The Insider’s Solution to a Successful Marriage

relationship acceptance

So, you two are different.

That wasn’t a question. That was a statement, and it’s probably the root of most of the problems in a relationship. You may have heard the official terminology: power struggle.

And it’s true. Your differences are going to cause stress.

Nan and I are organized differently. All you would have to do is check out our dishwasher after each one of us has loaded it. The way we handle clothes can be different, the process of cooking and cleaning up after a meal is different and our level of comfort with clutter is different. Nan and I have different needs for sociability, different bedtimes and we have temperature wars in our environments. I could go on. And we have been pretty happily married for almost 47 years. So what gives?

We have learned a level of acceptance for each other that allows us to live together peacefully.

How we have done this is by trying our best to negotiate the differences and treat each other with “kind friendliness”. We really try to focus on where we agree, rather than disagree. It’s not always easy and I can’t say I have always been able to do this with grace, but I obviously haven’t failed entirely. After all, we are still together and still friends.

One conversation I have heard Nan have with women on more than one occasion is this:

“So you wanted to marry an easy-going stable guy, right?”

“Yes, but he’s not very ambitious, and quite frankly kind of boring.”

Then Nan will point out that stability is kind of boring, and easy-going isn’t “Type A”. You can’t have both. And to flip it around, a guy may choose a flashy, stylish kind of woman and then complain that she shops too often and spends too much. Yeah, that’s how she caught your attention and hopes to keep it in the future. You can’t have it both ways, either.

As I am writing this post we are sitting in our cabin that is not as remote as I would have liked, on a piece of land smaller than I would have chosen. Nan is relaxing on a deck that overlooks a river rather than an ocean, wearing more cold weather clothes than she would prefer. When we bought a sailboat many years ago it was bigger than I would have liked, but smaller than the condo Nan would have picked.

So I’m sure you get the point. You didn’t (or won’t) marry yourself and so you don’t get to have everything exactly the way you want it. You will both have to accept that you are not the center around which the world revolves. But you can still have it good. Really good.

The Power Of Influence

Influence

“I found the simple one-word definition for leadership I like best: influence. Every time you influence someone to take an action, positive or negative, you are leading that person.”   Hans Finzel

Every parent understands the power of influence when it comes to the peer group that their children form. Good parents encourage their youngsters to have quality friends. It is the same for us as adults. We become like those we associate with in so many ways. We talk like them, we dress like them and we tend to behave consistent with them. Wanting to be accepted we conform to the dynamics of our friend group.

In counseling couples, we have heard this statement many times over:

“I wish I knew who was influencing my (wife, husband, boyfriend, girlfriend).”

We often wonder that too, when we get stuck in the counseling process. There are times when we know that something or someone is sabotaging the progress. And not surprisingly we will discover that a third party is giving advice contrary to what we are recommending. That advice may be very well-intentioned, but not godly. Or it may be manipulative in some way, like from a lover, or prejudiced, as from a bitter divorced friend.

There are several elements that I would look for when choosing who will mentor and influence me. Among those that I would consider essential are good character, neutrality, positivity, kindness and wisdom. I also would add to this list someone who has great emotional self regulation.

I put neutrality on this list because I want someone who can confront me as well as support me. I don’t really like being confronted, but I am critically aware that I will not grow or get better if I only get affirmation. By the way, this is not an invitation to point out all my flaws on social media – just sayin’. PM me instead.

I have pointed out before that we aren’t just influenced by close relationships. Books, television, social media, blogs, etc also can have a profound effect on us as well. Some of those sources are little different than gossip and hearsay. I try to be careful what I allow into my mental vault. I stay away from angry diatribes and overly negative sources, and balance what I hear against my own personal perspectives. The Bible is rich with viewpoints that challenge my perceptions. I cannot navigate my life solely based on my experiences and feelings. They are simply too narrow and too subjective.

The good news is that when we are guided by the Holy Spirit in particular, we will have a sense of when we are receiving valuable insight, or when we are just hearing what we want to hear. But regardless we can use that measuring stick as a reference. When I was in the dental business it seemed that every manufacturer of a product would bring us data that “proved” that theirs was the best. Were they lying? Well, maybe. But I suspect they used any data that supported the outcome they were looking for and rejected any data that didn’t. That kind of  selectivity can be dishonest and we can fall into the same trap, too, if we don’t have a humble heart.

Use good judgment! Be discerning! Be careful who influences you!

In Search of a New Identity

 

 

 

Identity

I often get my best “think time” in the shower or during my morning date with my coffee cup. That morning jolt of caffeine combined with the pure ecstasy of a hot shower just seems to do wonders for my mind. I’m addicted to both – no apologies.

I was thinking how for some, maybe quite a few of us, shame shapes our identity. It may come in the form of labels placed on us by others, often family members. It may also come from ourselves as a result of conclusions we have gathered about our worth. Regardless of the source, shame is a harsh judge. Instead of convicting us of our current or past negative behaviors, it tells us who or what we are. Stated simply, it establishes our identity.

When I was an emerging teen, I picked up the label of “lazy.” (Aren’t most teens lazy and tired who are investing their energy in growing?) Anyway, I took the label somewhat seriously and for a while I tried to fulfill the role I was given. But as it turns out it wasn’t really accurate. It was a shame statement put on me by a frustrated parent. But it stuck somewhere down deep inside of me and it robbed me of some of my motivation.

When we experience feelings of shame we will do just about anything to rid ourselves of the effects of exposure. We will hide or lie or deny or fight or expend incredible amounts of energy to reverse or prove the accusation is not accurate.

Doesn’t it break your heart to hear of the pain suffered by people who lived with undiscovered learning disabilities? Whether ADHD or dyslexia or Asperger’s Syndrome or something else, these children often get labeled and shamed by both adults and their peers. When the source of the struggle is revealed there is almost always a sigh of relief and some expression like “You mean I’m not stupid?” What follows can be the typical grief process of dealing with the losses associated with the damaged self image.

No matter what kind of shame we have experienced there can be a healthy rebuilding of our identity as we face our reality. That is why recovery classes at our church and other organizations like AA are so effective and popular. We no longer have to carry the label of addict or something else. We are a beloved son or daughter of God who struggles with (name your challenge). The first step is always the hardest, but the most effective. Whether that first step is breaking denial or just taking action of some sort, you will be emotionally rewarded. You will feel a sense of relief or a rising up of courage. Don’t be discouraged. Expect that it will take some effort. Press through anyway.

Even if you haven’t fully embraced the concept of a loving God who is for you and not against you, being with a community of unconditionally accepting others can radically change your identity. You may have grown up hearing mostly negative corrective criticisms and so positive statements about you may feel unreal. But I can guarantee that it will be fresh cold water to a thirsty soul. Your new identity is waiting to be claimed.