Your Marriage Can Be Better Than This

unhappy-couple-computer-325I once read the story of a man who spent his childhood living through the Great Depression.  He told that one of his chores as a young boy was to ride his bike to the local fire station where he would receive government-issue milk in the bucket he carried with him.  He spoke of the humiliation of riding home carrying the bucket of milk because all the other kids from school could see that his family was poor and had to receive government assistance.

He decided that he would one day have money and that no one would ever look down on him again.

He spent much of his adult life protecting his image and surrounding himself with symbols of success to ensure that others would see him as successful.

Yet, is this really living?

Sometimes, married people become lazy.

They focus more on how they appear than what they are.  They become more concerned about their image than their character.

Sometimes, married people become obsessed.

She is determined that he is going to be a spiritual leader in their home.  He is determined that she is going to become more outgoing and sociable with people from his work.

Sometimes, married people settle.

She sits in her recliner.  He sits in his recliner.  Night after night the television blares.  These people have settled for a passive existence instead of a life.

Sometimes, married people disconnect.

He goes his way.  She goes her way.  Perhaps their lives are centered on their children or grandchildren.  Sex, intimacy, and tenderness are all but gone.  There is little or no conflict.  They are actually at a point at which they don’t care enough about one another to have conflict.

Is this really living?

Is this really marriage?

Maybe the first step is to decide that you want something very different and that you are willing to do what it takes to stop this dead-end street.

Question:

Why do some married people seem to get into destructive ruts?

When Your Marriage is Hard

MarriageSometimes, marriage is very hard.

Yet, it can become especially difficult when we take on responsibilities that are not ours.

For example:

You are not responsible for your spouse’s moods.

Some men and women are very immature. Some are moody and emotionally manipulative. They demand that their spouse do what they want them to do or else. They may say to their husbands/wives: “I was in a great mood until you spoiled it.” Yet, you are responsible for your own mood and your own attitude, not that of your spouse.

You are not responsible for keeping your spouse from getting upset.

Some people punish their spouses when they are upset. For example, a husband and wife are selling their car. She makes a comment to a prospective buyer that they have had some trouble with the air-conditioning. She does so as a matter of integrity and a desire to be honest. Her husband is angry at her now and expresses this through passive aggressive behaviors for the rest of the day. Later she says, “I have to be so careful about what I say to my husband. He will get angry, and I will be in trouble.” Furthermore, some people may shortchange their children by tiptoeing around a spouse’s feelings and immaturity.

You are not responsible for making sure that your spouse has a good day.

In some marriages, one spouse attempts to manipulate the emotions of the other by communicating that in some way the spouse is responsible for making sure that he[/she] has a good day. Consequently, when something displeasing happens, the response may be: “I was having a good day until you ruined it.”

You are not responsible for making your spouse look good.

This happens far too frequently. A husband or wife expects their spouse to cover for them. Instead of behaving well, they focus on looking good in front of particular people. Perhaps a wife expects her husband to make her look good in front of her mother. Or, perhaps a husband expects his wife to make him look good in front of his parents. (He doesn’t want them to know about his language, his online gambling, or the way he behaves toward his teenage son when no one else is around.)

You are not responsible for trying to manage what other people think about your spouse or for trying to create false impressions before significant people.

You are responsible for managing yourself. You are responsible for managing how you function, how you react, and how you choose to relate to your spouse.

Question:

From your experience, what happens to a family when creating the right impression becomes more important than dealing with reality?

 

Question: What Kind of Wisdom is Needed to be a Good Parent?

c1The following question is one that I have been asked on a number of occasions.  Maybe this will be helpful to you or someone you might send it to.

My husband and I have three children. My question is, ‘How do you raise children when you didn’t have good role models growing up?’ My mother did the best she could but really didn’t have a good role model herself. My husband came from a severely dysfunctional family. What kind of wisdom do we need in order to raise our children well?

Congratulations on desiring to raise your children well and to do this with wisdom.  Parenting is difficult work but can ultimately be so rewarding.  In the meantime, know that we are all learning (or should be learning).  The following are some reflections regarding wisdom and parenting.

Wise Parents Teach Their Children to Accept Responsibility.

They don’t spend a lot of time blaming other people. It is easy to get into the habit of blaming others for the behavior of your children. It’s the coach’s fault. It’s the teacher’s fault. It’s the youth minister’s fault. The larger issue is if I am teaching my child to accept responsibility or to blame others when things go wrong.

Wise Parents Allow Their Children to Experience the Consequences of Behavior.

You’ve seen this person. This parent will not allow his child to experience pain as the natural consequence of the child’s behavior. If he throws a toy out the window of a moving car, the toy is gone! If she throws a tantrum in Toys-R-Us, we leave the store – without a toy. Far too many parents verbally fuss at their children but instill no real consequences.

Wise Parents Look Down the Road.

