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Marital Growth

One Thing You Must Know About Marital Growth

One thing you must know about marital growth is this. There’s a difference between closeness and intimacy.

We’re all designed for relationships. We may be single, married, widowed or divorced. But when it comes to marriage, there’s one thing you must know about marital growth – the difference between closeness and intimacy.

We desire to be loved by another human being in spite of our flaws. Yet we balk at knowing and being known. It’s risky because our spouse may not accept us. As a result, we keep an emotional distance to hide our vulnerability. Or we’ve been authentic in the past and it wasn’t worth it.

We desire to be loved by another human being in spite of our flaws. Click To Tweet

Marital Growth Can Heal Our Childhood Pain

It’s during our early experiences that we learn how to protect ourselves from pain. We learn ways to hide our real selves. The ways we hide keep us from being intimate in our marriages. Here’s an example.

I learned to hide my vulnerability when I was “held back” in the second grade. Our family moved in the middle of the school year. I had difficulty reading at grade level. A diagnosis of Attention Deficit Disorder didn’t exist then, and while I was diagnosed as an adult, it didn’t stop me as a child from believing something was wrong with me.

“You’re eight and only in the second grade?” kids would say.

“Yes,” I said trying to make light of it. “I was held back.”

“You flunked,” they laughed at me and pointed their fingers. “You flunked,” they said over and over again. I wanted to hide. And I learned to keep my past a secret. Instead, I pretended to be a year younger than I was. It was too painful to admit I “flunked.” As most children do, I chose to hide. I learned to keep my distance from people who would cause me pain.

We all need to grow beyond our childhood pain. A growing and partnered marriage is the way to do it. Otherwise, we fall into stagnation and mediocrity. But we long for energy and vibrancy.

Marital Growth Needs a Healthy Dose of “Closeness”

An example of being close is cuddling up on the couch with your loved one. As a couple, you’re watching a Netflix movie or an episode of your favorite TV show. You share a bowl of buttered popcorn. Physical touch between the two of you adds warm fuzzy feelings. It doesn’t take effort for either of you. It’s easy and comfortable.

To clarify, closeness could be:

  • Enjoying time on vacation together, whether it’s a cruise or a camping trip.
  • Having fun during a shared activity.
  • Comfortable silence between husband and wife.
  • Predictability of routines.
  • Finishing the sentences of another.
  • Knowing what the other wants on their pizza.

Being close because of shared experiences is a vital feature of marital growth. Yet, every marriage needs to be intimate. And I’m not talking about sex. Here’s what I mean.

Marital Growth Needs a Healthy Dose of “Intimate”

Most people think of intimacy as sex. But that’s not all it is. In some cases, sex is the opposite of intimacy. It can be a facade for real intimacy. Close physical connection through sex can be like super-glue for married couples. But it’s not enough. Authentic knowing of another comes through vulnerable conversations.

Here are examples that can apply to either spouse.

When a wife tells her husband she’s attracted to a male co-worker, she’s being vulnerable. As partners, they could be stronger by breaking the power of secret attraction. But she also bears the risk of rejection, insecurity or judgment. The husband could accuse, misunderstand or resent his wife. Even though she chooses integrity, he may reject her vulnerability.

But when her husband welcomes her internal struggles, they can strengthen their union. They can show up as partners for each other. And it takes two to do it.

Vulnerability plus acceptance equals intimacy. Trustworthiness increases. The marriage grows a stronger bond. They know each other’s weaknesses and have each other’s back. Intimacy invites partnership between the two. They both fertilize their unconditional love for each other. They grow through intimacy.

Intimacy in dating is seeing the other person as worthy of dignity and respect. It’s honoring the other’s differences. Resist the attitude of “what can my girlfriend do for me” to “how can I honor her?” Choose to nurture a friendship before a romance. Be willing to grow through relationship.

Intimacy requires two people in the relationship to choose to be real. One may pave the way for the other, but both are willing. Reciprocity is key.

Intimacy requires two people in the relationship to choose to be real. Click To Tweet

Marital Intimacy Is:

  • Leaning into giving and receiving love when you’d rather run away.
  • The confession of a shameful past to allow the other to forgive.
  • Saying a heartfelt, “I’m sorry” without the “but” or “if” words.
  • Letting go of bitterness, resentment, or cynicism.
  • Being willing to risk comfort and choosing to live in truth.

Remember, a growing and partnered marriage needs both comfort and intimacy. Our risk of intimacy and acceptance by our spouse helps us overcome the pain of childhood. When we reciprocate, we can grow our marriages with energy and vibrancy.

Questions to Ponder about Marital Growth

How are your relationships close?

What does the word “intimacy” mean to you?

