John and I had the pleasure of sitting with Scott at a banquet last June at the Smart Marriages conference in Denver. Our conversation was lively enough to convince me to go to his table in the exhibition hall the next day and buy an autographed copy of his book. It has been a real window into how men approach marriage to read his thought provoking ideas. Scott hosts a website where he invited thousands of men to tell about their experience of marriage, and he has digested those responses and made them into a cohesive form for the reader. Scott is a witty man, and the way he frames marriage helps me both enjoy and understand why sometimes we completely misunderstand each other in the daily routine of being man and wife. One chapter is called "The First Way; Make Your Marriage Your Job" and outlines a man's competence when it comes to solving problems at work, suggesting that he employ similar strategies in marriage. The idea that men who are highly successful in their jobs could translate those skills to a thriving marriage intrigues me. This book is available from the Caring for Marriage library, or buy your own copy and his insights may help you to win your wife's heart forever.
This summer I had the experience of watching a sign language interpreter translate the conversations, lectures, songs and worship services at a camp we were attending. It was fascinating. Her hands swept in the fluid motions of the ideas she was expressing to the people who could not hear what was being spoken. They were beautiful. After one especially lively hour of this, she told me that it was tiring. Her whole attention was absorbed in the process.
Speaking the language of another person takes effort. There is a lazy part of me that wants to demand that everyone speak my language... but I have a suspicion that God expects more of me than that.
Yet some of the rub comes when we think we already are speaking the same language... and realize there is still a divide. Gary Chapman's watershed book on the Five Love Languages has brought new understanding to thousands of relationships in many countries that were stuck using the same words and actions, with disparate meanings. Now he has expanded that idea to include the intricate landscape of apologies. How is it that one person can say what they think is an honest and adequate apology, yet the person hearing it finds those same words to be lacking? Do the words "I am sorry" mean the same thing to everyone?
Chapman has identified five ways to heal the broken trust that happens when we hurt someone we love.
- 1. Express regret.
- 2. Accept responsibility.
- 3. Make restitution.
- 4. Genuinely repent.
- 5. Request forgiveness.
Some people feel that the apology is invalid if it is missing the elusive element that means the most to them. This can leave someone offering the apology feeling confused. It is a set up for increased hurt, until we step outside of ourselves long enough to examine how the other person hears and offers forgiveness.
Twice in my life I have been offered what I would call mega apologies. Once it was court ordered, the other time it came completely unexpected. The first apology was a disappointment. There was no evidence that the person accepted responsibility, but rather placed the blame back on those of us who had been wronged for misunderstanding him. There was no offer to make restitution, least of all a request for forgiveness. It did nothing to ease the pain.
The other apology was quite different. It was for a transgression that had impacted my life deeply, yet I had never expected to receive an apology. The writer expressed sincere regret, took responsibility for her actions without shifting the blame to anyone else, described her efforts to change her life and asked for my forgiveness.
I was stunned. It felt as if a backpack I had grown accustomed to slid off my back and thumped to the floor. A part of me that had frozen began to thaw.
This book can help to bring depth to the words we share with people in our lives. It takes effort, and our full attention. But the significance of that shared connection can be as beautiful as the dance of a sign interpreter, shaping the air with ideas and images.
A third interaction which only squeaks by under the heading of an apology came twenty years after the fact. A person who had been successful in sabotaging our family personally and professionally was left behind when we moved across the country. One day she called to let me know she now lived up the street. I later asked John, "Who is the last person on earth you would like to move nearby?" He answered this person's name.
Yet the woman freely told me her own painful life's story, as if there had been no intent for harm toward us, and casually ended with, "That's why we were so terrible to you."
Somehow, it was enough.
As soon as I heard this author speak at a conference, I knew I had to buy the book. I have seen before the danger signs for cancer and diabetes, and been grateful for the information that could prove to be a life saver. Blood in a scraped knee.... not serious. Blood in your urine.... pay attention.
Dave opened his keynote with a riveting story about his senior pastor who threw his whole family and marriage out the window by running off with a lady in the choir. Dave followed every tactic he had learned watching detective shows to find the U-Haul destination, fly across the country, camp out cross from the U-Haul with binoculars, realize they were taking longer to cross the continent than he did, convince the U-Haul guy to call him when they arrived, fly home, get the call, fly back and then confront the senior pastor who had hoped to never see Dave again. Dave did not succeed in repairing that marriage but he changed the course of his life to find out how to prevent other marriages from going up in smoke. This book is the result.
