Post 21 Three Great Gifts

Gifts of Love

 Last week I wrote about the benefits of giving your mate the gifts of love and respect. I mentioned that men tend to prefer respect and women tend to prefer love, but it is safe to say that both genders appreciate healthy doses of each. I promised to return this week with other suggested gifts you could give that do not involve spending a lot of money.

Three gifts I remember giving to my wife jumped to my mind that did not cost me a penny but which she greatly appreciated. Before I tell you what they were, I must tell you that there is a danger in writing a column or post on marriage. Readers might get the idea that I am a perfect husband, or that I consider myself to be a perfect husband. I can assure you neither of those statements is true. I am the most perfect husband my wife has ever had, but since I am also the only husband, she has ever had that tarnishes my ranking just a bit.

Early on in our relationship, I was walking by myself when I looked down and saw a heart-shaped rock. I picked up the rock and got some yellow paint and a small brush. On the rock, I painted the letters RP L MP. Since I was away at the time I put the rock in the mail. I received a delighted phone call in a few days in which she told me how thankful she was for the small token of affection I had sent.

Another no-cost gift I gave my wife was to respect and honor her relationship with her family – her mother in particular. We started our lives together in Cortez, but after five years I had a strong desire to move us to Farmington. Since she was born and raised in Cortez – where her mother still lives- she was not thrilled about the idea. After much discussion, she finally consented to the move. In appreciation, I promised her I would never ask her to move any further from her mother than the 70 miles are between Cortez and Farmington.

Over the years I have never begrudged her time with her family nor ever put her in a position of having to choose between them and me. She and they know they are always welcome in our home and that means a lot to her.

The third gift I recall is perhaps the most appreciated of all. Any one who knows me knows that I have a tendency to kid at times. Ok, so that’s an understatement, but it posed a serious problem for my wife and our relationship. There were times when I was being serious about a matter, and she was convinced I was kidding. This proved to be frustrating to both of us until I gave her a fool-proof way to know for certain if I was serious or not.

I promised her that if I ever said “Maridell I love you and I’m not kidding” she could take it to the bank and believe whatever I had just said was the truth – or at least what I believed to be the truth. Over our 36+ years of marriage, I have never violated this promise. I have at times said things like “Maridell I like you, and I’m not kidding,” or “Maridell I love you, and I’m serious,” but she has always been clever enough to know not to believe those attempts at Ron-foolery.

Again, I do not promote myself as the ideal husband and state that every man should do as I do. They likely should do as I say, but that’s a different subject. My point for today is to challenge you to look for creative ways to show your mate that you love and appreciate him or her.

If you read my column, or if you read my upcoming book PLAY NICE in Your Sandbox at Home, you will hear me say that I hate the expression “marriage takes work.” I work all day and don’t want to think I have to go home and work all night. Marriage takes paying attention and frequently giving to your mate. So long as both are doing this, you can look forward to a long and happy marriage.

Ron Price is the co-founder and Executive Director of the Four Corners Coalition for Marriage & Family, a 501-C-3 organization dedicated to strengthening and equipping marriages and families in the Four Corners Area. He is the author of PLAY NICE in Your Sandbox at Work, and the soon-to-be-released PLAY NICE in Your Sandbox at Home. You can contact Ron at ronp@fccmf.org or 505 327-7870.

In marriage, it really is better to give…

          You’ve heard the expression “where’s there’s a will, there’s a way.” I recently heard a take-off on that which says “where there’s a will, I want to be in it.” Actually, that has nothing whatsoever to do with today’s column – I just thought it was funny. It did, however, come to me from the same source as the following. I read a quote attributed to Bryan White who said: “we never really grow up – we just learn how to behave in public.” I think for one gender that is even truer than for the other. I know in my own case when people ask me where I grew up, I typically reply “I’m trying to do it in Farmington.”

I don’t mind being an adult and I think I usually act like one, but why would anyone want to grow up? What does that leave for you to accomplish and experience?

