Begin Expecting Good Things Today

Admit it…you want a great marriage.

No wife grew up thinking “I can’t wait to get into a miserable marriage.” And no husband got married thinking “I’m looking forward to this marriage becoming a huge weight around my neck.”

But all too often, that’s what the marriage relationship turns into.

If that’s you, then it’s time to rekindle the dream of having a great marriage. It may not be what you’d like right now, but you should have hope that the relationship with your spouse can become the type of marriage that others dream of having. Without that hope, the marriage has nowhere to go.

God wants you to have a great marriage and remember Mark 9:23, that all things are possible to him who believes.

Start desiring and believing for that great marriage. It’s a first step in the right direction.

3 Ways We Fight

Sue Johnson is an author, clinical psychologist and marriage researcher. She developed Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy. In her book, Hold Me Tight, Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love, she outlines three common patterns.

  1. Find the Bad Guy
  2. Protest Polka
  3. Freeze and Flee

Find the Bad Guy (Attack-Attack)

This is all about self-protection. Someone feels attacked and they counter attack. It’s about trying to prove that they are wrong and you are right. Arguments can escalate until someone disconnects.

The more this happens, the more we start to expect it. We think about our arguments ahead of time and get ready with the counterpunch.

The desire to win starts to become more important than the desire to be connected.

Michelle and I used to fall into this. I wanted to win the argument, but I was losing the relationship.

Protest Polka (Demand-Withdraw)

This is the most widespread pattern. One person makes a demand. This might even be a demand for more connection. The other person protests the implied criticism by withdrawing or stonewalling. That withdrawal causes the demander to make more demands, which causes the withdrawer to pull away even more. It goes on and on.

We often see this as the advice cycle. One partner wants an emotional connection and the other responds with logical advice. This gets interpreted as not responding at all. The advice itself may be good, but it’s done without validating the emotions. The advice giver feels that they are helping and the other person doesn’t feel emotional connection.

The end result is distance in the relationship, not connection.

Freeze and Flee (Withdraw-Withdraw)

Remember when I said that Michelle decided it was better to not bring up things to me? This was the result.

Michelle withdrew and just didn’t say anything. We still got along. I thought it was great that we didn’t ever fight. Still, the distance grew.

When both people are withdrawing, it seems very peaceful. Eventually, resentments can build up. The relationship can turn into just being roommates with very little connection.

Tips:

  1. Understand these common patterns – It can help you as a mentor to be aware of these patterns. Keeping them in mind can help you to be aware of what you are seeing.
  2. Help couples recognize their pattern – Ask the couples if this is a pattern. If you can help them to recognize them, then they can choose new actions when they happen.
  3. Focus on the emotional connection needed – Ask the couples what they need emotionally from their partner. Sometimes they won’t know, but if they can identify it, it will help them to find actions that help.

These three patterns are very common. As mentors, you’ll see these being expressed all the time.

When Michelle and I understood the patterns in our relationship, we were better able to find new ways of relating. I learned to validate her emotions, so I became a safer person. She was able to be more open with me. Our intimacy level grew.

We made new choices.

The Secret to Setting Good Conversation Habits

It’s easy in conversation with [a spouse] to think ahead, hurry to answer, interrupt, or cut them off mid-sentence. Sometimes we’re busy, but mostly it’s about conversation habits. (And, let’s face it, there are some conversations that are tough and we may fear what is to be said or we don’t want to face it at all.)

I’m inviting y’all to a certain level of intentional listening. It takes a practice (and sometimes maturity and courage) to stay engaged in conversation.

True conversation involves listening well, considering what was said (maybe asking questions), breathing, and carefully thought out words in response.

Yes, much of our day can be full of words spoken in the moment, ordinary words for ordinary events. Just be aware there are times when it’s important to slow down and listen well before deciding what to say and framing thoughtful words.

(Do be patient with yourself. Being a good listener/speaker is a learned skill. It takes practice and a fair amount of trial and error.)

To listen closely and reply well is the highest perfection we are able to attain in the art of conversation. —Francois de La Rochefoucauld

I Call Marriage

I don’t watch a ton of TV but I have a new show this year, This is Us. And there was one scene between two of the main characters, a married couple with two kids, that struck me so poignantly.

Randall and Beth were discussing their crazy schedule and how one of their elementary school daughters had a chess tournament that night. Randall said, basically, Can’t make it…I have a work dinner that I have to go to.

And Beth said, without batting an eye, with respect, but with authority, “I call marriage. You’re going to the tournament with us. Sorry but I call marriage.”

And Randall did not go to his work dinner that night.

