Archive for Grace

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!

6 Traits for an Intimate Marriage

We were made for, and we long for, intimate connection. In fact, our attachment with other human beings is crucial, even necessary, for a healthy life. Marriage is one place we hope to find such an enduring connection. Unfortunately, many people find themselves feeling disconnected and isolated in marriage. This disconnected marriage brings pain and misery to everyone involved.  A connected marriage brings joy.  To get this connected marriage requires a few traits that are often overlooked when we speak about happy marriages. Let me explain a few.

  1. To have an intimate marriage we need to be trustworthy. Our spouse needs to know we will keep our commitments and follow through on our promises. Our spouse will see our trustworthiness in our actions toward them and our actions toward others. If we want an intimate and enduring marriage, we need to become trustworthy people, people worthy of receiving honor and trust. (Read 6 Pillars of Trust to learn how to develop trust.)
  2. To have an intimate marriage we must learn to trust. I realize that trusting another person leaves us vulnerable, especially if we have experienced hurt at the hands of those we loved in the past. But, without trust in a relationship both parties feel the need to protect themselves. They struggle to be completely open with one another. A wedge of secrecy and self-protection comes between them and drives them apart. We can avoid this wedge of secrecy and self-protection by becoming trustworthy people and people who trust one another.
  3. An intimate relationship is built on the gift of empathy. We need to realize our spouse has a valid perspective and opinion even if they disagree with us. Empathy goes a step beyond that realization and demands we strive to understand our spouse’s perspective, to see the world through their eyes. We must work to understand their world so well we can understand the basis of their perspective even if we disagree with it. (Quit Taking Your Spouse’s Perspective may sound like a contradiction, but it really explains how to do this most effectively!)
  4. A person nurtures intimacy when they remain attentive and available to their spouse. Spouses can make up to 100 bids for connection during any 10 minutes spent together (link). You can attend to these bids for connection or turn away from them, accept them or reject them. Of course, if you reject them you will experience disconnection, isolation, and anger. When we accept and respond to them we enjoy a growing sense of connection, love, and intimacy. (Learn how to respond to those bids for connection in RSVP for Intimacy)
  5. Spouses who enjoy intimate marriages remain teachable. A teachable person loves their spouse enough to learn about them and from them. They can admit their own mistakes and apologize. A teachable person continues to learn about their spouse. They remain a student of their spouse’s interests, strengths, vulnerabilities, fears, and a myriad other things. Remaining teachable and learning about your spouse provides the necessary tools for building intimacy with your spouse.
  6. Those who enjoy an intimate marriage exhibit humility. They are humble and learn from mistakes. They change in response to their spouse’s legitimate concerns. Humble people support one another. Humble people allow their spouse to influence them. Humble people enjoy intimacy in their marriages. (For a challenge in humility, become A Leader in Submission in your marriage.)

Build Intimacy Before, During, & After Your Marital Conflict

All couples experience disagreements, even arguments and conflict. But, did you know you can build a more intimate relationship with your spouse before, during, and after the disagreements and conflicts?  Let me count the ways (well, at least five for before, five for during, and five for after).

BEFORE:

  1. Make daily deposits of honor and grace into your Family Bank of Honor by sharing polite words, expressions of affection, and loving touch. (Read The Tongue in the Family Bank of Honor for verbal daily deposits.)
  2. Become a student of spouse. Learn about their likes, interests, vulnerabilities, and fears.
  3. Express gratitude to your spouse every day.
  4. Tell your spouse about the traits you admire in them. Let them know what they do and say that you admire and appreciate.
  5. Show kindness to your spouse every day.

DURING:

  1. Take a breath and remember all the traits you love and adore about your spouse.
  2. Remain calm. Take a breath and maintain the use of polite words.
  3. Listen to understand. Then listen some more to make sure you understand.
  4. Do not threaten, blame, criticize, or show contempt. Instead, be brutally honest with yourself. Humbly take responsibility for any way your actions and words contribute to the argument.
  5. Seek a solution, a third alternative that can show love and the priority of your relationship. (Assume Love explains the third alternative.)

