Top 3 Fears Men Have About Marriage Counseling

I teach a 9-week class designed to give couples some tools and resources for strengthening their relationship and to grow closer together. At the beginning of each week I have the men and women split into breakout groups to discuss questions from their gender’s point of view. In the very first class of the last cycle I asked the men’s breakout group to identify their top 3 fears about being part of a marriage class or marriage counseling.

 

Can you guess what they came up with?

 

~ I’m afraid that this will bring up even MORE issues between us. Yup, that’s the number one fear my guys had. They were willing to admit that tensions and issues already existed in their marriages. The fear was that intentionally working on the marriage would reveal additional issues.

What would you tell them? I told them that there was a very real possibility that working on a relationship would bring up additional issues. Knowing that more issues might arise is not a reason to avoid counseling or a marriage class. In fact – it’s a good reason to START counseling or attending a class! Every relationship has issues – things to work through. It is better to find a way to address those issues rather than let them fester. Eventually festering problems cause horrible sickness and require amputation. Not a pretty sight.

Man up. Yes, there will be tensions and issues in your relationship. Don’t run from them. Deal with them appropriately.

~ I’m afraid that we’ll realize that we’re not really compatible. As long as they keep their heads in the sand a lot of guys figure that they’ll be able to keep on truckin’ in the marriage. I was lucky enough to snag her, now I just gotta keep a low profile and pretend that everything is okay. She’ll never know we’re not compatible if we simply never work on the marriage.

I’m not sure but I think a lot of this fear stems from the fear of loneliness. We so often desire to be part of an intimate relationship that we alter behavior, change our appearance, or do all sorts of other zany things to attract and woo a partner. If she finds out the real me, if we’re forced to talk and be open, maybe she will not really be compatible with me and we’ll split up.

Here are two things to remember: 1) there are lots of different types of compatibility, just ask EHarmony. While some happily married couples are compatible in areas X, Y, and Z, others might not be and instead are compatible in areas A, B, and C. This leads to number 2) You HAVE to be compatible in some way, shape, or form or you never would have become a couple in the first place. Quit focusing on the negative and start to emphasize the positive that already exists.

~ I’m afraid that I’ll have to talk about my feelings and emotions. As much of a stereotype as that is, it was the men in the class that said it about themselves. Seems men realize that women are much more naturally suited for talking…and talking…and talking about emotions. The fear was that they would be forced to do it as well.

Unfortunately this one is true. You cannot build a relationship without connecting to your spouse on a deeper level. There will be some elements of your emotions and feelings that will need to be discussed. It doesn’t mean you have to turn into a Chatty Cathy (I’m apologize to everyone named Cathy. It’s nothing personal, just the expression). It does mean that you will need to practice expressing what you think and feel.

 

God reveals to us through the Bible that the marriage relationship is built on mutuality. Husband and wife mutually control the other. They mutually submit to the other. They mutually respect each other. It’s not about one person who dominates and one who yields.

So, women, as a partner you need to do everything within your power to help alleviate these fears that we men have. When issues come up we need to know that you will help address the issue in a calm and loving way (no berating, belittling, or combative maneuvers please). We need you to reaffirm the connection and compatibility between us. And we need you to be sensitive to our insensitivity – the fact that many of us HATE sharing our emotions and feelings.

Married couples can work together to build strong relationships. Men, we will have to overcome our fears. Women, you will have to lovingly work with us to overcome our fears. But together we can do it.

 

How about you? What fears do you have about getting into relationship counseling or a class?

Confessions from a Pastor: The Real Me

You know those little 4×6 cards the city sends you to remind you to pay your water bill? It’s a pretty good idea not to set it aside “intending” to take care of it and then forget about it. Then one day you come home with three tired and hungry children and, when you go to begin lunch prep, realize that you have no running water coming into your home. Then you can’t use the bathroom or wash your hands either. And the kids are still tired and hungry and becoming more cranky by the millisecond.

Yup – that was me. My wife handed me the card some time ago and I said I would take care of it. Epic fail. Called the city and paid the bill and the water was back on a couple hours later. In an attempt at solidarity with the world around me (or maybe merely an attempt to feel better about myself?) I asked on social media what other absent-minded things people had done or had not done. I got some interesting feedback.

One mom said: “I put the milk away in the cabinet under the sink”

A teacher remembered: “I took my students to Disneyland for a band trip and got to the gate to pick up our tickets and realized I had left the check sitting on my desk.”

