tolerance

MARRIAGE IS FIRST

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When people hear that Darrell and I have been married for almost 30 years, sometimes I get the question, “What is it that you do to make it work?”  I respond, Anything it takes.

The biggest reason for the breakdown of marriages, I think, is that people can’t get over the mental hurdle that their marriage is not about them.  It doesn’t belong to them; it wasn’t invented by them, nor is it for them.  The marriage is about God.  Once I accepted that my marriage belongs to Him, I started to look at it differently — and treat it differently.

[Marriage] is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one. ~Paul to the Ephesians

It doesn’t matter what either of us want, need, think, or feel, it’s essential the rings win:  The MARRIAGE must always come FIRST.

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The Day of Lovers

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I purposely waited until after Valentine’s Day to publish this post.

A couple of days before Valentine’s Day I was reading along on Twitter and saw a pattern emerge, “What I want for Valentine’s Day is …,” or, “All I want for Valentine’s Day is …”  Although framed in many different phrases, it all boiled down to drawing the emphasis to self:  MeIMy.  Considering who Saint Valentine was, I found this pattern at odds with his message.

The History

Have we over romanticised all that Saint Valentine died for?  As much as we like the cushy gush brought to us by marketing and advertising, let’s look a little beyond that to some facts:

  • Saint Valentine believed so strongly in what marriage stood for that he was willing to die for it.
  • He honoured Christian marriage and chose to break the law to preserve its sanctity.
  • He endured a beating and stoning before decapitation.

Doesn’t exactly inspire a trip to People’s Jewelers and a romantic card from Hallmark.

There’s an excellent article in which Father O’Gara of Whitefriars Street Church in Dublin, says, “What Valentine means to me as a priest, is that there comes a time where you have to lay your life upon the line for what you believe. And with the power of the Holy Spirit we can do that — even to the point of death.”

Try Something New

I’m not a ‘buzz-kill’ that believes in looking for reasons to not celebrate.  I love to partae!  And, I believe in ALL things that celebrate marriage!  I just want to find a better way to honour this courageous hero of marriage than:

  1. Making it about self.
  2. Making a mockery of his name sake by assimilation into the emotional promotions of flowers, frills and sales gimmicks.

A way of celebrating that would be more of an echo of Jesus.  Saint Valentine knew the heart of Christ and followed His pattern.  Inside Jesus was giver not a getter.  He died giving, not getting.

If you really believe that Valentine’s Day is about marriage and lovers, and you want Saint Valentine’s death to mean something, I challenge you to drill down on giving.  Don’t just give this day a fleeting acknowledgement that’s filled with expectations of getting.  If you are a wife, celebrate your marriage by being the best, the most stupendous partner for your husband!  Always being superior in your giving and excelling to do more than enough. (1 Corinthians 15:58)

Instead of starting February 14th in the AM and ending February 14th  in the PM, start now – February 17, 2014, and continue through to February 14th 2 0 1 5.  Then, on Valentine’s Day 2015, you will really have something to celebrate.

Set aside a devotional time just for your husband, not to pray with him, but to pray for hm.  Let God into all the recesses of your heart concerning your husband.  It’s not a time to pray about his faults – it’s about praying for your growth areas as a wife.

Put the expectations of Valentine’s Day on yourself and make it about what you are going to give to your husband over the next year.

  1. Reconnect with God about your marriage vows.  Ask God if He’ll be able to say to you, “Well done good and faithful servant?”  And listen to His response. (1 John 2:6)
  2. We all suffer from immaturity.  There are areas within all of us that need to grow up.  Ask your spouse, “What is one thing that I need to grow in for you.  An area that will help me be less selfish and a little more like Jesus.” (Romans 8:29)
  3. Ask God to reveal mindsets that are destructive to your marriage and egotistical attitudes.  Make it a season to learn how to apologize for something you said that was hurtful.  In an effort to grow up and be responsible for your own behaviour.  Even if your spouse was 99% responsible and your reaction was 1%.  Own one hundred percent of your 1%.  (Ephesians 4:31-32)
  4. Ask for encouragement.  Ask your man to tell you any area(s) that you are hitting it right! (Hebrews 3:13)

Concentrate on the cosmic picture of eternity.  Does God really want me to grow into a spouse that’s able to get the most or a spouse who’s able to give the most?  What will you give this Valentine’s Day of 2015?  The day you were married you promised this man a lot … you need to give more than you promised.*

 

*Adapted from the quote by Anthony J. D’Angelo:  Promise a lot and give even more.

