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Monday, March 31, 2014

Marriage and Loyalty

We live in an age of whistleblowers. The work of some is valid. The work of most is, frankly, "look at ME" dressed in clothes of attempted respectability.

Loyalty seems to have gone right out the window. It's obsolete, like the Edsel. Now each individual is a cause unto him-or-herself.

So how does this relate to marriage?

Quite directly. How many times have you heard someone complaining about their marriage, or running down their spouse to gain sympathy or (worse) for humorous effect?

(I'm not talking about speaking in confidence with a counselor, or with a trusted friend. There are things we have to share, there are parts of a marriage we have to lay out to see if we're reading it right.)

No, this refers to the "morning coffee complaint department", or the "gym counseling sessions". This is a general airing of discontent in front of an audience that will not hear the other side - and doesn't want to.

A polite term for this is character assassination. Slamming the character of a person who has no way to answer the charges.

It has no place in a marriage.

In marriage, we make vows. "For better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health".

Not, "until I feel like complaining to my buds".

Oh...and it ends, "So help me, God."

This is called being locked in. You're locked in by your own choice. You owe allegiance. It's no longer a choice. Allegiance is a duty before God.

You owe it to your spouse to speak well of him or her in public and in private. You owe it to your mate to stand against any accusations or criticism - even if the accusations are true, or the criticisms justified.

You owe your spouse your full and undivided loyalty, and your full and unstinting support.

Even if their failings are an itch you desperately want to scratch by airing them.

You promised.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Rejected By Your Spouse

Rejection is a part of life (especially for a writer!). You'll find rejection in employment, in business, in acquaintanceship, even in friendship.

But you should never, ever find it in marriage.

The reason is simple - rejection hurts, and in a marriage your guard is not supposed to be up. You're vulnerable to hurt, by design.

And yet, it happens. A few of the common circumstances are -

Respect for a homemaker - a stay-at-home spouse is and easy target for rejection masquerading as disrespect. The 'rejecting' spouse is in a position of power, and can define he relative worth of the contribution of each, and often rejects the contribution of the homemaker through dismissal and criticism.

Religious involvement - rejection can work both sides of the street. The spouse with what is perceived as lesser (or inferior) faith is often marginalized in the marriage, and worse, in the family. Likewise, the mate who's on fire for Christ can become a figure of ridicule, and efforts to invoke feelings of self-consciousness and guilt ("I wish you spent as much time with ME as you spend with Jesus!").

Sex - probably the area in which rejection is most common. Husbands 'lose interest' in their wives as the years pass (but would be delighted to get the attention of a 21-year-old), and wives often shut their husbands out for emotional and physical reasons.

But the specific reasons aren't important, and going into them can provide as much ammunition to support the rejecting spouse's view as it helps to clear the air.

No, the problem is rejection itself.

Rejection is something that you can't dismiss with an apology, except in the immediate aftermath of delivering the rejection - "I'm sorry, I didn't mean that, I shouldn't have said it" has a very limited shelf life.

Once the window of opportunity for apology has passed, damage starts - and continues. When you reject your spouse, you've delivered an opinion from the one person whose words can make or break their life. Literally.

You have that power.

The unresolved rejection burrows deep, like rust on steel - or like a cancer. It colors everything. It calls into question one's very worth, when it comes from one's mate.

And it can't be 'fixed'. A husband who rejects his wife sexually, and then comes back a few months later saying "I was wrong" is likely to be viewed with some skepticism.

"He's going to manfully do his Scriptural duty. Yee-ha. Close your eyes and think of England."

Or less charitably,

"His secretary gave him the cold shoulder."

Restoring the physical relationship to what it was is impossible. It's broken. Restoring it to something functional is possible - with a lot of work, and even more grace.

Rejecting a homemaker's contribution can be addressed a little bit more effectively, by switching roles for a week. Or even a day. The 'working' spouse will look on their job as something of a vacation after that, and is likely to offer an abject apology.

Which one is bound to accept, but there will always be the thought : "He did it once...will he do it again?"

Rejection's a game-changer. It changes us.

And never for the better.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Marriage Team

Every successful organization has its own 'spirit' or personality, be it a military unit, a company, or a college. The team is what forms its members, and the personality becomes tradition.

Why not do this with your marriage?

We usually approach marriage as the sometimes uneasy alliance of two individuals, 'looking into the same future'.

It's not bad, and works well much of the time, but can we do better? Can we give our marriages their own identity, so that the partnership defines us, rather than the other way around?

It is Scriptural; the model of Christ as the Bridegroom needs no introduction here, and it's our relationship with Him that defines who we are in this life.