What do you think of with the word “vulnerability?”

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Photo: by Toa Heftiba through Unsplash.com

State of your marriage

How to Know the State of Your Marriage

My husband and I recently attended his 45th High School Reunion. There were a handful of couples who had been married over forty years! I was curious about the secret to their success. Of course, I want wisdom for my marriage. And I want to help others with “how to know the state of your marriage.” Beyond my clinical knowledge and experience, this was a perfect time to ask. These were couples my husband knew since adolescence. And it was the best environment outside my counseling office to get insight.

40-year Marriage Testimonies:

“We’ve been through a lot. And we have some major differences. But when we go hiking, all those differences fade. We appreciate each other’s strengths and weaknesses.”

“I don’t know why it’s worked for us. I guess we’ve been blessed. My spouse is my best friend.”

Of course, not all long-term marriages give evidence of partnership. Some couples look worn down and live like room-mates under the same roof. We all go through seasons or years of unhappiness or dysfunction. That’s why I steer away from the term, “happy marriage.” It’s more valuable to work toward a growing marriage. And that was my takeaway after listening to the couples at the reunion.

Marriage falls into one of two categories: “masters” or “disasters.” Chapter 11 of my book, Beyond Messy Marriages addresses these two categories.

It's more valuable to work toward a growing marriage rather than a happy marriage. We can all choose to grow through temporary feelings and seasons. Click To Tweet

One of my mentors, Dr. John Gottman, is world-renowned for his research on marital stability. The research findings are packaged in his books for the general public. Clinical training programs for therapists like me have been invaluable. I was privileged to meet Drs. John and Julie Gottman in Atlanta in early 2018 for the Level 1 Clinical Training.

Many who write books on marriage use his findings to define what does and doesn’t work in relationships. Dr. Gottman helps us understand differences between “the masters” and “the disasters.” In other words, those who grow beyond their marital messes are the “masters.” Those who get stuck are the “disasters.” Certain behaviors and attitudes put us heading in one direction or the other.

Know the State of Your Marriage By What Direction You’re Heading

Imagine a horizontal line with arrows on either end. Remember geometry class? Anyone of us can be an “x” on a continuum line facing either right decisions on one end or wrong decisions on the other. This idea helps us see the fluidity of our choices. We have hope for changing our dance (relationship) patterns. We can apply that same horizontal line with an “x” representing our marriages. Are we heading in the direction of the “masters” or the “disasters?” In other words, we can change directions with the smallest of decisions.

Our lives and relationships are never static even though we feel stuck. Click To Tweet

Know the State of Your Marriage By Adjusting to Perpetual Conflicts

Gottman’s research challenges how therapists help or hinder couples they work with. For example, we shouldn’t focus solely on conflict resolution skills. The reason is that 69% of conflict in our relationships are perpetual. They have no resolve. The couples I spoke with at the reunion validated these findings.

So you could divorce one spouse and marry another. But you will experience a different set of perpetual conflicts. They’re likely to add up to the same percentage as the old marriage. The wisdom here is for couples to learn how to solve the 31% of conflicts that are resolvable. And grow through accepting the rest.

Know The State of Your Marriage By Resolving Resolvable Conflicts

We can learn to grow through, adapt, and even appreciate the remaining perpetual 69%. Unless, of course, part of that 69% dishonors the dignity, value, and worth of either spouse.

My husband’s old friends became my new friends while at the high school reunion. Those long-term married folks validated the premise for my book. Those who are open and willing to respect differences were clearly among the “masters.”

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Feature Photo by Matthew Bennett on Unsplash

Fatherhood

Five Ways to Appreciate Awesome Fatherhood

It’s tempting for some of us to dismiss Father’s Day. Greeting cards for dads aren’t as popular as they are on Mother’s Day. But it doesn’t matter what your father stories are. When we take time to reflect, there are five ways to appreciate awesome fatherhood.

Appreciate Fatherhood from your closest relationship

Think of your closest relationship and how you can appreciate fatherhood.

For me, it’s my husband Joe. Even though he’s never been a father, he is a remarkable “Papi Joe” to our four grandchildren. Yes, you may have heard the joke about skipping parenthood to become a grandparent. That is the case with Joe. But he’s more than “Papi Joe.” Right now, he’s becoming a father! No, we’re not Sarah and Abraham from the Old Testament. But it’s taken the two of us to conceive my book about messy marriages. For a woman who’s birthed four babies, writing this book is like going through nine months of pregnancy.

Appreciate Fatherhood from those who’ve passed on

For some of us, our dads are deceased and we miss them during this season. This is the first Father’s Day without my step-dad, Bob. He passed away a few months ago. Within the last decade, I’ve grown closer to him. I miss seeing his smile and hearing his laughter during family gatherings. Although Bob knew me as an adult, my other step-dad, Jim, influenced my formative years.

