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Love and marriage are the greatest adventures in life, and they point they way to our relationship with the Almighty.

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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Lighting the Positive Marriage - The Encouraging Heart

Over the last five Wednesdays, we looked at James MacDonald's "Five Logs on the Negativity Fire", specially modified for marriage.

These were:

  • The Critical Eye
  • Wrong Expectations
  • Negative Friends
  • Unresolved Hurt
  • Bad Time Management
Today we'll start a focus on the positive, going through the same basic categories...
  • The Encouraging Heart
  • Uplifting Expectations
  • Uplifting Friends
  • Putting the Past Behind You
  • Quality Time
We'll begin with the Encouraging Heart.

We all need encouragement, even though there are some who are to proud to admit it. We need the "attaboy", the "I know you can do it", the "I believe in you".

We particularly need them from our mates, the closest human relationship we'll ever have.

Encouragement means, literally, "to give courage". How do you do it in a meaningful way?
  • It starts with understanding. You can't encourage what you don't know, so you have to start by being familiar with what's happening in your mate's life. Ask questions, and listen to the answers.
  • Be specific in your praise. If you're married to an accountant, don't just say, "I'm so impressed how good you are with numbers". Focus on special jobs that your mate's been entrusted with, and say that it shows how valuable he or she is in the job. Praise the skills they're proud of.
  • Use reasonable superlatives. Don't go overboard; it sounds false. It's better to express yourself by saying "I can see by what you're saying that you're really handling that situation well", rather than "What a terrific job!". Both have their place, but the first requires more thought - and gets more appreciation.
  • Be gently complimentary to weaknesses. If your wife is self-conscious about her weight, tell her that what she's wearing looks good...often. Appreciate her for what she is. If your husband is upset about a developing bald spot...ladies, this is going to sound stupid, be warned...kiss it often. Make that bald spot something special for you, and do it without specific comment. Here, the action is the affirmation.
  • Be careful offering encouragement in serious problem areas. Some praise can come across as false, even when it's not, and can wreck the open avenue of encouragement. Sometimes you've just got to sympathize.
There are few qualities more beloved in a spouse than the capacity for understanding encouragement. It can lift the recipient from a pit of despair to new hope, and to success undreamed of.

Be an encourager, and you can be the miracle in your marriage.

How about you? How do you encourage your husband or wife? What suggestions do you have for us?

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, August 25, 2014

Starting the Day Right with your Spouse

We humans like to have time measured in neat bits; days, weeks, months, etc.

If a day starts badly...usually it stays that way.

So why not take a few intentional steps to start the day well, and set the tone for a good day...and beyond?

Here are some simple things you can do...starting the night before:

  • Have the things you'll need early ready to go the night before. This includes lunches, packed and ready; work and school supplies, organized and waiting in the entry hall; clothing, chosen and laid out. Do this, and all you have o do is collect gear and go.
  • Get the kitchen ready for breakfast. Get into the habit of clearing the sink and the countertop of dirty dishes, either putting them into the dishwasher or washing by hand and putting them away. Make sure you have what you'll need, or suitable alternatives, to avoid the frustrated cries of "But I really wanted Rice Krispies!"
  • Try to ensure there's enough gas in the car to get you where you need to go in the morning.
  • If you've got a conflict with your spouse in the evening, settle it. The Bible suggests that you not let the sun go down on your wrath, and certainly you shouldn't go to sleep on it. If it's not a life-or-death situation, you might just...give in. let it go. Most marriage arguments are caused by bruised egos...and can you even remember the reason for your last fight? Let it go.
  • Start the morning with a hug and a kiss. Not a perfunctory shoulder-squeeze and peck, but a hug and a ten-second kiss. No, don't hold a stopwatch over your spouse's shoulder, and don't set a timer, either. Just get used to how long ten seconds really is.
  • If you start the morning with a shower, shower together. Not for sexual reasons, but to have a moment of mutual physical closeness.
  • Banish the morning news. You can get weather and traffic on your smartphone, or on the car radio. Have breakfast together, without inviting in the Morning Show personalities. 
  • No newspapers at the table. Nothing's more depressing than taking to a sheet of newsprint...wait, does anyone still actually read them?
  • No texting or calling or browsing during breakfast. Would you invite a friend over for a meal, and ignore her while you're playing with your phone? No? You've invited your husband or wife into your life...don't they deserve at least that consideration?
  • No conflicts of controversy before parting. Don't leave an unresolved issue hanging. There is the small but nonzero chance that when you say goodbye, it will be for good. Bad things happen, and there's no reason to risk a life of regret..."Why couldn't we have parted with a smile?" is a horrible burden to carry down the years.
None of these action items is hard to implement...and if you need to make changes, you don;t need to make them all at once. Don't make it a crusade...but do make a better start to the day a priority.

