Friday, 3 May 2013

Criticism is Not a Spiritual Gift

Being critical of your spouse can actually lead you onto a short path to divorce. The Gottman Relationship Institute has done years of research on ways to make relationships healthier and they report that criticism is one of the biggest problems in relationships. It appears that husbands who feel criticized by their wives are especially impacted by criticism and it can greatly decrease their marital satisfaction.

There are lots of reasons people try to use to justify their criticism. However, there’s really no excuse. Your spouse doesn’t make you respond with criticism. Instead, you’re in charge of your own behaviors. If you’re guilty of being critical of your spouse, it’s important to learn some new habits before you damage your relationship beyond repair.

Difference Between Honesty and Criticism

Sometimes people mask their criticism by claiming they are just being “honest.” When people say things such as, “I speak my mind. If he’s lazy, I’m going to tell him he’s lazy.” Certainly there’s a difference between honestly expressing your feelings and being overly critical and even cruel.

There’s certainly an art to learning how to express yourself in a tactful way. Often, you can give the same message but by just changing a few words, it won’t come across as nearly as harsh.

Instead of saying, “You’re lazy,” replace it with something like, “I’ve been feeling really tired lately trying to get things done. What can we do to get the rest of these things done?” Use “I” statements and invite your spouse to work with you rather than placing blame.

Practice the Compliments

The Gottman Relationship Institute recommends that couples give one another at least five times as many compliments as criticisms. So, each day make sure you are giving plenty of compliments and positive affirmations. Use criticisms sparingly, if at all.  Even if the criticism is due, it is not usually helpful nor does it often bring about the desired change.

If you aren’t in the habit of giving a lot of positive affirmations, it can take some extra effort at first to hand them out. However, take time to notice the small things and the things your spouse does on a daily basis. Thank your spouse for working so hard each day. Point out when your spouse looks nice. Thank your spouse for a great meal. Once you get used to offering these sorts of praises, they begin to flow much more naturally.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Let’s Get Real

Shel Silverstein
Shel Silverstein once wrote the “Prayer of the Selfish Child”:

“Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep,

And if I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my toys to break,

 So none of the other kids can use ’em. Amen.”

Some of us are like compliant children when it comes to our prayer life, i.e. we pray for only what we think we “ought” to pray for.  We pray for a cure for terminal diseases, the end of poverty and an ample supply of food and water for all of humanity.  We pray for our sick relatives and occasionally that God would deal with the difficult people in our lives – who shall remain nameless.  All those things which we think would be pleasing to the Lord.

John Ortberg, author of The Me I Want to Be, suggests that it would be better if we prayed what is in us and not what we wish were in us.  Now that could get ugly, I’d never want God to know what I really wish for and what I am thinking.

How dumb is that?  This is the same God of whom it is said that He knows the number of hairs on the heads of each of His people, that a sparrow would not fall to the earth without His foreknowledge and that He knows the name of every star.

Not only does God want us to be honest and real in our prayer life but I think He wants us to be transparent, open and honest with our lives in general. One would hope that the body of Christ would be a place where we would be most comfortable being ourselves but to the contrary.   The reality is that we don’t want people in our church to know that one of our kids is failing in school.  We would never want our friends to know that as a couple we are at each other’s throats.  We wouldn’t think of admitting that money is our master and that we have accumulated significant debt.  After all we church people are perfect!

Wouldn’t it be great if we could restore an Acts 2 environment where brothers and sisters in Christ cared deeply for one another?

Monday, 29 April 2013

Let’s Be Honest

Every once in a while I meet with a couple who has been married for many years.  But instead of the animosity that often accompanies couples these couples acknowledge that their marriage has gotten to be a bit stale and very routine.  They still love one another in their own way but neither would categorize their marriage as good, however you want to define good.  Each partner has been “born again”, meaning they had accepted Christ as the Lord and Savior of their lives.  They attend church regularly and even serve in various capacities. Often the husband works long hours and their youngest child is heading to college.  Often the wife is involved in a mid-week Bible study but that was not going to be sufficient to keep her occupied as an “empty nester”.  Typically she has not worked outside the home for years and with the job market being what it is she is not too optimistic about finding a job outside the home.  In these cases the couples are not angry with one another, there is no apparent infidelity, and they are still fairly civil to one another.  Often the wife treats her husband as a self-improvement project with the goal of making him better.  The husband feeling disrespected often admits to withdrawing or allowing his anger to get the better of him. 
Typically both the husband and wife come from somewhat dysfunctional families.

I offer a plan on which the couple can begin to rebuild their marriage.   As I describe the plan I often ask if there are any questions.  The answer is usually “no”.  I always ask did you find that helpful and the answer is usually “yes”.  Now remember these couples have willingly come to me for help.  The disheartening part is that most often the couple never comes back or they come back one more time, having not done the homework that I asked them to do.  .”

You see this is the question that most individuals ask themselves either audibly or silently as they leave my office.  “Am I willing to change?”  The question they don’t want to ask themselves is “Do I want to live a life that would be pleasing to God or live a life that is pleasing to me?”  As a professed Christian that is really the only question that matters.  I’m not suggesting that the individuals can change in their own strength or that there is a level of spirituality they should attain.  Quite the contrary, for it is only by yielding to God’s indwelling Spirit that any change is possible.

Counseling is only effective if you want to change, neither you nor the counselor can change your spouse.  When both come in accepting the need to change God will work wonders.