I have few memories of my young dad, Bill, who died of cancer when I was small. But my Aunt Sara said to me, “He was my favorite brother who took time to understand me.” I believe it’s my dad who passed this trait onto me to become the counselor I am today.

Appreciate Fatherhood from the dad who gave you life

Some struggle with their birth dad abandoning them. It’s easy to hold onto grudges. But our hearts can make room to appreciate them. Our freedom to forgive doesn’t minimize offenses. Nor does it mean it’s OK to let an untrustworthy man into your life. But being thankful helps us live more truthfully.

From the heart-ache I’ve heard in my counseling office, not all situations make this an easy task. And it won’t happen amidst bitterness and busy-ness. Most of us need extra help from a counselor to learn how to have healthy boundaries. We can cultivate an attitude of appreciation.

Appreciate Fatherhood from dads who’ve given you children & grandchildren

Let’s recognize our sons, sons-in-laws, and fathers of our grandchildren. And for some, it’s challenging to wish an ex-husband, “Happy Father’s Day.” Yet they all deserve our appreciation. Take time to notice the love they give and ways they provide.

We can cultivate appreciation even though all relationships have periodic or sometimes chronic messes. Click To Tweet

All relationships have periodic or sometimes chronic messes. Yet, we can still appreciate the dads who’ve born us children. It’s important to know that previous marriages and relationships are not failures. We can gain wisdom and focus on the beautiful lives conceived and birthed from those unions.

Appreciate Fatherhood from dads who’ve influenced you

Take notice of those who’ve been like a dad to you. It might be an extended family member or other mentor.

For me, it’s been my grandfather. His long and beautiful life lasted 94 years. I’m now blessed with living history through my 99-year-old grandmother, his widow. Also, I appreciate my father-in-law from my previous marriage who is now deceased.

Although my Uncle Ken has grown children of his own, I appreciate his influence on me as a father figure. He’s the one who encourages me and gives me advice when I ask for it. And he’s the one who’s known me since birth and has modeled a godly marriage and family over the years.

There’s a Father I’ve not met face-to-face. And I’m not Catholic. But, I appreciate Father Richard Rohr who’s made an impact on me in the last few years. I can tear up reading bite-sized portions of his small book “Just This.” Another book, “The Divine Dance” speaks to me on several levels. Parts of my memoir are about how God used dancing to move me into His divine invitations.

Celebrate Awesome Fatherhood

You may be full of natural appreciation for the fathers in your life. Or you may be avoiding Father’s Day. But we can all take time to ponder the positive things. We all can celebrate fathers as we focus on these five ways.  Let’s appreciate awesome fatherhood no matter how it shows up in our lives.

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Featured Photo by Morgan David de Lossy on Unsplash

How to Get Positive Results In Your Relationship

We all have different stories in our heads about how secure or satisfying our relationships are. It’s common for one person to be satisfied while the other isn’t. That’s why it’s important to know how to get positive results in your relationship.

Some of us take pride in managing our money and then later found out a check bounced. Or we’ve balanced the checkbook and then discovered we spent more on the eating out category than budgeted.

Using another example, have you believed you were eating well, then were surprised the scales registered 10 pounds more than expected? Have you written down everything you ate? Then saw you were taking in many more calories than you were actually burning?

Uncertainty in Your Relationship

Many couples enter counseling with a lot of uncertainty. One is usually dragged in by the other.

One person says, “We need help.”

The other says, “We’re doing fine. . . We can work this out on our own. . .We’re not as bad off as you think.”

It makes sense that couples who detect problems in their relationship, on average, wait an additional six years before they get help.

Tiger/Turtle Syndrome in Your Relationship

It’s very common for one spouse to minimize and the other maximize. I call it the “Turtle/Tiger” syndrome.

Unsplash Photo

Turtles typically hide in their shells and avoid conflict or accuse their partners of blowing things out of proportion.

Turtles tend to see things “not as bad” as they really are. Tigers, on the other hand, roar and persist until they are heard. Many times they DO see things worse than they are.

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Consider Charting Patterns In Your Relationship

A couple years ago, I created The Partnership Pattern chart which helps you keep track of both positive and negative behaviors in your relationship.

For those who like to check things off, it can be a great way to balance the check book of your relationship. All you have to do is observe, experience, and rate measurable items that are going on now in your relationship.

But after I created the chart, I hesitated to share it. Why? I’m glad you asked.

