Posts tagged: Family

Polarize or Grow?

Did you manage some carefree timelessness with your spouse this week? Go ahead and count what you did with your Valentine. And keep trying!

Today we will turn our attention to some of the writings of David Schnarch, from his book, Passionate Marriage: Keeping Love and Intimacy in Committed Relationships.

Do opposites attract?

When we first fell in love, didn’t our beloved seem exactly like us? We shared the same values, ideals, and hopes for the future. We found ourselves in agreement on nearly everything. We felt perfect for each other!

Have our honeymoon, rose-colored glasses dimmed a bit since then?

Schnarch would say we are perfect for each other, not because we’re the same, but precisely because our differences are so complementary. We tend to find life partners whose strengths complement our weaknesses and vice versa. For instance, where one of us feels comfortable with relating emotionally, the other focuses on the intellectual. One may be an extravert while the other is an introvert, or value logic while the first loves creativity.

Like a crucible that holds molten metal as it is refined, our marriages support us while we are forged into better people. Ideally, the Marriage Crucible of everyday struggles helps us learn from each other and grow in our weak areas. We’ll become well-rounded and more whole by adding the other’s perspective to our own.

Sadly, in most cases, we miss that opportunity. The husband sees his spouse excel at the nitty-gritty of finances, so he lets her take over those responsibilities. Or the wife sees him as a spiritual leader, so she focuses on the role of worldly thinker. One’s nurturing instincts are strong, so the other expects her or him to become the primary caretaker of the children.

We tend to polarize into more extreme versions of ourselves, and we lose admiration for our spouses’ differences. We begin to feel our strengths are more important than theirs. The logical thinker relinquishes desire to be creative and is irritated by the spouse’s “flightiness” or “immaturity.” Meanwhile, the creative spouse begins to see the logical spouse as boring or restrictive. I’m remembering Harold Higgins in My Fair Lady singing Lerner’s lyrics, “Why can’t a woman be more like a man?”

Held in the confines of a committed relationship, resistance to growth can worsen until it feels intolerable. The irritation of daily interactions will force us to make a choice. We can give up and move on, looking for a relationship with someone new who is “just like us,” or we can tough it out and choose to round out our abilities, to stretch ourselves beyond our comfort zones, while we are supported by our spouse and by our commitment to our marriage.

I know a couple with a newly retired husband, but the wife is still working. He, bless him, has taken over all that she used to do: cleaning, shopping, laundry, and cooking. When she comes home tired from work, dinner is ready. That wise couple is growing strong and flexible within the Marriage Crucible, and no doubt, he has gained great respect for all she previously accomplished. I hear she will retire later this year. I bet she will return the favor and take on many of his tasks.

In another book, The Exceptional Seven Percent: Nine Secrets of the World’s Happiest Couples, Gregory K. Popcak describes traits of the happiest couples, those in what he calls a Spiritual Peer Marriage. Both husband and wife are competent at all aspects of family life, and they know they are equal, they don’t have to prove it. In a “dance of competence,” they desire to never take the other for granted so they accomplish what needs to be done without worrying about whose responsibility a task is.

I believe if we aren’t growing, we are stagnating. If we aren’t becoming closer, we’re moving apart. But a marriage where both partners stretch to learn and develop remains fresh and exciting. Will we settle for less?

What does your spouse take care of that you could benefit from doing? How can you grow by learning from your beloved’s strengths?

Gentlemen, if your wife handles communication with your children, reach out to them yourself. If they are grown, call them up just to chat. You’ll be amazed at what it means to you and them.

Ladies, do we expect our husbands take care of things we’d rather not do? At my house it might be home and car maintenance and taxes. I really don’t want to change the car’s oil, but I could learn from him how to let little hurts roll off my back. And I really should tackle some of those phone calls that require assertiveness.

Choose one of your partner’s strengths that you’d like to develop and decide how to begin.

In the meantime, as a gift, do one task today that is usually your spouse’s responsibility.

Two Bible verses to ponder:

  • These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. (1 Peter 1:7 NLT)
  • Don’t you wives realize that your husbands might be saved because of you? And don’t you husbands realize that your wives might be saved because of you? (1 Corinthians 7:16 NLT)

Thank you for investing four more minutes in your relationship!

Carefree Timelessness

Welcome to “4 Minutes 4 Marriage!”

For 12 years I’ve written Lenten posts that highlight the recommendations of counselors, therapists, and advisors.  This year’s focus is Marriage, and I plan to reintroduce some of the best marriage advice I’ve found.

4-minute posts may seem long and daunting, but rather than considering them too wordy to read right now, try to think of them as a very short, time-efficient Marriage course. You don’t even need to drive to class!hat said, let’s jump right in and use our 4 minutes well. Your relationship is worth it!