Someone else told me: “I requested drive up/pick up for my groceries and then drove home without them.

Finally one person wrote: “I forgot to put the car in park…rushed into the house…the car rushed into the garage door!”

So it seems I’m not the only one that does bone-headed, absent-minded things from time to time. I’m glad I’m in good company. Here’s the reason I’m telling you this: after the event happened I was embarrassed. I’ve never had my water shut off before for failure to pay the bill. The money was in the bank – I simply forgot. Still, I felt this big (imagine me holding my fingers close together, because I didn’t feel very big at all).

Because I was embarrassed (and spent a good amount of time apologizing to my wife for dropping the ball) I considered whether or not I was going to tell people about my goof or if I was going to conceal it instead. Since I’m writing this post I think it’s clear which route I decided to take.

But it really got me thinking: How much do/should we share with others and how much do/should we keep locked away from all but a few? Because I was embarrassed I naturally wanted to conceal my flub. But I live in a rural Midwest community. It’s not too far a stretch of imagination to think of someone at the desk at city hall recognizing my name and mentioning to someone else: “Hey, did you hear that the pastor at Central Community Church didn’t pay his bill and got his water shut off?” The way this town talks I really can see that happening (if you live here with me, let’s agree to help change the atmosphere of gossip and slander, ok?!?). I figured it’s always better to get out in front of stuff like this. It wasn’t illegal or immoral, just stupid, so I can swallow my pride and tell on myself.

But then it REALLY got me thinking about what the Bible says in regards to situations like this. The Bible tells us to carry each other’s burdens. The Apostle Paul also says that we are to treat each other with humility, and patience, accepting one another in love.

The people who are part of my spiritual family are supposed to help me carry the things that weigh me down. I’m also supposed to be able to count on this family to treat me with humility, patience, and acceptance. That means I can be free to be me and you can be free to be you.

In our contemporary, social media crazy world, we have a false sense of “knowing” and of “being known.” I might have 900 friends on Facebook but how many REALLY know me? They only see the pieces of me that I allow them to see.

Going through seminary I heard professors and students wrestle with the idea of how self-revealing a pastor SHOULD be versus how much he (or she, I’m pro-female ordination – but that’s a post for another day) should play it close to the vest. I guess it comes down to personal choice and conscience. Some pastors only post things that are very professional. Some post any ol’ thing that pops into their heads. I’ve struggled with the idea of how I come across through what I say, do, tweet, post, whatever.

I always come back to those passages. Christian community is supposed to be a place where we share life together. Where we laugh together. Where we cry together. Where we are real together. It’s supposed to be different from the world around us. All around us people look out for #1. We do things to get a leg up on the competition. We fight to beat everyone else down. That’s not the church that Jesus instituted.

His church is a place for care. His church is a place where we put others first. His church is a place where we can hear about the bone-headed things others do and, instead of criticizing and condemning, we say, “Yup, I’ve done stuff like that, too! God loves us anyway.” So I’ve decided that I’m going to share my life with people, warts and all. I’m not going to hide the imperfections. I’m not perfect. I struggle with my humanity just like everyone else (I even got a ticket last year). And Jesus loves me anyway. I do realize that there are people out there who will criticize, judge, and condemn those of us who reveal our flaws. Some people try to use our weaknesses as ammunition against us. But God doesn’t care. The Apostle Paul learned that being weak meant leaning on the strength of Jesus. He’ll provide support when we can’t carry on under our own power.

**Please note that God still expects us to be moving forward, to be growing in our spiritual maturity and attempting to be more like Christ every day (it’s called sanctification).**

But still, I think you know what I mean…

How about you? What bone-headed, absent-minded things have you done? No matter what – Jesus still loves you. And I’m gonna do my best to embrace you, help you carry your load, and treat you with humility, patience, and acceptance – just as I hope you will with me.

America: Still Racist After all These Years

Racism. It’s still there. Sometimes it feels like we pretend it doesn’t exist but it does. It affects the way we look at people. It affects the way we treat people. It affects the way we talk about people. But it’s not something we address openly and honestly until something blows up and then everything is chaos and then all hell breaks loose.

No, I’m not even writing this in response to the Paula Deen debacle, though it certainly seems to fit.

Paula Deen’s situation reminds us that, no matter how far we have come, we are a people that draw lines of distinction based on race and heritage. Sometimes those lines of distinction are good and result in a renewed sense of pride and family background. I applaud people who utilize websites like ancestry.com or 23andme.com in an effort to know and appreciate their genetics and history. Knowing from where we come and from whom we come goes a long way in helping us create a personal sense of identity.

