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Two couples sit in a living room.

One couple sit together, touching and exchange glances often. They talk over each other a fair bit too, apologizing for finishing each other’s stories. They seem more aware of each other than their company. They are (no surprise here) dating. You know, the stage where “ignorance is bliss”.

Across the room the other couple also sit together but slightly apart. Affection isn’t easy to detect and there’s a level of disinterest in each other’s sentences. Their conversation is perhaps more polished but you’re not sure if they’ve looked at each other since they sat down. This couple, you guessed it, have matured. They sport 10 years of married “bliss” together.

Now, conventional wisdom would have us listen to the “voice of experience.” It would have us turn to the 10-year couple and ask, “How have you done it? How have you stayed together and learned to live in this relationship?”

In response we might hear about the importance of tolerating each other no matter the hardship, and how they’ve learned to handle both joys and disappointments. We’d learn how idealism fades into reality and how the couple across the room will see how it really is in due time. We’d grimace at the list of things they’ve given up trying to change about each other in order to keep the peace.

However, unconventional wisdom would have us listen to the “voice of those experiencing.” It would have us turn to the dating couple and ask them, “How is it done? How do you see enjoying each other and learning to live in this relationship?”

In response we would most likely hear how they have high expectations of their future together and we would see how they make generous excuses for the faults they see in each other. We’d learn how their idealistic thinking about love actually frames the way they treat each other, and becomes self-perpetuating. We’d smile to see that neither of them can think of anything they wouldn’t change for the sake of the other’s happiness.

From our vantage point we get to see things critically. We get to pick. Do we follow the wisdom of those who have what we want or do we listen to those who have let it slip? Do we accept a fundamental shift in thinking to return to what love can be, or do we justify our lack of it and roll our eyes at what we had?

The most important question for you is, which couple are you becoming more like?

For the “solution driven” individual it can be frustrating to face something you can’t change.

In a long-term relationship, focusing on such areas develops points of contention or disappointment rather quickly. However, that same focus put in the right place can be a vital key to breakthrough and change. The choice, really, is between contention and disappointment or real and significant change. You just have to know where to focus. As it is commonly said, it’s better to go through life with a key than a crowbar.

To get you thinking, here’s a mini-list of things you can’t fix, complete with better targets for your focus:

You can’t fix what’s already happened but you can nurture something beautiful from what you have. Find the good in your spouse in every situation, and find ways to affirm it with your words and acceptance.

You can’t fix a person’s past but you can help them “become” the best version of themselves. You are your spouse’s greatest fan or critic! Encouraging them will inspire much more change than condemnation.

You can’t fix a another’s opinion but you can study your own perspective in the light of their ideas. Be willing to take correction from your spouse, just like you wish they would from you. They understand you better than anyone, so their perspective is valuable to you.

You can’t fix anger in someone else but you can see past it to their wounds. Understand “hurt people hurt people.” In such times look for their hurt instead of reacting to their anger, and you’ll find you can respond to their need instead of distancing yourself with defensiveness.

You can’t fix a spouse’s weakness, but you can lead in improving yourself. It’s your responsibility to love your spouse, and improve yourself, and not the other way around!

You can’t fix what a person gives you, but you can serve them more generously still. You’ll find whatever you give your spouse (eg. encouragement, criticism, time, acts of service, affirmation, silence) your spouse will naturally be inclined to reciprocate. It’s almost guaranteed!

Lovers would do well to put their focus on what they can fix: themselves.

We live in a results-oriented, I-need-it-now world. Of course this is counter-culture to great and lasting love-relationships. In this kind of world it pays to remind ourselves that building intimacy, serving generously, and loving well all take time.

When it comes to love, think “nurturing a garden” not “fixing a vehicle.” With a truck or car you can pay to diagnose the problem, go buy a part, install it, slam the hood, and VIOLA, on to other things. However, don’t try that in your marriage, PLEASE!

See, a vehicle is just supposed to work. It’s supposed to be there when you need it, and just wait around for you the rest of the time. It’s meant to perform the way you expect, and you have a right to demand that it does whenever you want. If it doesn’t you probably neglected something or other, or a part wore out, and it’s just a matter of getting it fixed. When that’s done it’s reliable once again.

A marriage, on the other hand, only “works” if you nurture it regularly. Love grows like a garden and needs regular watering, fertilizing, pruning and protecting. Only then will it be there when you need it, and in your awareness as a delight the rest of the time. A marriage performs according to the way you invest in it and you have no right to expect anything else. If you do, you’ve probably missed a finger you should be pointing at yourself, or it’s time to learn more about your partner, and just a matter of developing a little humility. When you can see it this way your marriage will become “reliable” once again.

Therefore, for whatever relationship woes you may encounter: find out ways to nurture solutions, not just fix the problems.

Sometimes we don’t realize it, but what drives the success of a happily dating couple is the tension between who they are as individuals and what they share of themselves. Their lives are characterized by the movement from what’s unknown about each other to what’s becoming known, from what has been discovered to what’s about to be.

When a relationship is new, there is much more focus on learning more about the other person. However as it matures, focus is also required on the development of who you are becoming as an individual.

A common mistake is to stop focusing on the discovery of yourself and your spouse over time. You’ve seen those couples that seem so disinterested in each other – he certainly isn’t getting any admiration from her, and his affections aren’t towards her either. It’s sad and so opposite from how they likely began: in love with the discovery of each other. At some point they stopped discovering each other, or stopped developing who they were becoming as individuals. Sometimes both.