Marriage Triangle (Part 1)

upwithmarriage

Part 1 – The Myth We Discovered

There is a triangle paradigm used to depict the Christian marriage, aptly called a marriage triangle.  There’s many variations of it, but generally it looks like one of these:

marriage triangle 2

The premise is obvious:  The closer you get to God the closer your marriage will align to the perfection of God thereby bringing the two of you closer.

In theory this paradigm makes complete sense, but for real life practical application in marriage, it’s a miss and leaves us strandedBy glossing over our human brokenness – the truth of what we really are, with the illusion of perfection, it leads us more into a myth mindset than a paradigm that can help a marriage grow into the force it was meant to be.

This triangle image bolsters the idea of black and white in the marriage relationship and leaves us with a flavour of simplicity.  It doesn’t factor in the reality of any hurt, strife, offences, or conflicts that are inevitable, as Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 7:28, “… Yet those who marry will have physical and earthly troubles, …

Perfection is a myth

MYTH:  Darrell and I are equal in our maturity and our backgrounds won’t make any difference.  It doesn’t matter what each of us has been through in childhood and life, we’ll ascend the triangle towards God at an equal rate of maturity.

Both spouses growing equally in their respective relationship to God, and naturally getting closer to each other.  Yes, if all things were equal.  If I grew up on Bliss Boulevard and if Darrell came from Paradise Place and if we were making our home on Utopia Avenue, this triangle is a statement of truth.  Correctly depicting 2 Christians in a marriage; as the marriage should be.upwithmarriageJAN

But here’s the problem:

  • Earth is not utopia and balanced maturity is hardly the reality of two sinners that are …
  • Bound together in such a close relational space that they may as well be called one person …
  • Living in the fallen world.

Sorry for the bummer of all those grim verses but if we are going to live in reality and not fairyland, we need to be honest with ourselves about who we really are.  Let’s face it, there’s a reason Jesus had to die for us.  Also, if when we get a little high on ourselves, there is nothing more effective than a good dose of reality to level the playing field of marriage.

Without exception all of us are different.  Nobody grows and matures at an equal level, in the same way or during the same time frame.  Each of us have come from different backgrounds, lived different lives and have experienced hurt in ways that differ from each other, so our wounds are unalike.  Our healing and maturity will be anything but identical, equal or symmetrical as we grow closer independently to God.

Conflict is not a myth

You can’t live in this world and not be wounded.  Somehow, some way … all people are hurting (Mk 2:17).  Hurting people hurt others.  But as we heal and grow … we do less damage to each other.

Wounds are the root of offence, discord and strife.

They reveal where we need to be healed in order to grow-up.

Ferreting out the wounds from beneath our self-made coping mechanisms so that we can heal and grow, takes time.  And on top of the wounds, there’s also variations in our genders, our basic personality differences, which are not so basic if you’ve spent any time reading some of the Meyers Briggs information.  Not to mention birth order factors that probably come into play.

We humans are fearfully and wonderfully created with all our amazing complexities.  The good we live in and do belongs to us and our spouses; and so does the darkness.  It’s not as simple as:  sliding up our respective sides of the triangle into happily ever after.  So, what’s the solution?  Reciprocity.

Part 2 – ReciprocityWhat can you give to The God that has everything?  Same triangle – alternate and active perspective.  Helping each other to heal so that we each can grow closer to God.

 

Dysfunctional Communication (Part 2)

If you missed the first installment, Part 1 – Our First Truce, you can find it here.

Part 2 – Emotions

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We didn’t decide who was right or wrong that night.  Instead, we agreed not to be offended at anything the other person said.  We agreed to just talk about our emotions instead of actually feeling them.  We were both guilty in our own areas of dysfunctional relating, and were both contributing to the destruction of our marriage and the disruption of the regular living of life in our home.

We determined that it was our emotions that were stopping us from reaching any conclusions or resolutions.  So what we did was put them away!  Not neuter or bury them:  put them away.  Your emotions belong to you and you alone – they have no business in the arena of conflict resolution.  Yes, you can say how you feel (or felt), but you cannot feel it.

In Bob Burg’s new book, Adversaries into Allies, I like how he says, Control Your Own Emotions.  This fact is applicable to all relationships not just in business, and especially in a marriage.  If there’s any hope to finding the synergy that evolves from healthy conflict resolution, you must take ownership of your own feelings.  Skip Prichard did a stellar review of Bob’s book, you can find it here.