A few of the questions in the Friendship Quiz are:
- Do you save topics of conversation for your friend because you feel they understand you better?
- Have you shared spousal difficulties with this friend?
- Has your friend shared difficulties they are having with their marriage?
- Do you find yourself looking forward to seeing your friend more than you look forward to seeing your spouse?
- Do you find yourself comparing your spouse to the friend?
- Are you comfortable letting your spouse review all the telephone interactions, email, text messages and voice mails?
Dave describes the vulnerability of professional relationships, and the threat they pose to a marriage, especially when alcohol, travel and fine dining are involved.
The book is full of stories, of real people who did not set out to strangle their marriages and families. Yet they did not realize the risks of what began as simple friendships and were lulled into false security assuming they would never have an affair. It is hard to protect yourself from a disease if you are convinced you are immune.
When John came back from Ghana he had been taking his malaria pills, so we did not entertain the notion that his desperate need to down not only the baptism water in church but a gallon of water afterward, and his uncontrollable shivering under 5 quilts in the dead of August were hints that he might be teetering on death's door. Oops. Malaria pills don't come with a guarantee.
Neither does marriage.
Find out the danger signs.
Infidelity is here. It is as endemic as fast food. I tried to see if I
could go for a whole day without seeing an ad for junk food. It only
seems to work if I don't leave my house and keep any radios off. I
tried as well to see if I could go for an entire day without being
exposed to extramarital sex. But I had to go to the drug store and the
magazines that were at my kid's eye level were as blatant as the racy
movies I was not allowed to see back in junior high, only these did
not require parental guidance to read the covers. As a culture we send
the message to be thin and trim, yet we volley that ideal with an
obsession with fattening food. At one point there was a cultural
standard of monogamy, but we send conflicting standards at a much
Shirley suggests that being attracted to another person other than you
partner is part of the human condition. One husband told her that his
wife was a virgin when they married, and had high religious values. He
would have bet $2 million that she would never have an affair. When
John and I ran a college group on preparing for marriage I invited
just such a woman to speak to these students and she too emphasized
that no one is immune. She was a "good" girl, and was herself
horrified to find that she could destroy her marriage vows.
If the hells can successfully convince us that we have nothing to
worry about it is much easier to weasel into our thoughts and
feelings. I often get mailings from my health care providers,
reminding me to get a mammogram, or a colonoscopy. They seem to
operate on the assumption that because I am a certain age, and female,
I stand a good chance of contracting certain unpleasant conditions.
When I was twelve, I got up out of bed to tell my father that I had
been thinking about the 6th commandment and felt pretty sure I was not
going to break it and could I just check it off my to do list now and
forget about it? He smiled and said not to worry. I think if any of my
children ask me that question, I will say something different. I will
say that the Lord gave those particular commandments because He knows
the biggest dangers and wants to warn us about them. We should take
that as a heads up. If a large insurance company that has never
actually met me feels confident in urging me to make an appointment to
check my cholesterol, I can trust that the God of heaven and earth who
sees me from the inside out is a good judge of the pitfalls I am most
likely to catapult into.
Glass says that we need to keep up walls around our outside
relationships, and windows with our partner. The affair becomes
possible when we start to erect walls with our partner and windows
with someone else. Honesty is a wonderful way to keep those windows
clear. When we let secrecy fester, it erodes the trust that keeps
marriage vibrant. Talking to your partner about small attractions when
they are still small is a good way to keep your marriage breathing and
Having counseled and interviewed thousands of unfaithful couples Glass
has a lot of experience to draw on about the attraction, the lessening
of restraint, the transgression, the secrecy and the aftermath. She
offers short quizzes that you can take to see where your own
friendships lie, in terms of being a threat to your marriage.
She hears over and over that the initial trauma is magnified by the
inevitable lying. One man drove home after being with his lover, and
passed his wife struggling to buckle their small children and the
week's groceries into the station wagon. His guilt was intensified but
not enough to change his ways.
