Tag Archive for acceptance

I Need You To Give Me…!

All of us have things we want to our spouse to give us. For instance, who doesn’t want to receive respect, validation, and approval from their spouse? Unfortunately, we often desire these things to fill an emptiness within us. So, we turn to our spouse and demand respect, validation, and approval. Unfortunately, demanding our spouse give us these things backfires. They will not always give it to us. Sometimes they will lack the inner resources to give us validation. Other times they will be preoccupied or exhausted. Or they may be craving the same thing from us. As a result, instead of experiencing the peace and joy of validation or approval we find ourselves caught up in the drama of two broken people demanding their partner save them from their own emptiness and perceived unworthiness. One incomplete or broken person seeking another incomplete or broken person to fix them and fill them up…it just will not work. Both people have shoved the responsibility for their individual emotional health and personal happiness onto another person who is struggling to find their own. Rather than being filled with peace and contentment, they become entangled in resentment, jealousy, and hurt.

There is a solution, however, and it begins with you as an individual. A joyous, intimate marriage consists of two people who have  matured enough to have their own personal sense of completion, wholeness, and worthiness. Both partners have learned an important lesson: “The thing you are looking to receive from others is the very thing you need to cultivate within yourself” (Rabbi Eli Deutsch). In other words, if you are looking for someone else to “complete you,” marriage is the wrong place to go (regardless of Jerry Maguire’s touching confession that “you complete me.”). If you desire validation, acceptance, and approval, begin by work on yourself and learning to care enough about yourself to give yourself the validation, approval, and acceptance you need. As you do, you will have more to give in relationship, more to offer your spouse in terms of intimacy. Ironically, you will also receive more validation and acceptance in return.

So, what is it that you want to receive from others? What do you demand your spouse give you? Slow down and give it to yourself. Use words of acceptance, validation, and approval when you talk to yourself. Fill yourself up and learn to give yourself the very thing you need.

“Stop Trying to Fix Me!”

“Stop trying to fix me!” Has your partner or child ever said that to you? Have you ever said it yourself? “Stop trying to fix me!” When people in our lives experience struggles or problems, they generally do not want us to fix it for them. They want connection…and connection involves empathy. Unfortunately, empathy does not always come naturally. The desire to “fix it” and “make them feel better” is often what comes naturally to us. We hate to see our loved ones hurt. We want to “make them feel better,” to “fix the problem.” So, rather than show empathy, we unknowingly say things that minimize and invalidate their feelings, things like…

  • “It could be worse….” During their painful situation, your loved one will find it hard to imagine anything worse. Besides, they do not want to think about something worse. They want someone to listen. They want someone to accept their feelings. They want you to hear their pain and validate their emotions.
  • “This could turn out well if you just….” No one really wants to take the moment of pain or sorrow to learn. There will be opportunities to learn after they navigate the current pain. Instead, your family member desires you to “be with them” in the moment, to “sit with them” in their struggle and support them through the pain.
  • “When one door closes, another door opens.” Many people have described the pain of this statement to me. It invalidates their current pain and implies that a person can only have one positive experience in their life at a time, one open door at a time. Instead, your family member simply needs to mourn the door that closed before moving to another door.
  • “It’s not that bad. I remember when….” This statement comes across as a “one-up” statement. It comes across as though you are minimizing the current pain by saying, “You want to know pain. I have felt pain. Your pain is nothing compared to mine.”

Statements like those above (and there are many others) are generally made with good intentions. They represent an effort to “make the other person feel better” and ease their pain. Unfortunately, they have the opposite effect. They make the other person feel unheard, devalued, and even more upset. Why? Because at the root of our emotions, we want connection and empathy, not “fixed.” We want to know we are understood and that our emotions are accepted. After we understand our emotions and know another person has accepted our emotions, we can work at resolving those emotions and finding a solution. 

So, instead of “trying to fix” your spouse, your children, or your parent, use these four skills to empathize.

  • Listen without judging. Hear more than just the words. Listen for the emotions underlying the words. Knowing that another person hears us deeply and has the strength to witness our struggle, gives us more strength to manage the struggle effectively. (Remember, the art of listening is more than responding.)
  • Identify and label emotions. Labeling an emotion puts a buffer between our emotion and our actions. It helps us avoid impulsive reactions and empowers us to respond appropriately instead. (Check out these 6 tips to make your children’s emotions your friend.)
  • Sit with them in the emotion. Walk a mile in their shoes. Allow yourself to experience their emotion to some degree. Maybe you have not had the exact experience yourself, but you have endured the human experience. You have experienced the joys, triumphs, pains, and struggles of humanity. Be vulnerable and sit with your family member in their emotion.
  • Summarize and validate their perspective and emotions. This will facilitate organizing their emotions as well as the opportunity to develop a potential response to the emotions.

