Friday, 11 June 2010

Conflict - Bring it On!

If running from conflict were an Olympic event I would have set some world records. There are some who think conflict avoidance or unresolved conflict is the number one cause of divorce. To balance the scales there are those who believe that conflict is the number one cause for divorce. You know the nagging, nit picking, critical, I’m right and you’re wrong, in your face, I told you so kind of conflict. It is the kind of conflict that conjures up references to ones IQ or lineage.

I think both positions are incorrect. I think the real cause of divorce is love of self – it is all about me. It is about my needs, my desires and my expectations. James, the brother of Jesus, would tell you that you are in a conflict because your desires have been thwarted (James 4:1-2.)

According to Ken Sande, in his book The Peacemaker, “The more we want something, the more we think we need and deserve it. And the more we think we are entitled to something, the more convinced we are that we cannot be happy and secure without it. When we see something as essential to our fulfillment and well-being, it moves from being a desire to a demand…Even if the initial desire was not inherently wrong it has grown so strong that it begins to control our thoughts and behavior. In biblical terms, it has become an idol.”

Wait a minute you don’t know my husband/wife, you don’t know how they have failed to love me, to show me respect, to fulfill me, etc., etc. None of the aforementioned desires would be “inherently wrong” but when they are elevated to being necessary you have crossed over into idol worship.

Only God can make you feel fulfilled and complete and God is more concerned about your holiness than your happiness. When you become dissatisfied with your horizontal relationship (the relationship with your husband/wife) you must look to your vertical relationship (your relationship with God) for the answer.

Let’s look at conflict from God’s perspective. Conflict always provides an opportunity to glorify God, i.e. to bring him praise and honor by showing who he is, what he is like and what He is doing. Conflict provides us with an opportunity to serve others (Luke 6:27-28). God can use every circumstance in which you find yourself to bring glory to him and enable you to draw closer to Him. In the midst of our conflict God may expose a sinful attitude or habit that we have been clinging to. He may stretch us and challenge us as he uses conflict as a means to help us change and become more like His Son.

What do you think?

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

From Good to Great

There was a very good business book out a few years ago by Jim Collins entitled Good to Great, The premise was that while there were many good companies there were certain characteristics of great companies. Great was measured by predetermined criteria and the results were sustained over time. One might suggest that marriages could be examined in a similar fashion.

Lisa Kift, a Marriage and Family Therapist, wrote an article entitled “The Characteristics of Successful Relationships.” Most likely if the following ten are found in abundance in your relationship you have a good marriage. The ten are: (1) friendship,(2) humor, (3) good communication, (4) chore sharing, (5) satisfying sexual intimacy, (6) affection, (7) the absence of John Gottman’s Horsemen of the Apocalypse (see post of 8/5/10), (8) mutual and separate friends, (9)reliability and (10)relationship vision.

So what could possibly be missing from the list? You did ask that didn’t you? In my opinion for a marriage to go from good to great it must glorify God. A marriage must be built on a covenant commitment, i.e. we are in this for the long haul. A marriage must be built on total trust and honesty. For a marriage to significantly move the needle on the “Marriage Richter Scale” the partners must treat love as a verb; they must be willing to put the other first.

A couple that has God at the center of their marriage handles conflict in a much different way. They view disagreements as a way of learning more about one another, as a way of arriving at a decision that honors both parties and brings glory to God in the process.

When God is at the center of a marriage the difficulties that are certain to come will not have the devastating affect that such difficulties often have on marriages where God is not at the center. Unemployment, for example, can have a huge impact on a marriage. Not only does it squeeze a couple’s financial resources but self-confidence and security can be shaken. Shame, blame, guilt and anger surface along with underlying worry. If God is at the center of the couple’s marriage they recognize that in the cosmic scheme of things God is still in control. They have the peace that comes from trusting Him. Most likely they are not totally worry free, but they support one another and encourage one another and pray for one another.
A good marriage features all the interpersonal skills you can bring to bear and the application of much of the wisdom that can be found in hundreds of books on the subject. A great marriage is one that adheres to the principles laid out in Scripture, which brings sustainable joy to the couple and brings glory to God.