You won't regret it.

Share with us - how do you and your spouse make sure your day starts well?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Do You Have Time To Be Married?

This is the last chapter in our take on James MacDonald's "Five Logs on the Negativity Fire", applying each one specifically to marriage.

We've been through the Critical Eye, Wrong Expectations, Negative Friends, and Unhealed Hurts over the last four Wednesdays.

Now...let's talk about Bad Time Management.

Marriage is all about time. It's about building and nurturing a relationship with that one special person while we're trying to make a living, maintain a household, and grow a family.

It was so much easier during courtship! We pushed everything else aside. Well, I did.

But while an employer may put up for a while with an inefficient and starry-eyed worker who's deeply in love, that forbearance usually starts to dry up after you get back from the honeymoon.

Likewise, creditors, unreasonably, still want to be paid.

So married life takes its place in the conga line. You do what you can together when you can...oh, wait, it's Super Bowl Weekend...we'll do some stuff together next weekend, right?

Oh, you're going to the antique fair?

Well, another time.

And I haven't even mentioned kids. Or in-laws.

Fortunately, time management in marriage is pretty straightforward.

Your spouse comes first. period. Full stop.

That means that unless you're bleeding out, if your husband needs to talk to you about a bad day, you can't defer him. Not even to watch Downton Abbey.

And if your wife really wants to clean the gutters before the autumn rains come, that's where you're obligated to be. Even if the World Series is on.

Our society idolizes children, and they are certainly important, but they will not be there for you forever. Your spouse will.

Cleave unto him (or her),

Your in-laws may say the blood comes first.  Well, sure. "One flesh" includes veins, rights? And there's blood in veins, eh?

Your spouse comes first. That is the essential time management of marriage.

You've got to give that time with a generous heart, not begrudging the TV shows you missed. You have to trust your mate not to deliberately try to interfere with something you enjoy.

If he or she needs you...you're needed. And you promised.

Easy to say...but how do you live it?

There's no simple, bulleted list to follow here. There's no set of exercises.

This is something that has to be a gift. It's a gift that you promised in the months leading up to the wedding, and you formalized it before God, community, family, and your spouse.

The one thing you can do is hand on the time, with a smile. Liten with your whole heart, and help with a committed soul.

You promised.

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, August 18, 2014

Goodbye, Robin, But We Really Don't Care

Change of pace today, in honor of the late Robin Williams.

The good that Robin Williams gave us is incalulable. He made us laugh when we felt like crying, and his movies gave us hope when we wanted to give up.

He put his heart into everything he did, including his work for St. Jude's Children's Hospital.

And we failed him. And we will continue to fail him.

It's no secret that he suffered from depression, an illness exacerbated by substance abuse (cocaine and alcohol). He was clean and sober from 1983 to 2003, and then started drinking again. He went through at least two stints of rehabilitation, one in 2006 and one earlier this year.

So where did we fail him?

First, by stigmatizing depression. It's an illness, and it is treatable. But our society usually doesn't want to look at it that way - we far prefer to see depression as a personal failing.

Come on, cheer up. Other people have it worse than you.

Smile! Do something fun!

Laugh and the world laughs with you, weep and you weep alone. (Ironic thing to tell a comedian, eh?"

Would you say this crap to a cancer patient? To a veteran who left two legs and an arm in Iraq?