The book offers great hope. Many couples can and do recover from
infidelity, even becoming stronger for the crucible experience.The
book Conjugial Love describes four levels of adultery and this book
echoes those varying situations. When a betraying spouse takes
responsibility for their actions, it is a painful process but there is
a way to reconstruct the marriage.
The shift toward more women in the workplace has made affairs more
common than they were a few decades ago. The majority of affairs
happen at work, especially given the dynamics of long hours, travel,
and working together on a goal with a coworker instead of our partner.
When we ignore the susceptibility that that environment promotes we
make ourselves vulnerable to infidelity. As one man said to Glass,
"How can I want something so desperately that I believe is wrong?"
There are well worn paths to repairing a broken marriage. People have
walked that way before you and will show you the way. "Right now you
may not be able to conceive of a time when you and your spouse will
again enjoy a relationship based on love and trust, but your job is to
work closely with your partner in forging a new partnership for the
future." (page 117)
Glass reminds us that "Leaving a bad marriage without trying to repair
it first is like trying to sell your house right after a rainstorm
flooded your family room. Once you have finished cleaning and
redecorating you may decide not to put it up for sale. If you leave
your marriage when you are feeling devastated, depleted and
demoralized you'll always wonder whether you made the right
This book is full of practical suggestions, both for preventing a
betrayal and healing from one. It speaks to all three members of the
triangle. Consider reading it with the same prudence that keeps you
stepping on the scale and taking your blood pressure. It can help to
fortify your resolve. As one man told Glass, "On a good day, when
things are going well, I am committed to my wife. On a day when things
are just okay, I am committed to my marriage. On a day when things
aren't so great, I satisfy myself by being committed to my
commitment." (page 255)
I love this book. I own four copies. When I have a minute it is fun to
open it up randomly and reread a story of how a couple overcame the
odds, or stayed true to each other through a storm. Our culture seems
obsessed with the portrayal of couples that are young and beautiful.
All of us can point to a score of movies based on that theme. But the
stories that we are lacking are the seasoned ones, the marriages that
embody a love that has matured and deepened. I remember when my father
wrote out the sonnet by Shakespeare that says " Love alters not with
his brief hours and weeks but bears it out even to the edge of doom".
That moment was engraved on my heart. The ideal that marriage is
stronger and more powerful than time nestled between my ribs and took
root. Years later my own husband showed me the passage from Conjugial
Love 302 that says " There is no love which labors for these openings
more intensely, or which opens the interiors of their minds more
powerfully and easily, than conjugial love, inasmuch as the soul of
each intends it."
The stories are grouped under headings like, Commitment, Overcoming
Obstacles, and Eternal Love. Each one is a gem all by itself, so
reading this book can fit snugly in the cracks of your frantic
schedule. I find it to be like daily vitamins, a boost of marital
supplement not instead of reading the Word but in addition to it, just
like taking vitamins should never replace a meal.
There is a story of a couple that lived their entire marriage in the
hospital, as they both suffered from cystic fibrosis. There is another
of a man who tenderly cared for his aged wife in a nursing home. In
between the articles are touching quotes and a few silly pictures,
because laughing is part of marriage too. Put it by your bedside and
read a few page together at night, and you might find the warmth of
your own relationship being refueled.
I was given this book for Christmas and found myself reading snatches of it between the hullabaloo of that first red stocking and the honking horns of New Year's Eve. It was a quick read, yet I did not want to go too quickly. The challenge, to eradicate words of complaint, gossip and criticism from my daily interactions for 21 days is innocent enough. I had already promised myself that I would rinse all comments to my husband for 365 days. But this book raises the stakes to interactions with all people..... could I do it? Bowen offers free purple bracelets to anyone willing to take on the challenge. Every time you slip, you change which wrist the bracelet is on, and start over. The book includes stories from people who have succeeded, and their experience with the enormity of the shift in patterns. There is a place for taking on a challenge when you have little or no idea what you have signed up for. Like the birth of a child. Can any of us honestly see how far into the distance that venture actually reaches? Ignorance comes in handy here, for the perpetuation of the human race for instance.
