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Archive for the ‘Improvement and Change’ Category

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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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“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!

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People’s experience and cultural norms merge together and gain a voice, affectionately known as “They Say…” People accept these truisms, live from them and, sometimes, find them to be true. However when it comes to marriage and relationships, we advocate a counter-cultural approach.

What if your dreams about love could come true, and not what “they say”? For example,

1. They say: “Sex, money, kids and religion are the scenes of the most arguments in a relationship. Beware.” What we believe about these subjects is central to who we are as individuals. What we feel about them and how we express those feelings are embedded in the core of our identity. Hence, discussing these topics requires the most vulnerability, trust and understanding. So when we do what it takes to develop that trust, understanding and vulnerability,

Then we say: “Sex, money, kids and religion can be the scenes of the most fulfilling and enriching conversations available. Enjoy!”

2. They say: “Just wait a few years, that kind of affection and tenderness towards each other will wear off.” People’s experience has led them to believe there is a honeymoon phase in a relationship and a subsequent decline as reality sets in. However, what “sets in” is a result of what was sown into the relationship, not the result of an unavoidable relational dynamic. So when we take the time to invest affection and tenderness into our relationship today,

Then we say: “Just wait a few years, and WHATEVER you’re sowing into the relationship now, you will be reaping.”

3. They say: “It takes two to work on a relationship.” Usually said of a relationship in trouble, this is often based on an excuse, “If he/she isn’t willing then what hope do I have in trying?” In reality, what one person does in a relationship has a dramatic effect on the other. It maybe a harder road to hoe, but when promise to do whatever it takes in good times and in bad,

Then we say: “No matter what, lead your marriage. Lead yourself to become the best version of yourself for the sake of the other person, and he/she is bound to follow. And even if not, you’re the better for it.”

Of course, all this “they say / we say” commentary is more or less irrelevant to your experience in love. Really, the only question that matters from here is, “What are you going to say?”

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I’ve developed a hobby over the last two winters. Since it is cold most of the winter months here, I’ve caved to my love of running and purchased a gym membership. Although surrounded by a wide variety of interesting machines, over ninety percent of my time at the gym I spend not going anywhere, yet getting completely exhausted. Yes, the dreaded treadmill.

Outside running has the advantages of a changing landscape, non-programmed hills, and the anticipation of arriving at a destination (not to mention the air smells way better, too). Inside running gets you nowhere. Outside, there’s much to enjoy on the journey and the free flow of thought inspired by your surroundings and progress is rewarding in itself. Inside, running seems repetitive and exhausting.

As I was nearing the end of my treadmill run the other day, it dawned on me that the ONLY reason one would run on a treadmill is if they were aware of the unseen benefits: the increased circulation, the increasing fitness of heart and body, and the many and varied benefits of physical exercise. And I can’t forget to mention the increased stamina and enthusiasm you develop for running again outside when the seasons shift. (I can’t wait!)

Treadmill running is exactly like enduring the difficult days, months or seasons in a marriage. Doing the right things, choosing the right attitudes, forgiving repeat offenses – these are the steps and strides of life where there’s no immediate sense of accomplishment or joy in the journey, where the benefits are internal and won’t be realized until the season changes. If you’re in tricky times in your relationship, this is happening NOW.

Interestingly, perhaps unlike other avid outdoor runners, I’ve started to love running on a treadmill. Instead of the landscape, I have numbers to help me see my growth: miles run, calories burned, inclines conquered. These readings reveal what’s going on in the unseen, and my choice to keep going and embrace the workout spurs the numbers higher. Winning the unseen is indeed an invigorating challenge and a joy. What’s more, spring time is coming, and I’ll be ready to pick up where I left off at the end of last fall.

In your marriage, embrace the opportunities to build character in every season. And when it’s a “winter” season for you, keep on “running.” You can even start to enjoy winning the unseen, for you will guarantee a shift in your seasons to something better.

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