At any rate, maturity is perhaps a better goal for all of us to pursue and one that might never be completely reached in this lifetime. I believe one sign of maturity is how well you accept the notion that it is better to give than to receive. We all know children, and some less mature adults, who think that is likely the dumbest statement they ever heard.

Unfortunately, I’ve seen many marriage partners who agree that statement is farcical at best and ridiculous at worst. But may I suggest that the best marriages are those where each partner subscribes to the truth and reality that bringing pleasure to someone else is even greater than receiving it yourself.

So even though Christmas, the season when our collective thoughts turn to giving is still a few months away let me make some suggestions for appropriate gifts to give to your spouse now and throughout the year.

Wives, you may consider giving your husband respect since it is way high on his most-needed-from-you list. Most if not all, men hunger to be respected – especially by the main woman in their life. Jeff and Shaunti Feldhahn, co-authors of the For Men Only, For Women Only and For Couples Only books,  quizzed 1,000’s of men and asked if they would rather be loved or respected. By a wide margin, the answer was respected.

This likely comes as a surprise to most women for when they are asked the same question, the vast majority reply they want to be loved. So, guys, you want to guess my suggestion for what you might give your bride this year?

Now I know that men do not always act in a manner worthy of respect and that loving a woman at times can be akin to hugging a cactus. But it’s also true that when a man is treated with respect, he tends to act more respectably, and when a woman feels loved, she responds in a more loving fashion.

Please don’t fall into the trap which Emerson Eggerich calls the “Crazy Cycle.” In his bestselling book “Love and Respect” DR Eggerich makes the case that if a man feels disrespected by his wife, he will withhold love from her, and when a woman feels unloved by her husband, she will not be able to respect him. No love leads to no respect, and no respect leads to no love and on and on and on. Not only is this a “Crazy Cycle,” it is also likely a death knell to the marriage if not corrected.

Some of you may be thinking all this sounds good in theory, but how can I love or respect someone when I don’t feel like it? My simple answer to that dilemma is that you decide to override your feelings and do what you know is right. Far too often we let our feelings make our decisions and we typically then live with the negative consequences therefrom.

Love, you may have heard, is a decision as well as an emotion. I believe the same may be said for respect. You really can choose to love and respect someone. As you then act out your choice, you will typically find your emotions will catch up in time. By deciding to love and/or respect someone you are choosing to look for those qualities which are love and respect worthy. You’re not blinding yourself to the negative. You’re just choosing to give more weight to the positive.

In this way, you are living what Dr. Bill Dougherty, author of Take Back Your Marriage and other excellent books, calls an “Intentional Marriage.”

By the way, I really resonate with Dr Dougherty when he says on his website that “The only thing that rivals parenting for sheer challenge in today’s world is marriage, which holds our fondest hopes and our worst fears about the permanence of relationships in life.” He goes on to state that “a   core part of my mission is to restore a culture of hope about marriage by showing how couples can be intentional about their marriage and by promoting community and cultural support for marriage.” And how true is his next thought that “we have to do marriage better for our sake and for our children.”

Dr. Dougherty well sums up our passion and purpose at the Four Corners Coalition for Marriage & Family where we endeavor to help marriages thrive in our area. If you feel any interest or desire to be a part of this, and to add your talents and resources, I would love to speak more in depth with you. Please give me a call and we can further that discussion.

In the meantime, let me be the first to wish you a very early Merry Christmas and let me encourage you to consider well what you might give your spouse this year as a meaningful and much appreciated present. I’ve got some other suggestions, which do not cost money, to go along with love and respect. Let’s meet here again next week and I’ll share them with you.

Ron Price is the co-founder and Executive Director of the Four Corners Coalition for Marriage & Family, a 501-C-3 organization dedicated to strengthening and equipping marriages and families in the Four Corners Area. He can be reached at ronp@fccmf.org or 505 327-7870.

Is Time On Your Side?

I am getting closer to publication of PLAY NICE in Your Sandbox at Home. I just have a few adjustments to make, but they are major and will take some time to finish. In the meantime, I thought I would share a chapter with you that I find I need to read again and again – just as a reminder. I wonder if you feel the same way?