Identify your own emotions

Darrell’s main problem was anger, and mine was fear.  He would react by blowing up, while I would react with crying followed by emotional distancing (shutting down).  I would then brood over it and come back around to attack* on a different day with a different angle – he would blow up, I would react by crying then shutting down.  I would brood over it and come back around to attack on a different day with yet a different angle… Rinse and repeat — again.

I felt he never heard me and he felt I never listened to him.  We were both right!  Neither of us were listening or hearing because both of us were taking the emotional cues to defend and protect the turf of our own opinions.  I blamed him for making me shut down emotionally, and he blamed me for making him angry.  Where there is no ownership of emotions, there will be no responsibility for behaviours.

Put your emotions in check

Here’s a random example of how it worked.  There would be some kind of disagreement between us.  He would say something ‘wrong’ – in anger, or too harsh, or whatever else – I was offended somehow, in some way, I was hurt or disagreed with him. <dysfunctional communication would normally be well on its way> Rather than shut down or say something emotionally charged, I would write down the situation and put it in the Truce Box – and visually close the lid (file, I kept mine on my computer).

The Truce Box sat there quietly on my computer, holding all of the emotion… so that I didn’t need to.  I could carry on with my day or activity, knowing that a Truce Box Talk was coming.  My feelings weren’t suppressed or forgotten emotions that were deemed inconsequential – they were just sitting safely in the truce.

As juvenile as all this sounds these steps were necessary, both of us were emotionally immature.  Like I said in Part 1, we had ZERO conflict resolution skills.  Normally you begin to learn these as children and they are built on as you grow up.  We’d missed out on that, and we had to start somewhere.  The good news is that it didn’t take long once we had a plan.  And the most beautiful part was that we got to grow up emotionally, together.

Separation

When you separate the emotion from the conflict, you can look at the conflict with different eyes and a different heart.

  • Your protective defenses come down and you can hear the other person and their perspective.
  • With emotion out of the way, your vision is clearer which opens your heart.
  • The conflict becomes almost tangible, and you can touch it with your hands, like with a puzzle, you can accurately see all the pieces – where they fit and don’t fit.

Your marriage is a huge puzzle and you have to build it with your spouse.  You each bring different pieces to complete the picture, and you have to learn to work together so that you can finish it.  Let’s say you are both working on the bottom part of the puzzle and there develops a conflict about which puzzle piece should be placed in a particular place.  The Truce Box enabled us to still work on other areas of our puzzle, then come back to the difficult spot at a later date.

*I say the word attack because it was my intention to continue the ‘discussion’ in order to change his mind, or get him to see my way.

~~~

In Part 3 – The Truce Box Talk, Freedom, strength and acceptance are found in the truce.

robyn

Dysfunctional Communication (Part 1)

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Part 1 – Our First Truce

What are you to think when a marriage counsellor says: “Wow, you guys are a really hard couple.”?

Our marriage has been counselled by mentors on two different occasions, as well as by a few different marriage counsellors.  Our last counsellor told us something that was not only hard to hear, but also a surprise.  We were half way through our 2nd session when she said, “Wow, you guys are a really hard couple.”  Of course, my prideful mind silently responded, “Finally, someone understands what I’m up against here!”

By the time we had accumulated 15+ years of marriage with ZERO confliction resolution skills, that’s all we had to show for it?  That was our legacy?  “Wow, you guys are a really hard couple.”  It brought a sense of hopelessness, but as hard as it was to hear, it was also the beginning of a turning point.  It was this feeling of not being able to find anyone to help us that forced the arrival of the Truce Box Talks.

We were in the middle of another cage fight.  It doesn’t really matter what it was about.  Whether it was 99% my fault and 1% his – or vice versa – it still takes two to tango.

Our dance was the same no matter what type of music was played.  Always the same, always the same … A dance of dysfunctional communication.  Over the course of the years, our dance had become much more aggressive towards each other as selfishness squeezed the love and life out of our marriage.

I remember getting more and more tired.  Tired of being emotionally disconnected from Darrell, the man I married.  I missed what we had in the beginning, and I hated what we had become.  This particular ‘bender’ had been going on for a very long time and I was exhausted.  I don’t know if it’s just my Sanguine personality or if all women are like this, but I find that it’s emotionally draining to cut yourself off from someone and hold them at arm’s length as an enemy.

When he came into a room, I would leave, and vice-versa.  We weren’t eating our meals together.  I went to bed early just to be away from him.  And whenever he was home he was in the garage just to be away from me.  We had relegated each other to even less than roommate status.  There were no hellos, goodbyes or any acknowledgement of the other’s existence whatsoever.

After so many years of constant fighting with very few of our conflicts actually being resolved, the emotional turmoil each argument brought just compounded on top of the last unresolved one.  I had no fight left in me.  Nothing.  I felt ‘far away’ from him.  Disconnected.  Together but alone is a tough place to live.  It’s very painful, completely confusing – and perhaps the loneliest of all.

I remember the day as if it was yesterday.  I didn’t really even think about it and I don’t know why I did it.  I was just feeling so utterly alone and empty, and had no one else to call at that time.  I picked up the phone and called Darrell at work.  When he came on the line, words just blurted out of my mouth without me really knowing what I was saying.

  • I’m bottoming-out here.  I don’t really know what direction to go.  The only direction I can see that will make it stop hurting between us, is for me or you to go away.  Is that really where we’ve arrived at?
  • Is that what you want?  I’m not sure if it’s what I want, maybe.  It feels like our marriage is teetering on a tightrope.
  • We’ve gone around this mountain so many times in our marriage.  I don’t know what to do, I don’t know how we can fix this.  We are both convinced we are right and I don’t know if it will ever get better or be resolved, but I can’t do this anymore.
  • I’m not blaming you or blaming me … I just need it to stop.  The emotional hate that’s between us, just for a little while.  Some sane time – a break.
  • Can we agree to disagree – just for now?  And … pretend?  Can we pretend that we still love each other – the way we used to?  Can we pretend that we are a normal mature couple that doesn’t fight like this all the time?

What I had been delineating was a truce … I just didn’t recognize it as such; not at first.

Dictionary.com defines truce as:

  • a suspension of hostilities for a specified period of time by mutual agreement of the warring parties; cease-fire; armistice
  • an agreement or treaty establishing this
  • a temporary respite, as from trouble or pain

It’s important to understand that we had been withdrawing from each other because of these issues for most of our married life.  In the beginning, we had a pretty OK marriage, but if you can’t talk to each other without conflict erupting – well, nothing ever gets resolved and things go downhill rapidly.  We were nearing the bottom of that hill in our marriage.

It was that afternoon that we held our first truce and by evening the idea of Truce Box Talks were born.