AFTER:

  1. Reaffirm your love for your spouse. Let them know how much you love them.
  2. Apologize. Chances are you did something during the disagreement that requires an apology. So, apologize.
  3. Give your spouse a big hug and a sincere kiss.
  4. Review your contribution to the argument and change your behavior accordingly.
  5. Bear the fruit of a sincere apology. (More in Stop Apologizing & Bear Fruit)

I’m sure there are many more ways to build intimacy before, during, and after an argument, but these 15 ideas will give you a start. What ideas would you add to the list? Let us know in the comment section below.

Ten Commandments for Effective Conflict

Conflict can make or break a marriage. Well, not the conflict so much as how we manage the conflict can make or break a marriage. In my “exhaustive search for marital tools” I found an ancient manuscript entitled The Ten Commandments for Effective Conflict. Well…OK…I really didn’t do an exhaustive search.  The commands are not so ancient either. And, I didn’t find them; I’m just making them up. But, these “commandments” are based on the knowledge of various marital experts. So, if you want conflict to draw you and your spouse into a closer relationship, follow these ten commandments for effective conflict. 

1.      Thou shalt regard conflict as sacred. Conflict is useful in a marriage. Avoiding conflict discounts the strength of your relationship, your spouse’s love, and your spouse’s desire to know you. It hinders intimacy by hiding the truth of yourself and your feelings. Conflict regarded as sacred is managed well and reveal your commitment to your spouse and your relationship. It increases intimacy and enhances loyalty. It allows you to confirm your values as a couple. Conflict is good. When managed well, conflict is sacred. (Shut Up & Put Up to Ruin Your Marriage shows the danger not considering conflict sacred but something to avoid.)

2.      Thou shalt commit to working through conflict to reach a resolution. The best marriages involve people who willingly turn toward one another to work through difficult emotions and circumstances. They work to resolve disagreements. Unresolved conflict simmers and boils until it explodes causing emotional damage and relational pain. (Read Finish Your Family Business for more)  Working to resolve conflict strengthens communication skills, reveals priorities, and solidifies a secure couple identity.  

3.      Thou shalt remember to cherish and honor thy spouse. It is easy to forget how much you love and cherish your spouse during conflict. So, make it a habit to recall the fun times you have shared with your spouse. Remember what you admire about your spouse. Call to mind all your spouse has done to support you, nurture your marriage, and build your home. Keep in mind that your spouse can have a valid perspective, even when they disagree with you. Your spouse is not the enemy. Your spouse is the one you love, the one you cherish, the one you honor above all others.

4.      Thou shalt soothe thyself and thy spouse. Do not let your emotions run away with you during a conflict. Instead, soothe yourself. Breath. If you feel yourself escalating, intentionally take a breath and do something to remember and express your love for your spouse. Inject an “inside joke” into the conversation. Admit your fears. Reaffirm that you love your spouse even when you disagree. Verbally confirm your desire to understand what your spouse is saying. Make what John Gottmann calls “repair statements” to keep the emotion of the conflict in check. (Arguing with Your Spouse will help you learn other ways to soothe.)

5.      Thou shalt remember thy spouse’s vulnerabilities and avoid “pushing buttons.” In other words, treat your spouse with respect, especially during a disagreement. You may even treat them with extra kindness during conflict, with kid-gloves so to speak, to avoid “pushing those buttons.” Avoid name-calling. Avoid sweeping accusations. Avoid blame. Be polite. Show respect. 

6.      Thou shalt listen twice as much as thou speak. You know the old saying, “You have two ears and one mouth so listen twice as much as you talk.”  The wisdom of this saying is especially true during marital conflict. Listen intently. Listen to understand. Listen to connect. 

7.      Thou shalt avoid the kitchen sink. Stick to one topic, the topic of the conflict. Do not throw in the kitchen sink; stick to one topic at a time. If you find yourself bringing up other issues or past hurts, stop for a moment and refocus on the issue at hand. Commit to resolving one issue at a time. (Read Avoid 5 Practices to Have a Successful Family Conflict for more on Kitchen Sinking & 4 other patterns detrimental to healthy conflict.)