In regards to the words we use to define ethnicity, I do believe and emphatically suggest that we call people what THEY desire to be called, not what we think they should be called. I am Anglo-European. Let’s be totally honest, I’m Scottish on one side and Irish on the other. I’m white. A honkey.  But I’m married to a brown-skinned woman. It doesn’t matter what language was used around me growing up, she deserves to be identified in the way she chooses; Black, African-American, Negro, or even colored (which is how some of my wife’s older relatives still refer to themselves). Anything less is disrespect towards her AS A PERSON. It doesn’t matter where people come from – call them what they desire to be called.

This was part of Paula Deen’s problem. As an older white woman from the south, she probably grew up with some choice descriptors for brown-skinned people. And let’s be honest – it’s hard to break free from the language and images that were around during our formative years. It really takes a lot to move beyond how we were raised.

This is not to excuse something she might have said nearly 30 years ago, but it does help to understand where she is coming from and how she is wired. But this is a great illustration of the problem. Racism exists still. Many people don’t even realize that their behavior is racist – and that’s just wrong. It’s when you hear someone telling a story about someone else and they just “happen” to throw in the description of ethnicity.

“I was help up at knifepoint by this wild-eyed Mexican guy…”
“I was cut off by this black lady…”

We are racist every time we feel a need to describe ethnicity. Does it matter what race the thief was? Does it matter what race the crazy driver was? It adds nothing to the story except for the racist subtext you want to convey to your audience. We are racist every time we alter our behavior because of or around someone of different ethnicity. We are racist, and I don’t mean “we” as in “European-Americans like me.” Humanity is racist – we divide along ethnic lines.

Yet there is supposed to be a kinship that supersedes ethnicity. The bible says that we share a new family through our faith that moves us beyond all titles, descriptions, and subtext. It is no longer white, black, Hispanic, Asian, whatever-mix-you-want-to-be…. We shed all of that with one new title: CHRISTIAN.

This new title is supposed to characterize all we say and do. It’s supposed to saturate us and flow out of every pore. It’s supposed to take the old way of thinking about things and people and replace it with God’s way of viewing things and people.

Yep – we’re a racist planet. And we always will be as long as we hold to our ethnic identities over and above our spiritual identities. So, Christian, it’s time to grow. It’s time to change. It’s time to let stop identifying yourself by your race and to start identifying yourself by your faith.

Who are you?

My name is Chris. I’m white Christian.

A Christian Response to Gay Marriage

horrified-faceToday I was contacted by a woman who had some pretty heavy questions regarding the LGBT lifestyle (unless you have your head stuck in the sand or are stuck at home raising multiple children you will know about the Supreme Court’s decisions today…). She had a question about an appropriate response and felt like and “outsider” because she didn’t feel contempt for the gay community or have a strong desire to convert them to heterosexuals. The following is the letter I wrote her back. I understand that you may differ in your take, but this is coming through my lenses on how I see the world and how I read the Bible – which I believe should set the standard for actions and belief.

From my reading the Bible is pretty clear that God’s design is that sex be restricted to one man and one woman who are married to each other. Do people break God’s design? ALL THE TIME! You are right that God’s design is also for marriage to be a life-long commitment without divorce, yet that happens as well. We live in a broken world in which people act in broken ways.

In that sense we’re all messed up, loved by a gracious God in spite of ourselves. There are probably several reasons why the church focuses so much intensity and anger towards the LGBT community, but that is our error. We are called to love people no matter what their personal sin is. Some drink to excess – yet the Bible says that drunkenness is a sin. We love them still. The Bible says not to divorce, but Christians do. We love them still.

I believe that God designed male and female to be compatible. Same-sex sexuality goes against the natural order. But let’s differentiate between sexual behavior and sexual inclination/attraction. I do know people who have same-sex attraction as a result of life circumstances (bad parenting situation, sexual abuse, etc.). There is also a cultural push to see same-sex friendships as gay because we are uncomfortable with the idea of a deep friendship between two men. I have heard some people interpreting the intimate friendship between David and Jonathan in the Bible as being a homosexual relation. While they were closer than brothers there is no indication that they were gay. But we are often uncomfortable with same-sex intimacy. How can you experience intimacy with someone of the same sex unless it is sexual? This is more of a Western point of view than an Eastern one. My wife, who has a degree in missions and has traveled quite a bit in southeast Asia, tells me that it’s not uncommon in foreign countries to see two men walking down the street holding hands as a sign of camaraderie and intimacy, even though they are both happily married to women.

