We need more of this today

I am so happy to report that my new book PLAY NICE in Your Sandbox at Home is getting oh so close to publication I am in the process of recording brief interviews with some of the people I cite in the book. These interviews will be scattered throughout the book and accessible with a QR Code reader, or simply typing the link into a browser. 
Until it’s available, I thought I would share one of my favorite chapters with you. By the way, I’ve recorded interviews with two sources I cite in this chapter – Scott Stanley, and   Dave and Claudia Arp. Since they did most of the talking, I don’t mind telling you they came out really, really well. 

Section Seven: Commitment: A matter of life or death?

“Commitment is making a choice to give up other choices.”
                                                                                          —Dr. Scott Stanley
A husband and wife were having an argument when the husband blurted out, “I was a fool when I married you.” The wife maintained her composure and calmly replied: “I suppose you were, dear, but at the time I was so much in love, I didn’t even notice.” At the risk of sounding like a broken record, married couples will experience times in their marriage when they don’t especially like each other. This shouldn’t come as a great surprise as there are times in most of our lives that we don’t like ourselves all that much. We let ourselves or others down and beat ourselves up for it. If that is true, that we are not always comfortable with our own behavior, what chance is there that we will always be totally comfortable with someone else? And therein lies the great need for commitment if your marriage is to be all that you hoped for when you first said, “I do.”
Commitment appears to be a vanishing quality in our society. When something isn’t working just right, we replace it with a newer, more up-to-date version. This is fine if you’re talking about a mattress or television set. It’s not so good if you’re talking about a marriage partner. My fear is that we have not prepared folks for the reality that any marriage will have challenging moments. Anyone who has been married more than five years and tells you the thought of divorce has never entered their minds will likely lie to you about other things as well. Or if not divorce, they have at least entertained thoughts that maybe they married the wrong person or that getting married was a mistake. That is normal, and those thoughts need to be taken to the recycle bin in your mind and quickly deleted.
Another problem I see is that many folks have a lowered concept of what marriage can be and therefore settle for less. They also hesitate to fully invest in the marriage for fear the payout will not be worth the investment. Dr. Scott Stanley, who I have cited a few times previously, has authored or co-authored numerous books and journal articles and has participated in several studies designed to find out why marriages fail and how to help them succeed. In his book, The Power of Commitment, Dr. Stanley writes that “only in the context of a total commitment are you free to develop greater levels of intimacy and connection—the things that are perhaps the very essence of oneness.” What a paradox. We want true and lasting commitment, but we’re afraid to give it ourselves for fear it will not be reciprocated.
Dr. Stanley describes two forms of commitment, each of which is vital to a lasting, satisfying marriage. One is dedication commitment, which “implies an internal state of devotion to a person or project.” This is the fun part of commitment. It’s the part where you want to be with your spouse because you are being fulfilled and feel like you are adding value to his or her life as well. Every marriage needs a healthy dose of dedication commitment to be successful and high functioning.
The second form of commitment is what Dr. Stanley calls constraint commitment which “brings out the sense of obligation.” You may not be very happy with the state of your marriage, but the cost of divorce, the impact on the children, and the grief you will cause family and friends serves as a deterrent to ending the marriage. As with dedication commitment, every couple needs constraint commitment from time to time. When things get rough, as they will, you need to buckle down and fix what’s broken. Cutting and running should rarely be an option at all and certainly never the first option. When divorce is a readily available option, folks are more likely to choose it than to do what’s necessary to make things better.
I’m reminded of the Biosphere, a failed experiment of controlled living in a glass bubble in Arizona. There were a few reasons why the experiment failed. One was that researchers underestimated the dynamics and tension that could exist between men and women living in such close quarters “24/7/365,” as they say.
Another reason the experiment failed is that they could not regulate the oxygen properly. The designers had planned that the trees they planted would be a major component of the oxygen system. But the trees died. The reason they died was that they did not put down deep roots. In nature, trees face challenges from winds and other elements. This causes them to put down roots to solidify their standing. In the Biosphere, no such challenges were present, so the trees had no motivation to root deeply. When your marriage faces storms, it can and should be an incentive to you and your spouse to deepen your commitment to each other and to your marriage. Each weathered storm makes the next one that much easier, or should I say, less difficult to face.
Marriage is and should be a serious matter. People should neither begin nor end their marriage without careful forethought. Unfortunately, we as a society have made marriage too easy to get into and far too easy to get out of. Though it is also so much more, marriage is a form of contract between two consenting adults. Can you name any other contract which either party can unilaterally end without incurring penalties?
So, let me challenge you to focus on your marriage in the coming weeks, months, and years. Determine now that you are going to do your part to make it successful and healthy. Don’t worry about what your mate will or won’t do. Just subtly leave this book in a conspicuous place in the house and hope they come to the same conclusion that you have. Or, be brave and let your spouse know you are committed to him or her and to doing your part to increase the harmony and intimacy in the relationship.
Many of you can do this on your own. Buy the book 10 Great Dates to Energize Your Marriage by Dave and Claudia Arp and just do what it says. Others of you will need more personal help in one form or another. There’s no shame in that. If your tooth hurts, you are very willing to go to a dentist. So if your marriage is hurting, then there should be nothing keeping you from going to a counselor or relationship coach to get things to a better state. The investment will be minuscule in comparison to the payoff.

