Five Minute Sherpa

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The Importance of Wise Counsel

Unfortunately, it’s a common occurrence. Boy meets girl, they fall in love, begin planning their life together, get married, and come home from the honeymoon expecting happy ever after. Then some kind of pain happens, and it’s as if these two people barely know each other.

I recently heard about a couple who is calling it quits after 15 months of marriage. They were young and ignored the counsel of friends and family to wait on marriage. They were encouraged to address some personal and relational issues. They didn’t listen and married anyway. These issues flared up and created too much of a block for reconciliation to occur.

After a little more than a year, it’s over. They didn’t plan on this happening, nor does any other right-minded person who is getting married.

One of my professors in grad school taught a class on domestic violence. She was the unfortunate recipient of years of abuse by her husband, which began on the honeymoon. She told her harrowing story. Upon arriving at their honeymoon beach house (the only house on this Canadian island) he told her that she was his property and that she’d better start doing what he said or she’d feel his wrath. He began physically and emotionally abusing her that day, and it continued for years. It’s a tragic story that repeats itself every day.

What we want to see in others can cloud us from seeing what is true about others. The engagement process gets so consumed with wedding plans that the relationship fails to grow or be seen for what it truly is.

At any point in your intimate or budding relationship wise counsel is your best ally. If the fatality rate of texting while driving a car was 50+%, I think that a majority of us would take heed at the importance of this stat and behave differently.

The sad reality is: This is true for marriage. The death of marriages happens at more than a 50% clip. The divorce rate offers a warning and caution that there is trouble ahead, and the outlook isn’t all that favorable.

Assuming that one is teachable, wise counsel might be the difference between a failed marriage and a successful one. Counsel comes from friends, family, professional counselors, pastors, authors, and proverbs. Surround yourself with people who will tell you the truth for the good of your soul. Friends that find no fault or see no areas that need growth in you or in your significant other are either being naive, or they are lying to you. Telling the truth is hard to do, especially when it potentially threatens a significant relationship.

Prior to getting married, my wife and I spent a couple of months with another couple who was 10-12 years ahead of us. They offered encouragement and some warnings about how our fights in marriage might play out. We were too “star struck” and in love to really understand what they were saying. Not until 6 to 8 months into marriage did we understand, and that was only because we fought daily about needs, wants, and expectations (all of which this couple had warned us about).

If you’re considering getting married, now is a great time to seek out a third party that can help you identify potential difficulties. Find a relationship coach, couples counselor, or pastor who is willing to walk through 4-6 sessions with you and your partner. Pre-engagement counseling is usually more effective than pre-married counseling because once a decision to marry has been made, it’s my experience that couples rarely hear the warnings heeded by others.

If your partner won’t go with you to counseling, this might be reason enough to not pursue a marriage relationship. Insecurities that prevent people from asking for help are always going to cause problems in relationships. Refusal to get or accept help is a sign of deep insecurity that will manifest itself in other, likely more harmful, ways. Proverbs 15:22 says, “without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.”

(article originally published at Start Marriage Right)

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3 Components of a Good Listener

 

“I need you to listen to me with your eyes,” Stephanie, my wife, says as we’re discussing our upcoming weekend plans. Truth be told, I was in the middle of a project on my computer and didn’t want to stop.

“I’m listening, just keep talking,” I reply. She continues talking and then asks me for input about making a decision about our kids sporting activity. I hesitate, trying to recall the data from the previous 30 seconds. The reality was this: I wasn’t listening, I was just hearing her voice.

I’m a pretty typical male and have a really difficult time multi-tasking. This isn’t an excuse, it’s just a fact that I failed to be aware of in this moment. It’s not that I didn’t want to discuss our weekend plans, but I didn’t want to do it right then and there. Explaining this to her would have been helpful, and could have saved us multiple offenses.

