- Gender and Relationships
Improving Your Marriage
Over the years as a pastoral counselor I've had the honor to see some phenonenal "marriage miracles". In this lens I hope to share some information that will help you improve your most important relationship.
Please forgive any generalizations that don't apply to your situation. I know that each of us is different and that our marriages are complex. I certainly don't have all the answers but what I do have is experience with many tough situations and a fervent belief that nothing is impossible for you. I'd love the chance to hear some of the specifics of your trials so please feel free to email me through this lens.
It is so easy to lose perspective. With so much going on in our lives we quite literally can't keep up with all there is to do. We strive and push to try to keep up and begin to feel like we're all alone in this enormous task of life. We ask ourselves, "Why doesn't anyone else pitch in and help? Why do I have to do everything?" And because too often the most important things in our life are not the most pressing or time sensitive, we don't make time for each other. Chances are good that both of us are feeling the same way.
The result of all of this is that we feel isolated and in great need of love and appreciation. But because we are both feeling this way we're not in a place where we can give each other what is so needed. We've lost sight of why we do the things that keep us so busy.
Change has to start somewhere so one of us* has got to jump off of the treadmill, put aside what we're needing right now and be the one to bring things back into focus.
So here is a suggestion to begin with; how about sitting down together sometime real soon, maybe even with some close friends and retelling your love story. Remembering how you met, your first date and other details of your early life together. You could even watch your wedding video or look at pictures from your honeymoon.
Now of course this won't fix everything but it is a great place to start. It's always good to go back to those places in our lives that are milestones, commitments we made that our current life is built upon. The truth of the matter is that regardless of how you are feeling right now, you really do love each other and both of you want to have a fantastic marriage.
*Because you are the one reading this you're the one that gets to jump off first.
Highly Recommended Books
Here are some great books.
Over the years I've had many couples or others in conflict come seeking a solution to their problem(s). I think their reasoning is that they will each state their case and that I will see how clearly they are in the right and somehow be able to convince the other one when they couldn't. Or maybe that I'll just help them "cut the baby in half" and figure out a compromise.
Let's say the problem is Mexican food and Mexican food can represent anything. She loves Mexican food and wants to eat it everyday and makes a great case. While he states just as convincingly that he can't stand Mexican food and doesn't ever want to have it.
The solution isn't difficult if we can all agree that what is most important is what God wants us to do. And what God wants is for her to be willing to never have Mexican food because he doesn't like it and for him to be willing to have Mexican food everyday because she loves it. When this is your heart it works out perfectly.
If both are willing to put their own wishes away and sacrifice what they want, it's incredible how everyone ends up with what they truly desire; a great marriage.
5 Tips to help your conversations
Being able to talk to each other from a secure position is critical to a healthy marriage. Too often we approach our dialogue with each other from a place of unsure-ness. We may be feeling unloved so we speak to each other from a place of pain. That only makes the situation worse.
Here are a few tips on making your conversations safe places for each other. None of this will be a revelation to you but way to often we forget the simple things.
1. Be polite.
Why is it that we are more polite to the people at the grocery store or the restaurant than we are to those that are closest to us? Saying please and thank you tells others that we value them. It tells them that we appreciate their help and that we need them. Isn't "will you please take out the trash" better than "the trash can is full"?
2. Give each other more information.
This is so important in the little things. Here's an example: Let's say it's an early evening and my wife is in the kitchen while I'm in the living room working on the computer. She says, "Honey will you please take out the trash" and I respond, "yes". Seven minutes later she is upset with me because I have not taken out the trash.
We could have avoided the upset-ness if either or both of us had given each other more information. If my wife had said, " Honey will you please take out the trash? It's really full and I need to dump some stuff into it right away." I would have known how soon she needed me to empty the trash. Or if I had originally said, "yes, I'm in the middle of something, can I do it in ten minutes?" She would have known that I wasn't going to jump on it right away and then let me know she needed it sooner.
Telling each other what we are thinking is always better than assuming our partner knows all the details we have in our head.
3. Stay away from absolutes.
When we throw descriptions like "you always" and "you never" into our conversations with each other we immediately make the dialogue adversarial. Now we've accused our partner of something that isn't true and put them in the position of having to defend themselves. This can't bring you together.
4. It's best to talk about how you're feeling.
It should always be safe to talk about how you are feeling with each other. Feelings are often not the truth but have an effect on us just the same. In order to not be afraid to share our feelings we have to apply the things we talked about above and most importantly not be threatened by what each other is feeling.
Here's another example: "I'm not feeling loved today" or "I'm not feeling lovable" opens up a conversation that invites your spouse to help you change how you are feeling. The wrong way to communicate these same feelings would be to say, "You don't love me". This is an absolute that closes off the conversation.
5. Don't let lies ruin (run) your relationship.
Here's the truth; you love each other! You are committed to each other for the rest of your life and what you truly desire is to have an incredible, happy, secure marriage. Anything that seems to say something different than that is a lie. Don't let the lie have its way! Focus on the truth, love each other well. When your needs are not what is most important to you they somehow always get met. That's how God does it.
Set aside an hour to talk about the things in this article. Bring along a couple of pieces of paper and a couple of pens. Write down three things you would like to share with your husband or wife and take turns telling each other what you wrote down one item at a time. Help each other use the tips above.
In 1992, Dr. Gary Chapman wrote a phenomenal book called "The 5 Love Languages, The secret to love that lasts". I've used this book for years with scores of couples and highly recommend that you and your spouse read it if it seems like sometimes you just aren't on the same page.
Each of us wants to be loved. But we don't all receive love in the same manner so it's very important to know what communicates love to our spouses. We often try to say I love you in the way that we best receive love and end up missing it all together because our loved one is different than we are.
If you're not a big reader, here's a brief overview. The five love languages are; quality time, words of encouragement, gift giving, acts of service and physical touch.
Quality time is pretty self-explanatory but it's important to know how each of you defines quality time. This love language may be high on the list for each of you but you both have different ideas about what it is. One of you may call quality time just the two of you at home watching a movie together while the other considers it going out with a few friends. When this is the case there will be times when one of you is giving quality time and one of you is receiving quality time.
Words of encouragement are always good! Even if this language finishes lower on the list it is still great to say kind, encouraging things to each other. Ask each other what kind of things you like to hear and commit to saying them on a regular basis.
Gift giving says I love you to many people but only when the gift is thoughtful. In other words don't just grab anything and expect it to say I think you are special. Gifts are also more highly cherished if they come at random times for no particular reason. Flowers on a birthday don't carry the weight of flowers on a non-special occasion. What a well thought through gift says is that I was thinking of you and wanted you to know how special you are to me.
Acts of service can be huge projects or everyday tasks. Find out if this says I love you to your spouse. Be sure you don't take the everyday tasks for granted and appreciate that they are done in love.
Physical touch, I don't want to get in the middle of this discussion with you but be sure you know what each other likes. If physical touch is more important to one of you than it is for the other be sure you are self-less (see Mexican Food above).
Make two pieces of paper that look like this (yes two):
Quality time Quality time
Words of encouragement Words of encouragement
Gift giving Gift giving
Acts of service Acts of service
Physical touch Physical touch
Then sit down across from each other and rank the love languages for yourself from 1 to 5. Next, just for fun, rank them as you think your spouse would. Then each of you talk about them one at a time each of you sharing about your number one before moving on to each of your number 2s.