: “What’s wrong with you, now?) Do you glare or stare as if you not only expect but deserve an immediate answer? Does all this take place while you check your email, text your friend or surf the net? (How’s that working for you?) Would the ensuing conversation be more productive and pleasant if you tried something like, “What’s bothering you, honey? Is there anything I can do? (I’m just saying!)
The one being communicated with also has some responsibility in ensuring that meaningful exchange of information takes place. How good are you at listening? (That’s right! I said, LISTENING.) It’s both a skill and an art. It requires practice, practice, practice. Are you focused on what is being said? Or, are you focused on formulating what you’re going to say next so you will sound smarter? Instead of what you’re going to say next, try focusing on being able to repeat back a reasonable facsimile of what he/she is saying to you. “What I’m hearing you say is you don’t really appreciate my playing golf every weekend while you clean the house, care for the kids and prepare my meals.” (An exaggerated example but you get my point!) Are you looking at them while they talk or are you trying to respond between scenes of CSI or Dancing With the Stars? Are you giving the impression that you even care about what they are saying? (This doesn’t mean you have to be in agreement!)
Have you ever heard a husband or wife say, “We never argue”! What that usually means is we have given it a new definition or a new label. (A rose by any other name…!) I believe those individuals honestly believe they don’t argue. They think that it is not only a sign of a good marriage but an honorable claim. (i.e. “our marriage is better than your marriage, Nana, Nana boo boo!”)
Contrary to popular belief, a marriage without arguments and disagreements is not a healthy marriage. It’s one that is not reaching its full potential. No one agrees with anyone on everything. (How’s that for being profound!) So, if we know that disagreements are inevitable how do we deal with them and stay married?
One part of the answer is to learn to communicate. (Communication comes in three styles; 1. casual, 2. conflict and 3. committed. See the blog post for 2/8/2012.) We need to learn to spend less time in the casual mode, how to properly utilize the conflict mode and to graduate to the committed mode.
Another part of the answer is to learn to hold ourselves and each other accountable.(Now that’s a concept we don’t readily embrace!) How well do you insist that you bring only your best to the marriage table? Can you call yourself on the carpet when you don’t do your best? (hint: If you learn to do this your spouse will have to do it much less often!) If you think that holding your spouse accountable is your main function you are destined to travel down a long hard road. (see blog post for 2/12/2012, “It ‘IS’ about you , ‘THEY’ are not the problem! “ And blog post for 2/15/2012, “It is not about you”.)
The fact is, you can be accountable for only one person, YOU! But you should be accountable “TO” both yourself and your spouse. You will never be held accountable for the actions and reactions of your spouse. However, if the two of you build the kind of trust (“understanding, respect and trust”, see blog post for 2/08/2012) that characterizes a next-level marriage you will be able to hold each other accountable. You will, not only, give each other permission to hold each other accountable but the responsibility to do so. Then when the two of you agree that you will, let’s say for example; save for retirement, and one of you shows up with a new set of golf clubs or a new $300 dress you expect your spouse to say, “Can we talk?” When you can do this without starting World War III you will experience a quality of relationship that has no parallel.
Don’t strive not to argue. Learn to “Cuss, fuss, and discuss!” Lean to do it in an intentional, purposeful and productive manner!
Another myth that sets marriage up to fail is that of competition. Men and women always seem to be in competition with each other. Who is smarter, stronger, more powerful, more productive. This one is akin to the last blog about winning and losing. What about the weird idea that together we are smarter, stronger and more powerful than either of us is alone?
Then there is the ever present idea who’s right and who’s wrong. It seems that men and women are locked onto the idea that one of us must be right all the time. For that to be true the other must therefore be wrong. The fact of the matter is “RIGHT” (or truth) is most often somewhere between where each of us stands on the issue. How much time do you and your spouse spend trying to find the high road that allows each to be who you are and still feel okay about yourself and each other?
Finally there is the idea that marriage is a contract. It’s a legal binding agreement. The understanding seems to be that if you keep up your end of the bargain then I’ll keep mine! Conversely that gives us an “OUT”. In other words, if you don’t keep up your end of the bargain then I don’t have to keep up mine. (i.e. “until your mistakes do us part…”) That is a limiting view of the marriage relationship. It’s almost impossible to do it right every minute of every day so, with that philosophy, I’m doomed to failure.
God’s design for the marriage relationship carries the idea of a Covenant. God’s understanding of the covenant marriage is that the husband and wife covenant with each other that they will keep up their end of the bargain regardless of the shortcomings of the other. (This doesn’t mean that a wife, or husband for that matter, has to stay in a physically or emotionally abusive relationship at the risk of life and limb just to keep God happy! Popular culture likes to use that to justify rebelling against God’s plan!) Society tends to see faults and shortcomings with a more critical eye. In the covenant marriage the couple is more intentional, more trusting, more forgiving and more willing to engage in meaningful communication. That will allow the husband and wife to address issues before they become critical and reach the “Irreconcilable Differences” level.
By contrast, popular culture’s solution to our shortcomings and failures is the notion of a “no fault” divorce. Things just didn’t work out like I thought they would so let’s just call it quits and go try again and again with someone else.
Don’t buy what society is selling!
There are many myths that our society would have you believe are truth. Through these myths society is setting marriage up to fail. Are you gullible? Are you willing to invest a little time, effort and energy into debunking society’s myths and deciding truth for yourself?
