Tag Archive for self examination

Before You Apologize, Consider This

Apologizing is humbling, even difficult. It becomes even more difficult if you’ve ever experienced a time in which apologizing backfired and just made things worse. Or, if you have childhood memories of being forced to apologize for something you didn’t even do. Maybe that’s part of the issue. No one ever taught us how to apologize. In marriage, you will have plenty of opportunities to practice apologizing. It will go much more smoothly if you take a moment to learn how to apologize well. With that in mind, the first step in making an effective apology is to answer two question.

The first question: What motives underlie my desire to apologize? Why am I apologizing? Many times, we have poor motives for apologizing.

Husband coming home late to an angry wife who is holding a rolling pin
  • For instance, apologizing just to get back in good graces or to put the event behind us are bad motives for an apology. Your spouse will see through the apology to the motive and become even more upset.
  • Sometimes we apologize because we fear our spouse will dislike us or remain angry at us. We don’t like other people (especially our spouse) having negative emotions toward us. So, we apologize in an  attempt to free ourselves from being disliked, to free ourselves from the burden of another person’s negative emotions. It won’t work. It will only increase those negative emotions. You need a different motive.
  • Sometimes we apologize because we want our spouse to “forget it about it” and “get on with our happy marriage.” We apologize to get our spouse to “move on.” You’ve heard it, “Why are you still upset about this. I apologized.” Once again, won’t work.
  • Sometimes we are tempted to disguise our defense or justification for our action in an apology. These apologies start with an “I’m sorry” followed by a “but” that transforms the apology into a defense, justification, or blame. “I’m sorry, but you shouldn’t have….” “I’m sorry, but I was tired.” “I’m sorry, but you have to understand….” These apologies really aren’t apologies at all. Notice that each of the four motives mentioned so far focus on “me” and “my” relief. They will not work.
  • A motive for true apology is the recognition that I did something hurtful to my spouse. I did or said something wrong. I was thoughtless, rude, uncaring, hurtful. I love my spouse and I do not want to hurt them. As a result, I want to apologize for hurting them. I want to take ownership for my hurtful actions or words and apologize. I want to tell my spouse how I plan to avoid those hurtful words and deeds in the future. I apologize to sincerely express my sorrow for hurting the one I love and to explain my plan to avoid doing it again.

The second question: to whom am I going to apologize? Think about your spouse and their personality.

  • Some personalities welcome an apology. They are glad to hear the apology but become upset recalling the hurt for which you are apologizing. If you have experienced this in your marriage, know that your spouse needs a comprehensive apology. They also need you to stick with them so the two of you can process the original hurt. This will allow them to hear your true remorse and your plan to avoid hurting them in a similar way in the future. Don’t get caught up in their emotions. Stay calm. Stick with your apology. Listen, empathize, and restate your plan to change.  
  • Some personalities get uncomfortable with the vulnerability and emotion aroused by an apology. They often accept your apology with a quick “It’s alright” or “Don’t worry about it.”  Unfortunately, they may still hold some resentment even as they avoid talking about it. So, take a moment to let them know you are willing to talk more about it and answer any of their questions and fears any time they like. Then be willing to do so.

What are your motives for apologizing? What is the personality of the person to whom you are apologizing? Answering these two questions before you begin will make your apology more sincere and effective.

Hard-to-Swallow, But Amazingly Effective, Family Advice

Some of the best family advice I’ve ever heard wasn’t even family advice. It was discipleship advice. And, it was given by a man who was single, even alienated somewhat His own family at the time He gave voice to this advice. Before I tell you the advice, I have to offer a warning. It’s hard-to-swallow advice. It sounds foreign to our ears, dissonant with the prevailing cultural norms; but, it’s still great marital advice. It comes in two parts. The first part of this hard-to-swallow marital advice is “deny yourself.” I told you it’s hard to swallow.  It’s not popular advice. Practiced wisely, however, it will lead to a strong marriage and family.

When you are completely honest with yourself, you probably know this advice is true. But we don’t like it. Culture teaches us to watch out for “number 1” rather than “deny ourselves.” Still, in our moments of self-reflective honesty, we recognize the inherent value of “denying ourselves” for families.  Think about it. Truly effective parents deny their own wishes and desires to meet the needs of their children all the time.

