Archive for Grace

Expectations, Skills, & a Happy Marriage

What are your expectations in marriage? If your expectations are unrealistic, you’re probably going to be disappointed. The “lived happily ever after” expectation just doesn’t really work out that well. We all have our down times. Nor does the “you complete me” mentality make for a happy marriage. In the long run, we need to become complete as individuals before we can find true happiness with a marriage partner. (Read “You Complete Me” Kills a Marriage for more.)

On the other hand, having low expectations will also lead to a less satisfying marriage. After all, if a person has low expectations for their marriage, how hard will they work to make their marriage better? A long-term satisfying marriage requires investment. Healthy expectations for your marriage will lead to a greater investment in your marriage. Think of it in terms of money. If I thought hard work would profit me five dollars, I’d only work hard enough for five dollars. However, if believe hard work would lead to a thousand dollars, I’d put in a little more time and effort. Low expectations lead to less investment which leads to a less satisfying marriage.  So, what are healthy expectations for a marriage? Here are a few. After you read them over, consider what you would want to add to the list.  

  • Long-term commitment.
  • Verbal affection.
  • Physical closeness.
  • Honor and respect for one another.
  • Consideration for one another.
  • Quality time together.
  • Acceptance.
  • Honest sharing.
  • Open communication.

A happy marriage takes more than healthy expectations though. A happy, satisfying marriage requires the skills to build those expectations, to create an environment in which those expectations might become reality. In other words, a happy marriage requires the relationship skills and problem-solving skills needed to make healthy expectations a reality. (Positive Expectations in the Early Years of Marriage: Should Couples Expect the Best or Brace for the Worst?) Perhaps some of the most important skills needed to create a happy marriage include the skills of listening, resolving conflict, compromising, negotiating, and honoring one another. Take the time to improve in those skills every year…your marriage will thank you for it!

The Sacred Moment In Every Conversation

Our families, our marriage, and our children are flooded with information today. TV’s, computers, smart phones, Ipads, social media, 24-hour news…they all throw information our direction faster than…you fill in the blank. With so much information spoken “at us,” it’s hard to get a word in edgewise.  In fact, we jump into conversation with our spouse and family midsentence with a “yeah, but….” Or, we talk over one another, each one talking louder than the last in an attempt to be heard. Once we have the floor, we don’t stop speaking…no breath, no pause, just tell all as quickly as possible and keep it going in an unending filibuster. Throughout the process, each person becomes defensive. The initial topic often gets lost in our ever more emphatic arguments. Each person grows more possessive of “my time” to speak. And…we lose the sacred moment every conversation needs to bring connection between those involved. The sacred moment in every conversation is the pause, that moment of silence between two speakers. The sacred moment means one person has finished speaking for the moment and the other person has received the opportunity to speak. There is no “yeah, but,” no interruption, no filibuster in the sacred moment…just a sacred moment of silence between speakers. Still, the sacred moment provides so much more than mere silence between speakers.

  1. The sacred moment confers appreciation to the listener for patiently waiting their turn to speak.
  2. The sacred moment means the speaker respects the listener enough to pass them the baton of speech, the opportunity to talk.
  3. The sacred moment also respects the speaker by providing an occasion for the listener to think about what was said, to really consider the speaker’s point of view.
  4. The sacred moment allows both parties to confirm mutual understanding about what was already spoken.
  5. The sacred moment grants the time needed to consider areas of agreement before jumping into a defensive posture.
  6. The sacred moment allows all parties to remain calm, to breathe life into themselves and the conversation, to maintain composure and an attitude of affection.

Appreciation, respect, mutual understanding, agreement, composure, and affection all in a single sacred moment. Amazingly, that moment remains very short, a simple pause between two people engaged in mutual understanding as the baton of speech is handed from one person to another. But that sacred moment can save a conversation and a relationship! Don’t you think it’s time we start practicing the sacred moment, the most important moment in any conversation, today?