We’re sure you’ve seen couples that have been married for quite a while and yet are still madly in love too. You’ve seen the evident love and zeal they have for each other and you’ve wondered what they did to make love last.

Under the surface of such a love you will find that they allow each other space for and celebrate self-discovery, and they continue to learn more and more of who it is that they’re with – in every season of life, and in the light of the challenges and opportunities they face together.

Both man and woman, if they want their love to last, must take responsibility for and intentionally focus on this discovery. If they do, the same emotion and adventure that drives a new relationship will characterize theirs as well – only with the added treasure of the trust and safety of a more mature relationship.

How could you show more interest in your mate? Do you need to develop yourself more or allow room in life for them to “become” more of who they are? How is this tension is playing out in your relationship? We invite your comments below.

Your life together is a lot like a “team” sports game – as in soccer, football or hockey. In your marriage, don’t think your significant other is on the opposite team as you – you’re on the same side! As a team, it’s up to the both of you to figure out how to move the ball down the field together.

This analogy begs a few questions:

What is the “ball?” We think that the ball is the quality of life you live together. It’s the sum total of your finances, home-life, satisfaction with careers, the way you raise your children, and the way you spend your free time. It’s what you work on together. You can’t talk about it in isolation from each other in the same way you can’t walk away from the ball in a sport and still be meaningfully involved on the field. For, what is the quality of life if one person doesn’t show up, or worse, gives up?

What is your “end goal?” For both of you, what is the one thing, after the careers have been lived and the kids are parenting their own kids, you to want to have accomplished? If you’re in the market for a great, ongoing discussion, this is the basis of one indeed! Start with a list of what that one thing could be, and discuss it from there. Re-word it, narrow the focus, work on a whiteboard together, dream and talk until a single theme or agenda emerges. This is your target.

What’s your “game plan?” It’s up to the two of you to navigate how to win the game. To pass the responsibility of input and activities from one to the other as you move towards the mark. It’s up to the two of you to strategize ways around what holds you back and around that which would, if unchallenged, take the ball in the other direction. Not only that, what are the ways to use the structures and people in your life who want to help you get to your end goal?

Yes, your marriage is like a sports game; it’s up to you to determine the target and play your part. Pursue it together.

Get Over It

“Get over it.” No one likes being told this. It’s best if you don’t hear this from your spouse; so, you can hear it here from us.

You undoubtedly have issues about the way your spouse handles some things. You have preferences that don’t get heeded, delegations that don’t get done, and ways you don’t see eye-to-eye. The list may be short or may be long. It may include things really important to you. We all have a list.

Although our lists differ greatly, one thing’s for sure: a list of what you don’t get, don’t have, and don’t get to do keeps you from seeing fully what you DO have and capitalizing on that. What you focus on grows in your awareness. And often times the beauty of the person and their company in our lives is missed because we focus on our list, and therefore not on their inherent value.

So, it’s time to get over it. Chuck the list. Or at least pick one thing this week that has really bugged you about him/her and make a choice to “get over it.”

So, they don’t enjoy the same shows or sports – get over it. So, they’re too picky about tidiness – get over it. So, they like strange music – get over it. So, she doesn’t cook like your mom – get over it. So, he leaves his socks on the floor – get over it!

Sure, there are deal-breakers in a relationship – but most of what we deal with isn’t more important by a very long shot, and we would simply do well to get over it.

Accept your spouse for who they are. Take a deep breath and let your preferences go. Let that expectation you’ve placed on him/her go. When you make a choice to focus on the value of what you have in front of you then your annoyances with them will pale in significance. The list of great things about your spouse and the myriad of ways they add quality to your life would grow, and that would be a good thing.

Pick one thing today, and get over it!

Fascinated by You

Some people think that falling in or out of love is outside of their control. However, take a few minutes to think of it this way:

Without purposefully working on it, in a long-term relationship there’s a continuum from fascination to familiarity to falling out of love. In other words, the degree to which you are no longer fascinated by someone means you are oh-it’s-just-you familiar with them, and shortly thereafter you will find yourself falling out of the feelings of being in love.

It’s the fascination with someone who fuels your attention on them. It motivates you to meet their needs and enables you to make allowances for their shortcomings. It’s your familiarity with someone who eventually “breeds contempt” as you no longer look for what you don’t know. Instead you make assumptions about what they feel/know/do based on what you already know about them, and resign yourself to the negatives of being with them.

The slide from familiarity to falling out of love can take a long or short time depending on how many negatives are found in the relationship.

(Side note: Not every couple chooses to end a relationship after the feelings of love are gone: familiarity can also have a comfort or convenience about it that can trump a person from acting on their feelings of having fallen out of love. This is the couple that look bored by each other but no-one intends on going anywhere.)

The truth is, fascination with someone is a choice. Any person – even the one you’re with – has a bottomless amount of intrigue waiting to be discovered by you. What there is to know about a person is infinite. But to the degree to which you’ve developed familiarity you’ll need to discipline your focus and stir up fascination again over time.

So over time you can be fascinated by your partner or fall out of love with them. You can ask questions or hold assumptions. You can look closer or turn away. You can listen to or talk at. You can find the unknown places and go there or you can play it safe.

Given the choice, I know what I’m picking.