Good listeners know and act on their limitations.
Knowing our limitations is the work of learning our own story and makeup of who we are. By knowing ourselves, we can plan and sometimes prevent situations from occurring that will hurt, trigger, or harm someone we care about. In the above situation, just by speaking up and requesting 5 minutes to finish my project would have saved my wife and I the time and energy of an avoidable fight. My limitation was that I do not multi-task well. Instead of proactively asking for this, we spent the better part of a day recouping from a five minute problem.

Good listeners ask lots of questions.
The basis for all relationships is built on the foundation of curiosity. If we are not curious people, we will not get to know others. Asking questions is a way that we can make sure that we understand and hear what the other person is attempting to communicate.

My 8 year-old daughter has a bit of flair for the dramatic and will often exaggerate a story (she’s a fantastic story teller, by the way). Sometimes when she’s recounting an offense, she will say something to the effect of “everyone hates me!” What she’s communicating is that she’s extremely hurt. If I were to react solely to her statement about everyone hating her, I’d likely miss the truth that she’s hurting inside. By asking questions, I’m able to hear what’s happening behind the outburst and get the truth about her.

This is true for all relationships. If we respond without clarifying the content and context, we will often miss the heart of the matter. Good listening behooves us to ask questions like, “tell me more.”

Good listeners act as recording devices.
If you’ve spent any amount of time watching one of the dozens of crime scene television shows likely you’ve seen a crime solved because of a clue seen or heard in the background of a recording. Replaying what you heard the other person say is a great way to clarify what’s being communicated. This might sound something like:

What I heard you say was that you feel disrespected when I ignore you. Is that right?”

One of the best ways that we can love someone is to show them that we are truly interested in hearing what they have to say. Not what we want to hear them saying, but what they are actually saying.

Good listeners develop and fine tune a third ear. The third ear is the one that listens to what is being said and what is not being said. This is the holy grail of listening: When one is able to know their own and the other’s story (limitations, gifts, abilities, etc), pay attention to the non-verbal cues, and ask questions. Good listeners make for great partners in life.

…article originally published at Start Marriage Right

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It IS a Big Deal

A few weeks ago a friend asked me for a favor. He needed help sorting through some technology issues with his phone and computer. My first career, and current hobby, was in technology so it came as no surprise that he’d asked for my help. After I’d finished the project with him, he said thank you and for the third time in that setting apologized for inconveniencing me. “Don’t be sorry, it was no trouble at all,” was my response.

I was a bit surprised by how quickly these words came out of my mouth. One of my pet peeves is when people apologize for things that need no apology. It wasn’t true. I’d taken time out of my day to help him with an issue that didn’t concern me. The truth was, it was an inconvenience. But it was an inconvenience that I was willing to give because I care about my friend. I wanted to serve him and our friendship.

After realizing this wasn’t the truth, which wasn’t more than a couple of seconds later, I corrected myself.

“Actually,” I said, “it was an inconvenience.” I paused to let those words linger for a moment and continued. “Saying otherwise isn’t truth, nor is it honoring to you and our friendship for me to pretend it wasn’t a big deal. Me giving you some of me, my time and energy, is one way I’m able to show you that I value our friendship.”

This led to a different conversation about self-worth, value, and why it’s difficult to accept love/care from others. It was a conversation that never would have occurred had we both remained nice towards each other.

Our conversation highlights a challenge in relationships: telling the truth about the minor things in life is hard. “It’s no big deal…” is such a simple, polite, and well meaning statement that all of us have made to another person. Too often saying something isn’t a big deal sabotages giving the gift of love and acceptance.

Telling someone “you’re not bothering me,” or “It’s no trouble at all” communicates that the request they are making is easy for you to accomplish. Spoken in regards to a task or to-do list, perhaps “no trouble at all” has some truth to it (especially if the request of you is something you’re gifted at doing). The limitation of this statement is that we deny showing the other person their importance in our lives.