The Massacre In Our Home Town

Saturday, October 27, 2018, it happened here…a mass shooting…a horrific exhibition of hate…in a place of worship no less. The New York Times described this shooting as “among the deadliest against the Jewish community in the United States.” Tears filled my eyes as the rabbis spoke during the memorial service Sunday (I didn’t get to attend but saw televised portions of the service…and even that brought tears). Pittsburgh is a city of neighbors, ethnic celebration, & Mr. Rogers; yet such hate, an incomprehensible hate, is present as well. Making it even more insidious, this shooting occurred in a place of worship. As one Jewish commentator noted, choosing to carry out this heinous crime in any place of worship “commits the maximum emotional devastation…striking at the very heart of the spiritual fabric of the community. Houses of God are sources of inspiration for good. They are the foundations of civility, of respect, of the dissemination of values which make possible human survival.” Bringing vile hate into such a sacred space is abhorrent!

We heed Mr. Rogers’ words to “look for the helpers” whenever catastrophe strikes. And, we have seen the helpers arise. People have spoken of the bravery of the response team. Students from Allderdice HS came together to initiate a memorial the day of the event.  Flowers and tokens of support pile up near the site of the catastrophe. The Islamic Center has raised $70,000 (at last count) to support the families of the victims. The list of helpers continues.  “The helpers” have risen to support, comfort, “stand with,” and share in everyone’s mourning. The outrage against hate has been voiced. The helpers have shown up. But what about next week?  What will happen next week? How will we, not just in Pittsburgh but across our nation, begin to address the hate and replace it with love and peace? Dr. Yvet Alt Miller suggests, among other things, that we respond by doing good deeds and finding ways of bringing more good into the world, to speak out against hatred, to “let our charity, our prayers, our mitzvot, our acts of kindness bring light into the world.” All great ideas.  We can’t continue life as usual. We must make changes…not just today or this week but over the next months and years!

My daughter once asked me why I don’t “do more” social activist activities like marches and protests. I told her I write and teach. The Honor Grace Celebrate website and our family workshops are my way of pursuing social change… and I believe they represent a potentially powerful avenue for social change. But how? Why promote honor, grace, and celebration in families? Why encourage families to reflect the love of God?  Because families who practice honor, grace, and celebration can change our society. They will not only experience happier families, they will also bring honor, grace, and celebration into their communities and our nation (Freedom & Family to learn more). When our children celebrate a positive, loving attachment with their parents they are more prone to show kindness to those they disagree with or even hate (Read a fascinating study showing how attachment changes the interaction between divisive groups in Hot Sauce Vs. the Power of Relationship). When we teach our children kindness in the family they are more likely to share kindness in the world (Read The Mighty Power of Kindness and Pay It Forward…The Suprising “Rest of the Story” For Your Family). As we promote honor and grace within our families, honor and grace will be shared outside of family (Give It Away for Family Fun will offer an idea to get started). So, I suggest we add to Mr. Rogers’ words about “looking for the helpers.” Don’t just look. Don’t let the helpers show up today and disappear next week or next month because the immediate crisis has ended and emotions have calmed. Instead, let us, as families, commit to developing more helpers, lifetime helpers. Let us teach and encourage those helpers to become active in reaching out in love to their communities…because your family can help change the world! Let’s build families of honor, grace, and celebration to carry the traditions of honor, grace, and celebration into every relationship they experience. Let’s build families who will carry honor, grace, and celebration into every relationship.

My Intelligence Went Adrift in the Sea of Her Eyes

A couple years ago, during my daughter’s sophomore year in college, we went to a high school football game together. She saw a young college age man wearing a sweatshirt from the college she attended. Excited to meet someone who attended the same college as her, she walked up to him and said, “Hey, I go to that college too!” The young man smiled, eyes wide.  She said, “What’s your major?” His arms began to move in motions indicative of speech and he opened his mouth as though to speak, but the words did not flow. After a very brief moment, sounds began to emanate from his moving lips as he stuttered, “Huh…well…I…huh…oh man,” his hand landed on the top of his head, “I can’t remember my major!” He looked hopelessly to his friend and then said, “I gotta go.”  I just smiled.  He did return later and had a more intelligible conversation with my daughter. He was a nice young man…very intelligent actually. He just “got lost in her eyes.” When she “ambushed him” that way his intelligence went adrift in her eyes.