~~~

In Part 2 – Emotions, The Truce Box holds your emotions for you until you are ready to accept them as your own.

In Part 3 – The Truce Box Talk, Freedom, strength and acceptance are found in the truce.

 

robyn

From The Lemonade Stand – (Part 2 – The Sugar)

sugar

Last post I generously shared my lemons, and I thank you all for your support!  But now it’s time to look for that sugar, the part that really completes the lemonade.  You can find the full sour from Part 1, here.

In Part 1, I ended with, “You can’t make lemonade without the addition of some sugar.  It’s the contrasting of the sour and the sweet that really bring this drink to life.  I already shared some of the sugar that came our way through our wonderful neighbours.  But there’s more – if I will open my eyes to see it.”

The first and foremost serving of the sugar is that our family is secure and intact.  Our children are safe in Saskatchewan, and we are safe in Alberta.  We are divided by seven hours, but in the larger scheme of life, seven hours isn’t that big of a deal.  This is a huge blessing that I need to show gratitude for every day, and one that is often overlooked.  I think our initial appreciation depends on our point of reference.  If you ask someone whose family is fractured or someone who has received a less-than-favourable medical diagnosis, they’ll tell you that family and health are everything.

The cooling system in the car:  Darrell is extremely knowledgeable when it comes to anything mechanical.  He knows exactly what a vehicle needs and how to install all the parts when they arrive.  His skill saves us a small fortune in the automotive area of our budget.  The parts did come in on time and have been installed, and our car is now back to good!

Rocky and Adrienne:  Pets bring a quality to a family that is almost too precious to speak of. We see through them an unconditional love and acceptance in action instead of words.  Any effort they need from us is just not comparable.

My new laptop:  There is a computer sales and repair store just down the street from Darrell’s apartment, so I took it there to see if I could get a diagnosis.  It took about an hour and a half, but although I fully expected to pay for his time, he said, “No charge.”  Thank you Arthur from VM Systems.  Your generosity is very much appreciated!  We had purchased the laptop from Staples, and even though it was past the warranty, they agreed to swap it for a new one.

And finally, when on my extended stay, I’ve discovered a great tea shop!  This is a big deal for me because I’m a hardcore coffee drinker.  I never, in a million years, thought I could ever enjoy a pot of tea the way I enjoy coffee … but now I do.  Thanks to Everything Tea and Gifts for broadening my pallet!

As you move into the Christmas season, which can easily become marked with pressure that can tempt you to be sour and frustrated, remember to let joy sweeten your interactions with people.