Chapter Challenge: Look for an opportunity this week to thank your mate for putting up with you and assure him or her that you plan to be with them for the long haul. Also, as I suggested with the marriage ground rules, find your wedding vows and have someone write them out in calligraphy suitable for framing. Surprise your mate by hanging them in your house and let them serve as a daily reminder of your commitment to each other.

Private Enemy Number One?

I gave a talk at my Toastmaster’s Club this week and wanted to share the main theme with you. Before I do, I must tell you that if you have any desire to be a better communicator, you definitely should check out Toastmasters. It is a worldwide organization that helps anyone grow from where they are to where they want to be. We meet every Wednesday at 5:30 pm at the Quality Center for Business at San Juan College. There is no pressure to join, and visitors are always warmly welcomed – never embarrassed in any way.
My talk was titled “Private Enemy Number One.” I began by recounting an incident I had some years ago at Tingley Collesium in Albuquerque. I attended a day-long seminar led by motivational speakers such as Rudy Giuliani, Laura Bush, Terry Bradshaw, and many others. It was a delightful experience. At one point in between speakers, I was contemplating what I had heard and people-watching – one of my favorite things to do in life.
As I was looking around, I noticed a police officer walking down the steps just to my left. He took a few more steps, and this thought popped into my mind “wow, I could have just grabbed his gun and started shooting people.” Please let me assure you that I am not a homicidal maniac and that random thought faded quickly into oblivion. But do you, like me, ever wonder where those thoughts come from? Please don’t try to convince me that you don’t know what I’m talking about. We all have crazy, outrageous, totally absurd thoughts come into our minds fairly frequently. Trust me you are not alone.
Many times I find myself wondering who is in my mind anyway who is generating such thoughts. I have an answer I am comfortable with, but it involves aspects of the Bible and Christian thinking. Since I write this post to a wide audience, some or many of whom are not believers, I will keep those thoughts to myself. If you care to hear them send me an e-mail to ron@productiveoutcomes.com and I’ll be happy to share them with you.
Here’s the point I want to make. We all are subject to random thoughts that appear in our minds without warning or provocation. We simply cannot control or prevent them from occurring. We can, and must, however, take control of these thoughts once we become aware of them. We do not have to participate in every conversation that begins in our minds.
So I’ll leave you with two suggestions for how you can exercise better control over your thinking and self-talk. One is to pause and ask yourself “who are you talking to?” I have found this to be very helpful in gaining mastery over wreckless thoughts that are rarely if ever, in my best interest. By asking myself “who are you talking to?” I force myself to move into the analytical, thinking portion of my brain where I can quickly determine that the precipitating thought is not from me and not something I need to spend any more time on. I used to beat myself up for having such thoughts in the first place, but since I now have a clearer understanding of their origins I no longer engage in berating myself
The second suggestion is to learn to speak to yourself in the third person. For example, when I notice I am getting upset or that a harmful thought has just popped into my mind, I will pause and say “Ron, what’s going on right now?”or “Ron, what do you think you should do about this?” or “Ron, maybe you should go for a walk and calm down – what do you think?” This practice may sound simplistic to you, but there is much research available that speaks to its relevance and practicality.
We all have a portion of our brain designed for thought, and another portion for emotions. What happens to us far too often is that we allow our emotional brain to make thinking decisions for us and the result is usually unpleasant or worse. Road rage is a clear example of thinking from the emotional brain. The same can be said for Relationship rage.
So I’ll close with the wonderful advice given by Bob Newhart in the YouTube clip “Just Stop It!” (If you have never seen the clip do yourself a favor and carve out 6½ minutes for pure amusement.) When faced with a challenging situation or thought learn to practice self-control, gain mastery over them and “Just Stop It!” I’m not saying it’s easy or that I have totally mastered the practice. I can assure you I am getting better at it every day for with practice comes expertise. Why not give it a try and find out for yourself if what you have just read could have great benefit for you and your relationships.