One myth society lays on us is that love means sex. (Love certainly includes but is not the same as sex or defined by sex!) It is true that sex sells! Why else would an auto parts company use a beautiful young woman in a bikini to advertise spark plugs or motor oil? However, what sex is selling is not love. That’s why the Greek language included multiple words for love. “Eros” love means the kind of love that always asks “What’s in it for me?” That’s where the concept of lust comes from. “Phileo” love is brotherly love. (hence, Philadelphia the city of brotherly love!) It carries with it the idea of, “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine. (But you go first!) Then there is “Agape” love. It is the highest form of love. It’s the love God has for us and we should have for our spouse. It always asks the question, “What can I do for you?” So, the next time your spouse says “I love you” ask them to say it in Greek!
Another myth is that love means that giddy “feeling in love” experience you went through when you first met and “fell in love”. (that’s the next myth! We’ll get to that!) That is an emotional response. There can never be a duplication of any “First Time” experience. Maybe you can’t answer the question, “How do we get back to feeling in love” because you’re asking the wrong question. Love is more about your effort to make your spouse “Feel Loved” than trying to get back to the “In-Love Feeling”. The question you should be asking is, “How can I help my spouse feel loved?” (If you really want to think out-of-the-box maybe you could even ask your spouse what you could do to help him or her feel loved. I’m just saying!)
The myth of “Falling in love” is a big one. You don’t fall into love. You fall into a sexual experience or a sense of euphoria when you’re around a certain individual. You fall into being obligated to or responsible for someone else’s circumstances. Neither of these is LOVE! Love is always about doing what is in the best interest of the other person. (That doesn’t mean to give up your individuality or neglect your personal wellbeing!) It does mean that you intentionally and consistently ask yourself, “Is what I’m about to say or do truly in the best interest of my spouse. What impact will what I’m about to say or do have on my spouse?” You don’t fall in love, you grow in love. You become (that means over time!) in love. Love is a process that you intentionally engage in. Love is a choice you intentionally make, not something that happens to you.
Another myth perpetuated by our culture is that of “Winning”. (Remind you of a popular T.V. personality?) In our culture the concept of winning, by definition, requires a loser. For me to win, you have to lose. For us to win, they have to lose. That’s a bad model for marriage! What a difference it would make in your marriage relationship if you sought ways for you both to win.
(More popular myths coming in the next blog!)
That is not an oxymoron! Work with me here and let’s unpack this concept. Our society is consumed with comfort. Jim Collins in his book, “Good to Great” talks about comfort as the curse of humanity. The gist of his book is that companies (more precisely, the people that make up companies) are too comfortable with hanging on to being just good to let go and reach for being great. The same applies to a vast majority of marriages in our culture. We are so afraid of getting outside our “comfort zone” we will settle for a “just good” marriage relationship instead of letting go of comfort and reaching for a “great” marriage relationship. This is not a way of life. It’s an attitude. The good news is that attitudes can be changed.
We often talk about getting out of our comfort zone or stretching our comfort zone but we seldom do anything about it. We don’t because we haven’t been taught how! Stretching our comfort zone is a skill just like relationship building. It can only be learned by repetitive practice. There is a simple, not so stressful way to stretch our comfort zone. I call it “The Flight Simulator!” Remember, the worst that can happen in the flight simulator is a virtual crash and burn. You always get to reset the computer and do it again until you get it right.
The flight simulator allows you to explore new, different and/or difficult things with minimal discomfort. The idea is to begin with things that allow you control the level of discomfort thereby reducing the fear factor. You decide what the new experience will be. For example: You decide to drive home from work by a different route today or go to your favorite restaurant and order anything but what you always order there. (If you really want to get crazy, go to church and sit anywhere but where you always sit! Be careful with this one, you may be sitting in someone else’s seat!) In scenario #1 the worst that is likely to happen is you will get lost and take a little longer to get home. You still get home, no harm, no foul! However, you just might find a short cut or, at least, a change of scenery on your trip home. In scenario #2 the worst is likely to be you will not like the entre as much as you do your favorite dish. On the other hand, you just might find a new favorite dish. In scenario #3 you might get scolded for sitting in someone else’s seat. That may be a little too risky for you. Or you just might meet a new friend.
In each case you are likely to find that there was absolutely nothing to fear. Whatever you imagined could go wrong didn’t or, if it did, the results were not all that drastic. Most likely you will discover the new opportunities (a new route, a new favorite dish, a new friend) that you certainly would not have discovered if you had allowed yourself to be paralyzed by fear. By doing this in a controlled manner you find that even when things don’t go so well the discomfort is minimal and frequently you experience a much happier outcome than you imagined. This allows you to take a little more risk in choosing the next “flight simulator” exercise. Each time you take a little more risk you stretch your comfort zone. Doing this intentionally over and over helps reduce the fear of taking risks that come into your life that you did not choose. You, over time, (there are no short-cuts!) learn to be more comfortable when faced with uncomfortable situations.
Make a list of “flight simulator” exercises you can choose to help you stretch your comfort zone. Start small and work yourself up to a higher degree of difficulty. Over time you will fear the new, different and/or difficult things in life less. You will begin to enjoy taking on challenges and experiencing the successful outcomes. If you learn to do this well enough you might even one day be able to talk with your spouse about those things you both know you need to talk about but are afraid of “what might happen”!