- Find ways to surprise your spouse. Most surprises are negative. Make them say “you did what” with joyful expectance.
- Lather them with compliments. What do you like/love about them? Lather them in these compliments two, three, four times over.
- Follow the golden rule in woodworking: Measure twice, cut once / Listen twice, speak once. Ask questions to make sure you’ve heard them. Don’t worry about being heard, do the hard work of listening.
- Daily look at them in the eyes long enough to feel. It’s amazing how intimate this is. Share that feeling you just had when you looked into their eyes.
- Date. Play. Hobby together.
- Deposit positive experiences into their relational bank account, and difficult times will never bankrupt you.
- Don’t wait to get help until you have to. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
How to Fight:
We are all a part of a multiple organizational cultures in our lives. Family, work, church, school systems, volunteer organizations, and hobby clubs. No doubt all of us have experienced the problems that come from unhealthy cultures. They are marked by things such as secret keeping, refusal to set or adhere to boundaries, triangulation (gossip), and a clear hierarchy of power/control.
In working with lots of people in many different organizations (as well as starting several of my own organizations), I’ve found that there are three things that healthy cultures do really well.
1. They identify the real issues with help from someone from the outside.
2. They confront and discuss with honesty the real issues, not shying away from the difficult truths. They tell the truth, usually involving conflict.
3. They develop solutions and process that are inclusive, not exclusive. The quickest way to poison a culture is to make it exclusionary.
It’s easy for a culture to become a cult when none of the three things above take place.
One of my hobbies is woodworking. I love the smell of fresh wood and the tangible nature of seeing something created from start to finish. The golden rule of woodworking is measure twice, cut once (and also, as I’ve been told at conferences where I speak, don’t cut off your fingers — ha!).
You can always cut off more material if you need to, but you can never add more material if you make a mistake.
Communication is very similar. Once spoken, words cannot be taken back. “I didn’t really mean what I said,” is a terrible way to try and escape from a painful/hurtful statement. Regardless of intent, the truth came out and there’s no taking it back.
Listen twice, speak once. Listening is measuring, speaking is cutting. Be sure that you know what you’re speaking about before you open your mouth. And in most cases, listening and reflective feedback (this is what I heard you say — not what I interpreted you saying) is way better that speaking your mind.
The other day I talked about the different types of perspectives we have (some we choose, some that choose us). So much of what we see is based on our story, where we come from.
Wendell Berry says it well, how is it that we can know where we are going if we have not figured out where we have come from?
So much of conflict in our relationships comes from our own personal conflict DNA: The physiological makeup of our being combined with our emotional makeup. If you watch a newborn baby, they will respond to what they see in their mom as she looks at the baby. The mom smiles, the baby smiles back. The baby mirrors what they see, they don’t yet have an identity.
The same is true for our conflict styles. We are often mirroring what we have seen, and have yet to develop our own way of handling conflict.
What did you learn about conflict from your childhood home?
How are you continuing that legacy today?
What place (if any) did emotions have at home?
You can’t change what happened to you as a child, but you can change how you navigate your relationships today. They don’t have to be the same.
Our perspectives matter in life, especially in relationships. Usually we see what we want to see, what we are looking for. But, we don’t have complete control over what we see. There are 3 things that shape our perspective:
1. My Stance (what I am conscious of, what is my viewpoint). What is it that you’re looking for, or not looking for? Sometimes I will have a couple stand at opposite ends of my office to look out the windows on either side of the building. Their backs are towards each other. They have very different objects to look at and tell the other about.
2. My DNA (what I’m predisposed towards). Remember the dress? Is it black/blue or white/gold? Turns out, your DNA controls what colors you see. Not everything that we see is our choice to see.
3. My Story (what I am unconscious of). We need others to help us see what we’re looking for, because we’re unable to see all parts of ourselves. Sometimes we are driven or motivated by what we cannot see.