And since marriage is a sacrament...why not? Why not become part of something bigger than we are - part of a team, not only in words but in spirit?

What defines a successful team?

Sense of Purpose - any organization has to have a sense of its mission, and the worth of 'what it does; in the world.

When most couples are asked why they married, the stock answer is "we were in love". Yes, very true, but that's only part of it. Love grows out of mutual attraction, and that includes shared values.

How did you exercise those values. whether they were to help the less-fortunate, rescue stray dogs, or spread the Gospel?

The purpose doesn't have to be completely altruistic - a shared appreciation for and interest in nature, music or art can work just as well - and it's not a 'lesser thing', because appreciating God's world is a delight to Him.

Maybe it's time to revisit the 'why' that came at the beginning of your relationship, and rededicate yourself?

Sense of Identity - the glue that holds any team together is the sense of belonging held by each individual member. "I'm part of this" is both a declaration of unity and a declaration of submission; unity with a larger calling, and submission of individuality in acting as a member.

This shouldn't be too hard for Christians - we're 'the body of Christ', remember?

"Of course I identify with my marriage!"

I hope so; but are there times that you complain about it to others (excluding bona fide counselors)? Are there times you make disparaging remarks about marriage in general or yours in particular to a friend, or worse, a group of acquaintances?

Identity grows through loyalty, and that loyalty has to be committed. It's not something to poke fun at, or to set aside when you're bored or irritated.

Tradition - organiozations have a personality defined in part by their history - so it's important to document yours.

Yes, guys, that means scrapbooking. Yes, you have to participate.

But there's more. There's also documenting what you've done. Taking time to write down and save memories of the important things.

A computer works for this, but a 'day book' is even better - a journal kept in a prominent place, where you and your spouse write down what's important in your lives. Or what's striking. Or what's funny.

Writing things out in longhand saves something - immediacy and personality. We choose words differently when we write them, and part of our heart flows through the pen.

Trust - finally, any successful organization has to engender trust - not only in one's teammates, but in the organization and its principles.

We have to trust the institution of marriage, and our marriage.

Part of this resisting the temptation to look back to the single life; the grass may look greener in the field we left, but (a) we crossed that fence and the point is moot; and (b) we think of hindsight as being 20/20, but it's not...we forget the bad stuff quickly.

If we have divorced friends - and we should never shun those who experience divorce - we do have to filter their bitterness if it's unleashed in our hearing. Their lives were their lives, and are not ours to judge - but they are not our lives, nor are they a template. Their lives are just what happened to them.

And we must trust the person we married, to carry their part of the log, so to speak. We have to be willing to put the 'big stuff' in life into their hands, and never reach back for it again.

'Big stuff' - like our hearts.

What do you think? How do you foster 'team spirit' in your marriage?

This post is linked to Wedded Wednesday, a compendium of really cool posts on marriage. If you click on the logo below, you'll be taken to www.messymarriage.com, which is the springboard to a wealth of information.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Dealing with A Mate's Discouragement

When our friends are discouraged, we reach out to help them. Always. It's a given, because that's what friends do.

But when the person who's supposed to be our best friend, the person to whom we're married, hits a rough patch, our attitude is often quite different.

We metaphorically stand back with our arms crossed in front of our chest, and say, "Suck it up. Get over it."

If we don't say it we think it.

What gives us the privilege of holding our mates to higher standards than we do our friends? And to higher standards than we hold ourselves?

I think it's partially fear. Fear that the person we need as a support in bad times isn't as strong as we think we need them to be, and that when one day we really need support, they won't be able to give it.

It's a weird kind of compliment, when you think about it.

The other component is a sort of contempt for the familiar; most of us grew up looking past where we were, to find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Our towns weren't big enough; we had to find the wide world.

Our jobs weren't enough; we needed promotion, and more challenge (and money, and prestige).

And our mates are nothing if not familiar. We've heard their troubles and discouragements before, and we're just a little tired of it.

But we are the ones they need most, when the chips are down, and when the world seems bleak.

And sometimes, when we can't do our best for our 'other half', we've got to step back, and treat them with the grace we'd reserve for an honored guest.

Treat them like someone who's invited, and welcomed, and will only stay for a little while.

Because that's really what our mates are. Guests from Heaven, and it's there to which they'll one day return.

Do you sometimes have trouble being encouraging, when your spouse is depressed or lost? What do you do to become effective again?

Friday, March 21, 2014

Marriage and Substance Abuse

This is one of the worst things that can happen to a marriage.

It's worse than an affair. It's worse than one spouse suddenly deciding to turn Muslim. It's worse than spending binges.

Substance abuse destroys people, slowly and inexorably. And the only thing a husband or wife can do is watch - and pray.