We’re selfish people by nature. We want what we want, when we want it. As we mature, it takes discipline and proaction to act contrary to this natural tendency. So when someone asks something of us, we have to sacrifice our selfish desires for the benefit of the other—this is love. It may be minor in the sacrifice, such as helping a friend with a technology problem, but it is still a sacrifice. In order for trust and relationships to grow, we need to know that someone is willing to sacrifice themselves on our behalf. Without this understanding and experience, and we’re left to wonder if the other really sacrifices anything for us.

Letting someone know that we’re willingly choosing to sacrifice, be inconvenienced, and not passively hold it over their heads deepens relational intimacy. Little things piled together makes a big thing. Be proactive in your relationship to intentionally build a big thing of trust by making mention of the little things.

(originally published at Start Marriage Right)

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5 Virtues of Marriage

Looking back over the past year is one of my favorite traditions. I get to remember the ups and downs, the growth that occurred, and see what themes continually show up. This is the first year that I’ve applied this to my professional life, probably because it’s the first full year I’ve had as a private practician (previously having split my time in a non-profit agency). In looking back over the past year, I’ve seen an emphasis on 5 different virtues about marriage.


1. Choosing marriage is choosing to give up control of your life.
I cannot emphasize this virtue any stronger: Marriage will cost you your life. If you value your own authority, singleness, or ego more than that of others, do not get married. Choosing marriage will require you to give up control of your life. You will make decisions that will affect at least two people (more later when you have kids), and this is a very difficult change from that of a single life. It might be the best gift ever given to a single person, and it’s the costliest.In a very real way, marriage is much like salvation. In accepting God’s plan and will for your life, you are setting aside your own to be submissive his his plan. This means that you’re an active participant in his plan, but your life is not about your happiness. Marriage is about giving up of ones life for the sake of the other, which translates to a giving up of control.

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for another” (John 15:13).

“You complete me,” might be one of the most famous lines in the movie Jerry Maguire, and it might be the most misleading. Marriage will offer you the unique and unparalleled opportunity to grow. Marriage will not fill you, rather it  will make you more aware of your emptiness and need for God, and only God. Unfortunately there is no real way that Hollywood can show more than an infatuated love. So we don’t get a real picture as to what mature, longstanding love looks like. Instead we get a glimpse of the joy and warm fuzzy love that we all want to have. There’s nothing wrong with this, but it’s not a lasting version of love.

2. Couples that protect pain from happening are preventing intimacy (connections) from developing.
Its no secret that people don’t like pain. It’s also no secret that being in a close relationship is an inevitable date with pain. The challenge is viewing pain as though it is a gift, not the plague. Pain is not fun, but neither is numbness. I don’t know about you, but when I leave the dentist after getting a shot of Novocain, I cannot wait for it to wear off. The feeling of not controlling half of my face is miserable (not to mention the inability to know when I’m drooling). We were not made to be numb, we were made to feel.

The poet Mary Oliver penned this line, and it speaks well to the realities couples face: “I was once given a box full of darkness, it took me many years to realize that this too was a gift.” Pain shapes our lives either in our acceptance of it or our refusal to experience it. Creating a space for pain to be a welcomed guest in your marriage will serve you well. This is the task of every marriage: To create and develop a philosophy of dealing with pain. You will raise the next generation of people based on how you and your spouse engage each other in times of pain.

3. Marriage is a muscle: Use it or lose it.
Marriage takes work, and will not naturally grow on it’s own. It takes consistent time and energy much like your muscles. If you were to sit all day every day for a year, you would notice a significant amount of atrophy in your body. Your inability to function after that year of sitting would likely take you a more painful and greater amount of recovery to return to your previous abilities (if ever at all). Once you have lost muscle mass, it is very difficult to get it back.

Your months and years of dating and courtship are very much like a daily trip to the gym. You’re exercising the muscles of the relationship that cause it to grow. When you get married, continue your visits to the gym (literally and metaphorically). Read books together, attend marriage workshops, go on dates, spend intentional time together, take trips. Do all of these things regularly and your marriage will not atrophy.

