forever

The Marriage Triangle: The One-Flesh Triangle

In Part 1, I explained how our marriage experienced trouble when we tried to fit into the template called, ‘the marriage triangle’.  That instead of simplifying marriage concepts, it had made it more confusing.

What we discovered was that the triangle paradigm is more realistically suited to all other relationships within the body of Christ, except the marriage.  So it’s better named, A Family Triangle:

Within every one of our relationships with other Christians, there are three separate interchanges going on:  1-Darrell has his own relationship with God.  2-I have my own relationship with God.  3-And then there’s Darrell and I, as brother and sister in Christ.

It’s relationship #3 that defines this as a Family Triangle instead of a Marriage Triangle, it could be with Darrell or any other brother or sister in Christ whether they are friends, neighbours, co-workers, cousins, etc.

When the triangle supports all other relationships, it can’t also express the one-flesh in marriage.  The one relationship that’s not interchangeable with any other:  The Covenant

The marriage covenant anchors

The Bible leaves no doubt that the Trinity is three in one,  Father, Son, and Spirit.  Within the Trinity, there’s a rich symbolism for marriage – a supernatural blending of multiples into a single:  God is three in One – marriage is two becoming one.

In marriage, people are not separated into 3 different relationships like in a Family Triangle – they’re joined.  God invites us to covenant with Him because He knows we’ll need His help to make it work.  We cannot become a thriving one-flesh relationship without His help because it’s a supernatural relationship.

The covenant holds us together as God begins the process of infusing two earthly people into a single unit:  One-Flesh, for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. (Ephesians 5:31)

If you’ve anchored your marriage to God by His covenant, it begins and ends with Him.  He created it in the beginning, it’s His idea, it belongs to Him.  He doesn’t join your marriage … you join His marriage.

I think we forget how real that covenant is because we can’t see it.  Unlike the visible rituals of buying the government license at city hall and signing the certificate of marriage at the church, the covenant we make with God – even though unseen – is the real deal. As such, it has far more gravity.

I agreed to covenant with God in marriage through my role as a wife.  I made an agreement with Darrell too, but it’s a contract with another human, a natural being.  God’s covenant is super-natural and supersedes an earthly marriage contract.

At a glance, The One-Flesh Triangle makes the invisible visible and, if we’ve let God anchor us, we’re reminded of that gravity.  At that instant, when we need it the most – in the heat of conflict, frustration, hurt, anger (and sometimes even hate) … it can reset our hearts and minds back to what matters most:  not me, not Darrell – But God. His covenant matters most.

There are ups and downs in every marriage; some have more ups than downs and some go down further than others, but we all need a strategy to remind us of the purposes of marriage.  In the good times in marriage, no one needs a prompt.  But in the hard times, when our wedding day feels like a lifetime in the past … when marriage gets painful and it reaches that breaking point – when we start to think, “This is too hard,” the questions we needed to ask are, will I lean on my own strength or wait for God’s?  Am I going to put the human contract above my covenant with Him?  What’s more important?

SOUL-utions

  • Understand that your marriage is a completely different breed of relationship than all others found on earth; it can’t be treated the same.
  • Accept that your marriage is under tremendous strain from Satan. His main goal, since the day you got married, is to unravel your marriage by coming between the two of you so you’re separated.  He’s the ultimate predator and wants you alone – out of your one-flesh strength.
  • Believe in the realness of your covenant with God.  Trust Him with His own idea of marriage; trust Him with the role He assigned you as a wife.  Let this visual be a trigger to jolt you out of any emotions of hurt, back to the facts.

 

 

Tack and Tune

upwithmarriage_tack-and-tune

If I can just stick to tacking and tuning myself, often God brings His peace and harmony, in His time.

Part of my tack and tune kit is to keep a copy of our Marriage Certificate on the bulletin board at my desk.  I also have a copy of the promises I’ve made in my vows to Darrell on my computer.  When we’re in the middle of a heated fight (and in some of our less shining moments, those fights were downright vicious), I know, at some point I’m going to see that Marriage Certificate – I’ve learned to use that document as a reset for my heart and head. Instead of emotionally running away, I tack into those vows.

It’s not natural or easy, but it is simple – a simple choice of spirit instead of flesh.  God will give a simple clear way for you too — just ask Him.

Tacking and Tuning always take me to the next level in my role as a wife.  We can go from bad to good and then from good to great.

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MARRIAGE IS FIRST

upwithmarriage_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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WHAT IS MARRIAGE AND WHY DO WE DO IT?

The Wedding

Do you ever think about your wedding day?  I think about mine.  Do you remember that morning when you woke up, I bet your heart wasn’t filled with doubts and second guessing, “Well, I guess it’s better than being alone.” Or, “I’ll give it my best shot … and see what happens.”  Like me, I bet your heart was full of hope for a great day and the expectation of a wonderful future with the man of your dreams!  I remember laying in bed that morning excitedly thinking, “Today, is the day!”
Generally, most of the weddings we attend, or hear about, unfold seamlessly.  The day is a blur of excitement starting with the ceremony itself leading to a great wrap-up party, the reception!  Lastly, the bride and groom are swept off to some exotic destination … just the two of them.  Life couldn’t get much sweeter!