I’d love to hear of your results. Please share them with me at ron@productiveoutcomes.com

Laugh Your Way to Better Health and Relationships

 

 

I have a chapter in my soon-to-be-released book PLAY NICE in Your Sandbox at Home called “Here’s to your health.” In the chapter I propose that how each person in a relationship takes care of him or herself impacts the overall health of the relationship between them. Since I seem to have laughter on my mind these days, I thought I would share with you an excerpt from that chapter.
The reason laughter is on my mind is that I have the privilege of presenting this month’s edition of the San Juan College Broadening Horizons Series, sponsored by Citizen’s Bank. My topic is Health Benefits of Laughter. If you are reading this on February 1 you can come see the presentation this evening at 7:00pm in the College Little Theater. If you are reading this after the fact, you probably didn’t miss much 😊.

Here’s the excerpt:

Along with the normal recommendations for health such as diet, exercise, rest, water, etc., I want to add one more you may not typically consider: laughter. Laughter has many health benefits. In fact, there is an entire science called gelotology which is dedicated to the study of the health benefits of laughter. Laughter can reduce blood pressure by increasing vascular blood flow and oxygenation of the blood. Hearty laughter is a good physical workout as it exercises muscles in the diaphragm, face, legs, and back. The respiratory system also gets worked well during hearty laughter, and stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline are reduced. Laughter is said to improve one’s immune system and improve alertness, creativity, and memory. Someone remind me please that I may need to laugh more—just in case I forget.

So to do my part in improving your overall health and that of your marriage, allow me to share with you some words of wit I picked up along my life’s journey. I heard of a nine-year-old boy named Johnny who was spending a few days visiting his grandmother. He came in from playing one day and asked his grandmother what it’s called when two people sleep in the same room and one is on top of the other. Grandmother was a little taken aback, but she decided to tell him the truth. She said, “It’s called having sex,” to which the boy replied, “Okay, Grandma,” and went back out to play.
A short while later Johnny came in, rather irritated, and told grandma, “it is not called having sex. It is called ‘bunk beds’ and Billy’s mother wants to speak with you right now!”
George Bernard Shaw said, “You don’t stop laughing when you grow old; you grow old when you stop laughing.” So if it’s been a while since you and your spouse have done some serious laughing together, may I suggest you not waste many more moments before correcting this imbalance.

Chapter Challenge: Set a time to evaluate your overall health. Determine to take steps to improve in areas that need improvement and to maintain in areas that are currently working for you. Map out a strategy with specific objectives and timelines for how you are going to take good care of yourself. Be sure to include regular times for fun and laughter in your overall plan.
While you’re working on your own health and wellness, it’s okay to encourage your spouse to take good care of him or herself as well. If you do suggest that, please do so with a gentle, loving spirit. And only say it when you are committed to doing the same for him or her. Just for fun, you might want to Google the 1929 song “Button Up Your Overcoat.” It reinforces the point that I’m making here.
Bettering yourself is a big deal. When you’re feeling good, it is easier to put up with little annoyances and not let them get the best of you. When you’re feeling good, it is easier for you to give and receive love from your mate than when you’re down or discouraged or ailing in some way.