Chapter P1: Whelmed? Surely You Can do Better—Can’t You?

            “I’ve stopped trying to get ahead. That way, I can concentrate on trying to slow down the rate at which I am falling behind.”

—Source Unknown

I’m thinking of taking my life in a new direction with my ultimate goal to be whelmed. To be honest, I don’t know what whelmed is, but I know I don’t want too much or too little of it. Regarding a healthy marriage, being either overwhelmed or underwhelmed can pose problems.

The term “overwhelmed” probably doesn’t need much elaboration. I believe it is the scourge of our age—or at least one of them. I don’t know many people who are not stretched these days in far too many directions.

I called a friend to ask him to get involved in a project I was working on. After hearing the list of tasks he currently had on his plate, I was exhausted. I, of course, graciously withdrew my request.

This friend’s story is anything but unique. It is important to realize from time to time that your life may be out-of-control busy, and if that is the case, your marriage is bound to suffer. You simply won’t have the time or energy to give it the attention it deserves. I read a book several years ago by Dr. Richard Swenson called Margin. This is an excellent resource for getting a grip on over-commitments and on how to build in periods of respite into your busyness. I think I need to carve out some time to read it again.

Along those lines, may I suggest that you take the time to schedule activities and events which are important to the overall health of your marriage. We’ve all heard the expression “find time” to do something. If you have figured out a way to find time, would you please let me know? I’ve been looking for time for a long time.

To “take time” or “make time” seems far more realistic than to try to “find time.” Among the elements which might be worthy of your time are play times just for fun, the state-of-your-marriage conversations, parenting meetings, and even sex.

What did I just say? That’s right, many couples routinely schedule times for physical intimacy. They consider it important enough to make it a priority and something which should not get pushed to the side by other life demands. I’ve also heard that one gender in particular prefers some advance notice, while one just needs the other to show up. I’ll let you guess which gender might be which.

I can’t promise that proper scheduling and prioritizing will do away with all overwhelm in your life, but as my Jewish grandmother used to say, “That and some chicken soup couldn’t hurt.”

Regarding being underwhelmed in your marriage, you simply must take steps to prevent it from happening. I can’t tell you how many folks have come to me for marriage help telling me they have drifted apart. What I can tell you is that this is the likely result when couples stop focusing on their marriage and making it a priority in their lives.

There is nothing wrong with each partner having their own personal interests and pursuits in life—so long as these are not a threat to the marriage or causing undue hardship on your mate. But a couple who spend the majority of their time with each doing his or her own thing is likely a couple I will someday see for divorce mediation.

Chapter Challenge: Schedule time to discuss where you and your spouse fall on the overwhelmed–underwhelmed continuum. Make a plan to ensure you keep time for fun and other important components of a healthy marriage.

Should you have a marriage question or comment please send it to me at ronp@FCCMF.org. FCCMF stands for Four Corners Coalition for Marriage & Family, a 501-c-3 organization I co-founded in 2003 and which I presently serve as executive director. You can also call me at 505 327-7870.

Just for laughs

What’s that expression the family that plays together stays together? I believe there’s some truth in that. I also believe it’s true that the couple that laughs together regularly is more likely to stay together longer and more happily.

Life can get so hectic and stressful at times. OK, I heard that “duh”, but I want to remind you this week of the importance of laughter within a marriage.

Actually 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.

It’s said that laughter can reduce blood pressure by increasing vascular blood flow and oxygenation of the blood. Now I’m not a medical doctor, but that sure sounds like a benefit to me.

Laughter is a good physical workout as it exercises muscles in the diaphragm, face, leg 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 have 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 back, but she decided to tell him the truth. She said “it’s called having sex” to which the boy replied “ok” and went back out to play.

A short while later Johnny came in rather irritated and told grandma it is not having sex. He went on to tell her the correct answer is bunk beds and that his friend’s mother wants to have a chat with her.