Please understand that I speak from some experience. Due to illness, I've had to take high doses of narcotic painkillers. They are both physically and psychologically addictive, and while they were (and are) quite necessary for me to live a reasonably pain-free life, I decided to discontinue them.

It was horrible. Withdrawal from this stiff is one of the worst things you can experience short of severe injury. And bear in mind that I am trained to severe discipline, and to a degree of mind-over-matter than most civilians are lucky enough to never have to think about, much less experience.

Breaking the habit is hard. Many can't do it, or struggle all their lives. In Alcoholics Anonymous, there's no such thing as a recovered alcoholic. Just an alcoholic who's not taken a drink for awhile

So - this post will not tell you how to cure anyone.

It's tell you how to survive.

How to you cope, if your spouse is an abuser of alcohol or drugs?

First, it's not your fault. No matter what you're told by your mate, you did not cause this. You did not drive him or her to drink.

Your 'impossible behavior' didn't drive anyone into the sanctuary of a drug-fueled haze You are not the cause.

And you'll have to tell yourself that every day, for the rest of your life.

Second, you cannot be responsible for recovery. Only the substance abuser can do that. They have to make the right choices, they have to avoid the old friends and old haunts. They have to choose to participate in the programs that are out there (and are effective).

Substance abuse makes the abuser want to shift blame, because self-awareness is a nightmare.

Third, you have an obligation to self-protection. This may seem to fly in the face of 'sacrificial Christianity', but consider this - you are just as important as the abuser. Their problem does not make them more valuable in their 'brokenness', and does not make you expendable.

It's easy to become expendable, to stand by in loyal attendance while someone destroys their own life - and yours along the way.

To protect yourself, you'll need friends. Same-sex, if you please, because you don't need sympathy turning to infatuation. But you will need a safe place in a friend's heart, to kick and scream and cry.

And you'll need faith. Do not stop going to church, even if your spouse refuses and ridicules you...even if you're told that it'll shame them by uncovering their 'secret'.

You need God. So go to His house.

Fourth, it is your place to require accountability. If your husband is stopping by bars on the way home, you have the right to demand to know where he's been. You have the right to set conditions on your life, and on your marriage, if he doesn't seek help.

You can smell his breath when he comes home. You have that right.

Fifth, you have an obligation to support a sincere effort to become sober. This means that you have to be supportive of the meetings, the midnight calls to 12-step sponsors. You have to go to church with your mate, as often as necessary through the week to provide the spiritual support needed.

You have an obligation to abandon alcohol yourself. You have to set that example, and live that discipline. You took the vow - for better or for worse. Now, it's worse. No beer, no wine, nothing for you.

Sixth, you may have to save yourself and your children. If things are spiraling downward and there's no effort on the part of your mate to arrest the dive, you need an out.

It sounds disloyal to prepare a place of refuge, to prepare to physically (and possibly legally) abandon your marriage, but you have to be loyal to Him what made you first.

Again, you're worth something. Just as much as anyone else. And so are your kids.

Living with a drunk who's eschewed any effort at sobriety is an evil version of through-the-looking-glass. Nothing is stable, nor can it be. The money in your bank account today may not be there tomorrow. The man who's reasonable when he's sober can become physically violent when under the influence.

You don't owe anyone your own self-destruction, even if it's 'passive', staying in a death spiral with your spouse.

Seventh and last, you have an obligation to compassion. You may not be able to stay, but you cannot turn vicious in your leaving. You can't damn the memory of the person you had to leave.

There does come a point where recovery is impossible (remember, I do know how hard withdrawal is). When that fork in the road is gone and the only way is down, it's incumbent on you to pray with all the compassion you can muster.

It's incumbent on you to remember the good.

It's incumbent on you to care, for the rest of your life, because you made a promise. You may not be able to stay - but you can't turn your soul away.

Because while you are just as important to God as they are - they are just as important to God as you are.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

When Your Mate Loses Faith

Most of us marry with some equality of faith - we're looking up to God together, and that's as it should be.

We want to live out our lives in that faith, and we want to experience its deepening and growth.

And sometimes, it doesn't happen/ We find ourselves married to someone who's lost faith.

It's a lonely feeling. Where once we were able to worship together, suddenly there's been an amputation. Your mate may be there with you in church, but you know...they're going through the motions.

Or they just decide to stay home, and watch NASCAR.

The bottom of the slide is being ridiculed for your own faith.

What do you do? Where can you take a situation like this? How can you help? Can you even help?

There are no easy answers, no 'one size fits all' solutions, because loss of faith is anything but an easy process, and it hits people individually - and it hits them hard.

Still, there are some things we can do, some common threads we can at least pick up in the hope that they'll somehow be woven together once again.