Even still, some people claim same-sex attraction with no childhood trauma. I am not a scientist, so I will not deny that it may be possible that there is a same-sex attraction born in some people. To my understanding this has not been proven. But even if it were proven, I believe that God’s Word remains unchanged about same-sex behavior and that God loves them no matter what (if our behavior determined God’s love we’d ALL be in trouble).

To the person who claims attraction I would differentiate between attraction and sexual activity. Some see this as a cop out, but I believe it to be a valid way of maintaining a sense of truth to oneself and to God’s design. Just because you might find yourself attracted to the same sex does not mean you have to act upon it. Humanity has a marvelous capacity to exercise self-control if we want to – sadly, much of our society laughs at the idea of self-control (and not just in regards to our sexuality, but to every other area of life).

At the end of the day you are right that God calls us to love and embrace all people regardless of their choices. People go against God’s design all the time – we love them anyway. Ultimately God is judge and we are not. As a pastor I will tell people what I believe God’s design is. It’s up to them and God as to whether or not they act on it. I still love them no matter what they choose.

And I do believe that, at the end of time, there will be people in heaven that will surprise us – and people in hell that we never expected to be there!

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I welcome all discussion, just keep it civil and polite. If this post resonates with you in any way, please share it on Facebook, Twitter, or email!

Related Posts:
Forced Gay: Punishment for Religious Dissent?
Forced Gay: Part Two

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To my readers, please feel free to engage in discussion, but we will do so with decency and kindness, even when we disagree with each other.

Beyond Divorce: Living After Heartbreak & Separation

fighting coupleThere’s really nothing funny about divorce. No humorous little anecdotes can ease into this conversation. I’ve never met a divorced couple that was untouched – unscathed. The truth is that divorce hurts. As a pastor I wrestle with helping people discover God’s ideal and standard regarding marriage and divorce on one hand and then trying to find a Christian way to live after the divorce is final.

Truth be told, I find that the biblical perspective on divorce is really unpopular. People don’t want to hear what God has to say if he conflicts with what they want to do. I recently preached on divorce in my church. I have a habit of letting my church know in advance what the messages will be about (it helps get people in a mindset to receive the word for that day). I know of at least one person who intentionally skipped church because, as a divorced person, he didn’t want to listen to God’s perspective. This saddens me – that he felt we couldn’t have an honest discussion about God’s ideals without feeling judgment and condemnation. No one is perfect, and divorce is merely another sad reality of broken people living in a broken world. But we should still know what God’s ideals are. So here’s my take on what the Bible says:

First – divorce is NEVER God’s ideal. His preference is for a lifetime commitment, a covenant, between one man and one woman. In the Gospel of Mark Jesus says:

And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.” And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

But even the Bible has some “exception clauses” that recognizes that broken people live in a broken world and end up breaking relationships. One of the divorce exceptions is, in the event of infidelity, the victimized spouse has permission to divorce and start life over. The Apostle Paul notes that if one partner abandons the other then the abandoned spouse is no longer bound.

All said and done, while divorce is NEVER God’s ideal – God recognizes that it happens. So you’re divorced. Now what?

  1. As much as possible, reconcile with your ex. WHAT?!? Not my words, but the Apostle Paul’s. The Christian life is about forgiveness and grace, so as much as you can try to reconcile.
  2. Ask God to help resist hatred, resentment, and bitterness towards your ex. You may be hurt and your ex might have acted in horrible, villainous ways. You can’t change the past, but you can work on your present attitude.
  3. Forgive and ask forgiveness for your role in the divorce. Sometimes a spouse is a real dirtbag and does damage to you. Sometimes there are two sides to the story. In all honesty, ask yourself what role you played in the divorce. You may need to seek forgiveness for your part.
  4. Continue to behave in kind, Christian ways. This one is HUGE. I’ve seen so many people forget how to behave decently when it comes to an ex. Mean talk, back-biting, and hurtful words come easily. Swallow them. Don’t do it. Keep your mouth shut. Behave in kindness and do nothing out of anger or hate. It’s about your behavior before God, regardless of what she did (or what he did). Here’s your model – follow Jesus’ example as he still behaved decently and sought forgiveness to the people who terribly wronged him.