  • Parents deny their desire to go out whenever they want in order to stay home and put the baby to bed or feed them or care for them when they’re sick.
  • Parents deny their own wishes for new shoes or some other purchase to assure their children have nice clothes for school or get that special dinner for their birthday.
  • Parents deny themselves of sleep so they can comfort a crying baby or care for their sick child.
  • Parents deny themselves of the opportunity to avoid those things they find disgusting or gross in order to change diapers and clean up vomit.
  • Parents deny themselves of an afternoon of ease in order to run children to activities, wash clothes, or prepare snacks for their children’s visiting friends.
  • Parents deny themselves when they forget their own agenda for the moment in order to listen carefully to what sounds like child “ramblings” or to engage in child’s play.

It’s not just parents who deny self to express love in action and build a stronger family. Spouses do it as well. It can be seen in simple things like:

  • One spouse denying themselves by giving up control of the remote and watching what their spouse wants to watch.
  • Spouses denying themselves the freedom to go out with whoever they want whenever they want in order to accommodate their spouses’ desires for a night together or because they want to ease their spouses’ concerns.
  • Spouses deny themselves when they forget their own agenda in a conversation and focus on listening intently to what their spouse has to say.

Self-denial may be seen in more extravagant forms as well, like denying oneself of working extra overtime because it will take too much time away from family or being the first to offer forgiveness when a wrong is committed. The point is that healthy families practice self-denial in big and little ways every day. They “consider one another as more important than themselves” and “look not only to their own interests but to the interests of one another as well.” Joseph Campbell expressed the idea of self-denial in marriage when he said, “Marriage is not a simple love affair, it’s an ordeal and the ordeal is the sacrifice of ego to a relationship in which two have become one.” And, from Joseph Campbell once again, “When you make the sacrifice in marriage you’re sacrificing not to each other but to the unity of the relationship.”  To paraphrase slightly, “When you practice self-denial in family, you’re sacrificing the ego to a community we call family, you’re building the unity of your family.”

A Neglected Ingredient in Your Child’s Happiness

Many factors contribute to the emotional health, happiness, and success of our children. As parents we work hard to bring those factors together in our children’s lives. After all, we want happy, successful children. We want children who have resilient emotional health. To that end, we seek out opportunities for our children. We introduce them to positive activities, steer them toward healthy peer interactions, teach character, and encourage gratitude. In the process we often overlook one very important ingredient…an ingredient that, if left out, will neutralize the effectiveness of all the other ingredients put together. This often neglected ingredient is taking care of our own emotional health and happiness. If parents do not take care of their own emotional health, their children’s health and happiness is at great risk for several reasons.

 

four childrenFirst, children imitate their parent’s emotions. As early as 6-days-old children begin to imitate their parent’s emotions. Within months they are basing their response to the world on their parent’s emotions.

 

Second, people tend to become similar when they spend time together. Specifically, the person with the least power tends to become like the person with more power. In a parent-child relationship that means children will become more like their parents…for better or worse, happiness or not.

 

Finally, a person’s happiness is influenced by the happiness of the people he or she is connected to. A happy family will likely create a happy environment and raise happy children. In other words, a happy child lives in a happy family.

 

That’s all well and good We know that we, as parents, must take care of their own emotional health and happiness in order to raise emotionally healthy, happy children. The tough part is doing it. Here are four ideas to incorporate into your lifestyle to help you take care of yourself. You might think, “But I don’t have time.” Consider this…do you have time to increase your children’s happiness? Taking time to increase your happiness will increase your children’s happiness and security. It’s worth the time, isn’t it?

  • Build supportive adult relationships. Make some friends and nurture those friendships. Go out for a cup of coffee and talk with your adult friends. Do you grocery shopping together. Get together for lunch. Find a way to build and nurture supportive relationships with other adults.
  • Learn to create quiet time for yourself. This will involve not only training yourself to take some quiet time, but teaching your children to allow you that quiet time. Go for a walk. Walk the dog. Read a book. Meditate. Choose your modus operandi for quiet time and enjoy some every day.
  • Get some physical exercise. You can go to the gym. In fact, go to the gym with a friend and you will be knocking off two of these ideas “in one fell swoop”! If you don’t have the time to go to the gym, go for a walk. Get an exercise video and exercise at home. Physical exercise has a myriad of benefits to enhance your happiness. So enjoy a little exercise.
  • Last, but definitely not least, strengthen your marriage. A strong marriage enhances happiness for husband and wife. A strong marriage improves our parenting. A strong marriage offers a buffer against stress. A strong marriage…the list goes on. A strong marriage is a little taste of heaven. Nurture your marriage and your marriage will multiply the joy in your life…and your children’s lives.