4. One plus one equals three: Becoming one, requires two.
One of the more nuanced challenges of marriage is to become one together, but remain distinctly individual in the process. It will take both husband and wife bringing 100% each to the marriage to make the relationship work. This is not a 50-50% proposition, it’s a 100-100% arrangement. Only bringing 50% of yourself to the table means you’re not being fully you in the relationship.

When a husband or wife begin to lose their individuality, marriage problems will soon follow. Being an individual is not the same as being single, rather it’s being an individual who maintains their autonomy while being 100% committed to the growth and health of the other person for the sake of the marriage. M. Scott Peck in his bestselling book, The Road Less Travelled, said that Love is to tend to the spiritual and emotional growth in another person. This is the goal of marriage, to tend to and care for the spiritual and emotional health in our spouse. We have the best chance of doing this when we are operating out of our fully unique and individual lives.

5. Marriage is Redemptive.
I know no other way to describe marriage more simply than it’s capacity to enact redemption in life. This comes in unimaginable ways as past wounds, hurts, fears, and resentments are all confronted with the woman of our dreams. Surrendering ones life to another is hard, yes, but it is also glorious. I believe this is the hope that beckons us to get married in the first place. We might not know this is what we are signing up for, but the spirit in us all moves us towards a need for being saved from ourselves. Marriage offers us just that: An opportunity to be saved from ourselves.

(This article was originally published at StartMarriageRight.com)

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Choosing Curiosity over Judgment

Recently I was playing golf with a friend. At the tee box on the 8th hole we were lectured and scolded by an older player about course and golf etiquette. We had a good reason for the accused action, which was not harmful to anyone or the course, but was evidently offensive to this other golfing tandem. The interaction was unsettling to me, and after finishing our round, I spent the car ride home considering what had happened. Ultimately, I felt judged by a complete stranger. Normally judgement from a stranger wouldn’t illicit much of a reaction, but it was the way this man judged me that was difficult. What I do want to suggest, though, is the weight of our actions and words on those around us.

I suspect that if this man would have approached us with a spirit of curiosity, opposed to one of condemnation, that our conversation would have played out very differently. But as it was, the interaction was quite hostile. I don’t know his story or what led him to lecture me, but I do know that his accusations and judgement were obtuse and very offensive. Were it a different setting, I would have liked to return to the conversation and re-engage with what had happened. But it wasn’t a situation conducive for this, nor are many situations in life.

Another setting that one-way judgements are plentiful is in a vehicle on the road. There are countless opportunities in 30 minutes of driving for judgement to be dished out. Again, it’s nearly impossible (nor suggested) to interact/engage with those we have confrontations with on the road (as an aside, road rage is a serious issue that is potentially very dangerous). If drivers would drive with an understanding that all of those around him are facing some difficult life situation, our responses would look very different.

I think we do this because judging others on their poor, or offensive, behaviors is second nature. It’s easy to point out the faults in/with someone else than it is to explore the reasons for the faults or actions.

Curiosity is key.
There’s a spot on the interstate on my afternoon commute that merges from 3 lanes to 2. During heavy traffic situations, the 3rd lane is used by drivers to get as far down the road as possible to prevent sitting in traffic. It’s also used by drivers who are exiting the interstate at the next exit. There are times that this lane will be blocked by another driver who will intentionally position their car in such a manner that prevents others from “cutting in line,” as it were. Almost every time, I chuckle at the sophomoric activity by seemingly grown adults. But this activity highlights my point: Judging others actions without first being curious results is harmful interactions.

The car blocking the lane has zero ability to know or understand what’s happening with the person in the car behind him (or 10 cars back, for that matter), yet her policing the lane is done so assuming that all the other people are just trying to cheat or cut in line. In the same way, the golfer who approached me had no idea, nor concern, about my situation. The end result of these two moral judgements is a displacement of peace. Which, I suppose, is very similar to how wars begin.