Thank you for reading Upwithmarriage.  

I pray the blessing of growth in your life and marriage, that you will aggressively pursue Christ’s love to feed your heart so that you can live the life of a lover.  I pray that grace and wisdom will increase with the strength of your stride as you move forward into 2014.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

Darrell & Robyn

From The Lemonade Stand

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We all know about those infamous curveballs you get from life and the saying that goes with them: When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

Well, step up to my lemonade stand, free of charge.

Last weekend was the end of my two week cycle for visiting Darrell in Alberta.  We were supposed to be heading back to Saskatchewan early Saturday morning, but things didn’t progress as we planned.  In the midst of an unseasonably cold snap (-45ish), we lost our cooling system in the car. [In keeping with the lemonade philosophy, it was necessary for the car to break on the same day we were going to travel instead of a couple days before.]

We turned around to go back, and headed straight to Canadian Tire to pick up and install the necessary parts.  We hoped that we could get home with no more than a hiccup in the schedule, but our day wasn’t destined to go that way.  It would take 3 to 4 days to get the parts in from Edmonton.  When we found two automotive supply stores right in town, but they were both closed until Monday, it became evident that I would not be coming home for another week.

[The growth opportunity(s) were starting to come into focus now]

There were a couple of problems: First, I had already been away from the kids for two weeks and really didn’t want to stretch it to three – it’s just too long, and I miss them!  Second, food is an issue.  Well, not all food, just fresh food.  My pantry is usually chock full and I generally have a well-stocked dairy supply in our secondary fridge in the basement.  But fruits and veggies don’t last as long, and both our girls like their raw foods.  Because we live in a rural area and neither of our daughters can legally drive alone yet, a quick jaunt to the market is out of the question.

[Even though my van sits there with a fully operational cooling system!]

This is where irreplaceable neighbours come in!  We’ve had the great fortune of being blessed with wonderful neighbours in every place we’ve ever lived.  Our current neighbours are no exception to this!  They are awesome!  If it wasn’t for them in this season we are in, we may not have been able to pull it off.  Mrs. K. (I know you are reading), “Thank you from the depths of our hearts.  We love you and Mr. K. not only for your help, but also for not making us feel small in any way when we reached out to you guys!” [I know it’s not owed – but a cheesecake is on its way!] “Thank you again for being so great about it.”

[This part wasn’t ‘lemons’ – it was some sugar.  There will be more on that part later.]

Next problem:  Our dogs!

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I bring them with me when I visit Darrell, and they’re on ‘special’ food.  It’s special food because it took us an especially long time to get them converted from a dog food full of fillers to this natural, grain-free type.  We worked very hard: listening to a lot of whining and barking; and watching a lot of begging as they deprived themselves day after day, eating only the few bits of kibble necessary to sustain life.

[Those of you who are not dog people won’t understand this craziness.]

Anyway, I had only brought enough food for two weeks.  I buy locally whenever I can, so I couldn’t get their food from any of the big chains here.  It feels like all my hard work with them has gone down the tubes this week. [That one’s not a huge lemon, but it is still a lemon.]

And now, back to the car.  When we ordered the parts on Monday, the weather was wonderfully mild; but when they came in the following day, the temperature started to drop back to the sub-sub below again.  My man was out in minus 30, tearing apart the dashboard of our car. *sigh*

It was OK, accepting that I was going to be here for another week, instead of at home planning my Christmas baking and menu and getting the house organized for our company.  I thought, this won’t be so bad.  I’ll catch up on some research and writing and get my files organized for 2014.  But then my brand new computer, only two months old… yep, fried!  So much for that idea.

Then I got the text from Darrell, “Remember how at work, I suggested that we give the guys the option to work on a Saturday to make up the time between Christmas and New Year’s?  Well, that’s this Saturday.”  This means we can’t leave until Saturday night.  When we arrive, he’ll only have a brief resting period between the 7-hour drive there and back so that he can return to work on Monday.

This is on top of quitting smoking (for almost 3 months now), and needing to restock from home my supply of herbs, oils and vitamins for my daily breakfast power drink.

You can’t make lemonade without the addition of some sugar.  It’s the contrasting of the sour and the sweet that really bring this drink to life.  I already shared some of the sugar that came our way through our wonderful neighbours.  But there’s more – if I will open my eyes to see it.  I’ll share more of the sugar in my next post, but for now, it’s Saturday and I’ve got to get packed up and my menu plan organized so I can grocery shop when we pass through Medicine Hat on the way to home.

But for now, I’ll …

lemon