You Can’t Unfriend Family

I remember a saying I heard when I was 9-or 10-years-old: “You can pick your friends and you can pick your nose, but you can’t pick your friend’s nose.” All the boys laughed and the TuneaPianoButYouCantTunaFishgirls let out a loud “Ewww” in chorus. Still, we all got the implicit message: there are certain things you do not do. A few years later, REO Speedwagon (a rock band popular in the 70’s and early 80’s) came out with an album (you know, those 10-12 inch vinyl discs, grooved on both sides, that, when rotating under the needle of a record player, produced music) entitled “You Can Tune a Piano But You Can’t Tuna Fish.” Well, today we need a new saying along those same lines…and I think I have one. Here it is: “You can unfriend people on Facebook but you can’t unfriend family from your life.” I know, it needs a little work. It lacks the pizzazz and flair of the “picking your friends” thing and the whit of “tune a piano-tuna fish.” But, it does communicate an important truth. You cannot unfriend family. They go with you wherever you go. Any anger we harbor toward family will follow us into other intimate relationships. Apron strings left uncut by “Mamma’s boy” or tied to tight by “Daddy’s little princess” turns into a choke-leash that holds us back from intimacy with others. Unrealistic adorations of our perceived “perfect family” or fairy-tale expectations of an elitist family will only set us up for disappointment, hurt, and failure in future relationships. Each of these aspects of our family will follow us wherever we go. You can’t unfriend family. Instead, you have to emancipate (unravel) family. Here are 3 essentials to emancipating family relationships.

  • The first step in unraveling family is acceptance. Realize that you cannot change your family or anyone in your family. You are not responsible to make any family member feel or behave a certain way. All you can do is accept each person for who they are…warts and all. Accept them in their weaknesses, their mistakes, and even their irritations. Accept their love for you, even if it is miscommunicated or lost in translation. You may increase your acceptance of each family member by considering things you like about them. Take time to recall things they have done or said that you admire or appreciate. Realize they have strengths as well as weaknesses and recall those strengths often. Learning more about their life may also increase your acceptance of each family member’s idiosyncrasies. Consider where these idiosyncrasies may have come from? How they suffer as a result of them? And, what their idiosyncratic behaviors cost them? Unraveling family begins with acceptance.
  • Second, forgive. If any family member has done anything to hurt you in any way, forgive. I’m sure some of you are saying, “There is no way I’ll forgive them. What they did was too much to forgive!” Granted, some people suffer unbearably at the hands of family. However, when we do not forgive we continue to suffer at their hands. Our anger becomes a leash that keeps us from holds us in a family prison yard of anger and prevents us from finding greener pastures. Bitterness grows and engulfs our heart like kudzu engulfing and eventually killing a tree. Let go of the bitterness and entrust God to work out the justice. Begin to pray for the other person and develop empathy for how they have been hurt by their actions. Forgive.
  • Third, define yourself. After you have accepted each family member for their uniqueness and forgiven them, letting go of the anger that binds you to them, you can define yourself. Discover your interests and priorities. Investigate what you want in a healthy life and relationship. Learn the practical daily habits that will allow you to live the life you desire. Take the steps to begin to build a healthy life! One step toward healthy living is reading good books on family life—here are a few books we found helpful. Another crucial step includes finding good counsel and supports, people you trust and who model the kind of family you desire.

 

You can’t unfriend family from your life, but you can unravel family. As you do, you will find that you can love your family in spite of shortcomings. In fact, you may find your family is actually pretty nice in many ways. And, you will continue to grow an even stronger and more intimate family of your own!

