Posts tagged: Self-Improvement

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!

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.

 

FEELING COMFORTABLE ALONE

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.

DATING DEAL-BREAKER RED FLAGS:

  • 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—

FIGHT LIKE THE WORLD’S HAPPIEST COUPLES:

  • 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.

 

Calm at Home and Work

For overwhelmed readers, I’ll make this easy to skim – mostly lists. Read down and mark which ideas strike home for you. Work on the one that seems most important. (How to break habits is a bonus for those who read all the way through.)

We can calm our home and work life through organization and limit-setting:

 

HOME/KIDS :

Organization

  • Keep a family calendar that all can see and check it nightly.
  • Every member can work together to share the responsibilities of family life. Delegate, especially to kids so they learn responsibility and grow in self-confidence.
  • Declutter. A cluttered environment makes it hard to relax. Put away. Give away. Throw away. Simplify. Start with one room that you then maintain each time you leave it. You’ll be amazed how much more time you’ll want to spend in the tidy room. (Admission– I only manage to keep one room always tidy, but I love stepping into or walking past that room. I have hope the enjoyment will help me expand the pleasure.)
  • Clear your desk and the dining and kitchen tables daily.
  • Handle repetitive tasks right away rather than postpone them. Fold the clothes when they come out of the dryer. Put the dirty dish right into the dishwasher. Make the bed as you get out of it.

Boundaries

  • No screens allowed at meals. Phones down at other agreed upon occasions, like during family time.
  • Homework must be done before television or other entertainment screen time.
  • Don’t automatically turn on the TV or radio. Choose consciously what you will watch and hear.
  • Limit children’s activities (and your chauffeuring.) No one wants to be overextended, especially children.
  • Limit your own commitments so you have a reasonable balance of work, play, and rest.
  • Don’t allow shouting. And don’t shout. Let your home be a place of calm sounds.
  • Enforce healthy bedtimes, study times, and family time. Structure is calming.
  • Limit caffeine and stimulants, such as chocolate, coffee, tea, ice cream, some pain relievers, some cold medicines, and intense TV programs and video games.

 

WORK :

Organization

  • Plan tomorrow’s tasks today. Prioritize by A, B, and C.
    • A – tasks are urgent. Do them first, but re-evaluate if you spend all day on urgency. Ignoring tasks can make them become urgent when they should have been dealt with earlier.
    • B – tasks are important. Do them next.
    • C – tasks are appealing. Use them as rewards after A and B are done.
  • Delegate. Share your knowledge and train others to do what you do.
  • See if you can find ways to work smarter, rather than harder.
  • If you aren’t an organized person, take a class or ask for advice. Learn how to become organized.
  • Get up earlier so that you don’t start your day rushing. (Which means go to bed earlier, too.)
  • Self-discipline is critical. Do things ahead of time. Finish what you start. Don’t ignore the unpleasant tasks. If you are procrastinating, do the unpleasant first, then you don’t dread it all day.
  • Clear your workspace before you leave. Even if it is to an “in process” drawer. You can start fresh tomorrow.

Boundaries

  • Set goals. Don’t automatically put other’s goals ahead of your own. Be a team player, but be assertive about your own needs, too.
  • If work is a source of stress that is unbearable, look for other options: talk to superiors or peers about managing and reducing stress, consider changing employers, or even the type of work you do, if necessary. Tackle the problem, don’t just accept it.
  • If you cannot change your situation, you can change your attitude. Work hard all day but leave the worry behind when you leave work. Learn to not take others’ unkindness personally. Consciously start each day fresh, without brooding on yesterday or borrowing trouble from tomorrow.

 

POLITICAL CALM:

  • Trust in God who is in charge. Pray for our city, state, country, and world.
  • Listen to the other side. Strive to understand what got them to this point. What are their fears and struggles? Is there a way you can help them?
  • Don’t respond from fear but from strength and with respect.
  • Take action when you feel called to it, but use positive measures, not rebellion or belittling.

 

What if these changes don’t come naturally?

Aids to break/change/add a habit:

  • Become more aware of what you want to change. When does it happen? What are the triggers? When is temptation the worst?
  • Work at one change, intently, for at least 30 days and until you are successful before you redirect your attention.
  • Remind yourself several times a day of the change you want. Use post-it notes, repeat your goal before each meal, or hang visuals of the change you’d like to see.
  • Replace an old habit with something that can’t coexist with the old, like chewing gum rather than biting nails, or taking the dog for a walk rather than flopping into the recliner.
  • Don’t try to change too much at once. Focus. Take baby steps.
  • Remove temptation and triggers.
  • Recall frequently the benefits of the change.
  • Set a goal that is measurable and a time that is reasonable. I will (what), (when), (how often.)
  • Break large changes down into small, doable steps.
  • Join forces with someone. Be accountable to each other.
  • Socialize with people who have the good habit you want.
  • When you slip, get right back on track. Don’t condemn yourself and don’t give up.

 

Philippians 4: 6-8

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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