In my first marriage, I never ‘called marriage’. Okay, that’s not true. I called it to God. I called it in my journal. I called it to my friends. I called it under my breath. I called it while crying on my bathroom floor or as I fell asleep alone or in my car or at AlAnon.

But I never – in a healthy, non-naggy, forthright way – ‘called marriage’ to my first husband.

Until it was too late…

…I never told my first husband what I wanted or what I needed. Not really. I mean, I nagged and criticized, sure. But I never said, just clear as day, I need you to stop this and this and this or we won’t make it, our family will deteriorate, our marriage will implode. I never called marriage.

And I can’t help but wonder what would’ve happened had I tried. Clearly, kindly, respectfully. Holding up the weight and importance and divinity of our marriage as more important than addictions and abuses and arguments.

Who would we have become? Who could we have become?

Marriage Advice You Never Expected: Fight Like Mad

I went to a wedding today. It was a good wedding. A stunning dress, beautiful flowers, a moving exchange, a promising kiss, the thunderous pronouncement. A celebration of love and commitment. Yes, a wonder to behold.

There is something therapeutic about going to a wedding. . . one that is not yours, that is. It’s a reminder of what it felt like to be at the beginning of your journey, love in its infancy. Standing there, face to face, for the moment secured from those inevitable circumstances that will most certainly test those sacred vows.

Everything in this fallen universe wages war against marriage. The laws of nature wreak havoc with our appearance; the mirror tells no lies. What physical characteristics he or she fell in love with can still be appreciated; however, gravity makes re-location inevitable. Flawless beauty is replaced with . . . well, flaws. Handsome gives way to distinguished. We are all slaves to time; nobody escapes the second-hand.

More incessant than the ticking of the clock, our inner voice, fueled by our fallen nature, urges us never to be satisfied with the moment, constantly pushing us to look for the next best thing. The pressure cooker of our jobs, the needs of family, the financial strains that stretch our endurance. We grow weary. We entrench ourselves in self-pity. It can change us, and not always for the better. There is very little in our days under the sun that holds up to the type of commitment we are so daring to attempt in marriage. No other immutability. No other ever after. And culture doesn’t help much either. It woos us with promises of sustainable pleasure and self-gratification. And when we are completely spent on the altar of self, only then do we see the world for the broken place it really is. We have trouble keeping our own promises to ourselves, much less to our beloved. No. Marriage is a crazy dream of the eternal. A dream authored by the Everlasting, replete with the sweet aroma of permanence we will most certainly find one day in His arms.

Did We Know What Was Ahead? Can They?

Is it possible then to prepare these young lovers, with rosy cheeks and misty eyes, for this epic battle? Is it prudent? No, we who have come to stand as witnesses to this union hear once again of the symbols of this great endeavor: the ring, the candle, the prayer. We listen with a renewed understanding of our own journey, reflect on our mistakes and marvel at the depth and strength of love, two stunning treasures we could never have imagined on our own wedding day. We smile, and we nod, and we congratulate. We marvel at a story that has not yet been written. We are thankful for our own. We gather our things, and we make our way back to our own realities. And in the words of the wise pastor officiating today’s ceremony, “We fight like mad.” We fight like mad to honor the God who provided us with such an amazing privilege, the one true reflection of the love that Christ has for us. We fight like mad to honor the life of the one who took us on, with all of our weaknesses packed neatly in our suitcase, little unknowns revealed to our spouse under pressure and over time. We fight like mad to stay in love. We fight like mad to drown out the voices of those who would undermine our commitment. And when we find ourselves with our backs against the wall, we ask our Father for the strength to fight some more.

Marriage is a battle, but anything worth having is. So, no matter where you find yourself on your journey, whether you are feasting on the spoils of the mountain top or waging war against the darkness of the valley . . . fight like mad.

The Question You’re Not Asking

Malcolm and Jenny have been married for ten years. They have three children who keep them busy and exhausted most of the time. Their communication used to be regular, positive even, but the demands of careers, parenting and church life have left them without time to think, much less talk.

Jenny has noticed her husband isn’t taking the time with the children like he used to at bedtime. He is always on his phone leaving her to tuck the kids in alone. She wonders who/what it is that is getting his attention. She hasn’t mentioned this to him, but she’s been taking mental notes of the times he hasn’t been present. She hopes it’s work, fears it’s someone else, and suspects he has lost interest in her.

It’s 10p.m. The children are finally asleep. Jenny decides it’s time to find out what’s going on. Instead of asking him the question on her mind she begins…

“Honey, how is work going? Has it been busy?”

When he answers that everything is fine at work, she becomes even more fearful. Which leads to the next question:

“You must have lots of e-mails needing your attention then?”