What is the future going to be like if things continue the way they are now? You either pay now or you pay later. Parenting is hard work. If you refuse to address misbehavior when children are young, you (and they) will ultimately pay for it. For instance, if your child fusses and whines, you may be able to stop this by going to McDonald’s for a treat. When she gets ice cream, she may stop fussing for a while, but think about what this child is learning: “If I want something or if I am disagreeable, mom and dad will buy me something to make me feel better.” I once overheard a parent requesting that others let his child win at a game so that he would feel good. What?

Wise Parents Love Their Children for Who They Are. 

You may have a child who has special needs. Your child may have physical or emotional issues that need to be addressed. Perhaps your child has great difficulty reading, doing math, or just keeping up. Sometimes parents will get caught up in wanting to create a good impression before friends or in what their friends say regarding their children. We may constantly talk about how incredibly amazing and wonderful our children are. One parent is talking about their gifted and talented son. The other parent is talking about their daughter who was chosen for this or that award. Meanwhile, many, many parents are silent as they wonder why their children struggle so much. Don’t get caught up in your child’s feeling inferior or different. Your child needs to be loved just as she is.

Wise Parents Don’t Try to Fill Their Own Emptiness by Using Their Children. 

You’ve seen him. He’s the dad who is almost living vicariously through his son. He goes ballistic with the coaches. He never stops talking about his son’s athletic performance. In fact, all he ever says about his son is what he did in the last game. As one young man said, “My dad only sees me as a football player. That is all he talks about with me. Maybe it is the mother who pushes her daughter to date the quarterback. She pushes her teenage daughter to run with a popular crowd and date popular people. She lives vicariously through her daughter. Wise parents don’t use a child to somehow satisfy their own emptiness.

 

I will post more later regarding the importance of seeking wisdom and being a parent.

Question:

What else would you add to this list regarding seeking wisdom and being a parent?

Mark of Dysfunction: Keep this Deadly Secret

shhhOne mark of a dysfunctional marriage, family, or church is that others within the system are not supposed reveal the secret.

What is the secret?

You are not to tell anyone about the way things really are in this marriage, this family, or this church.  After all, what would people think?

Of course, I do appreciate husbands and wives who obviously love one another.  It is really nice to see husbands and wives who still have much affection for one another after many years.

I do remember seeing an interesting Facebook status one day.  It said something like this:

Twenty-five years ago I met the man of my dreams.  We have loved together, laughed together, and dreamed together.  I am so fortunate to be this man’s wife.  Looking forward to the next 25 years.

Now many people enter a status like this one on their anniversary or spouse’s birthday.  What struck me as odd about this particular post is that it never occurred to me (and I suspect many of their other friends) that she in any way adored or treasured this man.  In fact, it really didn’t appear that they valued each other very much at all.  The way they treated one another each day made such a post on their anniversary seem odd.

It was almost like she was trying to sell something to the rest of us.

Ministry Inside.99

mask_photography4But what will people think?

Years ago, Charlotte and I were walking across a parking lot of a large church building in Kansas City.  We had an appointment with a marriage therapist.  This was our first visit with him.

I was nervous.

I was nervous that someone who I knew might see me.   I was nervous they would find out that we were going to a counselor to talk about our marriage.

The truth is that I was more concerned about how we looked, than the reality of our our lives.

No, we were not in a crisis.  We were not dealing with any sort of trauma or disaster within our marriage.  But, we were dealing with an important issue.

We were stuck.

We knew we needed to make some real adjustments but we were unsure what to do.

Yet, I was not as concerned at that moment about addressing those realities as I was the appearance.  I was more concerned about the possibility of another’s perception than the reality of our relationship.

This is not a good place to be.  In fact, it is embarrassing to think about this now.  Yet, sometimes church leaders can find themselves worrying more about a possible perception instead of addressing the reality of their lives.

Unfortunately, this can get even worse.  Church leaders can attempt to control and shut down what their family members are actually experiencing.

Church leaders can communicate to their families that they need to act like everything is ok, even when it isn’t. There are some real consequences to this behavior. 

A Question About Dads

dad heartI’m curious.

Many people grow up with memories of a father relationship that was less than adequate.  I’ve heard many stories of some fathers being emotionally and/or physically absent.  Other fathers regularly made critical remarks to their children and had no significant relationship with them.

In your experience, how does emotional absence and even disconnection, by a father, impact a young son or daughter?

10 Ways to Murder a Marriage (Part 2)

Learn-How-to-Heal-Your-Broken-MarriageThe following post is a continuation of an earlier post (find it here) describing behaviors that can murder a marriage.

6.  Refuse to forgive.  Some couples fight and refuse to forgive.  They stuff their anger, their resentments and their bitterness.  They refuse to forgive and move on.  The old negative behaviors of the past are allowed to accumulate in one’s heart and mind, like smelly garbage that is never taken out.