The Honeymoon

During this beginning season the marriage holds such high hopes of promise.  Beginnings are like that.  In fact, we see the same delight at the inception of creation, everything is:  GOODx6 and a VERY GOOD marks the finale.  But then, within one and a half chapters into the story of humanity, something goes tragically wrong.  Adam and Eve free in the garden, lost in wonder and delight of all that was very good, had their eyes maliciously and irrevocably opened … and the first brick in the wall of separation was coolly placed between them.

The Marriage

It is the same pattern in our marriages, something … changes.  It happens ever so subtly.  Something has slowly crept in between the bride and groom that we didn’t expect and certainly didn’t plan for.  Somewhere between The Wedding and The Marriage, there has been a shift.
Isn’t it true that we wake up on our wedding day assured that we could conquer anything and that we’d grow old together?  But within a few short years we sense an UNsureness, we start to feel a little suspicious that our fairy tale wedding day isn’t delivering everything to our marriage that it promised.  Slowly our expectations are dashed one-by-one as reality is revealed, this slow creep causes the shift to become more prevalent and our marriage begins to get hard … along with our hearts, and it starts to show in our thoughts:  Why did I ever marry this personWhat was I thinkingMaybe they are the wrong person.

MISperception

I know it might sound silly but it never occurred to me that my marriage would be nothing like my wedding day.  In hindsight it became completely clear though, either no one told me or I failed to listen.  Either way reality proves the truth that the marriage and a wedding day are actually polar opposites!  A wedding day is so well planned that you might as well call it a script; everything falls into place perfectly and we work on that script for almost a year, sometimes longer!  Lots of hard work, planning and compromising with each other went into that script for that ONE day.
How did I miss that?  A marriage is not just going to magically happen when even a magical wedding day didn’t magically happen.  I think the knowledge is there for the learning, we just don’t believe the information applies to us when it says, “It could get ugly at some point, what’s your plan?”  Even though we read statistic after statistic that divorce rates have been climbing.  We can’t see past the euphoric pleasure of the present to comprehend any such conflict driving us apart.  And still, somewhere deep inside us we know it makes sense because marriage is the single most challenging adventure of all the earthly experiences.
Marriage is the most significant institution we will ever join and it is the relationship with the most consequential and far reaching effect in our lives.  Yet there are no courses on spousal selection and anyone can get a marriage license with zero training or preparation.  Sydney J. Harris captures the mindset perfectly, “Almost no one is foolish enough to imagine that he automatically deserves a great success in any field of activity, yet almost everyone believes that he automatically deserves success in marriage.

Why Choose to Marry?

So … why do we get married?  It’s a question that begs self-examination.  Is it because of some innate fear of being alone?  Or is it because, it’s just what we do?  You know, you’re born, grow-up, go to school – fall in love and get married.
Fall in love.  There’s a phrase I find … curious.

Falling in Love?

It’s interesting, for a book that is full of love talk, I can’t seem to find anywhere that God speaks of falling in love.  Why do we say it that way?  It does have a romantic echo to the phrase, but it also has a sense of lack of responsibility, perhaps even commitment.  If the marriage gets too hard there is a pathway already prepared:  we can say that when we were falling in love, we fell for the wrong person.
We humans do that.  You can see it in Adam’s response to God when He was looking for accountability of Adam’s actions after eating the fruit.  Adam didn’t only try and shift the blame to Eve but also onto God Himself!  The woman YOU gave me did it.  And then with Eve, she tried to pass the buck too by saying that it was the snake’s fault.  It seems none of us want to take responsibility for our part, do we?
The most romantic description I’ve ever heard as to why people get married is from the movie, Shall We Dance, here’s the clip of the scene:

 

*SIGH*

Now, although that’s a beautiful sentiment and maybe even a worthy declaration, I don’t believe it’s entirely what God had in mind when He established marriage.

The First Marriage

The first marriage was an act of purpose.  The voice that spoke all life into existence then united a team.  It’s interesting that God didn’t create Adam and Eve at the same time.  He could’ve but instead He chose to create Adam in a vacuum.  This wasn’t a mistake.  He didn’t create Adam alone then realize, “Uh-oh, Adam is alone – I guess I didn’t think that one through, maybe one of the animals can keep him company.”
I think Adam was meant to experience his aloneness in the real time of watching the animals come and go in pairs as he named them.  God brought all the creatures to him, but … there was not be a suitable companion for him.” (Gen 2:19-20)  God could have just as easily told Adam that when he was done naming the animals that He would bring him someone special.  Someone just like him!  But God didn’t say anything.  Instead, He let a yearning grow inside of Adam; a yearning for his pairing.
Adam was meant to notice something special in Eve; something he needed.  And he did!  You can tell by his response to seeing her for the first time, “Finally!  Bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh!”  Or, in our present vernacular, “Finally!  Now SHE belongs with me!”
The both of them, were meant to see that they needed each other for the journey, that they had to depend on each other, lean on each other … not blame one another.