First and foremost, don't judge. No one wants to lose faith. No one wants to feel cut off from God, or worse, adrift in a world without God and without hope. This may not equate to the person making an effort to regain faith. Loss of faith kicks the legs out from under a n individual, and there may be no readily apparent road back.

Second, don't preach. The worst thing you can do is 'witness'. You'll hit resostance, and that resistance will harden. There's a metalworking process called 'work hardening', in which deforming a piece of metal makes it stronger. Hammer your mate who's lost faith with your faith, and you'll only work-harden their isolation.

Listen. Most people whose faith has failed want to talk about it, want to relate what happened. It's like a car accident - people who live through a spectacular wreck relive it endlessly, as a way of processing something they fundamentally don't understand. They need listeners.

You have to draw a fine line, though, between listening and being the object of an attempt to undermine your own faith. Often this isn't a conscious effort; it's more a subconscious act of self-validation (if someone agrees with me I must be partially right...).

But be nice, if you have to pull back from listening. You're dealing with a person who's lost something precious, and however defiant he or she may be - that just masks misery.

Be supportive. Often a person who turns from Christianity will seek solace in another faith, usually Eastern. I'm going to go out on a limb here, and say roll with it.

Don't change your own faith, but recognize that there is some effort going on to reach back to God. let God work in those spaces - give Him room, and help Him.

Supportiveness does end here if there are children involved - you can't tolerate attempts to influence your kids away from Christ. That is proscribed by Christ Himself, and in this place - stand firm. (If your mate is not trying to influence the kids, you simply have to remain watchful.)

Encourage churchgoing, even if your spouse stays in the car. Make Sunday an outing day, and make plans for lunch, or some sort of 'treat' that your spouse will enjoy - after church. Sure, it's a trick, but most people - even those whose faith has vanished - are good-natured enough that they'll eventually go into the service with you.

And let them sleep through the service. people hear things when they sleep. Again,.give God the room to work.

When faith returns, celebrate cautiously. Don't throw a party, either literally or figuratively, because it can make the 'guest of honor' feel that they've returned from some sort of failure, may make them feel like a 'baby Christian' again. It's not humbling - it can be humiliating.

Also, the return to faith may bring on excesses, the l;east of which might be a desire to attend as many services as possible, to listen to Christian music exclusively, and to take on political and social views that seem extreme.

This is panic. The returned faith isn't strong, and the newly 'reborn-again' believer is doing everything possible to encourage the growth of faith - and everything possible to prevent its loss again.

Pray Pray for your spouse, as much as you can./He or she needs it.

Norman Vincent Peale described a technique called 'shooting' prayers, imagining them as arrows impacting the intended 'target'. The evidence he collected indicates that they are quite effective, so give it a shot...pun intended.

Love. Remember that loss of faith is agony. Carl Sagan, the astronomer and poster-boy atheist who wrote Cosmos was miserable during his final illness. It was one thing to talk about the majesty of evolutionary theory when one was healthy and young...but when Sagan became old(er) and frail, the threat of personal extinction became real, and by all accounts, he was desperate.

So don't pull away your love. The person you married deserves it, and needs it, more than ever.

If all else fails, and faith never returns - make that love your witness.

This post is linked to Wedded Wednesday, a compendium of really cool posts on marriage. If you click on the logo below, you'll be taken to www.messymarriage.com, which is the springboard to a wealth of information.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Being Dismissive

We may pride ourselves on putting value on the feelings and opinions of those around us, and feel very noble and Christian in listening to even the most dippy of acquaintances.

And we often don't include our spouses in this inner circle.

Think back to parties you've attended...how often have you seen a married person undercut their mate, often when said mate was standing right there (and wishing the floor would swallow her or him up)?

And how often have you interrupted your spouse, 'knowing' what they were going to say before they finished, because you simply didn't want to take the time to hear them out?

Would you have done that with a friend? With a colleague at work? With your boss?

Would you interrupt Jesus? (Yeah, that comes from the fact that we're supposed to represent Christ to one another...sorry, but there it is.)

Somehow, being close allows liberties, and a lot of those liberties are nasty.

The Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hahn suggests that we treat our spouses like honored guests in our house, and like people whom death will soon snatch from out lives.

We could do worse.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Sex and the Single Christian

Ideally, the title of today's post would be meaningless.

It's not that I'm a prude, but there are some very good reasons why sex outside of marriage is a bad idea. "It's a sin!" is just one of them.

But it's going to happen. Sex is going to be a part of the lives of many unmarried Christians until the Second Coming. The important thing is minimizing the damage - spiritual, emotional, and physical.