Go Ahead and Argue…With Honor

If you live with your family longer than a day, you’ll probably have an argument or two. You may, like me, work hard to “make” the other person understand your “point of view” (which of course is the right point of view-LOL) during this argument. This approach leads to anger, frustration, unresolved differences, and strained relationships. On the other hand, you may recall arguments that left you with positive feelings of intimacy. What makes the difference? I suggest that how we argue makes all the difference in the world. That’s right, when we honor one another in the midst of an argument, we often grow closer. So, go ahead and argue…with honor. As you do, you will discover that arguments resolve more quickly; and, relationships are not only restored but strengthened. How do you argue with honor? I’m glad you asked.
 
First, step back. Take a “time out.” Allow yourself to calm down and regain control of your emotions. It is common for people to recall the intense emotion and harsh words spoken during an argument but forget what started the argument and the topic of the argument. We can move away from the escalating tension and help maintain an atmosphere of honor by simply taking a “step back,” a “time out” to regain control of our emotions and thoughts. This may involve thinking about something other than the source of the argument, doing some physical exercise, taking a shower, or working in the garden. Do any constructive activity that will help you regain control of your emotions and calmly return to the discussion at hand. This honors your family member and sets the stage to resolve the disagreement in honor.
 
While you “step back” and calm down, “take the log out of your own eye.” In other words, take a look at yourself. Before we can honorable resolve conflicts and disagreements, we need to assess our individual contribution to the conflict. Before you try to explain, justify, or defend your actions, make a private and brutally honest assessment of your motives, goals, and expressions. Consider your contribution to the current argument. Take time to think about why this particular topic evokes such strong emotion in you. Reflect on what you can learn about yourself from this situation. Our anger in conflict often hides a deeper fear and insecurity.
 
Second, listen. Be quick to hear during an argument. Listen intently, without interrupting. Listen with a genuine desire to understand. You may feel the urge to defend yourself. Don’t…listen instead. When we listen instead of becoming defensive, we find that the argument opens a book into the other person’s heart and soul, revealing their perspective, goals, fears and priorities. The actual words and pattern of the argument merely show us the cover of the book. No need to argue about the cover, delve into the content instead. As you genuinely listen with your eyes, ears, and heart, you open the book to understand the depth and complexity of your family member’s feelings, sensitivities, priorities, and perspective. Take the opportunity of conflict to listen carefully, to read the open book, and discover the other person’s intimate feelings, sensitivities, and priorities.
 
Third, speak carefully…speak thoughtfully. Words spoken in the heat of conflict carry extra power. They burn into the heart and mind of your family members. Like quick drying cement, they form rigid patterns of thought, good or bad. So, do not jump into the conversation prematurely. Listen intently to completely understand the other person’s perspective, goals, feelings, and sensitivities; then, speak carefully. Careful speaking demands that we speak gently, not harshly. In the midst of an argument, speak carefully by remaining appreciative, polite, and clear. Describe what you see happening rather than evaluating or judging your family members character or purpose. Keep your speech kind. Instead of name calling, express love. Rather than criticize and ridicule, proclaim your belief in your family member’s integrity and desire for resolution. If you don’t have this belief, recall all that your family member does to show their love for family. Rather than defend yourself, empathize and restate your partner’s perspective. 
 
Three ways to honor one another in the midst of an argument: step back, listen, and speak carefully. Following these three steps will help turn an argument into an opportunity to understand one another and grow closer. So, don’t avoid the argument. Go ahead and argue…with honor.

Relationship Training for Trouble Areas

Family relationships demand an investment of time. You practice the daily routine to strengthen the core muscles of relationship. The exercises noted in “the strength workout” focus on more specific skills and muscles necessary to strengthen relationships–becoming a student of the other person’s non-verbal communications and love language as well as learning to collect moments of emotional connection. Still, trouble areas arise. Areas where you want to develop more definition and long-term character to your relationship physique. Here are a couple of exercises that can help tone those trouble spots and enhance overall relationship strength. You may resist these exercises at first; but, they can truly benefit your family relationships.

The first exercise involves turning criticisms into compliments. It involves three steps.

1) To begin, identify something a family member did today that you found irritating…something you wanted to criticize. Perhaps you wanted to sit down to talk and your wife just had to clean the room instead…or you were trying to get dinner together and your husband was in the way talking about his day. Maybe your child was excitedly talking about something that happened in school while you were having a conversation on the phone with a client. Whatever the case, recall the behavior you found irritating, the behavior you wanted to criticize.