Perhaps I should ask for help. You know, the kind of help that black and white cars with cherries on top give when I am driving and need to remember to stay within the speed limit. Or the kind of help that statistics teachers supply when you are tempted to forget to do your homework. My own children are pretty cooperative too, when I let them in on some personal flaw I am working on, and they catch me red handed. "Mom, I thought you were trying not to yell."
So maybe I will make a button for myself that says "Stop me if I complain." Chances are pretty good I will always have a witness when I transgress, as complaining to inanimate objects is not as deeply satisfying.
The book identifies four stages in the progression: Unconscious Incompetence, Conscious Incompetence, Conscious Competence and Unconscious Competence. Will claims that the way to begin is to recognize that we are incompetent in regard to complaining. Our lack of awareness makes change less likely. So we begin to notice how frequently words of complaint slip past our lips. Bowen tells of the time he was first explaining the idea to his congregation and he made a complaint disguised as a joke. No one laughed. He noticed... and moved his purple bracelet.
Marriage is a wonderful place to eliminate these corrosive comments. We read that angels always put a positive interpretation on our actions. I have been blessed with a vivid imagination, as evidenced when I come up with reasons I should be irritated or upset. Sometimes I remember to use that same capacity for creative reasoning to give an explanation for someone else's behavior.
"Maybe she is newly pregnant, and feeling awful."
"Perhaps they just received a threatening letter about being sued."
"Maybe their water pipes froze and they are stressed out about living in a house that is under 50 degrees."
"It's possible she is a new driver, learning to drive a stick shift."
"I wonder if they just got a scary diagnosis for their child."
Actually , I don't need to be all that creative. I can look to my own experience, as each of those situations have happened to me. Sometimes when I am paying attention I see that criticizing my husband is like poking holes in the canoe that we are both riding in... and the water is cold. Once I called him to criticize him about something of no consequence that simply could not wait.... I closed my cell phone and turned the key in the ignition. Nothing. That ornery battery connection was acting up and I realized with embarrassment that I needed to call him back and ask for help. He came of course.
So you might want to take on this personal marathon. If you have tried criticism as a means for improving your relationships, I mean really tried it in all its permeations from biting sarcasm to passive aggressive, and found it to be a less than transforming experience, you might want to change gears and give this one a serious try. Just for kicks. As if your marital life depended on it.
This book was recommended to me by a woman who has been married three decades, and has a strong marriage. She said it made a huge difference in her understanding of what her husband needs. That was enough of a commercial for me. Shaunti has articulated many of the fundamental miscommunications that have harangued couples for as long as I can remember. One chapter is called,"Your Respect Means Even More than Your Affection". She conducted a number of surveys, asking men whether they would rather feel lonely and unloved, or would they choose to feel disrespected and inadequate? She was shocked to hear that the overwhelming majority would rather hang on to respect than to love. In yet another survey she asked what happens in a conflict between them and their spouse, a loss of affection or a loss of respect. Fully 80% answered that the cutting reality breaking down the marriage was the loss of respect.
This was groundbreaking news for her, and is to me as well. Thankfully the author doesn't just drop this information in our laps and run. She describes in detail how we succeed or fail to show respect. One way is to value your husband's judgment. Words like "I trust you," and asking for his input are like skywriting "I love you! " across the horizon. I have seen many young mothers who feel protective of their children. They hover over their husbands with wrinkled brows, criticizing how daddy dresses the toddler, or the way he carries the baby. This is an efficient way both to extinguish any willingness to try again, and to send potent messages of "you are inadequate". Respect bites the dust.
A second way to give your husband respect is to give credibility to his ability. (I thought if it rhymed you might remember it longer) John and I have had testy conversations around broken appliances where I thought I was being helpful to offer to call a repairman. What that feels like to him is, "I do not think you can fix this. You are a loser." We could go on a long diatribe about the vast discrepancy between what I said and what he heard. Or I could learn to say it differently.
Yet another powerful opportunity to lubricate a marriage with respect is to make all hubby-jabbing humor in public off limits. This includes criticizing him in front of other people. There are parts of my children's bodies that get banged up in the daily rough and tumble, that I don't give a second thought. A skinned knee, ok. A paper cut, no sweat. But when someone gets a knock on their temple or throat, I pay a lot of attention. Those areas are vulnerable and an injury can have serious consequences. I think of a man's self esteem as being just as vulnerable. He may look brazen and confident, but really, he needs to be offered the tenderness I give to a newborn's fontanel.