Though divorce is a serious matter in God’s opinion, it’s not an unforgivable sin. God shows a lot more grace to people and their brokenness than we show to each other. If you have found yourself in a divorced status I hurt for you. It is not God’s desire for people to hurt each other and split. If you are divorced please know that you are not a “second-class citizen” in the church. You matter to God just like everyone else.

Through it all remember that God desires us to live in strong, healthy, and committed relationships. If you’re married and struggling, God can mend broken hearts and restore relationships. If you’re divorced and hurting, God can renew you from this point on and you can begin living in God’s grace, building healthy relationships from here on out.

No matter who you are – you matter to God.

You spent HOW MUCH?!?

butterfly-effectWhen our oldest child was five she was playing a Disney game on Facebook where you have to develop your own animal preserve (like Farmville, but with rain forests, savannahs, etc. – a pretty cool game, actually). I helped her log in at the living room computer during my lunch break and then left for work. My wife went about the business of the house. I came back from work to discover that our sweet daughter had spent $200 on game stuff! She thought it was “game money” and didn’t realize she had been charging our account!

Humanity never really changes, do we? Even as adults we have a tendency to forget that there are real world consequences to everything we say and do. There is no bubble, no consequence-free zone. Life is made up of multiple ripple effects from human behavior.

Everything we say and do creates a new ripple that extends to the community around us and, ultimately, the world. I don’t think we take that idea seriously. I know I don’t, and I think I’m normal, so I’m guessing you don’t either! It’s easy to say or do something and then completely forget about forever. But there is no bubble around us. Our behavior produces results.

The Bible talks about it in farming terms: sowing and reaping, planting and harvesting. The Apostle Paul writes:

Don’t be deceived: God is not mocked. For whatever a man sows he will also reap, because the one who sows to his flesh will reap corruption from the flesh, but the one who sows to the Spirit will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So we must not get tired of doing good, for we will reap at the proper time if we don’t give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, we must work for the good of all, especially for those who belong to the household of faith.

Paul just took the Butterfly Effect to a whole new level. It’s not just about the earthly consequences of our actions. He tells us that there are spiritual and eternal consequences! This isn’t a unique concept in Christianity. Several places in the Bible God tells us that our relationship to him is helped or hindered by our relationships and behavior with others:

–          If you want forgiveness, forgive others.

–          If you’re at worship and remember that someone has something against you make it right with him before you get right with God

–          True religion is taking care of people who cannot take provide for themselves

–          A person who hates his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen

Starting to get the idea? It’s a divine Butterfly Effect. The little things we say and do in the here and now have consequences that carry far beyond the minutes that surround our behavior. So before you act pause to think about the consequences of your action. How will this action affect me? How will it affect others? Before you speak think about the possible ripple effect of your words. Will these words build people up or cut people down? If others heard that I was saying these things would it be beneficial or detrimental?

Fortunately for us, Facebook reversed the charges our darling daughter racked up. Real life isn’t always so gracious, and our behavior can hurt or heal, build or destroy. So be careful the next time you speak and act.

You never know how far the ripples go.

I QUIT! What to Know Before You Divorce

Unhappy CoupleI love to use responses from real people in my sermons and my posts. Not too long ago I preached a message called, “What Does the Bible Say About Divorce?” The week before I sent out some private messages to a handful of people I know who are divorced and I asked them each two questions: 1) What did you wish you had known before you divorced that you know now? and 2) What would you tell others in the early stages of the divorce process?

 

Wanna know what they said?

 

1. I wish it had known how much it affects the kids emotionally as well as my own self-esteem – even years later.

This is probably one of the biggies that people face when dealing with divorce – there is an unseen ripple effect that washes through people divorcing and any kids who are products of divorce. There are often identity issues with both adults and kids; people who had their identity wrapped up in notions of “family” or “child” or “spouse” suddenly find themselves cut loose and wandering.

2. You will struggle with resentment, hurt, and anger towards your ex.

While some couples can maintain a friendly interaction after a divorce it is rare. By the time a couple gets to divorce things are usually so fractured and fragmented that an amicable relationship is not possible. And a broken relationship most often causes people to feel hurt and resentment towards the other.

3. It’s not always easy “fun-n-games”; you can’t just get married and check out. You always have to put into it and you’ll only get out what you put in.