 

When it comes to marriage there seems to be a never-ending supply of advice which folks are more than willing to share- much of which I find humorous. Rita Rudner offers the following: “I think men who have a pierced ear are better prepared for marriage. They’ve experienced pain and bought jewelry.”

Other sage advice for marriage comes from Allan who was 10 when he said: “you got to find somebody who likes the same stuff. Like if you like sports, she should like it that you like sports and she should keep the chips and dip coming.”

Kirsten, age 10, suggests that: “no person really decides before they grow up who they’re going to marry. God decides it all way before, and you got to find out later who you’re stuck with.”

If you’re wondering when you should get married, Cam age 10 says “twenty-three is the best age to marry because you know the person FOREVER by then!”

And, lastly, the true essence of marriage is given to us by Marlon, age 10 who said: “a man and a woman promise to go through sickness, illness and diseases together.”

Like I said, advice for marriage abounds. Please note I did not say all advice is appropriate or beneficial or wise.

Someone once said “you don’t stop laughing because you grow old. You grow old because 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 in your lives.

 

 

Ron Price is the co-founder and Executive Director of the Four Corners Coalition for Marriage & Family, a 501-C-3 organization dedicated to strengthening and equipping marriages and families in the Four Corners Area. He can be reached at ronp@fccmf.org or 505 327-7870.

What a Difference a Father Makes

Happy Belated Father’s Day y’all. I happen to be from the southern part of Rhode Island which explains my use of southern “y’all” greeting.

I appreciate the fact that we take a day each year to honor mothers and fathers. I know it’s pretty much a commercially motivated day, but the point remains that we should take time now and then to reflect on these incredibly important human roles.

There seems to be well accepted unanimity that mothers are vital to the welfare of their children. What’s been largely ignored in the past, however, is just how important fathers are to their children and to us as a society.

For one thing, fathers are the main factor in determining if we will feel accepted or not by others. We come into this world having known mom intimately for nine months (and already behind nine months room and board).  Mothers are normally well gifted at nurturing and loving us so we typically feel accepted by them.

Fathers, on the other hand, are obviously different from us and from our mother with whom we so closely relate. If father rejects us we begin to believe we are unacceptable as people. Unfortunately this is an all-too-common development in our society.

You’ve likely heard of surveys done in prisons when the inmates are asked to describe their relationship with their father. In one Florida penitentiary there was not a single inmate who reported having a positive relationship with a positive role model father.

I think we can all agree that mothers and fathers parent differently from each other. By the way it’s often the case that each parent does what they do in response to what they see the other doing. In other words, if a mother thinks father is being too strict she might tend to be more lenient. If a father believes a mother is being too assertive with their children, he might take a more passive tone. So if you have concerns about how your mate is parenting you might want to discuss with him or her how you might both change, not just the other one.

We shouldn’t be surprised that the genders parent differently. These differences are pretty much within us from birth. As you may have noticed, little boys are dramatically different from little girls. Back in the 60’s social scientists tried to get us to believe this was not true. They theorized that males and females are virtually identical and it’s simply how they are raised and socialized that explains gender differences. Fortunately, they put this hogwash theory to the test and they found out how ridiculous is was.

They gave little girls guns and soldiers to play with while little boys were to play with dolls. In short order the girls were making frilly clothes to put on the soldiers and painting the guns with dainty designs. The boys were playing with the dolls alright – by drop kicking them, throwing them to each other, etc.

Little girls are often seen playing house and pretending to have a family. They often spend countless hours dreaming of their wedding and their fortunate groom who gets to marry them.

Little boys, however, are often engaged in activities wherein they imagine what their occupation or profession will be. They play at how they will be able to make a living to provide for their family.

This helps to explain, but not excuse, the fact that so many men become workaholics to the neglect and disappointment of their wife and children. Many feel they are doing what a man is supposed to do – “put food on the table and clothes on their backs”. While this certainly important, too many men have gotten their responsibilities way out of balance.