Recently we were talking with a couple in active angst. He said he felt like she is not rooting for him and does not respect him. She did nothing to reassure him otherwise. Later in the conversation she expressed her excitement in her job where she gets to support and encourage her team members. I was sad. Probably the people she supervises have their times of failure. Yet she sees this as a chance to cheer them on. I wish her husband could benefit from that cheerleading too.
One final tidbit from this book is her advice to show respect through your assumptions about what your husband is doing. I know that for many years I tried in every language I could muster to say " Call me if you will be late." Mostly, he didn't. My son bought him a pager so I could find him. He would forget to take it. I would scream... I would cry... I would beg... I would threaten...all highly creative efforts on my part to change his behavior. But what I was not willing to change about my behavior was the assumption that if he did not call it meant he does not love me. I clung to that interpretation with every fiber in my being. Finally I realized that when he forgot to call me, it meant... he forgot to call me.
In the interests of urging you to perhaps get your own hands on this book and give it a chance to topple some of the Jerichoian walls in your relationship, I will stop. But not before I offer to lend it to you from the Caring for Marriage library.
We have heard Michele present several times, and she has a lot to say. She is a fast talking, witty woman with decades of experience and she says she has seen every possible problem in her practice. I think I believe her.
In her book she outlines the obstacles and the ways to navigate them. Reading her descriptions fits the experience of many people we have talked to about their aching marriages. Michele has no interest in indulging you in sympathy.
"Yeah, yeah I know it's hard. Let's start changing it."
She begins by debunking a lot of myths, like good couples never argue, major disagreements get resolved over time, both partners will have the same idea of what love feels like, and people can "fall out of love". All of these potholes can catch us when we are not looking, and make us fall.
Michele has a startling answer for her clients who claim to have fallen out of love.
"When you first got married if someone said to you that in a number of years you would fall out of love, you would not believe that person. Your positive feelings for your partner at that time would have prevented you from even entertaining the possibility that love would die. Well the same is true in reverse. Your current negative feelings are blinding you to the possibility that you will ever feel different again." p 55
I know as a new mother I was devastated the first hundred times my child said "I hate you Mommy!" Once a nursling added, "I hate you Mama, can I nurse?" After awhile I realized that those feelings, however genuine they feel at the time, are no more real than the sunrise. It sure is a convincing production... the sun slides up the horizon, in a splash of golden and rosy rays after having deserted me. It was gone, unavailable... but oops it was really me that turned away.
A friend told me, "If you are feeling far away from God, guess who moved."
Sometimes when I am feeling far away from my partner it is me who has built a wall around myself of self righteous arguments, resentment, self pity and blame. The walls come crashing down in the face of compassion, laughter, forgiveness and touch.
Some of the seven steps are:
Start with a Beginner's Mind
Know What You Want
Stop Going Down the Cheeseless Tunnels
Experiment and Monitor Results.
I might have doubted that the average miserable wife could NOT know what she wants, until I watched a video where the relationship coach asked a wife what she wanted from her husband that no one else could give her. She fumbled. She stalled for time. She named some vague things like love and acceptance, that he dismissed as being qualities she already got from her family and children. This angry, sarcastic wife was suddenly silent in front of 2000 listeners, and most importantly, her husband. She did not know what she wanted from him, and realized how slim his chances were of hitting an invisible target.
The experimenting idea is intriguing. Some of the suggestions for shaking up a bad combination of reactive behaviors are: don't be home when your spouse arrives, don't ask any questions about his/her whereabouts, instead of being angry as usual, act pleased to see your spouse, and make your spouse wonder about you.
Michele invites the reader to make his/her own list of surprising possibilities to replace the "more of the same behaviors" we have perfected. She gives great examples of how humor can lighten an impasse.
She explores the different modes of communication. Sometimes we are too stuck to speak to each other. That would be a good time to try calling, or texting, or email, or lipstick on the shower wall, or a voicemail at work, or skywriting.
I like that Michele ends with a chapter called,"Expect the Impossible". Surely the One who brought us together will move heaven and earth to keep us together. We just need to look in His direction.