When we “stop trying to fix” our family we are free to listen deeply and lovingly “be with them” in their struggle, to empathize and validate. By doing so, we open a door to future solutions. Perhaps more importantly, we open the door for deeper intimacy and love.

Intimacy…It’s Easier Than You Think

Intimacy—the state of having a close, familiar, and loving personal relationship with another person. We all desire intimacy in our marriages. More specifically, we all desire mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual intimacy in our marriages. But how can we develop that intimacy? It’s not as difficult as you might think. It only involves three ingredients and four steps.

First, intimacy is an interpersonal experience. It involves two or more people. For purposes of marriage, we will limit the intimacy to two people.

Second, intimacy begins with one person engaging in self-disclosure. At least one person must be courageous enough to disclose something about themselves. They might disclose information about their personal history, a life milestone, a past experience, or some emotion. The self-disclosure could be about a positive event or a traumatic event, a positive emotion or a heavy emotion. Either way, the self-disclosure represents a moment of vulnerability and a courageous invitation to connect.

Third, intimacy requires another person to pay attention to that self-disclosure. In paying attention, the person does not try to fix anything or change the person who engages in self-disclosure. They simply notice the self-disclosure, acknowledge it, and express interest in it. In other words, they accept the invitation to connect by showing interest in what the person has disclosed.

These three ingredients—two people in a relationship, one person willing to courageously self-disclose, and one person willing to pay loving attention to the disclosure—combine into four steps of growing intimacy.

  • Step one: one person reveals something personal about themselves. 
  • Step two: a second person responds attentively to that disclosure.
  • Step three: the interaction becomes reciprocal with both people paying attention and disclosing.
  • Step four: the intimacy that grows through this interaction promotes more self-disclosure and attentive responding.

That’s all there is to it. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But these simple steps often present a challenge to us. If you accept the challenge, however, the rewards have a ripple effect that will grow stronger and deeper as it expands. Each intimate interaction becomes a piece of a positive relationship history contributing to the expectation of more intimate interactions. The intimate interactions and the belief that future intimate interactions will occur increase our commitment to our relationship. Our sense of togetherness grows stronger and the safety of our relationship deeper. Self-disclosure becomes easier and paying attention more readily engaged in. And the ripples continue to grow….

The #1 Goal of Marital Arguments

Have you ever thought about the #1 goal of marital arguments? At first glance, you may think the goal is “to win. To make my spouse understand or see it my way.” But that is NOT the most important goal, the one we desire most. Let me ask the question differently. Do you want to make your spouse “see it your way” if it means damaging (or worse yet, destroying) your marriage? For most disagreements (at least 99% of them), the answer is “no.” We don’t want “to win” an argument with our spouse at the expense of our relationship. You may have had an experience like this in your marriage though. You disagree with your spouse and, after exchanging a few heated words, you “prove your point.” Your spouse concedes. They give in. They say you are right. You walk away knowing you “won the argument,” but feeling dissatisfied, disconnected from the one you love. In fact, you’re probably thinking about how to repair the relationship, how to reconnect and feel close again. No, we do not want to win at any cost.

If the #1 goal of any marital argument is not to win, what is it? The #1 goal of any marital argument is to connect in a way that makes both people feel safe and secure. You have probably had this experience too. You and your spouse have the same disagreement mentioned above. You even exchange a few heated words about it. But, somehow, when all is said and done, you feel closer, more connected. You’re not really sure who “won,” but you know you understand your spouse better than you did before the argument and your spouse understands you better as well. You feel connected…and as though you have both “won.”

How do you achieve this #1 goal of any marital argument?