Some years back I came across a blog written by Jon Brancheau, Vice President of Nissan Marketing, found at the web site for the National Fatherhood Initiative (www.fatherhood.org).  Concerning balance Mr Brancheau writes:

“A balanced obligation between the kids and the workplace is a good start. Prioritizing the time for my kids’ sporting events and recitals has proved important. I want to be visible for them at these events and will go out of my way to attend some during inconvenient business hours. Trust me, they get it and appreciate it. In the end, I try not to let my kids come up short on the “balance of work-life” scale.”

He goes on to say: “Staying with the idea of balance… How about the simple balance between trying to teach your kids vs. listening to them? Listening has worked for me so far and the kids continue to teach me something new every single day.”

It is certainly not my intention here to in any way minimize or downplay the importance of mothers. That they are vital to a person’s growth and development should go without saying. My intention is to point out the enormity of the role and importance which men have as dads to the overall health and well-being of their children. This factor, I’m afraid is often not given the significance it deserves.

So happy father’s day dads and please do stay in balance and be what your children really need you to be. I’ll just about guarantee you’ll be glad you did.

 

Ron Price is the co-founder and Executive Director of the Four Corners Coalition for Marriage & Family, a 501-C-3 organization dedicated to strengthening and equipping marriages and families in the Four Corners Area. He can be reached at ronp@fccmf.org or 505 327-7870.

Post 16 Divorce busting and divorce remedy

Two Great Resources to Strengthen Your Marriage

Most of you have seen, or at least heard of the movie the Vow featuring San Juan County’s own Kim and Krickitt Carpenter. While it is certainly entertaining I strongly encourage you to read their book by the same name. The movie is about a fictional couple who meet, marry, endure great tragedy and have to learn how to be a couple all over again. The book is the true story of two people who know the meaning of a vow and who had the courage and fortitude to carry it through amidst tremendous challenges and hardships.

Oh that more of our citizens would realize and appreciate the significance of a vow before they make one. I’ve heard of some couples who marry promising to stay together until “love do we part.” Well I’ve got news for you – marriage requires much more of a commitment than that to be successful and long lasting.

Every marriage will experience tension and times of unrest between the spouses. It’s normal and to be expected. Having made a vow which means something is a good protection to help you ride through those times until you get to a better place in your relationship.

So let me share with you this week two resources which can be of great help when you encounter difficult stretches and threats to your marital bliss. Michelle Wiener-Davis describes herself as a “guerilla Divorce Buster.” She is the author of Divorce Busting, a landmark book with a fairly simple message.

Ms Davis makes the case that most couples fall in love and decide to marry largely because they enjoy each other’s company. While first getting acquainted they do things together and have fun. They seem to click and decide they want to do this for the rest of their lives.

So they marry, get a place to live, have children and somehow in the midst of their busyness, they stop having fun together. Their marriage devolves to paying the bills and raising the kids. Who wants to do just that for a lifetime? So they begin to grow apart and prefer being away from each other rather than with each other as in the early, formative days of their relationship. Divorce is all-too-often the next step.

Published in 1993, Divorce Busting, has helped numerous couples reclaim the joy they once shared and the hope they kindled of a happy life together.  Among the skills couples learn are:

– How to leave the past behind and set attainable goals;
– Strategies for identifying problem-solving behavior that works–and how to make changes last; and
– “Uncommon-sense” methods for breaking unproductive patterns.

Perhaps chief among the skills taught is the importance of having fun again. Ms Davis encourages her readers and clients to go back and do the things they did when they first fell in love and they will likely rediscover their love for, and enjoyment of, each other. That is, I might add, assuming that those activities were legal then and still are now.

I have often recommended this tactic to my clients and am a firm believer that it can have great benefit in turning around a marriage which has grown stale. Obviously some marriages will be in more severe circumstances and will require more intense intervention. But I strongly suggest you try the “have fun together like we used to” approach before you get to that point.

And that leads me to my second resource which is also a book written by Mrs. Davis. It’s called The Divorce Remedy and was published in 2001. The book is subtitled: The Proven 7-Step Program for Saving Your Marriage. While giving helpful information on how to strengthen a marriage, this book is also helpful once your spouse has decided he or she wants out of the marriage.