One of the biggest problems I face in marriage counseling and marriage classes is that people wait WAY TOO LATE to begin working on their relationships. If we take the time when things are good to set ourselves up for success we’ll have the tools to make it through the rough patches later on. Think about it like driving a car. If you hold the wheel in a fixed position the car will eventually go off the road as the road shifts. So we make constant adjustments in order to stay in our lane. Relationships stay on course when we work to make little adjustments here and there rather than try to jerk the wheel back as the car is careening off the road.

4. The grass ain’t always greener on the other side – you’re gonna take your baggage with you and sometimes that makes the next shot harder.

Ah, yes, the “Things have GOT to be better next time” mentality. Relationship guru John Gottman notes the divorce rate for 2nd marriages is 10% higher than in 1st marriages. So we don’t really learn from previous marriages and improve. We take the same junk from the past and move it into a new relationship. It’s like paying off one credit card by transferring the balance to another card. YOU’VE STILL GOT THE DEBT! And every relationship will have baggage. I once heard it said (for the life of me I can’t remember where I heard or read it) that, since any relationship will have baggage, marriage is simply deciding which set of baggage you want to live with. Things don’t improve if you don’t improve.

5. Divorce is not as easy as you may think.

Yup – that’s pretty much it in a nutshell.

Some people don’t realize that the Bible speaks a good deal about relationships and divorce. In one sentence: God takes marriage seriously and expects that we take it seriously as well. One time Jesus was asked about divorce. They asked: “Why did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He answered: “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.”
Funny thing – expectation of longevity is an indicator of successful long-term relationships. When couples have an expectation that they’ll stick around as long as things are good and as long they are “in love” they tend not to go the distance. Couples who have an understanding that the relationship is a life-long commitment and plan to stick it out no matter what speed bumps come along fare much better in longevity. When we take marriage as seriously as God does we have better odds of successful long-term marriages.

So what can I tell you about making things better?

First – God can heal all broken relationships. Don’t give up all hope – he works miracles.
Second – If you are married, never argue using the word “Divorce” as ammunition. Couples who keep that in their back pocket will always see it as a way out.
Third – Put in effort to make things better rather than throwing in the towel. Read books. Find a pastor or counselor to talk to. Do something.
Fourth – When you’ve exhausted all options sometimes your spouse gives up and walks away. Know that God still loves you, and that no relationship status is going to cause him to turn his back on you.

So…what about you? What do you wish you had known then that you know now? What would you say to those in the rough spot of a pre-divorce marriage?

Giving Your Partner a Voice…

In the marriage class I teach (a 9-week course on developing and maintaining healthy relationships) we regularly do breakout groups of men and women to discuss a certain question of issue. It’s often amusing to see how men and women differ in their approach to issues. There was one question from the last session that caught me off-guard because both men and women had the EXACT same answers.

The question?

What are your top 5 areas that you would like for your spouse to ask you about before acting?

This particular night we were discussing the issue of sharing power and decision-making within the marriage. And yes – the men and women all wanted their spouses to dialogue before acting in the same areas of life.

 

Any guesses what they came up with?

 

1. Making major purchases or big financial decisions

This was #1 for both men and women. Face it – when we work hard for our money or towards a financial goal we’d like some input before our spouse goes off and makes a major purchase or a big financial decision that will affect the whole family. Sadly, many of us lack impulse control and the understanding that we should consult our spouses before making such decisions. Sometimes we fall into the “It’s my money and I’ll spend it however I please!” mentality.

That’s true if you’re single, but not if you’re married. I’ve never yet met a happily married couple that maintains separate accounts. Separate accounts indicates that couples have not understood the biblical concept of two becoming one. Separate accounts means that you’re withholding part of yourself from your spouse, and relationships cannot grow in intimacy if you’re forever holding part of yourself back. It’s not YOUR money and MY money – it’s OUR money. We will decide together how we will live, spend, save, and give.

Why don’t we consult our spouses sometimes? It’s basically selfish. Our spouse might veto what we want, so we don’t even ask. If you stop to think about it you find it’s really a juvenile and selfish mentality. It does not help build trust and respect in the marriage. Intimacy in marriage means that you both work together towards common goals. It means you give your partner an opportunity to veto and a voice in the process.

2. Making plans to do things

Both men and women disliked when their spouses made plans for them without checking with them beforehand. I understand that some opportunities have to be acted upon immediately, but usually there is time to consult with our spouses before we pull the trigger on making plans.

A good practice is to tell the people with whom you want to make plans, “I’m not sure of our schedule yet. Let me check with my spouse and I’ll get back to you soon.” Giving your spouse a voice in making plans really is about respect. It tells your spouse, “I care about your opinion and what you want to do more than I care about the immediacy of making plans.”