But we'll feed this sort of happy-talk nonsense to someone who's depressed. Great thing to do - make them feel worse about themselves, and make it even harder to look for help, because it seems to be a tacit admission of weakness, and failure.

We do it because we don't want to have to care. We feel we have "compassion fatigue", and yet another thing to care about will just flat out take some of the fun from our lives. If we think the depressed folk can cure themselves, then, by gum - let 'em do it, if they're worthy!

And we're afraid that next year it might be us. If we ignore the possibility and the consequences, maybe that particular death angel will fly past our hiding place. Kind of like "don't ask, don't tell".

Insurance companies don't help, by the way. They'll pay for therapy for, say, six visits to a mental health professional. After that, you're on your own.

To make things worse, we support the efforts of those who would help a depressed person immolate himself with drugs and alcohol. We add tinder to the pyre.

How? We watch television programs supported by beer ads. Those cute Budweiser Clydesdales...they work for a company that provides the tools of self-destruction to thousands, maybe millions of people.

"Drink responsibly" is on every ad, yeah. But they want you to drink.

And drugs?

We've tolerated local legalization of marijuana. Instead of trying to limit the use of mind-altering substances, we're expanding it. Smart.

We tolerate politicians with a history of drug use. Anyone can make a mistake, but shouldn't our elected officials be held to a higher standard? Don't the responsibilities we place in their hands - our future, and our childrens' future - demand that they be better?

Or are we voting our pocketbook? Are we voting to be able to buy a new car every three years, when the warranty runs out?

We enjoy drug and drunkenness jokes in entertainment. Someone's high, and it's funny. A nondrinker gets "wasted", and it hilarious.

And we don't demand laws that would drastically diminish the drug trade. We don't pay for enough police, or for an educational system that would give kids hope for a future rather than the temptation of using or selling drugs. It's not that we're overtaxed. We simply would prefer to see the money used elsewhere.

Enjoy the highway beautification project, but don't take the inner-city offramp. You may not survive.

And so, dear Robin Williams, goodnight and goodbye.

We wish you hadn't died.

But we did nothing to protect your weakness, and we'll do nothing to protect those who fight the same demons.

Nor because we can't. Because it's not convenient, and we don't want to.

This post is linked to Calm-Healthy-Sexy's GET REAL party. Click on the logo below and drop by!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Unhealed Marriage Wounds

Welcome to Part Four of our take on James MacDonald's "Five Logs On The Negativity Fire".

We've covered the Critical Eye, Wrong Expectations, and Toxic Friends.

Today we'll look at unresolved hurts.

Marriage is in many ways the most potentially painful relationship we'll ever experience. To fully experience the potential depth of joy and fulfillment, we have to open ourselves emotionally...and that means being open to hurt.

Your spouse will know you better than any living human being. He or she will know what makes you happy, and what makes you sad. Your "hot buttons" are no secret.

We hope for that knowledge to be used wisely, and with care.

But sometimes it's not. In marriage, we can easily hurt one another without meaning to, when we concentrate on the "i" rather than the "we".

And sometimes we hurt one another deliberately, like a gut-shot hyena snapping at its own entrails.

The resilience bought by an enduring relationship can help us see these accidental and deliberate woundings in their proper perspective, as aberrations that can safely be ignored, after we've gotten past the shock.

The love's still there, but sometimes the person to who we're married is an idiot, and so can we be. We forgive, to be forgiven.

But sometimes the hurts go deep. Sometimes an offhand remark can shred self-esteem, and take on a life of its own. A comment delivered in the flush of anger might be forgotten by the person who said it, but it's words of fire on the soul of the recipient.

An unhealed wound on the soul.

Any cut or laceration heals from the inside out, as tissue granulates at the bottom of the cut, building layers of clean skin. That's why we're advised to keep deep cuts open, under a loose bandage. This allows air to circulate through the wound, and the really nasty bacteria - anaerobic bacteria - do not like fresh air.

If the outer layers of skin heal first, it may look okay for awhile, but underneath, infection can build. The wound is cut off from the atmosphere, and the anaerobic bacteria has its day in the sun...or the shade, as it were.

