Look Before You Speak
Raise your hand if you'd like to minimize the conflict in your home. You know—the kids' squabbles, the occasional silent treatment, the raised voice.
According to Lee Carter in Why Did You Do That? (Tyndale), conflict occurs when we react rather than respond to each others' behavior. The path to peace begins with understanding the message and the emotions behind a family member's behavior. So how do you do that? For starters, says Carter, we can "look before we speak."
"Try to use statements that bring emotions into focus and that encourage family members to search for the deeper meaning beneath words and actions," he explains. After your mate's next curt reply, try statements such as:
"I know how irritating it is to come home from work only to find the kids fussing. It's enough to make you want to scream."
"After we argue, I get an empty feeling inside. I feel so lonely. I guess you do, too."
"It seems there are no easy solutions. It's frustrating, isn't it?"
Are You Spiritually Intimate?
The bond that comes from seeking God together deepens a relationship in a way nothing else can. Yet to create that bond you have to enter the final frontier of intimacy—opening yourself up spiritually.
If you're wrestling with the spiritual dimension of your marriage, pick up a copy of Spiritual Intimacy for Couples, by Charles and Virginia Sell (Crossway). The Sells' warm wisdom does much to take the mystery and fear out of sharing your spiritual life with your mate. Of particular note are the "Two-Gether Times" exercises that help you apply what you've learned.
David Stoop, in Experiencing God Together (Tyndale), tackles the topic of shared spirituality from a somewhat more academic vantage point. His spiritual inventory is an excellent tool for couples who want to assess the degree of intimacy, spiritual or otherwise, in their marriage.
Couples wishing to finetune their prayer life will find the inspiration and direction they need in Art Hunt's Praying with the One You Love (Questar). His numerous real-life stories show the impact of prayer and describe how a number of couples overcame the obstacles that can keep prayer from becoming a reality in marriage.
Check Your Vital Signs
In Making Love Last Forever (Word), Gary Smalley says the following vital signs must be evident for a relationship to get a thumbs up:
* You both have the freedom to think for yourselves. No comments like "that's a stupid idea" allowed.
* You're encouraged to express your thoughts, and your spouse listens with the attitude that your words are greatly valued.
* You have the freedom to share your feelings and know they are respected by your mate.
* You feel meaningfully connected through sharing your deepest feelings and you enjoy being together and doing things together.
* You and your spouse honor and respect one another's personal boundaries.
Healthy Mind, Healthy Marriage
After reading Habits of the Mind (Word), by Archibald Hart, I'm convinced a healthy mind has a lot to do with a healthy marriage. Hart, a clinical psychologist, has identified the ten most important habits that characterize a healthy mind.
Take his principle on the need to see the good in others. Admit it, after living with your spouse day in and day out, focusing on his or her good points isn't always that easy. I bet most couples could whip together a list of their spouses' irritating habits faster than they could jot down their admirable traits.
Here is Hart's advice for healthy thinking when it comes to seeing your spouse as Mr. or Mrs. Wonderful.
- Acknowledge your own unloveliness. We all have an unlovely side, which causes others to dislike us from time to time. Remembering this humbles us and reminds us not to judge others for being unlovely or unlikable.
- Set aside emotional reactions. We needn't be controlled by our likes or dislikes. We can choose to overlook bad feelings.
- Remember that every person is loved by God; and Christ asks you to do likewise.
- Recognize your own need to be seen as a good person. By reminding ourselves that we want others to love us, we are able to overcome our faulty thinking [regarding our mates].
There's Still No Place Like Home
When two people marry, they begin to lay the foundation of a new home. As a couch is placed here or a set of curtains hung there, they soon realize creating a home is more than creating order in their physical surroundings—it's a deeply emotional and spiritual process. Somehow, two people try to blend their expectations and dreams in hopes of creating a home that might exist only in their minds.
It's that "mental home" that Frederick Beuchner delves into in Longing for Home (HarperSanFrancisco). So what is his answer to the question of why we always long for home? It has much to do with our yearning for heaven. Beuchner doesn't tell you how to conduct your search, however. Instead, he starts you on your own journey as you begin to dig out memories from your past and put them into perspective.
Why People Tick You Off
Can you name the top five annoying personalities? As he did research for High Maintenance Relationships (Tyndale), Les Parrott pinpointed 15 of them. Here are the five that top the list:
1. The Critic (constantly complains) 2. The Martyr (forever the victim) 3. The Wet Blanket (automatically negative) 4. The Steamroller (blindly insensitive to others) 5. The Gossip (leaks secrets and spreads rumors)
It's actually fun to read about these annoying people until you realize in some cases you're reading about yourself! In fact, I learned as much about myself as I did about a few co-workers and friends.
Parrott helps you understand what makes these people tick, why they tick you off and finally, how to make the best of their irritating behavior. Even though the book sometimes becomes formulaic, Parrott's writing keeps it lively, light and immensely practical.
Copyright © 1996 by Christianity Today/MARRIAGE PARTNERSHIP magazine.