So, what can we learn about drive-by judgements?
1. It’s difficult to live a life of curiosity. At some point we all suffer the loss of our innocence, be it in childhood or later on, and with this loss goes the ease of being curious. We usually replace our broken spirit of being curious with contempt, judgement, and mistrust. These, unfortunately, come very easily, perhaps as easily as curiosity once came for us as children. It is much easier to react out of judgement than out of curiosity.

2. We arrogantly assume we know what is best, for ourselves and others. Though if you really consider it, the reality is we never know what’s best, for ourselves or others. We can have ideas of what’s best, but we’ll never know for sure until the benefit of hindsight is available. This is what makes relationships (parenting, marriage, friendships, etc) so difficult. At times we must act on a belief that we know what’s best, but hold fast to a teachable spirit that our decisions may or may not be right.

3. By judging first, we miss out on giving and receiving of a gift. Sometimes these gifts are ones we do not know we have, nor do we know when we give them. This is a great mystery of life: We have no idea what affect the words or actions we choose will have on another person.

The next time you find yourself dishing out a complaint or critique to someone, first ask yourself the question:

“Do I know the whole story, or just a part of it?”

Your answer to this question just might create a different, and encouraging, outcome to a normally difficult situation.

(article was originally published at Start Marriage Right)

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The Marriage Ascent

Tanya and Daniel had been married for 3 years when they returned to my office for some help on a few conflicts they were having. I wasn’t surprised to hear they were having some issues. Marriage is a struggle. However, with this particular couple, during pre-marriage counseling, I’d highlighted 3-4 key themes they would need to watch for that would likely cause some hefty conflict in marriage. They, like most couples in pre-marital counseling, couldn’t simulate the reality of marriage and thus couldn’t see the full effect of these areas of conflict.

One of the difficulties in pre-marriage counseling is that it’s nearly impossible to simulate what marriage will look like. The result is a challenge to arouse enough honesty from the individuals to fight about before their married. I suspect one big reason for this is due to the fear of rejection and losing the other person. Both acute and very real fears in relationships.

This was one of the challenges I experienced with Tanya and Daniel: Neither one was willing to risk opposing the other, which resulted in very clean, nice, and polite counseling sessions. I challenged them to speak up about offenses, hurts, or issues that felt too difficult to talk about. Each session was like the last, both explaining in different ways that everything between the two of them was perfect.

At our last of six session, I encouraged them (as I do with every pre-married couple): Don’t lose heart when your marriage doesn’t go according to plan. Keep your head up, stay engaged with each other, and call me if you run into something that feels hopeless or never-ending.

They returned for six months of really difficult, yet very fruitful marriage counseling. A number of different themes arouse through their time in my office, and I want to share these with you.

Marriage as a journey, not a Destination

A mistake that Tanya and Daniel admitted to making was their view about the status of “being married.” They thought marriage would be a place they could arrive at together, and this arrival would alleviate the problems they were facing separately as single people. They saw marriage as being the solution to their problems, not the incubator for more problems. Over the first 3 years of their lives together, they realized that the problems they had as single people were now intensified. His problems were with hiding shameful activities such as porn and the occasional pot use. Hers were mainly about body image and self-esteem issues.

Tanya and Daniel were right—Marriage intensifies existing problems, it does not alleviate them. This is a hard trap to not fall into as an engaged couple, and is very common. A change in perspective might help to keep this from happening in your marriage. Marriage is a journey, and on this journey there are high and low points, happy and sad times, finding and losing, and full of life. To consider this lifelong journey as anything other would be a disservice to the institution of marriage.

Training and preparing

If you’ve ever trained for a major sporting event such as a long-distance run, climbing a challenging mountain, a triathlon, or other event that requires preparation, then you understand that to perform well in crunch time, you have to practice and train well ahead of time. Culturally, Americans tend to believe that we ought to be able to do things on our own, without help. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work in marriage.