Watching this brief interaction brought two things to my mind. One, I recalled the scene from Inside Out. You can check it out here. Two, it reminded me of a study completed in 2009 in which people interacted with attractive members of the opposite sex before completing cognitive tests (What Sexy People Do To Your Intelligence). Both males and females performed worse on the cognitive tests in the presence of an attractive member of the opposite sex. But males exhibited a stronger drop in ability than women. Why? The authors of the study believed that it had to do with “impression management.” It seems that trying to make a positive impression on another person sucks up enough brain power that our cognitive skills, our intelligence, is weakened. (That must be why I can’t speak intelligently when my wife walks into the room…oh, come one guys…give me a break. I’m trying to earn some brownie points here if my wife happens to read my blog!) My daughter knows about these studies since I talk about them (she would say I talk about them too much). She had compassion for the guy. She was patient and didn’t make a deal out of it.  In other words, she treated him with respect and honor. Teaching our children to respond to others with respect and honor is an important part of equipping them for the world…and making the world a better place. Let’s teach our children these values early.  Let’s give the values of honor and respect a central place in our families and in our training of children. We can still enjoy the intelligence that goes adrift in the sea of beautiful eyes, but we can also admire the compassion, patience, honor, and respect we witness in return.

Let the Children Bump!!

Loving parents establish loving limits for their children. It’s true. We need to do it. We set limits for their safety and the safety of others. We develop limits to teach them polite behaviors and mature attitudes that will allow them to find success outside the home. We put limits in place to guide our children toward becoming the best versions of themselves. But, you know what our children do with those limits. They bump up against them. They push the limits. They try to sneak around the limits and undermine the limits. Sometimes they bump so hard against the limits we get angry and frustrated. Don’t get too frustrated though because children bumping up against limits is a great thing, especially when we respond in love. Children bumping up against limits provides great opportunities and benefits. Let me explain.

  • When children bump up against limits they learn how to manage their frustrations. Life will not give them everything they want. They will encounter roadblocks and limits outside the family. Best to learn how to manage the frustration around limits in the loving womb of family rather than the harsh desert of the world. Let them bump…and help them learn how to manage the frustration of bumping a limit in a healthy, mature manner.
  • When children bump up against limits they learn about our true values. They learn long-term character is more important than immediate gratification or temporary wishes. They learn which values we truly find important and will “stick to our guns” for and which we will “give in” on. They learn which values we truly hold dear and which values we are willing to forfeit to avoid the hassle. They learn which values they really need to internalize and which they leave behind as they leave home.
  • When children bump up against our limits we have an opportunity to show our them love by explaining the reasons for the limit. They learn we believe in their ability to understand the reason behind the limit. They learn we respect them enough to explain those reasons to them in a calm manner. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying we argue with them about the reasons. We simply inform them of the reasons. Then we show our love by standing firm and not budging while they bump up against a good limit.
  • When children bump up against a limit we have an opportunity to show them our love by listening to their outpouring of emotion. We can hear their explanation and simply be with them in their frustration. They will learn we love them enough to understand their frustrations and remain present in their anger. They learn we love them enough to hear them and understand their concerns…which brings me to the next bullet…
  • When children bump up against a limit we learn about our children. As they explain their frustration and “everything wrong with the limit,” we gain insight into our children. We may even find their complaint makes sense. We may even discover a need to modify the limit to better support their safety and growth. We will encounter times when our children’s insight and wisdom will influence us to change the limit…and that shows the depth of our love as well.

When children bump up against limits we have established for their safety and healthy development we can become frustrated. But remember, children bumping up against the limits presents wonderful opportunities to teach and love. Let them bump and find a loving, gracious limit that holds them secure. Let them bump and learn. Let them bump and hold them close.

A Gift You’ll Love to Give

We all love to receive a gift. Even more, we love to give gifts to those we love. Who doesn’t like to see our child’s face glow when they receive a gift from us? Or watch our spouse’s eyes glitter when they receive a special gift? Here is a gift you will love to give. Not only will you spouse and children love to receive this gift but you will experience all kinds of benefits…like more conversations, greater joy, and growing intimacy. What is this gift? The gift of attention!

You can give the gift of attention by listening intently. Listen to their words and listen to their tone of voice. Observe carefully. Observe their body language and their facial expressions.  Observe what excites them and what brings them down. Listen intently and observe carefully so you can understand them deeply.

Then, and only then, begin to speak. But don’t move to fast. Use your first words to confirm your understanding. State what you’ve observation. Repeat what you’ve heard. Listen again as they either confirm your understanding or clarify your understanding.

Now, once you understand and your partner knows you understand, you can respond. This sounds like it will take a long time and sometimes it does…but not always. Take this example:

“It’s a beautiful sunny day,” your wife says looking out the window at the flowers in the back yard.