The worst practical thing about premarital sex is that it takes a part of the marriage relationship out of context. Sex inside marriage is affected by all of the other things that go into the making of the marriage bond - a shared home, shared meals, shared finances, a shared future, and the building of a shared past.

They all add up to intimacy, in the strict sense of the word - not necessarily the 'fun kind', discovering delightful things about another person, but the deeper kind, of learning how to begin to understand another person.

Take sex outside those boundaries, and it becomes intimacy that's largely physical, but isn't really affected by the other factors that make up marriage.

Ah, but what if the couple's living together? Doesn't that bring it back into balance?

Well, no, because on thing that married intimacy depends on is a sense of commitment. Yes, you can get divorced, but most couples don't look on divorce as anything but a last resort. Live together, and you can decide to break up.

There may be some drama over who owns what, and if some payments are shared, who's responsible, but the act of leaving is much easier to implement.

Living together is playing house. No matter what the verbal assurances are, no matter how impassioned the declarations of love and fidelity and permanence, it can be over in a minute, and both partners know this.

Sexuality, against this background, is kind of like expecting real life to resemble a vacation. It won't, and the chances are pretty good that a couple's sex life will need some serious and painful adjustments after marriage, if they've decided to indulge ahead of time.

That assumes they make it to the altar. Another huge disadvantage of premarital sex i s rooted in the difference between men and women. Men tend to find excitement in 'the chase', and the courtship process is partially the pursuit of sex. It sounds crude, but men are crude. Is this stereotyping? Sire, and it's effective because it's true.

If marriage is the 'finish line', a man is likely to stay more interested and involved up to that point, until the formal commitment makes it hard to back out.

But if the race ends early, a significant percentage of men will look for new 'worlds to conquer', and many women have given in, only to be given up.

Sounds horrible, eh? Makes men sound like cads, and marriage sound like entrapment?

Neither is really the case, but for the first, there is a primitive undercurrent in all of us. Denying its existence is both foolish, and something of an affront to the Almighty - he made us this way. Far better to recognize the potential power of forces of which we may only dimly feel, and respect the need for care in handling them.

And is marriage entrapment? Hardly. Setting the end of the race on the other side of the altar ensures that physical intimacy will grow and flower where it's supposed to - in the marriage itself.

Okay, now we can trot out "it's a sin!". Sex outside marriage is considered by most churches to be fornication, and fornicators don't get to go to Heaven. So there.

However...some denominations have looked at this differently through the past few hundred years. Up until the mid-17th century in England, betrothal was considered to be the green light, and most brides were pregnant when they married.

More to the point, many Christians take the attitude that "we love each other, we're planning to marry, and we don't consider this a sin".

It's hard to argue this one effectively; the couples have generally thought it through, either individually or together. The 'formal commitment before God and community' bit may work, but these people generally feel committed.

So what do you say?

Nothing, unless you're asked, because at that point it's between them and God...and maybe it always was.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Married To The Past - Your Spouse With PTSD

In World War One it was called shell shock, from the assumption that being under incessant artillery fire caused it.

In World War Two, it was called battle fatigue, because 90 days in combat was seen as the tipping point, beyond which an infantryman became ineffective.

Now, it's Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and we've made a lot of progress in understanding it.

PTSD affects those who have been in combat, yes, but it is also part of life for accident victims, victims of child molestation and rape, and First Responders. Any many more.

Movies and television paint a stereotypical image - the war veteran, usually bearded and wearing bits of uniform, about 45 degrees off from reality, wanting nothing more than to live alone in the hills.

Okay, yeah, most of that is me.

But it's a disservice to everyone else, the people who wear PTSD as a private, hidden scar. There are more of them than you can possibly imagine, and they look and act normal when you see them. They do their very best.

But what if you're married to someone with PTSD? You can't see only the surface effort to cope, here. You have to live through the whole thing, and believe me (or believe my wife), it's a hell of a ride. Pardon the expression, please, but this is one time where h-e-double-toothpicks is appropriate.

If you're married to someone who's carrying this cross, you probably know enough about his or her past to realize that something dreadful happened a long time ago, and they're not quite over it.

The symptoms are well-known - hypervigilance, an extreme 'startle' response, insomnia. Those are the obvious externals.

There are others - there is a sense of disconnection, because PTSD puts a person forever with one foot in the present, and one foot in the past. There's emotional distance, because how can anyone who hasn't been there understand?

There's a sense of humor that's lacking, or weirdly inappropriate. I laugh about things that make most people cringe, but find the comedians on "America's Got Talent" decidedly unfunny.

An insurgent stepping on a mine he just planted and being blown into pink mist - that's hysterical. Jokes about flat-chested women...where's the humor?