Marriage is the ultimate long-distance sport, and requires the necessary time and attention that one would give for such an event. To be successful in marriage, we need to train and prepare with input from outsiders. This comes in the form of counseling, reading books, attending retreats or seminars, and getting involved with community of others. Without a commitment to training, marriages will not flourish when tested.

Follow through.

One of the most hopeless moments in Tanya’s life came when Daniel calmly, yet detached, said: “I’m done with you and this relationship. I want a divorce.”

This event was the imputes in her seeking out help. The reality for Daniel was that he was done with how the relationship was functioning, not with Tanya and their marriage. At the time he spoke these words, he truly believed he was being honest with her. Unfortunately, these were words he’d uttered many times before in fits of rage as empty threats.

These words were used as partial truth. As we explored what Daniel meant, we found out that he was intensely disappointed in marriage and didn’t see a way out. He admitted to using the word “divorce” as a way to shut her up and get from her what he wanted. This manipulation was understood by Tanya, but never named as such. Early on in their counseling, I challenged them to never use the word divorce unless they were willing (together or separately) to follow through with such a statement.

The lesson here: If you say you’re going to do something, do it. The best gift you can give your spouse is trust. Trust is built on the foundation of follow through. This was a hard concept for Daniel to understand because he felt like I was giving him freedom to divorce Tanya if that’s what he wanted. The reality is that I was asking him to be accountable to the words and desires he had for their marriage. If divorce was what he wanted, he needed to follow through with it. This “freedom” that I gave him was a bind. He either needed to step up and file, or stop using that word as an escape from their problems. Both were difficult scenarios and both required him to engage honestly. He chose to re-engage with Tanya, and their marriage grew because of this.

Tanya and Daniel realized they were unprepared for marriage, just like 100% of other couples entering their first marriage. They admitted to each other that their vows towards each other were intended to bring happiness, but what they needed was to mature and grow up in their capacity for love and respect. Marriage is an ascent up and down rugged terrain that only promises to make you stronger and less self-centered if you stay the course. It’s not possible to serve two masters, serving the self and marriage cannot coexist—each spouse has to chose one. That is the challenge, and ascent, of marriage.

(authors note: This article was originally published at Start Marriage Right. Due to issues of confidentiality, names and identifying information in vignettes have been changed)

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Fear of Losing Her

I’m afraid I’ll lose him or her can be one of the most powerful motivators in a relationship. There are many stories that shape the foundation of this fear, but regardless of it’s origin, the way you behave out of this fear will either result in bondage or freedom. If we’re honest, we all have fears about doing or not doing something that will bring an end to an important relationship. This fear may not be consciously present for both partners, but it’s in there.

There are two ways we typically react to this fear:

  1. Grab on tightly and not let go (a natural and normal reaction)
  2. Hold with open arms and allow the other the freedom to choose (a more nuanced reaction).

Obviously the latter is more difficult, but it’s a promise we all hope to give and be given upon getting married. This is the reality of accepting that love is a choice.

In the infancy of a relationship, it’s impossible for couples to not behave and interact as though devastation is but a whisper away. Couples will spend countless hours together, spending energy they’d normally reserve for work and other relationships, and will be quite infatuated with each other. It’s the picture of the animals coming out in the spring in the movie, Bambi. Everyone is twitterpated, and nothing else matters. This infancy can last days, weeks or years and is the beginning grounds of every relationship.

If one person tries to break free (mature) from the immaturity of the relationship, it forces the other person to either increase their efforts at containing the relationship or to follow the others’ lead. Thus begins the dance of “I’m afraid I’ll lose the other person.”

When we’re afraid of losing someone close, our natural tendency is to hold on tighter so as to guarantee the person never gets away. Said another way, finding something of immeasurable value is rare and it’s easy to want to horde so as to never experience the loss. God has hardwired us for relationships, and this is the dilemma that faces marriage:

 How do I ensure I’ll never lose him/her?