Laugh and the whole world laughs with you…

Greetings all,

According to an unknown 3rd grader, the rest of the subject line reads “cry, and you have to blow your nose.” Why is it that young children laugh so freely and regularly, but as we age we do so less and less.

I say we fix that and we start on Thursday, Feb 1 at 7:00 pm. As you will see in the attached flyer, I will be presenting for the Broadening Horizons series at the Little Theater at San Juan College. My topic is the health benefits of laughter, and I promise you will come away healthier than you came.

It’s a free event and totally family friendly so come one, come all. Also, please feel free to share this with your contacts who could use some good laughs right about now.

See you then!

Your Best Relationship in 2018

Hi there, do you remember me? It seems like a long time since I last wrote this blog, but it’s actually only been a few weeks. I know the holidays interfered with my schedule – enjoyable though they were. And this year got off to a horrendous start. I attended four funerals and a memorial service in week one and spent most of week two in bed with the same crud that many of you have had.
But I am excited to see what potential 2018 holds for improved relationships with those who are important to us. I heard recently that since the future is imaginary, so why not spend time imagining a better future than your present situation?
None of us knows for certain what tomorrow, or next week or next month will bring, yet too often we waste time fretting and dreading what that might be. Why do we do that? I wish I could tell you, but I’m not quite sure.
I do know that all of us have to fight an ongoing battle with the thoughts that pop into our minds uninvited and unwelcomed. You know what I’m talking about. Thoughts that you are too much this or not enough that, or that in some ways you just don’t measure up with others.
While I do not know precisely what thoughts you face, I can assure you that all of us wonder at times who is in that marvelous mind of ours anyway?
One common thought most of us have at times is whether or not a relationship that is strained is fixable at all. This is a very dangerous occurrence as the negative thoughts can take on more power and impact while the hopeful, positive thoughts lose their influence. Left unchecked, the relationship is doomed.
So here’s my challenge for this week. Pay close attention to the thoughts you have about your relationship. Are you spending more time looking at the negative, imperfect, and seemingly unfixable aspects, or more time focusing on the good and the possible? Do the former and you will be out of that relationship in short order. Do the latter and you will begin to see gradual changes and improvements over time.
Today is the only day you have to work on improving your relationship – or keeping it healthy and strong. You do not have tomorrow and you certainly do not have yesterday. All you have is today so why not find one thing you can do that contributes to the overall health of the relationship and do that today? This need not be huge and life-changing all by itself, but by doing one positive gesture (more are welcome if possible) each day, the cumulative effect will be a restored, happy, healthy and thriving relationship within just a few months.
Am I prepared to give you a money-back guarantee that what you just read will work? Well, actually I am since you didn’t pay to read it. But seriously, doesn’t it just make sense that concentrated efforts to improve anything should result in improvements? It’s kind of like a cruise ship that is going the wrong way and needs to turn around. It does not remedy the situation in one massive turn, but rather in a series of small, almost unnoticeable turns that add up to the proper course correction.
Nobody ever said relationships should be easy, but I have 30 years of experience in watching relationships end because one or both parties stopped doing their part to make it work well. Please don’t let this happen to you.
And, lastly, if you will permit me some shameless marketing. I will be speaking at the San Juan College Little Theater next Thursday evening February 1 at 7:00 pm. This is part of the College’s Broadening Horizons series. My topic will be laughter, humor, and fun in life. If your relationship is hurting I promise you this is an area that is deficient and needs addressing. The event is free, so please come join me as we spend an hour of life and relationship helping laughter.

Three tips to help keep the peace at Thanksgiving

Holidays are wonderful times of the year, yet all-too-often they result in the breakup of relationships for families and friends. Please don’t let this happen to you or to people you care about.
In this short video, I share three specific tips that you can implement right away to increase the chances for a Happy Thanksgiving, and that by-the-way is my wish for you.

Here’s the link:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oZdQwSWyick&feature=youtu.be

Love Bank

Did you ever notice that you tend to enjoy those activities at which you excel? For instance, I enjoy playing tennis. Now I know I’m nowhere near good enough for the professional circuit, but I am good enough to often beat my long-time friend Kemp Lewis. This is especially true on the days he lets me win, which are getting fewer and further between.