  1. The tendency is to focus our attention on what our partner is doing wrong rather than what we are doing wrong. What we choose to focus on, we’ll find. Yet, it’s vital we don’t ignore clear behaviors that minimize our dignity. Generally, if you look for the positive behaviors, you’re likely to find them. And, of course those negative behaviors scream for your attention.
  2. Normally, we don’t realize how our own responses and reactions invite negativity from our partner. We’re paving the way to get the things we don’t want. Most relationships follow the law of reciprocity. But we need to be aware when the character of the relationship isn’t reciprocal.
  3. Filling out the chart objectively may reveal serious relationship issues such as emotional, mental, or physical abuse. Don’t hesitate to get immediate help if you’re living in fear or danger.

Here’s why I’m offering The Partnership Pattern chart anyway.

Get Clarity in Your Relationship

It’s vital we don’t ignore clear behaviors and attitudes that minimize our dignity.

If you could be honest with yourself, it can be revealing about how to get positive results in your relationship. And get the help that you may be minimizing.

Ideally, it’s great for both Tigers AND Turtles to participate. But if the Turtle in your life is still hiding, you Tigers will have a great outlet for grounding in reality.

The idea is to check off what you experienced most in the relationship that day. Do it every day for one month and get a clear picture of what you need, whether it’s a marriage enrichment weekend or crisis intervention with your local counselor. Know where your relationship stands.

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Relationship

3 Revealing Requirements To Save Your Relationship

 

After years of counseling couples and hearing multitudes of stories, I’ve come to believe three revealing requirements to save your relationship. These requirements not only save your relationship, they nurture it throughout the seasons of life. The story begins with my learning to dance.

Relationship Patterns Are Like Dance Movements

Having grown up in a faith tradition that doesn’t believe in playing cards, smoking, drinking, and engaging in pre-marital dancing, I began to explore a part of me I hadn’t previously developed. It wasn’t the smoking and drinking I was drawn to. Instead, I began to integrate freedom, movement, creativity, music, and emotionally safe partnership through taking ballroom dance lessons. I quickly discovered dancing was like sparks of light into deeper places of my soul.

The light-hearted atmosphere of learning to dance helped me take myself less seriously. And it was a contrast from the crisis counseling work I was doing at the time. I was energized. It provided joy and the lighter side of life.

After a few group and private lessons, I became more aware of how the same dance moves felt different with the style and frame of various partners. As we switched partners often during group lessons, each dancer carried their own unique energy, rhythm and frame.

We relate to our spouses or significant others through relationship patterns similar to dancing.  We all have learned behaviors and styles from childhood that carry over into our adult relationships. When chronic conflict begins to take over in a relationship, it’s time to re-evaluate those dance steps.

Reason # 1 – Your Relationship Requires Reciprocity 

During the romantic phase when we feel the connection, both partners make time to be together and have fun. When the chemistry wears off, our default patterns take over. The ease of the relationship dance works for a while until normal life stressors enter. Child-rearing differences, financial habits, careers, moves, in-laws, attitudes, and resentment wears off those early romantic feelings. What began as exciting and bigger than life becomes boring and irritating.

It’s time to consider the relationship dances and change those steps and styles. It takes two to make that happen.

Reason # 2 – Your Relationship Requires Change

Every stage of life is an invitation to knowing parts of your relationship that were previously hidden. For example, the transition from couplehood to parenthood opens up new and different roles. Research indicates a 70% drop in marital satisfaction within a baby’s first year of life. The husband/wife roles change to dad and mom. One parent may become jealous of time and attention a young child requires. Or new anxieties arise from the magnitude of being solely responsible for the development of another human being.

Added financial pressure, household chores, and caring for a baby requires a shift in perspectives. Expectant parents should consider couples’ counseling to be pro-active as they anticipate necessary changes.

Not only in the child-bearing years, but the dance of a marriage changes with each season of life. What may have worked early on in your relationship may not be relevant now.

Reason # 3 – Your Relationship Requires Fun

Negativity, limited beliefs, and ruminating on the past takes away the fun-loving energy we all need in our partnerships. In Dr. John Gottman’s longitudinal studies of couples, those who don’t recover quickly from conflicts are likely to divorce. It’s not a matter of having less conflict than the average couple. Happily married couples still experience 67% of unresolved conflict. But they’ve learned to shake it off quicker than troubled couples.

Just as the mind absorbs negativity on the neurons, we need to be intentional about light-hearted laughter and fun activities.

What’s Your Next Move?

My husband and I met through our ballroom dance community and we had a great couples dance teacher.  As we move to the rhythm of our lives together, we’re still learning to change what comes natural from the patterns we know so well.

To find out what your relationship needs now, ask about taking the Gottman Relationship Checkup.

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