The Step From Bride to Wife

I think it’s significant that Eve was never a bride.  She was created as a wife.  We are brides for a single day, but we are wives for the life of the Marriage.  We can make make generalizations for the answer to the question, what is marriage?  And there are lots of different ideas, to be sure.  But in order to find out what your marriage means to you and why you got married?  Only you can answer that, because only you know the woman inside of you.  Only you know if she’s a bride or Wife.

 

 

 

Dysfunctional Communication (Part 3)

Part 1Our First Truce

Part 2 – Emotions

This post is the final installment of my series on Dysfunctional Communication.

Part 3 – The Truce Box Talk

truce 2

Perhaps this last part would have been better titled, Rules of Engagement, as that is what we were really attempting to do:  To actually engage each other in our own grievances.  But I had already chosen The Truce Box Talk sooooo, I went with that one.

First things first.  It’s presupposed that if you are reading this far in the series that you and your spouse have made the decision that you are going to fight for your marriage, regardless of where that journey may take you.  That was the place where Darrell and I had ended up, between the proverbial rock and hard place.  It was not good, but once you’ve removed the idea of divorce from the table you are left with only 1 logical option, fight for your marriage no matter how bad it is.

Our marriage is living proof that necessity really is the mother of invention.  That invention was our Truce Box.

The truce had served its purpose – there was peace.  But now we were going to move onto the next step:  Engage in conflict.  This was scary.  When you get to this level of dysfunction in your marriage, things have gone unsaid for so long and there are so many problems, that it’s almost unbearable to broach them.  The emotional weight attached to each one makes it seem impossible to lift onto the table of discussion.

Press on.

Accept that it’s going to be messy and hard …

but not undoable.

Some things are going to be very difficult to say and some things will be even harder to hear.  The Truce Box Talk is not about being right or wrong; but being safe.  Think of it as being in a meeting at a boardroom table with God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit as the CEOs.

Its purpose is to allow naked communication by stripping away the feelings and emotions that come from conflict.  Clearing away all of the confusion, assumptions, miscommunications and misunderstandings.  The first few times it will feel awkward and disjointed, kind of like learning a new dance to a song you’ve never heard.  But with practice you become a more skilled partner.

And now, our Rules of Engagement:

RULE 1 – Public Location

Public was safe, for both of us.  I was safe from Darrell’s angry aggression and he was kept safe from my verbal tirades that lead to emotional unravelling.

There is a certain standard of polite behaviours that society expects from its adults, we could sum them up in the word civilized.  Being out in public forced us to be on our best behaviour with each other.  We were able to speak freely but it had to be done with care and dignity, which is the way we should have been speaking all along.

Rule 2 – Honesty

Honesty with each other and self.  Sounds pretty straight forward and simple, but it’s not so easy.  Honesty takes courage.  It meant we each had to be brave enough to reveal our real thoughts.  Courage to believe that it didn’t matter what the other thought, only what God thought.  There is no faster way to kill communication than by the fear that’s rooted in self-consciousness.

Rule 3 – Acceptance

This rule was based on the premise that everything goes.  This meant that whatever Darrell said, I accepted as true and real – to him.  And vice versa for me.  It’s drilling down on the idea that each other’s hearts are more important than who is right.  It’s rooted in others before self rather than self-seeking.

  • Hearing and accepting – NOT defending, NOT arguing and NO rebuttal
  • Trying to put yourself in the shoes of another to really understand
  • Listening with the intent to validate

Rule 4 – Freedom

Not all things were settled when they were first broached and most things relational are just not cut & dried.  Old habits of relating die hard and new ones take time to develop.  If When either of us fell back into old ways of responding reacting, we gave each other the freedom to say, “You are still doing it.”  Or, “You did it again.”

In the beginning there was a temptation to disregard the rules of engagement that we had established.  This generally meant that one of us would delve into conflict on the spur of the moment.  We gave each other the freedom to invoke a truce, even if it was the one who started the conflict in the first place.

The truth box talk is not about

  • saying your say to get your way
  • making a decision
  • who makes decisions
  • what is the right decision

… but is about

  • learning how to arrive at solutions together
  • working as a team
  • growing in unity through trust and peace
  • striving for maturity

In Summary

It has been humbling to put pen to paper (so to speak) and relive this pivotal time in our marriage.  As I walked down the halls of my memory I was reminded again just how fragile people can be.  How easy it is to become self-centered, or to misread a heart and assume the worse in our spouses.  How we need to be on guard against the wiles of the enemy as he seeks to trespass between husbands and wives in an effort to destroy our marriages.  I was reminded that if either of us had given up on God and walked away because of conflict, trials and tribulations in our marriage, neither of us would be experiencing the abundance of the blessings of faith, strength and unity that we now have.  Thank you for reading and giving me the opportunity to relive it.

The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place. –George Bernard Shaw

 

Dysfunctional Communication (Part 2)

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

Part 2 – Emotions

truce 1 copy

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