Friday, 25 June 2010

It's All About Me

In a recent sermon our pastor talked about how self-centered we are as babies. We come into the world thinking that we are the center of the universe. “Feed me, change me, hold me, make me laugh, tell me how cute I am…” And most of us had parents who obliged us. In fact many of us spent much of our childhood manipulating our parents into some version of “take care of me, I’m special”, or at the very least wanted to be treated as though we were that important.

Then we meet that “perfect” person who in some way promises, in actuality or in fantasy, to meet our needs or expectations. Notice it is still all about me. What we forget is that the other person started life the same way we did. “Hey look at me; I’m the center of the universe.”

What do you get when you combine two people who think they are the center of the universe? Answer – a recipe for disaster, a very unhappy marriage. We are trying to occupy a position that rightfully belongs to God. He is the center of the universe and ideally is at the center of our marriage.

When God is at the center of our marriage we try to apply His principles. The husband does everything in his power to love his wife in a way that (a) she wants to be loved and/or (b) the way that God would have him love her. The wife would respect her husband in the way that (a) he would feel most affirmed and/or (b) God would have her affirm him. Furthermore the husband would provide for, protect and lead his wife. The husband and wife would submit to one another as called for in Ephesians 5:21 - so much for being the center of the universe.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

How Full Is Your Marriage Piggy Bank

There have been a number of studies that indicate that we tend to keep a mental set of accounts when it comes to our marriage. It is as though we keep an emotional check book, making withdrawals and deposits, depending on the behavior and attitude of our husband/wife. One of the leading marriage researchers, John Gottman, contends that to have a satisfying marriage we need to maintain a five to one ratio, i.e. five deposits(positive interactions) for every withdrawal (negative interaction). Other research indicates that it is the little things that tend to destroy a marriage over time, i.e. the little habits that are a recurrent source of irritation. A more precise account for what is happening is found in James 4:1.

Deposits are those attitudes or behaviors that are positive, affirming, encouraging and bring a sense of security and joy. These are behaviors that make us feel love or respected. (Ephesians 5:33) Withdrawals on the other hand are behaviors and attitudes that erode trust, discourage us, frustrate us and rob us of joy. These are behaviors that make us feel unloved and/or disrespected. When withdrawals exceed deposits you have a negative emotional flow, just like you have a negative cash flow when expenses exceed income. There really is no overdraft protection and the interest you have to pay back once you get behind is exceedingly high.

We can declare emotional bankruptcy, i.e. call it quits and get a divorce. This has a huge cost, one that is often grossly underestimated. We can cut expenses, hunker down, and make the best of our situation. This translates into settling for less, living parallel lives, becoming roommates and co-existing. Or we can decide to work our way out of debt, get a part time job, and cut up the credit cards. This means figuring out what has brought about this emotional deficit and consciously choosing to make changes.

Dave Ramsey, world renowned Christian financial guru, suggests that you pay off your smallest credit card balance first, not the one with the highest interest rate, which may seem counter-intuitive. To apply this principle to marriage might mean that you tackle the easiest things to change, resolve the smallest areas of dispute first. Don’t start with the most contentious of subjects or the behaviors that are so ingrained that it would be easier for Congress to pass a health care bill approved by all Americans than to effect such a behavioral change.

If we increase our deposit attitudes and behaviors and decrease our withdrawal attitudes and behaviors we will have a positive balance. Creating a positive balance contributes to a happy marriage.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Fight Fair

To tell someone to fight fair almost sounds like an oxymoron. I can only assume that this expression originated with pugilists in the days when they did not wear boxing gloves. Other such expressions such as “that was a low blow” or “that was a sucker punch” probably had the same derivation.

When we apply this concept to marriage most of us know what is being inferred but the rules are probably no more adhered to than they are between the ropes. The boxer wants to win and the husband or wife wants to win. Instead of a low physical blow the couples revert to a low verbal blow. Both can be very painful.

Noted Today Show contributor, Dr. Laura Berman offers the following advice to couples, “You must fight to love, not to win.

Here’s the difference: When you fight to win, you get wrapped up in who’s right and who’s wrong. You keep tally of past wrongs, missteps and hurts. You go for the jugular with unkind words. You start to care more about your pride or your power, instead of your relationship. Fighting to win, rather than resolving what you are fighting about, is the biggest mistake couples can make. It’s also the most common — especially when in the midst of a passionate argument.

Let’s take Dr. Laura’s advice and kick it up a Christian notch. Fighting implies something combative. What if you expressed your differences of opinion in a way that glorified God? What if we viewed areas of conflict as areas opportunities for growth both personally and as a couple? God can and will use our differences as a vehicle for shaping us into the image of His Son.

The next time you have a disagreement with your husband/wife you can either choose to draw a line between you OR you can draw a line with both of you on one side and the issue on the other. Now it is two against one – speaking of fighting fair. The issue is no longer between you but in front of you. Together you work to come up with a creative solution that allows you both to feel as though you have been heard, you have been understood and the resolution takes your thoughts and feelings into account.
Dr. Laura Berman
Often this involves digging down one or two layers beneath the surface. It involves understanding why you feel as strongly as you do about your position as well as why your husband/wife feels as strongly about theirs. The feelings may go back to childhood. Your position may stem back to positive or negative memories or opinions which you have adopted along the way. In any case, unlike boxers, do not go to your neutral corners but come to the center of the ring together and face off against the problem.