8.      Thou shalt keep short accounts. Once a conflict has ended, do not harbor it in your mind. 

9.      Thou shalt take responsibility for thine own contribution to the conflict and thine own actions during the conflict. Think about your contribution to the conflict. Think about the emotions aroused during the conflict. What made the topic or the conflict so important to you? Did you feel frightened of the distance from your spouse created by the conflict? Were you reminded of incidents from your childhood that increased your anxiety or fear or anger?  How might you communicate these emotions to your spouse in a calm way? Also, what did you do to escalate the conflict? For what do you need to apologize? How will you make amends?

10.   Thou shalt reaffirm thy love and commitment. When the conflict has ended, whether you have reached an agreement or not, reaffirm your love and commitment to your spouse. Give your spouse a hug and a kiss. Offer them a sincere compliment. Tell them you love them and are committed to a lifetime with them.

Are Gentlemen an Endangered Species?

I work with several young, single women who are convinced that good men are an endangered species. As we discuss their belief I realize they are speaking of “gentlemen.”  I offer them an old definition (1869) of “gentlemen:”

“always truthful and sincere; will not agree for the sake of complaisance or out of weakness; will not pass over that of which he disapproves. He has a clear soul, and a fearless, straight forward tongue. On the other hand, he is not blunt and rude. His truth is courteous, his courtesy, truthful; never a humbug, yet, where he truthfully can, he prefers to say pleasant things.”

Yep, that’s the guy. They believe he is an endangered species if not already extinct.  They support their argument with the fact that I offered a definition from 1869! So, we discuss a more modern definition, one from the Urban Dictionary:

“the man whose conduct proceeds from good will and an acute sense of propriety, and whose self-control is equal to all emergencies; who does not make the poor man conscious of his poverty, the obscure man of his obscurity, or any man of his inferiority or deformity; who is himself humbled if necessity compels him to humble another; who does not flatter wealth, cringe before power, or boast of his own possessions or achievements; who speaks with frankness but always with sincerity and sympathy; whose deed follows his word; who thinks of the rights and feelings of others, rather than his own; and who appears well in any company, a man with whom honor is sacred and virtue safe.”

I like that definition better than the old one but, alas…they still insist this man is possibly extinct.  I will not accept such pessimism. I am sure “gentlemen” exist today. The news may highlight those who are not “gentlemen” and sitcoms laugh at men who are not “gentlemen” but I believe “gentlemen” still exist…and in rather large numbers. I’ve seen them and met them on multiple occasions, more numerous than I can count. With that in mind, I think it is time for all true “gentlemen” to make themselves known to the people around them. Of course, this can only be done in the true manner of a “gentlemen” so let me suggest a few methods for making your status as a “gentleman” known.

  • Build a reputation of integrity. Speak the truth but do so politely with kindness. Let your word be your word. Be on time. Keep your promises. Communicate your commitments and your intents clearly. Then let your actions prove your words. Never lead anyone on.
  • Practice chivalry. Hold the door open for others. Offer to get the car rather than assuming the women and others in your life will run through the rain. Be courteous to all. Stand boldly for what is right. Advocate for the vulnerable and underprivileged. Seek justice for all. Never criticize or insult; compliment and encourage instead.
  • Be courteous. Stand when a woman enters a crowded room and offer her your seat if none is available. Never criticize a homemade meal or a gift but show gratitude instead. Walk beside your spouse rather than ahead of her. Offer her the support of your arm on precarious terrain…and the strength of your character in difficult times of life.
  • Listen intently because you know the value of the person speaking and want to know them more intimately. Etiquette tells us that “to be a good listener is indispensable” to be a “gentleman.”
  • Promote other people’s dreams and goals, especially those of your spouse and children. Gentlemen serves others graciously, not only in daily life but in their pursuit of dreams.

I do believe “gentlemen” still exist. In fact, I know they do! I know you are out there. Join me in making the presence of “gentlemen” known in our families and our world today. And let us teach our sons to do the same.

« Older Entries