Same thing applies to emotional hurts. If we are cut deeply to the heart, we can't just "suck it up and put on a happy face". It may work for awhile, to get us through a family reunion or a busy Christmas, but the infection's there, festering in the dark.

We need resolution.

Now, this does not imply that we require confrontation., or even discussion of the hurt.

We've got to become our own immune system, and heal from the inside. We have to look at the wound we've received in the context of our marriage, and first ask - was this serious, or did my mate just have a stupid and cruel moment. Am I overreacting?

Often, we are. It's human nature to love drama, and to sometimes be the lead character in our own little soap opera. Step back, throw in some humor, and the healing begins.

Sometimes it's worse; sometimes the hurt was deliberate, aimed at a weak spot, or an accident that smashed one of our vulnerabilities.

It's often good to talk with our mate about something in this category (and to consider enlisting the aid of a counselor, if the hurt was bad enough or the relationship fragile). We may find that we took what was intended as a constructive and small criticism and blew it out of proportion by constantly stirring the pot, thinking about it.

But be that as it may, the responsibility for healing is still ours. We have to find the resolution for our own hurts.

We have to take ownership of our wounds, and of our healing. Our spouses can support us, the can love us (and they can hurt us), but we should never ask them to do what we can and must do for ourselves.

Good advice, eh? The question is...how?

After we've gone through the analysis, the discussions, and even the counseling, there's only one real answer, and it is a one-size-fits-all.

Stop stirring the pot.

You've got to be aware of your thoughts, and put them under discipline. When you find yourself going "there", face it. Don't beat yourself up, because you are going to go there.

Just recognize it, and tell your mind to turn away. At firs, it'll resist. It'll kick and sceam and say, "But it was so unfair!"

Yes, maybe it was. Past tense. Was.

But today is a new day, and this is the dawn of disciplined thinking.

We need discipline to keep a wound clean, and sometimes the process hurts. Any wound.

And then we heal.

Please share with us - how do you resolve wounds you've received from 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.

Friday, August 8, 2014

A Spouse's Respect

There have been a couple of very good blog posts recently on the question of how to show your spouse respect.

Cassie Celestain of True Agape described he top five behaviors that show your husband respect, and Ngina Otiende, writer of Intentional Today, makes the case that your husband wants your respect more than your love.

They make a compelling case for why one should be aware of just how one shows respect; it's easy to fall into the trap of thinking you're respectful when it doesn't come across that way.

"But of course I respect you!" rings hollow, for both men and women.

It's a cheap shot to say that if you have to declare it, the respect isn't there, and it's not particularly true.

Marriage is a place of familiarity, and showing respect through words and actions has more than a whiff of formality...it's how we were taught to treat our 'elders and betters'.

And we often err on the side of familiarity, to look friendly and approachable...and often appear disrespectful, when we're not.

But what of the other side of the coin? What if respect is really lacking in a marriage? It does happen. A husband who goes through a long spell of unemployment can sorely test his wife's regard, even if he's doing all he can to secure work.

Same thing can happen with a wife.

And sometimes we make mistakes that cost us the respect of those to whom we're closest.

Love is still there, but that's not the issue. It turns from the love of an equal to the somewhat indulgent love one has for a wayward or slow child. It's a bit condescending.

Do we need our spouse's respect?


We can't control what someone else thinks of us. We want to be well-regarded as well as loved, but it's something we can';t enforce, and to demand the outward trappings is at best a Pyrrhic victory.

We have to respect ourselves. Not in conceit, but in the confidence that our Creator made us in Love, and with care, and, as they say, "God don't make junk".

If we can find ourselves grounded securely in our kinship with the Almighty, the respect of even those closest to us becomes less than a necessity, and if we don't have it - we can put aside the bitterness and anger that would normally ensue.

This doesn't mean we shouldn't work on rebuilding respect if it's been lost, either without cause or through our own actions. Respect is an important part of marriage, and that can't be ignored.

But it has to start at home, so to speak. Jesus said we should love our neighbor as ourself. Not more than. Not less than. Equal, because if you don't love your neighbor, you can' love, or, ultimately, be loved.