The unfortunate answer is that we can never ensure our own safety, or closeness to another person. Because of this, our humanness takes charge and we squeeze tight, so we don’t experience loss. One of the quickest ways to erode trust with your spouse is to risk them feeling controlled. If this word pops up in your conversations, wisely heed the warning and address it.

The balloon analogy
What’s not understood in this dilemma is that when we squeeze something, we generally expel the air that resides inside; much like a balloon. Balloons are designed to hold air. When you commit your life to your spouse, you commit to caring for him/her the way you’d care for a balloon. Sometimes they’ll need you to put some air in them, sometimes they’ll need a string so they can fly in the wind but not get lost, and sometimes they’ll need to be left alone to dance on the floor to how the air moves them. If I’m afraid of losing my balloon, I might squeeze it so hard that all the air is expelled from the other person. “She’s safer in my pocket, than out on her own,” might be a phrase associated with this act or belief.

This dynamic plays an important part for the early stages of intimate relationships. This “holding on tightly” is usually given and received as a token of the pure love that couples have for one another. This can be experienced as love early on in a relationship, but as the individuals (and marriage) grows, so too does the need for a more matured expression of love.

Love takes energy and selfless behavior to care, respect, actively listen, attend, and honor our spouse. On the other hand, fear silences, manipulates, controls, and worries. Marriage is the choice to engage in spite of our fear. I liken it to the challenge of being given a rare flower that needs care, but room to breath and grow. Smother it, and it will slowly die; tend to it and it will thrive.

If we let the fear of loss control our actions and interactions with our spouse, it will result in a failure of love. Love is not static. It’s a dynamic process of growth both for the other and for ourselves.

 

(originally published at Start Marriage Right)

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Five Hours of Magic

Dr. John Gottman, revered marriage expert, has done extensive research in the field of marriage. One of his most helpful findings is what separates successful marriages to ones that fail. The answer: Those that spend an extra 5 hours per week investing in their spouse tend to live a more fulfilled marriage. He calls it the magic 5 hours. Below, I’ve adapted and commented on the 5 categories he uses in his book, The 7 Principals for Making Marriage Work.

1. Partings/Departures – 2 Minutes per day
Spend two minutes per day warmly and intentionally departing from your spouse for work, the gym, or social activity. This can include a brief description about the forthcoming appointments or activities that you will encounter during your day. Take a moment to do this without rushing and, as you depart, let your spouse know they are an important part of your day. Two minutes per weekday, 10 minutes per week.

2. Greetings/Arrivals – 20 Minutes per day
At some point shortly after your return home from work or daily activity, spend twenty minutes debriefing about the events of the day. Like the 15-Minute date, each take about ten minutes of this time to share your high and low points of the day. This is time to reconnect after spending the majority of the day living in separate worlds. Spending 20 minutes per weekday is 1 hour and 40 minutes per week.

3. Physical Affection – 5 Minutes per day
The more familiar and routine we become with our spouse, the less we take time to physically. Unfortunately, the physical proximity of each other in a home gets to be sufficient. For most marriages, the only intentional physical connection occurs during sex. Without non-sexual touch (touching that is not leading to sex), sex can become a chore and obligation. Gottman suggests spending 5 minutes per day, not necessarily in one setting, intentionally touching, hugging, kissing, and physically interacting with one another. These 5 minutes will likely be the easiest of this list to do with each other, and will likely enhance your sex life. Five minutes every day is 35 minutes per week.

4. Admiration, Affirmation, & Compliments – 5 Minutes per day
Those who are loved by touch have had their five minutes, now it’s time to spread some love with words of affirmation. Make mention about something you admire about your spouse or something they did. In his research, Gottman says that it takes 5 positive affirmations to counteract one negative interaction. Think of this category as your emotional bank account. Each time you find something enjoyable or affirming about your spouse, make a deposit. Five minutes every day is 35 minutes per week.