What do you want your marriage to be like? Close your eyes and imagine your spouse gazing at you with that, “I can’t believe how blessed I am” expression that melts your heart. Would you like to grow even closer to your special someone?

Matthew Kelly writes that the key to thriving relationships is carefree timelessness. By this he means spending time with people without an agenda, simply to enjoy their company. No matter what the relationship, whether spouse to spouse, parent to child, friend to friend, or person to God, increase carefree timelessness and it will deepen.

Watching TV together doesn’t count. Neither does reading your text messages side by side. Carefree timelessness is unscheduled, unhurried moments when you can focus on each other and let the time and the conversation meander and develop on its own.

Remember when you first met the love of your life? How easily the hours could pass spent in one another’s company. Conversations were easy and fun; you never ran out of topics to cover, not because you needed to exchange information, simply because you enjoyed knowing more about each other. Or remember how close you felt to the people who shared your last vacation? Strolls along the beach, hikes on forest trails, or easy games of Frisbee don’t accomplish concrete goals, but rather social and relational ones. We relax on vacation. We realize how much we value the people close to us.

Sadly, our busy-ness today is an enemy of growing intimacy and deepening relationships. We are too harried to slow down and enjoy each other. What a lost opportunity to share with our families the down time that seems so simple and yet draws us so close. Maybe due to tight finances, we give up our date night or take “stay-cations” and don’t leave home. Yet, if we don’t get away from our day-to-day responsibilities, we risk focusing on work, yard, or home projects, rather than refreshing our spirits.

And, oh dear, our Sabbaths suffer from overfilled schedules. Given to us as a gift from our Creator to help us renew ourselves and our relationships, Sundays instead become a day to cram in what we think we must accomplish before the next workweek begins: laundry, homework, unfinished office work, or shopping. Sabbaths are meant for renewal of ourselves and our relationships.

Our lives find their meaning in our relationships. Ask the people lying in the hospital, soon to leave this earth, what made their lives important. It’s the people who keep vigil at their bedside, the people they’ve loved or served, who are the monuments to their existence. The lives they’ve touched and improved give testimony to their accomplishments more than their promotions or patents do.

Yes, we need to work, and our employment is an opportunity to minister to the world by how we behave and what we produce. However, it is our love that will survive us and influence others profoundly.


There’s a country song, “She Thinks We’re Just Fishin’,” which portrays a dad realizing the times he spends fishing with his little girl are moments they both will remember and treasure. Go “fishing” with someone important to you!

We make time for our children:

  • One dad jogs with each of his young adult children when they get together. I can imagine the interesting conversations caught between breaths.
  • Another father sets aside Sunday afternoons to call each of his grown daughters, simply to catch up and stay connected.
  • One friend never listens to the radio while driving her children, preferring the spontaneous conversations that seem easier while sitting beside each other, rather than face to face.
  • My mother used to suggest window-shopping walks downtown at night after our small-town stores had closed. I don’t recall any life-changing conversations, but those walks told me she valued our time together, when time was a scarce commodity for a single mother.

If we can do it for our children, we can do it for our spouses.

So, this week’s homework: Spend a little carefree time with your spouse. No agenda, no goals to meet. Simply appreciate the moments together. Mute your cellphones. Turn off the TV. (You can pre-record the Olympics, so you don’t miss anything.) Take a walk. Or just hold hands and talk. Focus on him or her and the joy of shared time. Don’t problem solve. Reminisce. Dream. And don’t forget to schedule your next carefree time together.

Our marriage will improve if we regularly spend carefree timelessness with our beloved. We will move into higher levels of intimacy, perhaps sharing our hopes and goals, our fears and needs, and our efforts to become the best version of ourselves.

P.S. If you’d really like to test the parameters of this tool to intimacy, spend some carefree timelessness in prayer. Visit God in a chapel or sit in an easy chair near a window and turn your attention to him. Recognize you are in his presence always and everywhere. Chat with him. And listen.


You can learn more about Matthew Kelly at





Calm, Healthy Relationships

Although we certainly like excitement at times, we also crave calm within our relationships. Of course, how to keep gentleness, respect, and positivity in our daily experiences with our loved ones is a huge topic, not easily covered in a short blog post. However, we can revisit some basics.



In Resisting Happiness, Matthew Kelly writes, “The fear of being alone is the father of many relationships that never should have been. When we choose to be with someone because we are afraid of being alone, we dishonor ourselves and the other person.” He goes on to say that the cure for loneliness is solitude. “Solitude teaches profound lessons, especially about ourselves. Feeling lonely has value. Sometimes we need to turn inward to discover what we need to hold on to and what we need to let go of. […] Until we learn to be comfortable alone—and more than that, to enjoy our own company— […] we are unconditionally unprepared to be in any kind of significant relationship with another person.”