And respect is in the same place; if we can't respect ourselves, we can neither give respect to others...nor truly receive it from them

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Toxic Friends?

This is Part 3 in our "marriage adaptation" of James MacDonald's "Five Logs on the Negativity Fire".

This is a hard log to move, because it's about friends.

Friends are supposed to lift us up. They're our boon companions, and they're the ones who are supposed to be there for us when everything else goes wrong.

Small wonder that our mate is ideally our best friend.

But what happens when friendships go wrong, when they start damaging our marriage?

Almost no one starts out with the intention of hurting someone's marriage. It starts from a small thing, like a burr under a horse's saddle blanket.

But leave the burr there long enough, and the horse is ruined by a sore.

The friends we had before we married can hurt our marriage in two ways - jealousy and judgement.

When you get married, a friend with whom you'd spent a lot of time, shared laughter and confidences, can feel abandoned. Your life has changed; you've set off on a new journey.

Your friend is left on the dock, waving goodbye and hoping for a postcard.

And what greater temptation than to drive a wedge, to bring things back to where they were?

The evil twin of jealousy is judgement, the feeling, spoken or unspoken, that "he/she isn't good enough for you". Jealousy is usually folded into judgement, of course..."how could you prefer your mate's company to the fun we used to have?"

The friends we make as a couple can also fuel negativity - and the methods are surprisingly similar. If your marriage is seen as better than that of a married friend, there's the instinctive desire to "bring you down to their level".

Misery loves company, and a friend with an unhappy marriage would prefer to be able to complain in chorus with you.

Judgement comes from above, and if a negative married friend sees your marriage as struggling, it's tempting for them to be "supportive" by criticizing your spouse. And this can be attractive - when you feel beleaguered, it's always good to have a friend.


And then there are the divorced friends. Their negativity can be the stuff of legend, and they often paint a wonderful picture of the "free" lifestyle they enjoy, while you're walking behind the nuptial plow.

What to do, when you realize that a friendship has started to have a negative impact on your marriage?

  • Don't sweep it under the rug - tell your spouse that you are having a problem with a friend, and keep the choice you make - however you deal with it - transparent.
  • Talk it through if possible - often, our friends don't realize that their well-intentioned words are damaging. Tell them, and make it clear, in a friendly but firm manner, that the damaging conversation has to stop. This will have an effect on the friendship - your friend will feel like he or she is on probation, and that will be exactly right. But probation ends, and friendship can be restored.
  • End the friendship if necessary - your marriage is your first temporal priority...ahead of parents, ahead of kids, and certainly ahead of friends. If the relationship is so damaging, or potentially damaging that you don't feel it can be contained, end it. Sounds easy, but it's terribly hard, and sometimes heartbreaking. But when you married, you made a vow, either explicit or implicit - "forsaking all others". You've got to be prepared to live it, together.
You may have noted that we've made an assumption of either same-sex friends, or "couple" friends.

What about opposite-sex friends?

Billy Graham says, "do not have friendships with those of the opposite sex". He goes so far as to say that, as a married person, one should not ride in a car or even enter an elevator alone with someone of the opposite sex.

He has a point - avoid the slightest temptation.

But it's not very practical. If you're a male writer of romances, the other writers you meet will be overwhelmingly...uh...female.

What to do? It's fairly simple...remind yourself of the vows you took, every single day. Remind yourself that while you can be a friend, you can be kind, compassionate, and supportive, there is a line you must never, ever cross in your communication. (And I'm talking about people you only see through email, as well as those you see in person, because emotion isn';t shackled by distance.)

Can't trust yourself? Well, if you don't want to go the Billy Graham route, you've got to.

It's not all that hard. If you drive a car...there are things you don't do, even though you're tempted (well, I'm always tempted to see how fast the thing will go...).

If you own a weapon, there are rules that are written in blood.

And you always face the temptation to buy things you can't afford. Well, again, I...uh, let's not go there.

Anyway, you have examples of self-discipline in your life. Let them come to your aid.

And if you can't, or don't think you can...well, Reverend Graham has the answer to that.

Have you had friendships that have threatened your marriage? Please share!

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.