Does my wife understand? Not completely. She gets the words, but she can't hear the music, and for that I'm grateful.

So what do you do, if you're married to someone's past, a past you can't access or fully understand?

  • Don't judge - the behavior that embarrasses you, or makes you uncomfortable, isn't voluntary, or wanted, and you can't fake PTSD. Please don't judge what you see against your frame of reference, because you haven't walked the miles in your mate's moccasins, and you can't.
  • Educate yourself - whatever the defining event, be it combat or work as a First Responder, learn as much as you can about what that life, those events, were like. This is not so you can sit down with your mate and have a heart-to-heart; its' so you have some idea where they're coming from.
  • Listen - when your mate wants to talk, listen. Don't try to fix it. You can't. But there are few things more valuable than a friendly and sympathetic ear. If your mate's seen a bunch of dead kids, killed to make a political point, he or she may have a lot of trouble walking down the toy aisles at the local Big Box, looking for presents for the nephews and nieces. Listen to the words, or to the unarticulated tears.
  • Accept - your mate may feel very uncomfortable in certain situations, like parties...or stores...or roads where there's roadside trash (which can hide bombs). These limitations are easy, and natural to resent. Why should you be limited like that? Well...because you married, for better or for worse. Suck it up and deal with it. Remember, no one wants to be nervous in a crowd. No  one wants to be rigid with watchfulness in WalMart. And no one - I can assure you - wants to feel the need to belly-crawl up to a piece of cardboard at their own front gate, to check for evidence that it's a bomb.
  • Love - You may be surprised that the grim and haunted person to whom you';re married is capable of a deeper love than most. It's simply because they've seen the other side of life, and somewhere in the soul is the realization that life if fleeting, and precious. This love may not come through in the form of flowers and romantic dinners...it may be stepping through a door first, scanning for threats, or making sure that the oil in your car is changed and that you have cash for contingencies. They're loving you with a part of their world, and that's the biggest gift they can offer.
And never, ever say, Get Over It.

We would if we could.

This post is linked to Wedded Wednesday, a compendium of really cool posts on marriage. If you click on the logo below, you'll be taken to www.messymarriage.com, which is the springboard to a wealth of information.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Do You Need Your Spouse?

Independence has been "in" for a long time, and it's one of the biggest threats a marriage can face, because the underlying message is:

I don't need you.

That's sugarcoated by the addition of "But I want you in my life"; the first part of the statement is what does the damage, and it can't be undone.

This pernicious attitude has been floating around for a long time, but it probably came to maturity in the 1960s, and has affected both men and women.

Remember the image of Hugh Hefner, the founder of Playboy magazine, wearing a dressing gown, with a different young woman on his arm in every photo?

It's pornography, and I'm not talking about the magazine. I'm talking about the message bluntly hammered into the minds of impressionable young men, that they, too, could live a life of wild and independent hedonism.

It's moral pornography.

And today, Hugh Hefner is a pathetic laughingstock, an octogenarian hanging out with his "Playmates" who could be his grand-daughters. No, his great-grand-daughters.

For women, equal damage was dome by Helen Gurley Brown and her "Sex and the Single Girl" manifesto that turned Cosmopolitan from a literary magazine into the checkout-aisle embarrassment it is today...I mean, to you want your kids to even read the cover?

We don't need spouses. We need to be FREE!

What utter nonsense.We're designed,, male and female, to be complimentary to one another. That's a fancy way to say that we're designed to fit, like the adjacent pieces of a puzzle. We bring different things to our shared home, and these are not things that we can get for ourselves.

We make one another better. You use a whetstone to sharpen a knife, and the sharpening stone is not the knife. It's fundamentally different. Just like men and women.

It's a cliche to say that men get worse when left ot themselves - men are something of a cultural joke in that regard, and rightly so, because most either can't keep a habitable house or go to the other extreme of 'neatnik' control. Do you know of many long-term single men who you'd consider normal, and good role models? The sitcom image of the 50-year-old wearing a lounge suit and gold chains, with hair color from a bottle, hitting on 20-year-old women in a bar is funny (on the screen) because it's true.

And they don't see it. Perhaps the greatest thing a spouse can do is to be the one who holds up a mirror that shows us as we are.

Same thing's true of women; the traits that are charming in their 20s become somewhat ghastly three decades later, and do you want your daughters to be like that?

We need each other.

Like rods and cones in the eye, we have functions designed for a purpose, but one without the other is just a crippled organ, fit only for half a life.

Embrace that other half. Embrace your husband, embrace your wife, embrace the full potential of your life.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Is Your Husband Obsolete?

Well, if he is, trading him in isn't an option. Sorry.