 

“Yes. It is a sunny day. I like how it shines on the flowers in our backyard,” you reply.

This simple interaction includes the observation that your wife is looking out the window when you talk about the flowers she is looking toward. She knows you listened as you repeat her words back to her–“sunny day.” A simple interaction that gives the gift of attention. With a gift this simple, you can give it away to your spouse and children multiple times a day. It’s almost like Christmas. Merry Attention. Happy Listening.

Married to Burger King?

Remember the old Burger King commercials?  I used to sing their moto, “Have It Your Way…,” such a catchy tune.

Unfortunately, some people think they’re married to Burger King. They want to always “have it their way” in marriage, treating their spouse like Burger King. They want their “Burger King spouse” to accept their way and agree with it, or at least act as though they do. They always believe their way “is right” and will argue their point in an effort to make their “Burger King spouse” toes the line and complies with their way. They do this by insisting on “their way” with vigor and passion, often overwhelming their spouse with their energy. They persist in this persuasion until their “Burger King spouse” accepts their conclusion as the right conclusion. What they don’t admit to themselves is “their Burger King spouse” often does this just to end the conflict and not have to talk about it anymore. As soon as the “Burger King spouse” gives in, a wedge (not a pickle wedge or a lettuce wedge but a solid, distancing wedge) is forced between them. That wedge will grow and fester, hindering intimacy and even leading to more conflict in the future.

“Having it your way” doesn’t work in marriage because none of us are married to Burger King. (Well, accept maybe Mrs. Burger King.)  Our spouse has their own opinions, perspectives, and ideas. Maybe you “hold the lettuce” and she piles it on…or you “hold the pickles” while he asks for extra pickles. More significantly, maybe she wants a minivan and you want an SUV…or you want to spend some money on a few weekend vacations each year, but he wants to skip the weekend getaways and save all the money for retirement. I won’t list possible differences you and your spouse may hold. I’m sure you can think of a few on your own. The point is, when we insist on always being right, when we demand to “have it our way,” we push our spouse away. In the words of a more marriage friendly moto, “You can be right…or you can be in relationship.” “Being in relationship” requires that we accept our spouse’s point of view as valid, just like our point of view. It means we don’t demand to “have it our way,” but honor our differences by listening and compromising instead.  It means having the grace to “have it their way” now and again instead of “our way.” In short, you’re not married to Burger King so don’t expect to “have it your way” all the time.  Learn to listen, compromise, and turn toward one another in discovering a third alternative that can satisfy each of you. After all, isn’t it more important to have a satisfying marriage than to “have it your way.”

Humility & Your Marriage…Now That’s HOT!!!

“Oh lord it’s hard to be humble when your perfect in every way…” or so said Mac Davis in 1980.  Maybe it’s even harder today. We live in a world that encourages self-promotion. Teens base their self-worth on the number of “likes” they receive for their most recent selfie…and so work to look “perfect in every way” before posting the “spontaneous” selfie.  But, when it comes to creating long-term marital bliss humility is hot! A study published in 2015 explored the role of humility in relationships (Humility and Relationship Outcomes in Couples). They compared how a person perceived their partner’s humility to their relationship satisfaction and forgiveness. They also explored whether commitment played a role. They discovered that as one’s perception of their partner’s humility increased so did forgiveness and satisfaction in the relationship. In other words, a partner’s humility contributes to their partners sense of relational commitment, satisfaction, and willingness to forgive.

This begs the question…what exactly is humility and how do we increase it in our relationship? First, humility involves having an accurate view of ourselves. It means we recognize our strengths and our weaknesses. Second, humility involves having an “other-oriented” perspective rather than a selfish perspective. A humble person does not boast or act prideful. They also show a willingness to sacrifice self-gratification to meet their partner’s needs. They make self-promotion secondary to partner-promotion.

The question remains: how do we develop humility in our marriages? Based on the definition above, here are several ideas to get you started.