I have been playing tennis for several years, decades in fact. It seems my enjoyment of the game has increased in recent years largely due to lessons and tips I’ve gotten from local pros Richard Yancy and Pat McGrath, along with others I have encountered on the courts.

Pointers such as knowing how to grip the racket better, how to prepare for a backhand or forehand shot, how to toss the ball for a more accurate serve, etc. have helped to make me feel more comfortable in my role as a tennis player.

So let me ask you a question. What do you enjoy and in what areas of life do you feel competent? Have you always been competent and well equipped or trained for those pursuits? Could I join you tomorrow and be just as competent as you?

I’ll answer that last one so you won’t have to. The answer is likely no simply because I have not spent the time learning how to do whatever it is you do.

So what’s my point? Just that marriage is one of those life experiences that is far more enjoyable if you know what you’re doing. And the sad reality is that most of us don’t. We’re not necessarily stupid (or is that intellectually challenged?), we just have never been taught how to do marriage.

Most of us likely have the opinion that we don’t need to be taught how to succeed in marriage. So long as you love each other that should be all it takes, shouldn’t it? (If I knew how to spell facetious I would tell you that’s what I’m being.)

Think back to weddings you’ve attended in recent years where the couple seemed so much in love. The odds are that if the wedding was more than seven years ago, they are quite possibly more in hate with each other now than in love.

The divorce rate in our society is abysmal, and it doesn’t seem to be getting better. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be that way. Marriage really can be an experience that you enjoy and at which you feel successful and competent.

It just won’t come naturally, however. Most marriages can be dramatically improved if the people in them will learn to stop doing a few negative things and begin doing a few positive things.  Willard Harley calls those negatives “love busters” and his book by that name helps couples discover exactly what is causing their love and enjoyment to wane.

Harley, a Psychologist and prolific author from Minnesota, describes a concept of the “Love Bank.” Whether you know it or not you have a love bank balance with your mate. In fact, it was opened when you first met and began to get acquainted. You began to do little “niceties” for each other. Silly cards, giving spontaneous backrubs expecting nothing in return, small gifts, offering to run errands, etc. All of these sent messages to the other that you cared, that he or she mattered to you.

The net result was that your Love Bank balance rose. It likely rose so high that you decided you wanted the relationship to continue forever, so you got married. And then what happened? Well, you continued to make deposits – at least in the early days. But over time you began to make withdrawals as well.

Over time you began to take each other for granted. You got too busy with “life” to focus as much on your spouse. More deposits were countered by more withdrawals, and now your Love Bank balance may have grown dangerously low.

If you’re not careful, you can then begin to think you married the wrong person and that you would be happier with someone else. While that may be true in some cases, for couples with children, divorce will likely produce far more problems and challenges for you than it will fix. I firmly believe that parents who divorce are usually just trading one set of problems for a different set of problems, and not necessarily bettering their situation.

So here’s a better option to consider – learn how to be a better spouse. Research abounds that a marriage can dramatically improve when just one partner makes an effort to change. When both partners put forth the effort, the results can be remarkable and relatively quick.

And help is readily available in our area. I offer private marriage coaching, and there are several local marriage counselors who can help you get from where you are to where you want to be. I know of several marriage intensives for deeply troubled marriages that have a great success rate for turning even the most damaged marriages into thriving ones.

Add in all the books and online resources available to help marriages, there is little excuse to put up with a less-than-satisfactory marriage or to end one in hopes of finding a better one.

I often say there is nothing better in life than a good marriage and nothing worse in life than a bad marriage. Whatever the current state of your marriage, please consider what you might do to keep it healthy or get it to that state.

An Attitude of Gratitude?

Watch this brief video with Dr. Mike Hattabaugh

OK, so the title has become somewhat of a cliché, but our attitude does truly impact so much of our overall life satisfaction. This might be especially true when it comes to our important relationships – marriage of course being one of them.

With Thanksgiving rapidly approaching I asked my friend and colleague, Dr. Mike Hattabaugh to share some thoughts with us. As you will see he chose to do so with a brief video which I believe you will enjoy, and which I believe will get you thinking about your attitude. While it is not specific to marriage, I’ll let you draw your own conclusions for how it might help to strengthen and encourage yours.