3. Making spiritual decisions for the family

This is gender-neutral – we each have the capability of making spiritual decisions for our spouse. Which church will we go to (or place of worship if you’re not Christian)? Which spiritual activities are we going to participate in? Since tastes, abilities, and personalities differ so much from person to person it is unwise for one person to make decisions for the couple. Talk about it and decide together the how, where, and what of practicing your spirituality.

4. Making a major job change

“But it’s MY job! Why do I have to talk to my spouse first?” It’s really about doing life together. When you are single you are only looking after yourself. You make decisions for the good of one, and when you shift course the only one affected is you. In a marriage, every course you take is going to affect your partner. Making a major job change can affect the family situation, housing, cash flow, reaching goals, and a handful of other issues. Give your partner the respect of discussing major job changes before acting on them. Remember – this isn’t about MY life…it’s about OUR life (yes, that was supposed to be singular).

5. Household issues like child discipline and paying bills

Let’s be honest, you don’t have to have a committee meeting every time there is a bill to be paid, but both partners should be aware of the bills. Both partners should have a say in parenting goals and values and how to achieve those through discipline/rewards. Passive spouses, don’t just surrender control of household issues to your partner. Aggressive spouses, don’t just seize control from your partner. Share life together and mutually decide the who, how, and what of managing household issues. While you won’t always see eye to eye you can still be on the same page.

In the end, our goal is to create a oneness, a unity within the marriage. It is not about two roommates doing life individually under the same room and sleeping in the same bed. Marriage is about leaving the two behind and moving forward as a single entity. No longer ME but now WE.

How about you? What would you like your partner to ask you about before acting?

What Men Wish Women Knew

So the marriage class I teach has breakout sessions where the men and women split to discuss a question or issue. One of the group tasks was to come up with a list of the top 5 things you wish the other gender knew about you. My last post was what the women wished their husbands knew about them. As promised, today is the other half of the coin: The Top 5 Things Men Wish Women Knew (and only fitting being that it’s Father’s Day).

 

What do you think they came up with? Men, come up with your own “top five” list. Go ahead, I’ll give you a minute…

 

Here’s what the men in the class said:

 

  1. Sometimes we’re really thinking about nothing. Okay, I’ll grant that ever living, waking human being has something going through his head. There is never “un-thought.” But some thoughts are simply meant to be just that – a private thought. We don’t always have something that needs to be shared with the entire class. If I’m looking at my steak and look lost in thought it’s probably because I’m wondering if they cooked it medium or medium well. If I’m watching the ball game and look pensive it’s probably because I’m wondering how a professional sports team could have made such bone-headed draft and coaching choices when obviously I could be doing a much better job at a fraction of the cost. But just because we have those kinds of thoughts doesn’t mean that we consider them “share-worthy.”  It’s no big deal so, if asked what we’re thinking about, we answer, “Nothing.” It’s not about not sharing – it’s about the fact that it’s a fleeting thought about something insignificant. Don’t sweat us on the thinking and feeling question. Sometimes it’s like you turn on the spotlight and act like a detective in some cheesy film noir. If we agree to talk about the important stuff will you agree to ease up on the throttle when we say, “Nothing”?
  2. We don’t need to “engage” to be together. We are not women. We connect in different ways (yes, these are generalities, but they often hold true). I went to hang out with some friends for this year’s Superbowl. There were 12-15 couples there. It was interesting to see how the couples naturally divided during the evening. The women all gathered around the table to chat, share, eat – whatever they were doing. Engaging meant social interaction and dialogue. Not so much with the men. We were all sitting facing the same direction – the screen. There wasn’t a whole lot of dialogue, but there was camaraderie. We were together. While we men need to do a better job at connecting with you in ways that are meaningful to you, please recognize that we don’t need to be socially engaged to think that we’re being together with you. Sometimes it’s enough to be in the same room at the same time (even if we’re not doing the same thing).
  3. We love you but we don’t need to be joined at the hip. You don’t have to wait until our schedules coincide so that we can go to Wal-Mart together. Seriously. No…SERIOUSLY! Please go run the errands you need to run without us. It might make the marriage smoother if we had different tasks that we accomplished privately.  And, just like you need “girl-time” with your friends, please stop giving us grief about our buddies. Hear me now: marriage does not get strong without quality time, and you cannot get quality without QUANTITY time. We have to do our part to build into the relationship. That is why my family is very big on family meal time. It’s intentional time to build into family. But please let us surgically detach ourselves every once in a while for our sanity and yours.
  4. You never have to ask about sex – we’re in the mood. We’re men. Cliché? Yep. Truth? You betcha! There is actually a biblical principle in play here – the Apostle Paul tells married couples not to deprive each other sexually unless it is by mutual consent for spiritual purposes (even then, he tells couples to get back together). The Bible also says that marriage is not about individual ownership but about co-ownership. My do not belong to me, but I belong to my wife. Similarly, she belongs to me. God created the marriage relationship to be sexually fulfilling, and he seemed to create men with a stronger libido than women (not always, but we’re talking generalities, remember?). So you don’t have to ask. Yup – we’re ready.
  5. Just because you “need to talk” doesn’t mean “WE” need to talk. One of the most dreaded phrases to a man’s ears is the “we need to talk” phrase. It automatically puts us on the defensive and we ask ourselves, “What did I do this time?” But an issue you’re having isn’t necessarily one that needs to be discussed AT THAT MOMENT. Find a good time and a good place to talk. When you finally discern when that time and place is choose your words wisely to initiate conversation! Do not ever begin a conversation with words that put us on the defensive. Start with calming words, not inciting words. Relationship expert Dr. John Gottman calls this the “soft start-up.” By beginning wisely you have a better chance of having a successful conversation with us.