When he responds that he hasn’t been looking at his emails, her fear turns toward anger.

If only Jenny had asked Malcolm the question behind her question.

“Malcolm, can I ask why you’re spending time on your phone rather than helping me put the kids to bed?”

Do you do this? It may not be the same situation, but it may occur more than you realize.

More examples of questions (Q) and the question behind the question (QBQ)

  • Q – Not feeling well?
  • QBQ – Why did you go to bed without telling me?
  • ~

  • Q – Was traffic bad coming home?
  • QBQ – Why didn’t you call saying you were running late?
  • ~

  • Q – Are you not hungry?
  • QBQ – Don’t you like this new recipe?
  • ~

  • Q – Are you mad at me?
  • QBQ – Why did you ignore me when I got home?

You see with these examples we often use a question to discover the answer to our real question. Why do we do this? It could be…

  1. Fear of the answer
  2. Fear of being so direct in our communication.
  3. Playing the game of suspicion, which is always detrimental to marriage.
  4. We’ve already determined their guilt and want them to admit it.

Let’s purpose to STOP this practice. We can do so by asking the Lord to help us see the ways this happens in our relationship.

Change requires that we slow down when we see an approaching conflict  to ask the right question. Ask yourself, what is it I’m wanting to know? And then ask that question.

5 Tips for Building Trust in a Marriage

Kristen and I said “I do” to each other on September 15, 2001. At the time, Kristen was 31, and I was 28, and we both worked as physical therapists in Atlanta. We each owned a home, and both of us kept busy schedules. Work, church, community group, and other commitments dominated our calendars.

Suddenly, his decisions impacted TWO people.

When we got married, all of a sudden, I had to start running my decisions by someone else. Our first arguments as a married couple usually revolved around our schedules. A typical argument looked something like this:

Kristen (to Scott): What are you doing after work today?

Me (to Kristen): I’m not sure. Why do you ask?

Kristen: Well, we’re married, and I’m just curious what my husband is thinking of doing after work.

Me: Hey – back off. You’re not my mom, you don’t control me, and why can’t you trust me?

And…scene.

Okay – it didn’t look quite that bad, but not too far off. Kristen often asked me what my plans were and I just as often responded in a defensive tone. To me, it felt like Kristen didn’t trust me and wanted to know what I was doing every second of my life. For her, she trusted me completely but genuinely wanted to know my plans. She looked forward to spending time together, but for whatever reason, I responded with defensiveness to her questions.

Some Important Lessons

As we began to work through these minor marital conflicts, we realized a few things:

  1. We’re normal. Every married couple deals with small issues that can become bigger issues if you don’t deal with them.
  2. Marriage is challenging! Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 7:28, “…Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles…” We experienced some worldly troubles and shouldn’t be surprised by the challenges.
  3. We needed to establish trust in our relationship. Kristen and I had no reason to distrust each other, but the transition from a combined 59 years of singleness to marriage had some clunky moments along the way.

Now after being married 15.5 years, Kristen and I work like crazy to be on the same team and to build trust with one another. We keep each other up to date about our schedules, and I don’t become defensive when Kristen asks me about my plans or schedule.

Building Trust

How can you build trust in your marriage? There are many ways, but here are five ways Kristen and I have built trust into our marriage:

  1. Keep short accounts.When we stumble in sin, have wronged each other, or face temptation, we keep short accounts. This means that we don’t let a pile of resentment build in the middle of our home. In Ephesians 4:26b, Paul writes, “…do not let the sun go down on your anger.” In other words, work through your problems or issues as soon as you can. Sometimes it needs to be the next day (after the sun goes down), but make every effort to resolve your issues and live at peace with one another (Romans 12:18). We confess, share, ask for forgiveness, and communicate throughout the day.
  2. We keep in contact throughout the day.I know this one can be tough, especially for you men out there. I’ll bet your wife likes it when you text or call her throughout the day. The brief text message, emoji, or a quick call communicate to your spouse that you love them and can’t wait to see them.
  3. Believe the best instead of assuming the worst. 1 Corinthians 13:7 says, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Paul wraps up his great passage on biblical love with these four powerful statements. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves that love believes all things. Marital love ought to believe the best about the other person instead of assuming the worst. I know that when I go on the defensive with Kristen, that I need to believe the best about her instead of assuming the worst.
  4. We invite others into our lives.Kristen and I lean on and depend upon the relationships we have with other men and women. We build trust by establishing accountable friendships with others who help us grow and who challenge us when we fall short. I know I can trust Kristen because she has many other women in her life who will let me know if I have anything to be concerned about.
  5. We pursue Jesus and model our lives after the One who is most trustworthy. In 1 Corinthians 11:1, Paul says, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” We want to be a husband and wife who, like Paul, follow Christ. The Psalms are filled with reminders of the trustworthiness of the Lord. The more we follow Jesus, and the more we grow to be more like Him, the easier it is to trust each other in marriage.