Mrs. Davis provides specific guidance on what to do, and what not to do, for the spouse who hopes to keep the marriage intact. It’s not always easy, but is usually worth the effort. This is especially true if children are involved for they are the ones most severely and negatively impacted by their parents’ divorce.

Do I believe divorce is sin and should never occur? Absolutely not! Do I believe divorce has become a far-too-easy option for couples in distress?  As they say in Minnesota “ya, sure, ya betcha!” and as I’ve written many times over the years, this insanity just has to stop. People need to be better prepared before marriage and have more intestinal fortitude and knowledge to keep their marriage afloat through the turbulent seas they are bound to encounter. And the good news is that help is readily available to any and all who want to succeed in this most challenging human relationship.

Please know there is, or at least should not be, any shame in admitting if your marriage is not what you would like it to be. We have several counselors and coaches in the area who are ready, willing and able to help you get back on the right track.

Ron Price is the co-founder and Executive Director of the Four Corners Coalition for Marriage & Family, a 501-C-3 organization dedicated to strengthening and equipping marriages and families in the Four Corners Area. He can be reached at ronp@fccmf.org or 505 327-7870.

Post 15 Mind Your P’s and T’s

Some years ago, my wife and I had two other couples over to our house for an enjoyable evening of board games. One game was called Outburst, in which you are challenged to rapidly call out ten items to try to match those on a given list. The list might be foreign cars or famous actors or books or whatever. The category I most remember was “things your parents told you when you were a child.”

One of my partners, Rich Stimson, and I began to shout out “Wash your hands before dinner” and “Don’t talk with your mouth full” and “Close the door; we don’t live in a barn” and, well, you get the picture. We were making good progress toward the goal of ten, when all of a sudden our other partner Erl Hendrickson blurted out “Shut up, or I’ll nail your other foot to the floor.”

If you knew the usually calm and easygoing Erl, you would especially appreciate the shock and laughter that followed his contribution to the game. Needless to say, we did not score a point, as his suggestion was not one of the ten items listed. As I recall, neither Rich nor I could regain our composure to offer any more guesses before time expired for that round.

Just to remove any possible doubt in your mind, Erl was totally kidding, and neither he nor his parents would ever engage in such behavior. Calls to Child Protective Services were not appropriate or necessary. I recount this story for two reasons—actually, three.

The first reason is that it brings back a smile and great humor whenever I recall that event. The second reason is to remind you of the importance of keeping fun in your marriage and of having friends with whom to enjoy good times.

The third reason is to take a moment to recall one very important piece of advice, which most of our parents told us but which we may often neglect to put into practice. That would be to always say “please” and “thank you.” I’ve noticed over the years in my marriage‑coaching practice that couples who are in distress often forget these basic tenets of civility. Common courtesies that we extend to total strangers, we tend to withhold, at times, from those we love.

It’s so easy in a family setting to take one another for granted. Without common courtesies, our requests can easily come across more as demands or expectations. There’s an expression: “familiarity breeds contempt.” Well, I guess that might be true in some circumstances and relationships. I think for marriage it is more likely that “familiarity breeds complacency.” We somehow grow to feel our family members are stuck with us, so we no longer have to be nice to them.

While this practice may be common and easy to fall into, I’ve never seen it recommended in anyone’s “how to do marriage” book. While I’m on a roll with expressions, I’ll mention this one: “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.” You suppose it might be because they take better care of their grass on the other side of the fence?

I often say that I hate the expression (another one?) that “marriage takes work.” I work all day. I don’t want to have to think about having to work all night as well. So rather than “marriage takes work,” let me propose that “marriage takes determination and focus.” Please don’t fall into the habit of taking your loved ones for granted. Try saying “please” and “thank you” and “you’re welcome,” and any other courteous words you can think of, and I believe you’ll find them well received.