The large and rapid changes in technology over the last ten years or so have radically changed how we live, and how we interact with friends, family, and the world.

Women have, by and large, mastered those changes. men haven't.

This may be a surprise; men are supposed to be technically savvy, gadget-oriented, and hopelessly addicted to gee-charlie-whiz-bangs. Very true, and when something technical goes wrong with the computer in the living room, chances are your husband will find the problem and fix it (if it can be fixed).

Ditto for setting up the cables between the computer and the TV and the speakers, so the movies you stream will go direct to your monster plasma screen in the Home Theater Area. (Well, we don;'t have one of those either. We have a DVD player, and a small screen.)

Men are good at this sort of thing. Where they're hopeless is in using social networking apps to stay connected with the world.

More than half of the users of Facebook and Twitter are female. For Pinterest, the virtual scrapbooking site, it's close to 80%.

This isn't new. To fond a man, pre-Pinterest, who was interested in scrapbooking would have taken a lot of effort. And when one can say that Facebook and Twitter have to some degree supplanted phone calls, when was it that men tended to spend a lot of time on the phone with one another?

They'd meet at the coffee shop on the corner, or the golf course, or a bar. Socialization was done face to face. So was posturing, and the one-upsmanship games that men tend to play against one another.

It worked, perhaps not too well, up until recently. But now, wives are pulling ahead into a depth and breath of involvement that leaves their men on the outside, sullen and isolated.

Isolated by choice, definitely. Social media is not hard to learn, but most men won;'t make the effort...because they're already behind, and they don't want to acknowledge the perceived shame of trying to catch up with their wives.

Granted, there are other reasons for men to avoid social media. Many men simply don't want to socialize, and they feel that the content tends to triviality (which is dead wrong, by the way).

But the main reason is pride; the pride that prevents a man from doing something that his own wife can do better than he can. And so men forego the possibilities of new friendships, they give up on meeting like-minded comrades, all because of a bruised male ego.

What can you do?

First, try to engage him in your social media world - the part of it where he'll feel at home (you probably don't need to visit Downton Abbey-themed Pinterest boards, here).. Follow some Facebook pages that speak to his interests, and to your shared interests.

Planning a vacation? Many destinations now have their own pages.

Looking at a new car? All the major manufacturers appear on Facebook.

Make room. Physically. Rearrange your computer workspace so that you can sit together, uncrowded. Get a wide screen, and make sure the mouse is accessible to each.

Finally, limit yourself. Before all of this entered our lives, social 'media' was self-limiting, both in its technology and in the ways its presence was accepted. Some people could spend hours on the phone, but it was much more intrusive into family life than sitting in the computer corner, almost silently clicking away.

The ease with which the technology of social media has dovetailed into our daily lives has made it easy to spend an inordinate amount of time there. You're comfortable; you're involved; you're interested.

But is your husband?

Yes, he's interested...especially if the time you spend there makes him sullen and withdrawn.

He's interested in you, and he's feeling the loss.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Forgiving Your Mate

C.S. Lewis said that when we think about forgiveness, we should be modest in our first attempts. Don't start with, say, the Gestapo; start with the rude clerk at the corner store.

Then you can work your way up to the Gestapo.

And then you can make the ultimate leap, to forgiving your spouse.

It sounds contradictory; how can it be that hard to forgive the person closest to you? A person with whom you chose to spend your life, someone who's supposed to be your very best friend?

The contradiction disappears when you consider the flip side of those positives...

Someone close can hurt you the worst, because you're vulnerable, and they know the ways in which you're vulnerable.

Choosing a life spent together requires an investment of one's soul as a promise, and it's not easy to walk away, the multitudinous divorces today notwithstanding. Divorce hurts. It's failure, and loss of potential, loss of a future.

And sometimes a best friend can turn into your worst enemy, by deciding to abuse trust and confidences.

The Gestapo, on the other hand, probably didn't hurt you, and probably didn't lay a hand on your ancestors.They're easy to forgive. It's a theoretical exercise which nonetheless lets us feel a few steps closer to Holy.

So, how do we go about forgiving this friendly enemy, this hostile ally, this unpredictable constant in our lives?

First, never say you forgive your mate if you really don't. People can tell when you're not sincere, and the person closest to you can tell most of all.

If the offense has been so great that forgiveness will take awhile - then give it time. Be polite, be considerate, and act as if your unforgiven mate is a Son or Daughter of God, dropped by for a lifetime visit (which is exactly the case).

Second, look in the mirror. Are there things you would have had a hard time forgiving in your behavior, had your places been reversed.

Be honest here, and include the stuff your mate never found out about.

No one's perfect. But as the bumper sticker says, "Christians aren't perfect, just forgiven."