So, once we learn to be comfortably alone and are ready for a lasting, healthy relationship, how do we choose a healthy beloved? We must search for partners who value our happiness as much as their own and are willing to sacrifice for us, as we would for them. There is no love without sacrifice.


  • ADDICTIONS – These include substance abuse, such as alcohol or drugs, as well as gambling. You may love the person deeply, but until (s)he’s in recovery and has been for a long time, (s)he cannot love you enough to give you a happy, healthy relationship. (S)he hasn’t the free will required to commit fully to you.
  • DISHONESTY – A person who does not respect the truth will lie to you as easily as you observe him or her lie to someone else. A healthy relationship relies on trust and this person cannot be trusted.
  • UNFAITHFULNESS – As much as he or she declares love for you, if there is a history of cheating, you are naive to think you won’t be hurt the same way. Be grateful you learned about this character flaw before you married.
  • UNCONTROLLED ANGER – If this person cannot control anger and strikes out in a way that hurts himself or someone else, run, don’t walk, away. Even though you have never seen the anger focused on you, you will. If people hurt others intentionally, even with words alone, they are not going to be part of a healthy relationship.
  • DISRESPECT FOR YOUR FAITH – Our spirituality is an integral part of us. If it’s ridiculed, an important side of you is not respected. To be healthy, all relationships require mutual respect. Think ahead to how his or her opinion would influence your children and their faith life.
  • CONTROLLING BEHAVIOR – A person who wants to make all decisions and who doesn’t respect your independence and opinion is not a partner. The need to be in charge will intensify with time, possibly to the point of becoming abusive.

(If you’re afraid for your immediate safety, call 911. For help and advice on escaping an abusive relationship, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or 1-800-787-3224.)

In any relationship, some conflict is inevitable. According to The Exceptional 7 Percent by Gregory K. Popcak, we can strive to—


  • The argument must move things along to a mutually satisfying solution.
  • There are certain lines the couple simply doesn’t cross no matter how heated their discussion gets. Disallow anything that causes defensiveness or quickly escalates the argument.
  • Maintain your own dignity. No matter how crazy you think your spouse is acting, you must be able to be proud of your own conduct at the end of the day.
  • Is this an argument worth having? Is the fight about something that will stop you fulfilling your values, ideals, or goals?
  • Begin with the end in mind. What changes will I have to make to solve this problem? What do I need to know from my spouse to feel better about this problem? What do I think needs to happen so we can avoid this in the future?
  • Take time-outs to cool down if necessary. If you start to think your spouse is the problem, take a break to think more lovingly.
  • Look for the positive intention behind your spouse’s negative behavior and work with your spouse to find more respectful alternatives to meet needs.
  • Never show contempt whether through gestures or words. This always escalates the disagreement. One of the worst acts of contempt is threatening divorce. It undermines your spouse’s ability to trust you, damages the security of your relationship, and offends the dignity of your marriage.
  • Don’t nag. Solve! Set a deadline for something to get done and if it doesn’t, call for help to get it done or do it yourself as an act of love. Your spouse’s help is a gift that should be freely given but, like any gift, you have no right to demand it.
  • Don’t parent each other. Never deny what your spouse wants to do, but freely negotiate the how and when.
  • L.O.V.E. Look for the positive intention. Omit contempt. Verify what was meant. Encourage each other throughout the conflict.

Unhealthy fighting can erode a relationship to the point of bitterness. Never let the “4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse” enter your marriage or they will work to end it. John Gottman and Nan Silver’s Why Marriages Succeed or Fail: and How You Can Make Yours Last, identifies these 4 destructive habits:

  1. Criticism attacks the person. Complaints, on the other hand, are specific and about one behavior. They can enhance a relationship if spouses are open to growth.
  2. Contempt attacks the person with an intent to hurt.
  3. Defensiveness, or the poor-me stance, relinquishes our ability to accept the challenge of self-improvement for the sake of the ones we love.
  4. When we want to turn our backs (stonewalling), we must keep turning back toward each other.

De-escalate a disagreement by reaffirming your admiration for your spouse, interjecting healthy humor, touching affectionately, stepping back to make a comment about your current feelings, or trying to look at things from your spouse’s point of view.

Wouldn’t we all enjoy calm relationships with our loved ones? The type that comes with easy interactions, interesting conversations, and mutual respect? Of course, disagreements are part of life, and no couple always relates with perfect love, but we can make improvements. Resolving to always behave with respect, no matter our feelings, can bring peace to a conflict.


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