Who are you listening to?

You may have heard that it’s always the second person who determines if an argument will occur or not. All of us have moments when we are not at our best. Moments when we say or do things we likely would not do or say if we were more in control of our emotions.

Unfortunately, those closest to us are usually the first to know when we are in such states. Once the first person acts inappropriately the second person has to choose if he or she will react or respond. There is a big difference between the two.

Reacting typically involves little or no thought. By definition is it instantaneous and automatic. Reactions are often followed by an escalation of the situation usually leading to an unpleasant outcome. “Oops, I shouldn’t have done or said that” often follows reactions.

Responses, on the other hand, are typically reasoned and thought-out. Reactions come from our emotional brain, responses from our thinking brain. There may be some among us who are always in total control of their emotions, but I promise I’m not one of them and forgive me for saying this, but I doubt you are either. I know I do life far better when I respond to situations rather than react.

That’s why it is so important, when dealing with a friend, co-worker, or loved one that we avoid reacting to unpleasant outbreaks. I’ve written before about the power of grabbing your thumb in such instances and thinking your way to your best response. In fact, it’s a chapter in my upcoming book PLAY NICE in Your Sandbox at Home. Send me an e-mail to ron@ProductiveOutcomes.com, and I’ll gladly send you that chapter.

This week I want to bring your attention to another technique I recently learned that could help you keep calm in the midst of an emotional storm, and to do your part to bring it to a rapid, and productive conclusion. When you find yourself getting upset, and you fear you are about to go off on someone, I challenge you to be especially aware of your self-talk.

All of us talk to ourselves regularly throughout the day. That is normal and nothing to be concerned about. If you often find yourself answering “huh?” to yourself, you might want to consider getting some help.

But, seriously we all have to contend with thoughts in our mind that sometimes work for us, and sometimes, not-so-much.  The new technique I learned is to talk to yourself in the second or third person. Rather than using the “I” pronoun in your self-talk consider using “you” as in “you really should just keep your cool and calmly walk away.” Current research is showing that this practice serves to cause you to return to your thinking brain, from which you are more likely to make a wise decision.

While I need to look into this more, I believe the principle is that speaking to yourself as if it were someone else speaking is likely to help keep you on your best behavior. It is similar to the recommendation I often give that sensitive conversations should be held in public places such as a popular restaurant. That location will cause you to keep your voices down and to avoid blowing up at each other for fear of what others might think.

Again, I believe if we hear the second person voice we will respond as if someone else is listening in to the conversation. Wow, isn’t that a scary thought!

Talking to your self in the third person might be even more powerful. In my case it would sound like “Ron, do you really want to blow up over this?” or “Ron, what would your best self do in this particular situation?”

I am not saying this is a fool-proof way to keep peace in your relationships or to avoid all negative interactions. I hope you agree, however, that it certainly could not hurt, and that it might prove quite helpful. Please don’t expect to form the habit of speaking to yourself in the second or third person instantaneously or without effort and forethought. You will need to be intentional about it and consistent for it to become a natural part of who you are.

I challenge you to do a Google search such as “speak to self in the 2nd person.” There you will find an abundance of posts such as “Talking to yourself in the third person can help you control your emotions” or “Gain a psychological edge by talking about yourself in the third person.”

Of course, relationships work best when parties speak with each other in addition to speaking to themselves. But controlled conversations, especially in the face of charged emotions could prove to be beneficial for the overall health of the relationship.

Yield: It’s a great investment strategy

I enjoy coming up with new posts each week – well at least most weeks. This past week went by way too fast for me. So I decided to tap into my still soon-to-be-released book PLAY NICE in Your Sandbox at Home. Actually it should be available by the first of the year, but who knows you may have read the entire book in these posts before I even publish it 😊

 Section Four: Yield: It’s a great investment strategy

“A good marriage is a contest of generosity.”
—Diane Sawyer

I had the privilege of preparing a couple for marriage, and of performing the wedding ceremony in which they made lifelong commitments to each other. Since I am seemingly incapable of doing anything without humor, I suggested to them that by getting married, they were giving up certain rights. As an example, I explained that they were now giving up their right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” I shall never forget the look on the bride’s face. Behind the abject horror was a sincere hope that I was kidding—which I certainly was.