 

Well, there you have it. I’m sure there are other things men could come up with, but this is what the men in the class thought of. What about it, women? Think you can help make our lives easier by learning these things and adjusting your behavior to fit? Can you be as sensitive to your husbands’ needs and desires as you are to your girlfriends’? Can you be the godly, biblically grounded wives  that we need you to be?

 

Men – what else would you add to the list?

Will You Dance?

forgiveness

Humans are funny creatures. We have a unique ability to hear selectively. It really comes down to our circumstances in life. Grace vs. Justice. Forgiveness vs. Consequences. Often it feels like these are binary opposites – completely unable to mesh one with the other. We especially see these concepts in opposition when it comes to relationships and personal conflict. And our selective hearing comes into play.

If we are the person who has wronged or hurt another person our selective hearing turns to the Bible and hears GRACE and FORGIVENESS! We cling to these words as life-giving words. We may have sinned against God and against another person, but there is hope and newness is Jesus Christ: we can know grace and forgiveness.

If we are the person who has been hurt or wronged by another person our selective hearing turns to the Bible and hears JUSTICE and CONSEQUENCES! We cling to these words as sustaining words in our misery, knowing that God will repay others for the wrongs they have done to us and he will eventually vindicate us. We can know justice and see others face consequences for their actions.

But in our selective hearing we miss the major elements of what the Bible actually would say to us: that there is grace AND justice, and we may simultaneously experience forgiveness AND consequences. The offender will find grace and forgiveness through Jesus, while still suffering the consequences for past behavior.

I’m reminded of one of my favorite scenes in the movie “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” In the scene, three escaped felons come across a church’s baptism service at a river. One felon gets caught up in the moment and rushes in to get dunked. He comes out proclaiming that no man has anything on him now for the preacher “done warshed away my sins.” The other felons end up having to tell him that, though he might be right with God, the state is still going to hold him accountable. That’s us, isn’t it?!? When we get right we God we expect (or hope?) that the person we wronged will welcome us with open arms.

We forget that we will still have to own up to the damage done by our actions.

On the flipside, when we are wronged and the offender repents, we often have a hard time accepting the fact that Jesus has cleansed that person and given him a new start. “Jesus might forgive, but I’m not ready yet!” That’s too often our attitude. The funny thing is, Jesus never put a limitation on forgiveness. How often should we forgive? 70×7 is what Jesus tells the Apostle Peter. And, hard as it may be, God calls us to be people of forgiveness just as he is a God of forgiveness.

It’s a difficult dance these binary pairs dance – the movement between grace and justice, forgiveness and consequences. When it comes to personal conflict each side needs to be willing to put down his word and pick up the other’s word for a while. Put it on and wear it for a bit. If you have been wronged, remember that Jesus has forgiven the offender. If you have done the hurting, remember that forgiveness does not mean avoiding the consequences of our behavior.

Wherever you fall, dance the dance. Repent. Forgive. Show grace. Accept consequences. And in the end we will find that relationships only really move beyond conflict when each side is willing to dance.