  1. Acknowledge your own strengths AND weaknesses. We all have them…so admit it. If you don’t know what they are, ask your spouse and maybe a few other people who love you and know you well. Put on a tough skin and listen carefully. Don’t think so highly of your strengths that you ignore your weaknesses; don’t obsess over your weaknesses so much you neglect your strengths. Acknowledge both.
  2. Put your spouse first. In communication your first goal is to understand your spouse because what they have to say is important. In living a healthy life your first goal is to assure your spouse has what they need to live healthy (opportunities for healthy food, rest, exercise). In entertainment your first goal is for your spouse, not yourself. In all areas, put your spouse and their needs first. You can still take care of yourself. After all, your spouse needs a healthy partner. So by all means, take care of yourself because your spouse is of utmost importance and they need a healthy partner.
  3. Accept your spouse’s influence in your life. Let their needs and vulnerabilities, fears and joys influence your decisions, your words, and your actions. Allow their requests to influence your behavior and daily chores. Allowing your spouse to influence your words and deeds is an amazing expression of humble love.
  4. Admit your mistakes and ask for forgiveness when necessary. We all make mistakes. A humble person acknowledges their mistakes and seeks forgiveness. They apologize for their wrong doings, even when those wrong doings are unintentional.
  5. Offer forgiveness. A humble person is gracious in offering forgiveness. They do not demand undue retribution. They recognize that all of us (including me) have “fallen short” and made mistakes. As a result, they do not hold a grudge. They accept the other person’s apology and seek to restore the relationship.

One last thing to remember. Beauty fades over time. Skin sags, body shapes change. But, humility grow and flourishes over time. Outward beauty is hot for the moment, but humility…now that’s hot for a lifetime!

This Pattern Will Kill Your Marriage

Every marriage relationship develops patterns of interaction. Some patterns help marriages grow. Some can kill marriage. An analysis of 74 separate studies that included over 14,000 people discovered one pattern that can kill our marriages! This negative relationship pattern lowers relationship satisfaction, decreases intimacy, and contributes to poorer communication. It is often lovingly referred to as the demand-withdraw pattern. In this pattern one partner makes criticisms, complaints, and requests while the other withdraws and gives the silent treatment (The Most Toxic Relationship Pattern). Knowing this pattern can destroy your marriage is a start. Learning what you can do to replace it is even better. That’s the real solution. Here are a couple of ideas.

  1. Instead of criticizing, use what Gottman calls a “gentle startup.” Rather than verbally attacking your partner’s personality, stick to describing the situation causing the stress. Find a way to explain the positive need inherent in your complaint rather than “harping” on what your partner’s doing wrong. Coming up with a positive need opens the door to discovering a solution and building intimacy.
  2. Rather than creating an environment of abuse in which you insult your partner or show contempt for your partner, create an environment of appreciation. Maintain your awareness of your partner’s positive qualities. Speak words of affirmation and adoration to your partner every day.
  3. Rather than making excessive demands and requests on your partner, practice serving one another. Build a culture of service, a culture in which both partners serve one another.
  4. It’s easy to begin taking a “tit-for-tat” position when you feel like your partner blames you for something. Our first instinct is often to return blame for blame, attack for attack. Rather than do so, take responsibility for your own mistakes. Own up to your shortcomings. Admit your wrongdoings and seek forgiveness for your mistakes.
  5. Rather than shutting down, practice calming yourself and your partner. Don’t push buttons. Breath. Take a break. Distract yourself. Then, after you have soothed yourself, return to #2 and tell your partner what you love about them.

The demand-withdraw pattern could destroy your marriage. But you can end it. You can replace it with something better by beginning to practice the 5 actions above. Why not start today!

A 4th of July Patriotic Prayer for Our Country

I have sung this song so many times on patriotic holidays; I’m sure you have as well. Today, I want to do more than sing the words. I want to pray the words which wonderfully voice a prayer our country so desperately needs. Won’t you pray it with me?

O beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain.

 

For purple mountains majesties above the fruited plain!

 

America, America! God shed His grace on thee,

 

And crown they good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea!

 

 

O beautiful for pilgrim feet, whose stern, impassioned stress

 

A thoroughfare for freedom beat across the wilderness.

 

America! America! God mend thine every flaw,

 

Confirm they soul in self-control, thy liberty in law!

 

 

O beautiful for heroes proved in liberating strife.

 

Who more than self their country loved, and mercy more than life!

 

America! America! May God thy gold refine.

 

Till all success be nobleness and every gain divine!

 

 

O beautiful for patriot dream that sees beyond the years

 

Thine alabaster cities gleam, undimmed by human tears.

 

America! America! God shed His grace on thee.

 

And crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea!

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