Mine, Yours, and Ours

The ‘mine’ part is easy. The ‘yours’ part, not so much.  When two become one, does everything become ‘ours’?  Whew…that’s a loaded question. To which, we will explore the answer.

Studies show money to be one of the top causes of conflict in marriage. Ideally, money and the issues thereof have been discussed prior to the formal union. However, reality usually paints another picture – one in which couples often think everything will ‘magically’ workout. Thus, mistake number one.

To help navigate the waters of consolidation, consider these points:

  1. Conflict happens where there is no clarity. Have a conversation that clearly outlines your thoughts and ideas about how the money should be handled. Think, talk and act like the adults you are. Clarify your thoughts, wishes and dreams. Create both your couple and individual lists. Perhaps financial issues stress you out or make you afraid. Be open about how you feel.
  2. Things do not work out unless you work them out. Nothing gets done ‘magically’. You and your love may not agree on everything but an essential component of sharing your life is to work it out! It takes a plan to work through the difficulties associated with how to merge finances and make it work. Remember, two heads are better than one…however, when the two are on opposite ends of the spectrum, it is wise to seek counsel on issues not easily resolved.
  3. Dealing with money issue requires information. Know what you have coming IN and going OUT. List all income, payments, and account balances. Assign each pay period with bills that are due. Some find it beneficial to divide the bills, if there are two incomes. He pays A, B, and C. She pays X, Y and Z. Be sure to divide the bills according to income level if one makes more than the other.
  4. Marriage is about supporting, enhancing, combining and sharing. However, the combined unit does not mean there cannot be separate accounts. It may be wise to have my account, your account and our account. While having discretionary money for gifts and other treats for your love is a good idea, be sure you are not secretive about your account balances. Trust is a foundational must to have a successful marriage.
  5. Keep the lines of communication open. If the plan isn’t working how you planned, rethink your method and adjust accordingly. Your budget and financial plan is a working document and will change as incomes increase, homes are bought, children are born, and other life events.

By nature, we tend to lean toward a whole lot of mine and a little bit of yours (maybe). Moving into the marriage arena should cause pause for the good of the union. Love is patient and kind. Love works out differences with grace. Love is quick to listen and slow to speak. Love forgives and moves on. Remember, love will carry you… always.

That Moment When You Hurt Your Spouse

The moment you do or say something that hurts your marriage partner, you stand at a fork in the road. Whether you are aware of it or not, at that very moment you can choose to go in one of two directions. You may be standing at that junction right now. Perhaps a thoughtless word or deed in the last few hours or minutes has directed a barrier of distance in your relationship. It may not be a “big deal”; you wonder if your husband or wife even noticed it. But you know what happened. How will you respond to it? Which direction will you choose?

Forks in the Road

One choice is to go on with life as usual, as if nothing happened. You can pretend that everything is fine between you, even though you know it’s not fine. You can be your cheery, communicative self, expecting the incident to blow over. But these kinds of things, even the smallest of them, never really blow over. They tend to simmer below the surface and erupt at the most inconvenient times. So you can do nothing if you want to, but we don’t recommend it.

Your other choice, the second fork in the road, is to set to work to resolve the conflict as soon as possible. It means taking the initiative to set things straight, to clear the air, and to restore the relationship. It requires courage to restore and rebuild a relationship – regardless of which side of the fence you’re on. It also takes time, patience, trust, and maybe even some tears. But the benefits of a restored relationship far outweigh the effort involved.

Closing the Loop

We call this second step “closing the loop” on relational offenses. Your hurtful words or actions open the loop by introducing pain. It is important to close that loop as soon as possible to deal with the pain and return the relationship to harmony. Closing the loop is forgiving love in action. It’s the biblical pathway to confronting offenses, resolving conflicts, and healing hearts. This is God’s way to restoring mutual acceptance and intimacy in the wake of misunderstanding and pain. Closing the loop through forgiving love is a vital component in divorce-proofing your marriage.

The most important step in taking the path of forgiveness is heart preparation. Your heart must be right, or your efforts at closing the loop will be shallow and ineffective. King David was a man after God’s own heart because he consistently – though not perfectly – invited God to work in his heart. Notice how much David talked to God about the condition of his heart:

“I will thank you, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all the marvelous things you have done.” (Psalm 9:1)