  • First, see your spouse. Look at them. Don’t just look at the issue, the frustration or the anger of the moment. Look at your spouse. Soften your gaze. Recognize your spouse. We all long to be seen. Give your spouse the gift of being seen by you.
  • Pay attention to your spouse’s emotions. Do they look and sound angry, frustrated, hopeless, happy, passionate…. Accept their emotion. When your spouse reveals their emotions, they are opening themselves up like a book for you to learn about them and their priorities. Read this precious book carefully, lovingly. Do not just glance at the book. Get curious and read between the lines. Look deeply to find the priority behind the emotion. It may have little to do with the disagreement you are having and more to do with their sense of security and safety.
  • Accept that your spouse may have a valid point of view. Many issues have more than one valid perspective. Much like the group of blind men trying to describe the elephant, you and your spouse may both have valid perspectives, even though they differ. See your spouse as the intelligent, loving person you married and accept that they may have something important to add to the issue, something important for you to hear and know.   
  • Graciously delay voicing your own point of view until you understand your spouse’s point of view. Lovingly defer your desire to be proven correct until you can understand how your spouse’s perspective seems right to them. This takes patience…a patient delay of your own right to be heard. Such patience is an act of love for “love is patient” (Paul, 1 Corinthians 13:4).
  • Listen. Listen carefully. Listen intently. Listen sincerely. Listen completely. Listen until you understand your spouse’s perspective and they know you understand their perspective. Listen.

As you practice these 5 actions, you will find a growing emotional connection with your spouse. You will also find arguments resolve more easily and more quickly. Hmmmm, a more intimate connection with the added bonus of a quicker resolution? Now that is a great goal for marital arguments!

“As For Me & My House…”

Are you tired of all the infighting we see in the world around us? The divisive comments and constant accusations? The incivility and contempt we witness in the news, on social media, and even in the public square?  I know I am…and it frightens me a little bit. After all, “civility, politeness, it’s like cement in a society: binds it together. And when we lose it, then I think we all feel lesser and slightly dirty because of it” (Jeremy Irons). I do “feel lesser and slightly dirty” as I witness rudeness, disrespect, and coarseness in the world around me. At times, I fear the cement of our civility is weakening and beginning to crack rather than holding us together. I worry that if we do nothing, civility will remain a mere tool in the hand of those who attempt to manipulate us…an illusion without true substance. And “when civility is illusory, war is inevitable” (Steve Maraboli).

However, I also have hope. I am optimistic that we can make a change…and it begins with each of us and our families. It begins when we value civility and practice it in our own lives and in the lives of our families. With that in mind, let me offer some practical ways you can practice civility in your life and in your family life and so begin a swell of civility in our society.

  • Practice politeness with gusto. Practicing politeness includes saying small phrases like “please,” “thank you,” “you’re welcome,” and “I’m sorry” with all sincerity. Politeness involves “looking out for the other guy.” Polite people ask other people what they can do to help, how they can serve, and then they follow through by doing what is requested. A polite person holds the door open for “the other guy” and shares the last of the goodies with “the other guy.” Politeness compels us to think about other people. It urges us to let people know we respect them through our words and actions. Practice politeness with gusto in your home with family and outside your home with everyone you meet. Let you children witness your politeness.
  • Celebrate your differences. Each of your family members are unique. They have unique tastes, abilities, weaknesses, and fears. Those differences add to the beauty of our families. They help us achieve more. They provide opportunities to practice grace and so grow as individuals. They allow us to practice humility as we accept one another’s strengths. Honor the differences within your family. Celebrate those differences. It’s a practice of civility and love.
  • Practice radical kindness. Kindness is a warrior. It takes great strength to truly practice kindness. It begins by replacing any negative thoughts about those in your life (directly in your life or indirectly influencing your life) with thoughts of kindness. Next, do something kind for those people in your life, those in your family and those outside your family. When you truly need address some difference of opinion or inappropriate behaviors, do so with kindness. Kindness is contagious as well. As you practice kindness, those around you will catch it as well. Practice kindness…and watch others pass it forward.
  • Listen. Listen intently and sincerely. Listen to understand what the other person intends. Listen to learn the background and the context of what the other is saying. Listen. No name calling. No quick rebuttal. No proving them wrong. No counterargument. Just listen. Bear witness to their world. Understand them deeply. Then, when you understand them, respond with radical kindness…especially when you disagree or believe them wrong.

As we practice these skills in our homes and teach our families to practice these skills outside our home, we will build a groundswell of civility. We need that in our society today for “civility isn’t just some optional value in a multicultural, multistate democratic republic. Civility is the key to civilization” (Van Jones). So, I’m going to work at practicing civility in my house and in my world. I hope you will join me. But, if not, “as for me and my house….”

Pathways to a Critical Spouse…& Back Again

Intimacy has several building blocks. Unfortunately, we can topple these building blocks in response to personal issues. When we do, we often find ourselves on the pathway to becoming a critical spouse.  Let me give a few examples as way of explanation.  