5. Weekly Dates – 2 Hours per week
Doing the previous four exercises will net you 3 hours of foundational time spent investing in your marriage. The cherry on top of this is the weekly date. Dating is the time that you and your wife leave the confines of the home, and live life together. Dates do not have to be dinner and a movie, nor do they have to be talking dates. My wife and I actually try to have dates together where we are not sitting face-to-face with each other for the entire evening. This can involve a movie, putt-putt golf, serving dinner at the local homeless shelter, or another activity that is not routine.

Dates are usually the first activity to go in marriage. A big reason is assuming the time spent together at home negates the need for an intentional date. The problem with this thinking is that your relationship was never built by staying at home. You went out, dated, and that usually ends pretty soon after marriage. Make it a point to protect your date night at all costs.

My guess is these 5 hours were present in your dating relationship, and you didn’t have to think about doing them. The good news with this: You’re able to do it.

The bad news: You’re going to need to work on it. Take the time to invest in your marriage in these 5 hours per week: You’ll reap the rewards.

 

(Originally published for Start Marriage Right)

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So, You Think You Can Dance?

(article originally published at Start Marriage Right)


I move left, she moves right.
I go forward, she goes backwards.
I dip, she bends.
I swing, she flies.
We move closer and embrace.
Butterflies.

I’m a horrible dancer. The term “two left feet” has new meaning when applied to my dancing machismo. In the kitchen after work, I’m constantly getting in the way of Stephanie. Part of this is my inability to do two things at once, the other part is my lack of physical fluidity.

Interesting though, our relationship took off on a dance floor. It was New Years eve, and a planned group gathering with friends turned into a quadruple-date that ended up at a swing dance party to ring in the new year. I’d always hated to dance but there was this girl that quickly moved me out of my self-consciousness. My desire to be wherever she was made me the supporter of any and all things swing dancing. This ought to come at no surprise but she loved (and still does) to dance. Me being on the dance floor with her that night created some serious mojo between the two of us. Less than 6 months later, we were honeymooning in Nova Scotia learning a whole new kind of dance.

A friend of mine teaches marriage classes with a ballroom dance instructor. For an hour they sit in a room conversing about sex, fighting, communication and other marital pitfalls. Following the hour of marriage work, they begin the real work: Learning to dance. From what he’s said, the ballroom dancing part is more beneficial for the couples than is the workshop. The reason? Until we actually get up and start acting our parts, no amount of reading, listening, analyzing or planning will create connection.

When you stand on the dance floor with your partner, you have to communicate, someone has to lead, and someone has to follow. It’s amazing to watch a couple’s relationship tendencies come out as they struggle to make the moves on the floor. The woman resists the leadership of the man, she stumbles and they end up apart. The man resists leading, the woman leads and he wilts with shame and sadness. The couple holds each other like they are in Jr. High, neither looking at each other or wanting to be near each other and they end up dancing monotone.

… continue reading at Start Marriage Right

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On the Money

(originally published at Start Marriage Right)

The American Dream has altered over the years but still fuels our culture. Its message permeates the airwaves, social media and modern advertising. We’re promised a better body, popularity and sexier hair all promising a happy life. In the place of the white picket fence and 2.2 kids is the good looking, popular and rich homestead.

A big motivation (whether known or not) for people to make a lot of money is to buffer the realities of a life that doesn’t work. A friend shared a great line with me the other day. He said,

If we can buy our way out of a problem, it’s not really a problem.”

I hadn’t considered it that way but believe it’s true. You can’t buy happiness but you can put some margin between you and life. (Despite the studies that show you can indeed buy happiness up to making around $80,000 per year, I think money delays and buffers disappointment).

Marriages contend with this struggle for happiness and financial freedom on a daily basis.Gone are the days that your paycheck is yours and yours alone. Instead of being able to easily decide the impact of a purchase, the married person now has to consider, engage and discuss the impact of a purchase on the other person. Watching the issues of money erode marital relationships is what we have all thought about the Titanic sinking: Just slow down and heed the warning of those before you.

… continue reading over at Start Marriage Right