Diapers and the Devil

If I had a quarter for every Christian marriage that has been adversely affected by the arrival of one of God’s great blessings – that would be a baby – it would keep me in Starbuck’s Grande peppermint mocha lattes for the rest of my life. How can such a bundle of joy wreak such havoc on the relationship of a couple who nine months earlier was deliriously in love?

It’s easy, while you were working hard to become one you became three. What you brought into the world is someone who may be more self-centered than you are. From the baby’s perspective “it’s all about me.” “Hold me, feed me, change me, make more of those silly faces, and by all means keep making those idiotic sounds - is goo-goo hyphenated?” The husband, if only subconsciously, starts to think of the cost of college, and realizes he needs to work longer and harder. If the wife is a stay at home mom, she spends her time catering to every need of the fruit of her womb. Her work load has now doubled. Between feedings, changings and doing laundry she is busy reading the New York Times best sellers on raising children, and talking to friends who give her conflicting advice.

Within months the husband has either entered grad school, taken a second job, or started spending two additional hours a day on the job to impress his boss. The wife is exhausted by the end of the day. She gives serious thought to making pureed pear omelets topped with puree of spinach for dinner but Lean Cuisines win out. If the wife also holds down a job it would be wise to keep the anti-anxiety meds under lock and key.

Exhaustion, moodiness, frustration and guilt collide. The result is not a moonlit stroll, followed by a candlelit dinner with soft music, scintillating conversation and an evening of intimacy. As a couple you are on the verge of living parallel lives. It will only get worse if you let it. By the time you have signed your child up for every program that might tap their hidden potential, you will log more hours per week in the car than the Greyhound bus that goes from Pittsburgh to LA. What could give the Devil greater pleasure than to bring down a Christian marriage?

Take your marriage back. Be intentional. Put more energy into your marriage than into raising your children or excelling at your job. Build time together into your weekly calendar. Have regular date nights, have a pillow fight, put love notes in unexpected places, and learn your spouse’s love language and put it into practice. Pray together and for one another. Marriage was created by God to glorify Him and bring you joy.

Monday, 7 June 2010

The Seven Year Itch - To Scratch or Not to Scratch

A few years ago a Bavarian politician, Gabrielle Pauli, proposed that civil service marriages should become null and void at the end of seven years, thus enabling us to “save the financial and emotional cost of many divorces”. However she conceded that “vows sworn on the altar” would not be amended. 

Perhaps Ms. Pauli was on to something. Think about the possibilities – a perfectly legal way out of any difficult situation that we happen to find ourselves in. Maybe for children there should be a three year window – each three years we should have the option of keeping them or putting them up for adoption – until they reach 12 at which time you are stuck with them. Perhaps all employees should have to resign at the end of two  years of service. The employer can re-hire them if they wish. Essentially, in most states employers can just terminate their employees at will but there are those nasty EEOC rules and those nagging questions about employee performance reviews that most of us don’t want to address. How about aging parents? Couldn’t we have an opt-out clause at say age 75, just when they begin to get particularly cantankerous and their health is beginning to fail. And why shouldn’t we be able to return any product after a year’s use when it has become painfully clear that design features don’t meet our expectations.

You might be thinking how ridiculous – unless you have a terrible two year old or a cantankerous parent. It is interesting that Ms. Pauli, whose second marriage ended after seven years, exempted those who swore their vows on the altar from her proposed law. Altar- “schmaltar” what’s the big deal? The big deal comes if you truly believe in the God of Scripture who treats such a vow as an unbreakable covenant. Dave Harvey expresses it this way, “What we believe about God determines the quality of our marriage.” The big deal comes in that section of the vow that says “for better or for worse, in sickness and in health”. When I first got married I was so young I didn’t know whether I should go on a honeymoon or go to camp. I didn’t understand that I was making a covenant, let alone the implications of what “in sickness and in health” or “for better or for worse” could possibly have meant. I understand those concepts now. My first wife was bi-polar for much of our 38 ½ years of marriage. The Lord used that period of my life to help me grow emotionally, spiritually and practically but I’d be the first to tell you there were many days when a seven year plan would have been very appealing. My first wife died of cancer and she is now with the Lord in a far, far better place.

What do you think is Gabrielle on to something?