 2) Before you criticize that behavior, step back and look for any aspect of that behavior that you can appreciate. In the examples above, you may love that your wife keeps such a neat home or that your husband really does want to tell you about his day. You can rejoice that your child wants to share their excitement with you, a parent. Take time to personally appreciate that positive aspect of the situation. Enjoy what that means to you and your family.

 3) Finally, use that appreciation to offer that person a compliment. Go to that family member and tell them about the part you appreciate. Praise them for what they did.   Let them know how much it means to you that they exhibit that behavior you appreciate.  

 The second exercise sounds more simple, but can still prove challenging at times. It involves only one motion. That’s right, one single motion…smiling. Let your family see you smile. Smile when you greet family members. Let them see the twinkle of delight in your eyes when they walk into the room. Smiling when family members approach communicates acceptance, approval, and love. Sometimes you may not feel like smiling. You may feel irritated or tired. Practice smiling anyway. Let a smiling face full of delight and love be the first image that comes to mind when your family thinks of you.

The final exercise to build definition and address trouble areas involves lifting logs. This exercise also involves three steps.

1) When you find yourself in an argument with a family member, step back and lift the logs from your own eye instead of attempting to “win” the argument. Before you try to explain, justify, or defend your actions, take a private, honest look at your own motives, goals, and manner of expression. Consider your contribution to the argument. Think about any ways in which you instigate or perpetuate the conflict. Examine any underlying feelings such as fear or insecurity. (Intense anger within a family often hides a fear that the relationship is threatened or a strong desire for security and connection within the relationship.)

2) As you discover your underlying emotions, realize that your family members probably feel the same way. Consider how you can help meet that need in their life, even as you work to resolve a disagreement. (After all, you do love them.)

3) Then, return to the family member, logs removed, and calmly discuss the disagreement. As you can see, this exercise involves a great deal of practice, commitment, and discipline. However, the benefits in relationship development are tremendous.

 These three exercises can help you tone those trouble spots, develop more definition, and produce more long-term character in your relationship physique. 

To Change A Dance

People often get stuck in an unhealthy relationship dance. The dance may take many forms. Regardless of the form it takes, each partner plays a specific role. Some couples dance the “I chase while you hide” dance. Other couples dance the “I’ll do all the work and complain while you just sit around” dance. In both cases, they sing a rousing rendition of “Blame in Counterpoint.” Each partner blames the other for the mess they are in. You’ve at least heard some of the lines from the chorus: “Nag, nag nag—you never leave me alone.” “He never wants to talk.” “You’re so lazy and you don’t care about me at all.” “It doesn’t matter what I do, you are never satisfied.”

There is only one way to stop the music and change the dance. I know it may sound simplistic—even cliché, but…. At least one person in the couple has to quit the old dance and start a new one. That may sound too simple, but it’s true. It may not sound fair, but such an act of grace can lead to change. If you choose to take this grace challenge and change the dance, your partner will do everything they can to maintain the old step. They will sing the “Blame in Counterpoint” even louder. They will step heavier and try to force you back into the movement of the old dance step. With everything in you, you must resist and continue the new step until they change, too. You have to show the grace to continue the new “Dance of Love” until they get in step.

How can you begin the new dance step? Here are some ideas to consider.

  • Stop singing “Blame in counterpoint” and sing “The Prelude of Love” instead. “The Prelude” begins with telling your partner 1-2 things you love about them… everyday… even when you’re angry.
  • Carefully consider your part in the old dance. How do you respond to your partner? How do you provoke them? Are you the one who chases or the one who hides? The one who compulsively works or the one who sits around?  Once you can admit your part in the old dance, you can decide on a different response—a different dance step. When your partner starts the old dance, practice your new steps.
  • Find some healthy relationship dances to observe. Or, read a book about healthy relationships.  Learn from the healthy dances you see and read about. Take the time to clearly describe what you like in those healthy relationship dances. The better you can describe the kind of dance you want to have, the more likely you are to act accordingly.
  • Things may not change overnight. You might make mistakes. Don’t get discouraged. Simply recognize that it happened and start the healthy step again. Use those moments to reaffirm your love for one another by renewing your new, healthier dance.
  • Finally, sing new music. Three of my favorites are “A Harmony of Praise,” “Variations on Gratitude,” and “Encouragement in E flat Major.”  Sing the songs often. Sing them loudly… and enjoy the “Dance of Love.”