Posts Tagged ‘work’

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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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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[We are delighted to have been nominated as a finalist in the Top Ten Marriage Blogs, a great list generated yearly based on nominations and votes and founded by Stupendous Marriage. If you haven’t voted yet, you have until December 4th, 2011 to cast your vote for the best marriage blog you know. If you like this CoupleThings Blog and want to vote for it, please do so! Thanks for reading, Rowan and Mara]

What’s in the Bag?

None of us are perfect. We all have our own “stuff” that we deal with. When it comes to marriage, sometimes that set of character weaknesses, lack of skills, and other personal areas needing improvement negatively affects our spouse. What is yours and what can you do about it?

I know this isn’t a pleasant question, but on the plus side, I’m not talking about ALL of your “stuff,” just the stuff that directly and adversely affects your partner. (It can be a relatively small subset.)

Imagine it this way: When your spouse embarked on this journey with you in life they willingly picked up and started carrying a bag. In it was the stuff about you that they didn’t like (yes there were some things), or things about you that weren’t ideal for them. Because of their love for you they didn’t mind and maybe barely noticed the weight.

The assumption of course is that they still don’t mind and still barely notice the weight. More useful than assuming this, however, is finding out what your spouse is carrying on your behalf, and devising a plan to deal with it.

The first of these is easier said than done, because chances are what’s in the bag is not what you expect. That is, what you beat yourself up over is rarely the flaw that your spouse has the least tolerance for. Make a list of your guesses as to what’s in the bag he/she is carrying and then ask them for their perspective. See if you’re right.

Once you’ve got clarity here, begin to make a plan to deal with what’s in the bag. Some things will be easy to fix by yourself, and for others, start with a great book on the topic, or talking with a close friend who has conquered the same weakness.

You’ll find, pleasantly enough, that the mere act of identifying and starting to deal with things in the bag lightens his/her load and their pleasure becomes great fuel for the discipline required ahead.

None of us are perfect, but we can have an eye on what’s in that bag, and what we can actually do about it.

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You might have read our last two posts on Vacation Sex (Making Love Happen and Your Turn) and found yourself wishing things were better between the two of you. Perhaps you’d like to employ the ideas of making specific time for your sexuality together, and taking turns focusing your sexual attention on each other, but things aren’t good and you don’t know how to “get there.”

Please remember this: while the quality of your sex-life is an indicator of the quality of your relationship, it can also be a driving force. That is, your sex-life can help LEAD and CHANGE the quality of your relationship, not just follow along helplessly. (For more on this here check out our post: Sex it Up to Live it Up).

This means, then, that you have more control than you think you do. It means that good things can happen when you reach past the resistance to prioritizing sex and do it anyway.

The best thing for a hurting or fighting family to do is to reach past all the angst and go on holidays anyway, purposing to leave the frustrations aside to reconnect around some fun and closeness. The best for a strained friendship is for the friends to go accomplish something together, face a challenge, go have some fun. They must reach past the struggle in the relationship to find the fuel and impetus to resolve the conflict.

It’s the nature of all relationships that what you focus on gets magnified. Most often, to focus on the fun, or camaraderie, or opportunity, is to magnify the connection to the point that the contention is seen for what it really is.

So reach past the angst. The unforgiveness. The issues. And determine to connect sexually with your spouse regardless of what he or she could’ve or should’ve done or even needs to do.

Purpose to put your frustrations aside for a time. Reach past the struggles in your relationship to find the fuel and impetus to help you resolve your issues. Make some agreed upon rules for your time together: no fighting, no bringing up x-y-z issue, no manipulation – just two lovers enjoying each other in order to bring perspective to everything else they face out there.

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So, you have read our posts (post #1 and post #2) on becoming the best version of yourself for the sake of your spouse but you may be thinking, “You’re missing the point, s/he is the one that needs to change, not me!”

If this is you, your spouse is probably putting undue pressure on you by the way they act. You’re undoubtedly right in that it’s unfair (“I didn’t sign up for this!”), you’re right that you are worth more than their behavior communicates to you, and you may even be right that between the two of you they have the most glaring faults.

However the practice of becoming the best version of yourself is STILL the answer to YOUR situation. It’s honestly the best option, and a very powerful one.

Here’s why… Your spouse is likely a well-intentioned human being that has difficulty in being the best s/he could be in certain areas, despite how much they desire to be and do better (kinda sounds like you and I, incidentally). But it is human nature to want to please the ones you are closest to. It is most likely they already know their errors and desperately want to change. They’re just looking for a chance.

This is where you come in. Create a vacuum: aggressively show your mate how YOU are changing deep and significant aspects of YOU, becoming the best version of yourself for THEM. This almost always creates an upward cycle of change and improvement in the relationship, as love always wants to respond to initiative.

Set the bar high for yourself and don’t say anything about them. Demonstrate your character and courage. The lure to join you in improving themselves for your sake will become almost irresistible.

The upward focus you will create is the exact opposite of what happens when you both point fingers and blame. The downward spiral of accusation and resistance to personal change happens when both partners come under attack, get defensive, dig in their heels and place the blame on the one they committed to love. The cycle of blame and the cycle of positive change both have tremendous pull and gravity in a relationship, and they both begin by a single choice.

Make a choice to change you. Love will see that your spouse will follow, because this commitment to be the best version of yourself really is for their sake.

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