At some point, when this couple is in a heated battle, they open the garbage bag and drag out the past failures of their spouse.  Out comes nasty resentments and more anger.

Refusing to forgive can destroy the intimacy in a marriage and put one another at a distance.

7.  Be disrespectful to one another.  I once knew a couple who regularly showed disrespect toward one another.  They didn’t just disagree.  They wanted to hurt one another.  She would accuse him of not being a real man with any backbone.  He accused her of being cold and unresponsive.  Their language toward one another was demeaning and hurtful.

Disrespect can slowly destroy the tenderness that a couple may have had toward one another at one time.

8.  Act in an untrustworthy manner.  A man in his late thirties has been on a number of business trips with his company.  He never wears his wedding ring when he travels and is very flirty with female co-workers.  At one point, his co-workers were shocked to learn that he was married. Eventually, his wife found out about his reputation at work.  Now she refuses to trust him.

Behaving in an untrustworthy manner is a major breech in a marriage and destroys the trust that might have once existed.

9.  Be manipulative.  Manipulators attempt to get what they want without being honest enough to be transparent.  A woman once said regarding a family member: “I feel like he is always up to something.”  The manipulator is always trying to put himself at an advantage so that he can get what he wants.

Husbands and wives who manipulate one another destroy their opportunity to practice self-giving love while they opt instead for power and control.

10.  Put yourself first.  

Putting yourself first in your marriage destroys the opportunity to follow Jesus while you decide you choose instead to go your own way.

10 Ways to Murder a Marriage

marriage-broken-eggThe following is part 1 of a two part post in which I reflect on how to destroy a marriage. We have been married for 34 years and have had a front row seat to many, many other marriages.

1.  Create an atmosphere that no one would want to come home to in the evening. Do nothing but stare at your television night after night.  Complain.  Gripe at her or him for mistakes.  Go to bed angry and resentful.  Repeat the next day.

Constant carping, complaining and whining can destroy the atmosphere of a marriage. 

2.  Use pornography.  This is an ever increasing temptation not only for men, but women as well. You can lose yourself in a make believe world.  Pornography creates the illusion that sex is basically about the enjoyment of one person, instead of the mutual service of two people.  You don’t have to grow.  You don’t have to mature.  You don’t have to work at the give and take of relationship.

Pornography can destroy intimacy in marriage.

How to Grow in Marriage and Parenting

(I am away on a vacation/study break during the month of July. The posts that appear during the month are from the archives.)

“I have no idea what I am supposed to do.”

That statement came from a very gifted and intelligent young man who was about to be married. I appreciated his honesty. He had never seen a marriage up close before. His parents divorced when he was very young. He deeply loved his mom and dad. Yet, he had never been close to a healthy marriage and so it was difficult for him to imagine what it would be like to be married.

Many other people have seen a marriage up close but it was a dysfunctional marriage with dynamics that were anything but healthy or even godly.

So what is a person supposed to do?

1. Plan to unlearn. So often, we are at a disadvantage because of our own faulty assumptions. “Surely this won’t last my entire life.” We also make assumptions about sex, parenting, and other roles. Our assumptions often come from a variety of sources and experiences. Yet, they sometimes set us up for failure.

For example, much unlearning often has to be done regarding sex and marriage. Some people enter marriage with assumptions borrowed from this culture. A person might think that sexual experiences with multiple people give one an advantage in marriage. Really? Where did that assumption come from? Did the creator ever tell human beings that this was a good thing or an advantage? Sometimes unlearning has to be done due to a long history with pornography. Such a history will often give a person some very unreal expectations regarding marriage.

2. Be intentional about learning. Maybe you have never seen a healthy marriage up close. Or, maybe you are realizing that marriage is more complex and more difficult than you imagined. Read good marriage books, particularly those that address marital concerns from a Christian perspective. Talk with people who have been married for many years and obviously love one another. Invite a couple who you admire over for coffee and desert and ask questions about marriage. Look for resources in your church. Bottom line: Be intentional about learning.

If You Are Not Praying for Your Children

(I am away on a vacation/study break during the month of July. The posts that appear during the month are from the archives.)

If you as a parent are not praying for your children, then who is?

This occurred to me a few years ago as I thought about my prayer life and my own children. If I am not praying for my own children, then who is? Perhaps one of the greatest gifts that I can give to my children is faithful prayer.

Our children, whether small children or adults, live in a very difficult world. How important and encouraging for mom and dad to lift them up in prayer every single day of their lives.

 

My two children are now adults. Both are married. They each live a great distance from Charlotte and me. In some ways, we have little influence over what they do each day.

Yet, we lift them up in prayer each day, believing God will work intimately and powerfully in their lives wherever they are. We believe that God loves them, cares for them, and calls them to live under his rule. It is important that we pray for them.