Says in the Bible, forgive and you'll be forgiven. That's a powerful incentive.

Third, when you forgive, don't look back. When you forgive you put away the possibility of ever mentioning the offense again. It has to be gone.

What if your mate "does it again"? Then it's a new offense, and a new forgiveness.

This does not mean that you suddenly take a 'stupid' pill. If the offense was overspending, then access to credit cards can be limited, and you can check the bills. You just have to do it quietly, and you can't talk about it. And if oiverspending recurs, you can NOT say, "You're at it again!"

'Again' leaves your vocabulary when you say, "I forgive you for this."

What you can say is, "I think you went over-budget last month. I'm sure you had a good reason, but let's not do it this month, okay?" (Sound familiar? "Go, and sin no more?")

They say that love is a choice. It is.

And the act of forgiving? It's a choice, yes, but it's a bit more than that.

It's a promise to act like Jesus.

Even to your mate.

This post is linked to Wedded Wednesday, a compendium of really cool posts on marriage. If you click on the logo below, you'll be taken to www.messymarriage.com, which is the springboard to a wealth of information.

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Tolerable Marriage

Some marriages are great, but some are only tolerable.

And all great marriages are sometimes only tolerable.

If you've been married for more than about two weeks, you will be well aware the marriage is more like a rollercoaster than an endless bounty of joyous epiphanies. There are moments when you look out  from your marriage at a single world you used to inhabit, and, just for a moment, sigh for the things you used to do.

And there are moments when you look inward, at your mate, and wonder, What am I doing here?

This is not a reason to panic. It's normal.

Life is a constant adjustment to changing circumstances, and marriage is a changing circumstance. It takes two people who probably did not know each other for very long and puts them into the most intimate human relationship imaginable, with no way out but the radical surgery of divorce.

(Yes, I know...you've never considered divorce, but have often thought about murder.)

People change during a marriage, sometimes quite quickly, and often neither together, nor to the partner's immediate liking.

A man who was wonderfully laid-back during courtship can become fanatical about exercise when he realizes that his peers are putting on weight and starting to resemble their fathers, and nothing will convince him that there are other ways besides three hours in the gym, every night. (This was me.)

A woman who liked the outdoors and cared little for domestic order can suddenly develop nesting instincts that turn a comfortable house into a place of precious objects and rules, the penalty for the breakage of either being too terrible to contemplate.

A generous mate can become a miser, and a responsible mate, a spendthrift in your eyes.

Sure there are reasons for change, and a lot of digging with the cheerfully expensive help of a therapist can uncover them, but the immediate issue is simple.

How do you cope?

The answer  is simple enough to say, but hard to put into practice.

Focus on core values - You married this person for a reason, and those basic traits are still there. Go back to them, and concentrate on reaching and interacting with them. It's tempting to cry out - "He/She just isn't the same!"

True. They're not the same. Neither are you, but there's a common thread of values that you both carry, and those are what brought you together. They're still there.

Accept the importance of the change - the exercise nut is really frightened, and the domestic dictator's life is spinning out of control. The miser's worried about security, while the spendthrift's trying to buy something that's lacking in life.

Pop psychology answers? Maybe, but the point is that there's something driving changes you don't like, and if you can accept that it might be something important, you'll be better equipped to be loving and supportive.

(And, yes, if the change looks like it involves profound unhappiness or other serious issues, do get counseling, however expen$ive it may be. It's worth it.)

Nobody's perfect - You've changed, too, only you probably don't know it...or think it's for the better.

Don't do anything drastic - There's a saying in NASA - "When in doubt, do nothing." An ill-considered and quick response can be far more damaging than taking the time to sit back and let the situation develop until a good course of action presents itself.

Neil Armstrong was an example of this way of thinking. He was known for savoring decisions until the last minute, and then making the right one. This got him chosen as the first man to walk on the moon, and actually saved the moon landing, when the Lunar Module was seen to be coming down to land in a boulder field rather than the expected smooth ground. He hand-flew it to the end of its fuel, and put it down safely as the engine ran dry.

In your marriage, when you see changes in your partner, they've probably been developing for awhile, so nothing 'quick' you can do will change things. That only works in movies.

Let it develop. Don't make sudden decisions, and for Pete's sake, don't make angry, reactive ones. ("She's at the gym all the time, so I'm going to the bar with the guys!")

Accept seasonality - Probably the hardest thing too do, since we really want the good to stay forever. We want our honeymoons to last the life of the marriage.

But you will have bad days, and bad months, and...yes...bad years.

It's what you do during those times that will make sure that the good times come back.

It's said that trouble came to pass, but nowhere is it written that trouble came to stay.