Chapter 1 I walk down the street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I fall in. I am lost … I am helpless. It isn’t my fault. It takes forever to find a way out.
Chapter 2 I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I pretend I don’t see it. I fall in again. I can’t believe I am in the same place. But it isn’t my fault. It still takes a long time to get out.
Chapter 3 I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I see it is there. I still fall in … it’s a habit. My eyes are open. I know where I am. It is my fault. I get out immediately.
Chapter 4 I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I walk around it.
Chapter 5 I walk down another street.
What chapter are you finding yourself in that difficult relationship? What is something you can do to move into a new chapter?
This is a great statement from Virginia Satir about the demands of love:
“One of the truly basic problems is that our society bases the marital relationship almost completely on love and then imposes demands on it that love can never solely fulfill.
If you love me you won’t do anything without me
if you love me you’ll do what I say
If you’ve met you’ll give me what I want
If you love me you’ll know what I want before I ask.
These kinds of practices soon make love into a kind of blackmail.”
The last bullet point above is one of the more common ailments I see with couples in my counseling office. It’s a bind that many couples are familiar with. If I tell you what I want, and you don’t provide it, I face rejection and pain. If I don’t tell you what I want, and you don’t provide it, the pain and rejection is diluted. If you do provide what I want without me asking … it’s like winning the lottery!
Don’t hide your needs, wants, and desires. There’s no way others can get to know you and how to love you if these things are secrets.
Too often marriages play a game with many of the cards hidden from one or both partners. It becomes impossible to win the game together, so we instead settle for a victory on our own. Unfortunately when the game goes this way, we ultimately lose and end up on our own.
Relationships are like muscles, if we exercise them, they will grow (even if we don’t see that growth).
Marriage takes work, and will not naturally grow on it’s own. In fact, left alone, a marriage will shrivel up and die. 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 exercised the muscles of the relationship that allowed it to grow. Though for a lot of us, when we married, we stopped going to the gym (literally and metaphorically!).
Continue your visits to the gym. Read books together, attend marriage workshops, go on dates, spend quality time together, give each other gifts, surprise each other with good things, and take trips. Do all of these things regularly and your marriage will thrive.
There is a difference in the knowledge of reading about something, and the knowledge of experiencing something.
It’s the difference between the knowing in our heads and knowing from the heart.
If you’ve been to the Grand Canyon, you know with your whole being the expanse of it all. There are no words to describe it. The grand scale of its depth is beyond what any wikipedia entry could ever help you to know if you’ve never been there. Yes, you can look at a picture, study the stats, and recount the history of how it came to be. But that will never get close to the experience one gets by standing on the South Rim.
This reminds me of the powerful scene in the movie Good Will Hunting when Sean confronts Will that not all things in life can be read in a book.
What we know with our heads sometimes keeps us from believing with our hearts. We think we know something because we read about it or watched a Ted talk about it. We are inundated with pictures, data, and the expanse of words that tell us about things in life. Yet we’re impoverished in actually experiencing these same things. Things like adventure, love, taking a risk, forgiveness, healing, or sacrifice.
What might we find out about ourselves, or others, if we moved away from the comfort of knowing, to the comfort of experience?
A millionaire who gives away $100 does not experience the same sacrifice as a factory worker who gives the same amount. It’s easy for someone wealthy to give away a few bucks, it’s not that significant of a cost to them.
There is not much sacrifice when we give what is easy to give. Sacrifice is the surrender of myself for the sake of someone else. This how we know someone loves and cares about us.
Gary Chapmans concept of The Five Love Languages is a great example of how this might show up in a relationship. For instance, one of my love languages is words of affirmation. It is relatively easy for me to show others that I love or care about them with words of affirmation. This comes naturally to me.
My wife’s love language is acts of service. Words of affirmation might be the last one on her list. Acts of service is probably the last one on my list. If I only choose to love her out of what comes naturally to me, I am going to miss opportunities to love her.
A great rule of thumb on this principle for Marriage: Work on growing your capacity to do what isn’t easy. This could be how you engage in conflict, your habits in talking and listening (Men speak about 10,000 words per day, Women speak around 25,000), or how you express love.
Criticism without hope will lead to contempt.Criticism with hope will spawn creativity.
It’s way easier to give the criticism than to receive it, but we all need helpful, loving, critical feedback in order to grow and change. We can be more receptive to hearing critical feedback if we feel secure, valued, cared about, and loved. If you hope for the best in and for me, you can say a whole lot to me, including critical thoughts.
Tips for giving critical feedback:
Ask for permission to share. “Are you open to me giving you some feedback about the situation?” If the answer is no, “will you let me know when you are ready?” Give it 24 hours, and ask permission again.
Tell them what you hope for in sharing the feedback. “I hope we can avoid this particular pitfall in the future.”
Be on their team. “Here is what I want for us.” Rather than “you need to do ‘this and/or that’.”
Ladle it with kindness. Don’t feel kindness towards the other person? Don’t share the feedback.
After sharing, ask for feedback about how you gave your feedback. “Did you feel like I was on your team?” “How could I have said this better to help you not feel attacked?”
Trying to enact change in relationships takes a lot of time, consistency, grace, and love. And love is inefficient.