I went on to explain that marriage is not like eating at Burger King. For those of you too young to remember, the Burger King Company ran an ad campaign in the 1970s that proclaimed at their restaurant you could always “have it your way.” While that might work at a fast-food restaurant, I assured the couple before me, as I assure you, the reader: this is not always the case in marriage, nor should it be.

While you certainly have the right to determine if, when, and to whom you might get married, once that decision is made, you voluntarily relinquish your right to make future decisions by and for yourself alone. For a marriage to be successful, the partners must have a mindset of “we” rather than “me.” Having said that, I have a personal pet peeve against the practice of extinguishing each spouse’s individual candle after they have jointly lit the unity candle. I understand the symbolism, but feel it can be taken too far.

When you marry, you do not have to abandon who you are and join with your partner to form an enmeshed blob. That is just not healthy for the parties or the marriage. You do, however, need to realize that as a married person, your identity will and should change. Marriage is a special relationship unlike any other known to man, in which two people form a bond, determined that they shall go through life together as an “us.”

By definition, therefore, there will be times when each partner will have to yield to the wishes and concerns of the other. I say “have to,” but what would your marriage be like if each of you chose to yield, not so much as an obligation, but as a gesture of love and caring?

In his faith-based book Sacred Marriage, Gary Thomas asks, “What if God designed marriage to make us Holy more than to make us happy?” Marriage is a wonderful living laboratory in which we may practice selfless love. It is not always easy, but frequent demonstrations of self-sacrificing love usually pay huge dividends and bode well for a long, satisfying marriage.

Again, there will be times in every marriage when each spouse will need to yield his or her preferences to those of his or her spouse. But what do you do when each spouse feels strongly about how a particular matter should be resolved? One way to determine the situation is to ask each one “on a scale of 1–10, how important is it that we do what you are asking?” This calls for honesty on each person’s part. You cannot simply say “10” every time the question is raised. Typically, one partner will feel more deeply about the issue than the other, and his or her preference should prevail. In a healthy marriage, these situations will balance out over time.

I’ll leave you with one more suggestion to get around apparent gridlocks in your marriage. My wife and I met and married in Cortez, Colorado. Five years into our marriage, I had a strong desire for us to move to Farmington, New Mexico, about 70 miles away from Cortez. I broached the subject to my wife and quickly realized she did not share my enthusiasm in the least. To be fair, I must tell you that my wife was born and raised in Cortez and that her mother and sister still resided there. Her roots went deep, and she did not want to entertain the thought of a “root canal.” I decided to drop the matter.

A few months later, I again asked my wife to consider agreeing to let me move us to Farmington, and again she made it abundantly clear that she did not want to do that. I dropped the matter once again, but only for a few more weeks. I then explained to her that I realized I did not have the right to demand that we move to Farmington, but neither did she have the right to deny the move. Since the “irresistible force” (my desire to relocate) met up with the “immovable object” (her desire to stay), I proposed a middle position.

I explained in depth why I felt so strongly that a move would be in “our” best interest and then gave her an offer she could not refuse. I suggested she give me the next year of our marriage and allow me to move us to Farmington. Whatever happened, she would have the next year and could move us back to Cortez if she wished. She asked if I was serious and after assuring her I was, I sweetened the deal. Knowing how close she was to her mother, I assured her that if she consented to the move, I would never ask her to move further away from her mother than the 70 miles that Farmington is from Cortez.

I’m not sure if I finally wore down her resistance, or she simply accepted the reasonableness of my offer, but in either event, we are still contented residents of Farmington as we enter our 37th year of marriage.

You’ve heard the expression “give and take.” I propose you adopt the mindset of “give and give.” When each party goes out of his or her way to yield to the other, the taking will take care of itself.

Chapter Challenge: Spend some time this week looking at your marriage from your mate’s point of view. Look for opportunities to put your own needs and desires aside to better meet those of your spouse. A great resource to help you do this is called The Love Dare from the movie Fireproof, which I referenced in Chapter A2. It’s available at www.thelovedarebook.com and other book outlets.