Pathway 1: Intimacy requires that we accept our spouse and ourselves. Unfortunately, many people do not accept themselves. Instead, they think all sorts of self-critical remarks. They criticize their abilities, their appearance, their accomplishments, or any number of other things. They may believe their self-criticism motivates them toward improvement and success. But, how many of us would like a teacher or mentor who constantly criticized our efforts and abilities. Rather than motivate, criticism holds us back. We also grow accustomed to criticism when we engage in constant self-criticism. We become hardened to its hurt. We may even lose our ability to recognize it. Eventually, what’s in our mind comes out toward ourselves and others. We become critical not just of ourselves, but of our spouses as well. And, we probably don’t even recognize it when we criticize our spouse…but our spouse recognizes the criticism and it hurt them.

Pathway 2: Some people fear becoming too dependent on their spouse; so, they don’t acknowledge how much their spouse helps them. They don’t show their gratitude and appreciation. Other people don’t believe it necessary to show gratitude to another person for doing “what they’re supposed to do anyway.” So, they don’t acknowledge their appreciation for tasks done. (In case you’re wondering, here’s the reason Why We Thank Our Spouse for Doing Chores even though they’re supposed to do them anyway.) However, in both cases, the ungrateful person feels free to criticize their spouse. Why? Because criticism reinforces their independence from their spouse. Criticism also points out what the other person needs to do to improve so they too can become more independent. Unfortunately, reinforcing my independence and pointing out how my spouse needs to improve only comes across as a critical spouse, especially when I don’t acknowledge any gratitude.

Pathway 3: Many people fear the vulnerability inherent in an intimate relationship. It opens us up for potential hurt. Perhaps we’ve experienced hurt at the hands of loved ones in the past; or, we’ve lost relationships in the past either through “break-ups” or death. Either way, we fear losing the relationship now. In response to that fear, we protect ourselves by keeping some distance between us and the other person. We protect ourselves by limiting access to our deeper emotions. We avoid the vulnerability of intimacy by keeping our spouse at “arm’s length…” and criticism is a one way in which people do this. It’s a very effective way to keep a loved one at “arm’s length” and so protect one’s self from the vulnerability of deepening intimacy.

How can you step off the pathway to a critical spouse and turn back into a loving spouse?

  • Acceptance: In order to have a healthy relationship with another person, we need to know and accept ourselves. Then we must accept our spouse. We can accept our spouse in spite of differences, mistakes, and hurts because we love our spouse and we know they have the best interest of our relationship in mind. (Read Accepting Family Members Unconditionally and Six Tips for Practical Acceptance to learn more on acceptance.)
  • Appreciation: One way to grow in acceptance of one another is to develop a habit of mind that looks for and then verbally acknowledges those things you appreciate about your spouse. Make it a habit to thank them for what they do throughout the day. Voice your admiration for their character and their love. Verbalize your adoration for them as often as you can ever day. A Lack of Gratitude Can Sink Your Marital Ship but building an environment of appreciation will keep it afloat through any storm.
  • Courage: Growing more intimate puts us in a vulnerable position. We are entrusting our lives, our security, and our joys into the hands of another. Doing this takes courage. Yes, you develop this trust over time. Both partners reveal themselves as trustworthy through their words and actions. Still, it takes courage to let down your guard and allow yourself to stand naked (emotionally, mentally, and spiritually as well as physically) and unafraid before your spouse. Be courageous. Show yourself trustworthy to encourage your spouse’s courage.

Practice acceptance, appreciation, and courage to find yourself on the pathway to a loving intimate relationship.  

Pushed to Succeed-The New ‘At-Risk’ Group

We’ve heard a lot about adverse childhood events (ACEs) and how they detrimentally effect a child’s life. It makes sense. Trauma, abuse, bullying, poverty, parents who abuse drugs, incarcerated parents…these all have a negative impact on childhood and development. But, a recent “consensus study report” by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine has added youth who attend high-achieving schools to this list of “at-risk youth.” (Students in high-achieving schools are now named an “at risk” group, study says—Washington Post.) In other words, a consensus has been reached among the National Academies of Sciences that an overemphasis on personal achievement puts our youth at risk just as much as poverty, abuse, and trauma. Sounds crazy at first. But, consider just the short-term negative impact of an overemphasis on achievement.