Fights occur when we think that only one person’s perspective can be right. The reality is, both perspectives matter (and contain truth!). Trying to fight for who is right gets really messy.
I’m sure you’ve seen it in a movie, or on the news. The scene is this: Some country breaks the demilitarized zone with an aircraft or a person. The other country interprets this as an act of war and promptly opens fire, destroying it before it has a chance to hurt them. You don’t step foot into the DMZ unless you’re wanting to die, or start an all-out war.
Unfortunately, many marriages are setup like warring countries. There are tragedies, hurts, betrayals, and offenses that have gone unresolved. These stories become the DMZ between the couple. As one woman said in my office last week, “he had an affair 8 years ago, we never talked about it then, and we’re not going to talk about it now.” When a topic becomes off-limits, a DMZ is established.
The bottom line is this: Marriages will not survive DMZ’s. The moment a story is placed in the “off limits” category, knowingly or unknowingly, the couple has declared war on intimacy, trust, and forgiveness — all components of thriving relationships. When a DMZ is established, the individual parties begin looking out for the best interest of themselves, and only look at the other person from a distance.
So, how do countries stabilize war and DMZ’s? I’m not all that studied on international diplomacy, but I am with relationships. Ultimately it comes down to one goal: Peace. Enemies must make peace with one another for war to end. They do so by meeting in a neutral setting, being willing to make concessions, offer gifts, and accept a truce.
Here’s how you start this process in marriage.
– Take your shoes off, I’m serious. Ground yourself. The DMZ in your marriage is holy ground. It’s where blood has been spilled, death has been seen, and hope has been lost. We bring silence and respect when entering a place of mourning. Taking your shoes off puts your feet in bare contact with the physical ground, and terrain. You’re more sensitive to what you’re walking on without your shoes.
– Drop your weapons. You don’t walk into a peace treaty meeting with a machine gun. What are the weapons you use in marriage? Contempt? Stonewalling? Name calling? “Calling it like you see it”? Avoidance? Manipulation? Control? Rage? Silence? Regardless of the weapon you love to brandish, leave it at the door. Tell your spouse what it is that you’re leaving behind.
– Unfold your arms. Our body language tells others everything they need to know to make a judgement about how we’re approaching the situation. This happens instantly, unconsciously. By crossing your arms or legs, you’re signaling defensiveness and being closed off. Defensiveness will keep DMZ’s alive, not a way to make peace.
– Listen twice, speak once. The reality is most of us do not listen very well. We’re generally more interested in forming our rebuttal than allowing the words, emotions, and energy to get to us. Before you respond with what you want to say, reflect back to the other person the actual words they spoke and ask if you heard everything correctly (ie- “I heard you say you feel like I don’t like you, and that I care more about work than I care about you, is that right?).
– Slow down, breathe. Take deep breaths to slow down your heart rate. This decreases the chances of your fight or flight response from taking over. Relax your jaw, your fists, and breath. It may sound hokey, but slowing your heart rate will better allow you to view the other person as a friend, not a foe.
– Listen to your senses. What do you smell, see, and feel (physically)? In fights or places of tension, we are generally being reactive to something from the past (see #4 – fight/flight). Practicing awareness of our senses brings us into the present moment, and helps to bring clarity.
– Practice offering gratitude. If you’re not offering thanks to your spouse for their efforts to bring peace, peace will not come. Be wary of how entitlement cheats gratitude (“she should know better…”, or “I shouldn’t have to tell you this…”). If you can’t find something to be thankful for, the issue is with you, not the other person.
The saying is true: “It takes two to tango,” but it only takes one person to change the way they are dancing to invite the other to do the same. I’ve seen it dozens of times where one person has offered peace to an unwilling and defensive participant, and it changes the relationship. Don’t wait for the other person to change first, they are likely waiting for the same thing.
The above picture is “a view from the Dora Observatory in Korea. The DMZ (and beyond it, North Korea) is visible through the haze. (photo via flickr user Ben Kucinski)