Don’t put your child at-risk by overemphasizing achievement. Instead, encourage them to do their best. Accept your children as “wonderfully ordinary.” (Overcoming Fear of the Ordinary) Teach them kindness, gratitude, and good character rather than overemphasizing achievement. You might be surprised as you do this. Your children might just achieve more as they experience your acceptance and grow more self-motivated in response.

A Gift to Improve Your Marriage

Are you looking for the perfect gift for your spouse? I have an idea, a gift your spouse will love. The great thing about this gift? You can give it to your spouse over and over all year round without breaking the bank AND without your spouse getting tired of getting the “same old thing” again. They’ll love it every time. You can even “wrap it” up in four different parts so it will look like you gave more!  Even more impressive, research has shown this gift will improve your marriage. A study involving 114 newlywed couples revealed that this gift led to the experience of more positive emotions in the marriage and a higher level of relationship satisfaction. Really, it sounds too good to be true, but I’ve seen it in action. It’s true! So, forget the wrapping paper. Don’t worry about the packaging. Just give your spouse this gift in four parts. What is this miracle gift you can give your spouse? Emotional support! And the four parts of emotional support you can give your spouse to make it look like even more? Listen and show empathy. Express trust in your spouse. Let your actions reveal your willingness to care for your spouse. Communicate acceptance of your spouse even when they’re at their worst (part 4). Yes, your spouse will love the gift of emotional support…and your marriage will, too.

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.”

Nude Doing What?!! No…Way!

My friend sent me a…well, rather surprising news article from CNN (I spared you this article to avoid pictures of the golfers). How do I describe it? Let me just ask…Did you know the “Wandering Bares” just had a nude golf event in Australia? Well, not completely nude…they did wear shoes to protect their feet and hats to protect their hairline from the sun. If that’s not enough, the 11th Annual “World Naked Bike Ride” was held on June 23 this year (2018). That’s right, 11th annual! I discovered “naturists” promote nude volleyball, tennis, and trail running as well. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to participate in any sport nude…especially in public. There is only one place I want to stand “naked and unafraid.” That is in the presence of my spouse. Only in marriage can we truly stand before one another “naked and unafraid.” Even that proves difficult enough! Maybe I better explain that a little more.

“Naked and unafraid” with our spouse involves an intimacy much deeper than simple physical nudity.  Standing before our spouse “naked and unafraid” is not simply standing physically nude but being present with our spouse in complete emotional vulnerability, mental transparency, and spiritual acceptance. The freedom to stand before each other emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and physically “naked yet unafraid” flows from mutual acceptance, warts and all. It demands a shared commitment to live our lives as one. How do we develop the sense of acceptance, commitment, and intimacy that will allow us to stand with our spouse emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and physically “naked and unafraid”? Here are some tips.

  1. Commit to your marriage and your spouse. Assure your spouse that you “only have eyes for” them. Stick with them in the good times and the bad. Share the joys and the sorrows. Also, look to the future you will share together. Do you have infants? Talk about your shared future as parents of teens. Do you have teens? Talk about your future together in the “empty nest.”  Do you have young adult children? Talk about how you will grandparent together. Do you have a dream vacation? Plan to take it in the next five years. You get the idea. Look to the future and plan your future together.
  2. Share your dreams with one another. Even more, support one another’s dreams. Learn about those things that interest your spouse and grow with them in those areas of interest. This also adds to the idea of committing to your spouse “for the long run.” 
  3. Show your spouse unconditional acceptance. Take time to admire the traits you love in your spouse. When you have disagreements, reaffirm your love. When you discuss those little irritations, let your spouse know how much you love them anyway.
  4. Share your ideas with one another. Talk with your spouse about a book you’re reading. Discuss the politics of the day with your spouse. Share an inspiring verse or a lesson learned. Become mentally transparent before your spouse.
  5. Share your fears and your joys with your spouse. Become emotionally vulnerable. Talk to your spouse about the movie that “brought tears to your eyes” (yes guys, I’m even talking about us) and the act of kindness from the random stranger that “touched you.” Express your frustration over the injustices you witness or read about in the news. Don’t forget to share stories of joy and inspiration as well—the gift that made you “so happy,” or the love that changed you. In other words, become emotionally vulnerable before your spouse. After all, you know they offer you unconditional acceptance (see #3).

When we do these things, we will find ourselves standing before our spouses emotionally vulnerable, mentally transparent, spiritually united…and unafraid. We will find ourselves “naked and unafraid.”  I long for that intimacy with my spouse. Don’t you? BUT, you still won’t find me playing golf (or any other sport for that matter) in the nude…and we’re all glad about that!

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