One last reason why we may hesitate to use such words is the pressure we find ourselves under in these busy, hectic times. Many of us are overburdened with work issues, family issues, health issues, etc. From our reservoir of pain and distress, we can easily withhold civility from one another. I can’t help you with the busyness other than to again suggest you read the book Margin by Dr. Richard Swenson.

In the meantime, let me remind you of one more bit of parental wisdom: “Mind your P’s and Q’s.” I don’t know what “P’s” and “Q’s” are, so I’ll just suggest you mind your P’s (pleases) and T’s (thanks). And, by way, thanks so much for reading this post.

Post 14 Chapter E1: Yesterday is Gone—Isn’t It?

I am about to realize my second lifelong dream of publishing a book. I have been so gratified to hear numerous comments about how my first book has helped people prevent or resolve conflict in the workplace, and I have hope that the same will be said about this new book which deals with relationships at home. I expect the book to be available on July 1, but since Memorial Day is coming up I thought I would share a chapter with you that deals with the power of memories.

 Chapter E1: Yesterday is Gone—Isn’t It?

“If you are depressed, you are living in the past.
If you are anxious, you are living in the future.
If you are at peace, you are living in the present.”

—LaoTzu
Franklin D. Roosevelt rightly proclaimed that December 7 would forever be a day of infamy for us as a nation. November 3 is such a day for me, as that is the day my mother died. You never got to meet Sylvia Price. From what I hear, you would have liked her. She was said to be a devoted wife and mother, and she apparently took an active role in supporting the PTA and other of her children’s events.

My memories from those early years are woefully lacking. I do remember making trips from our home in Providence, Rhode Island, to Mass General Hospital in Boston, or to Miriam Hospital, which was located directly across the street from my elementary school.

Wow, it just dawned on me that I must have spent many moments at recess knowing my mother was being held captive and detached from me just literally feet away, yet not fully comprehending the reason why. Here I am 65 years old, and that thought still brings tears to my eyes for the young boy who so needed and missed his mother. Give me just a moment, please.

Okay, I’m back, but I actually did take a few days to come back to this chapter. That memory hit me like a proverbial ton of bricks. It came with no warning and disabled me from continuing with my task. I wrote in PLAY NICE in Your Sandbox at Work about this also occurring when I took my wife to see the movie Stepmom starring Julia Roberts, Ed Harris, and Susan Sarandon. It is a very moving story about a young mother who is dying of cancer and about to leave her two young children, who, by the way, just so happened to be about the same age as my older brother and I were when our mom died of cancer. The only part of my story missing in the movie is that my younger sister was not in it.

I had two separate breakdowns during that movie, each lasting approximately ten minutes. During the first, I was clueless as to what was occurring. I just had this overwhelming sense of sadness and grief. In the second outburst, the reason became crystal clear. I realized that while everyone else in the theater was watching Susan Sarandon die of cancer, I was watching my own mother figuratively die right before my eyes. At that moment, while I was in my late 40’s physically, emotionally I was an eight-year-old grieving the loss of my mother.

I make no apology for my outbursts and certainly feel no shame. The point I hope to drive home in this chapter is that your spouse has hurtful experiences from his or her past, memories of which can arise out of nowhere and with a ferociousness for which they will likely not be prepared. It is precisely at these moments when you, more than any other of the billions of us on the planet, can be a source of comfort, care, and healing.

When your spouse is recalling a memory of a traumatic and hurtful experience, he or she is likely not going to be very pleasant, loving, or easy to be around. He or she may snap at you, yell at you, throw a fit, or have any number of reactions comparable to those of a hurt, young child. They are not doing this on purpose, but ideally, you can purposely choose how to respond. If you choose to join them in any form of negative emotion, you might want to cancel any plans you may have had for a joyful time together, for that’s not likely going to happen.

If, on the other hand, you can somehow choose to minister to his or her pain with soft, comforting words, a gentle hug, or anything else a young child might appreciate, your chances of responding appropriatelyare increased. Please don’t talk down to your spouse as if he or she really is a child—they are not. It’s just that at that particular moment, they are hurting, and they need your comforting.

Oh, that more couples would be aware that the painful experiences of their past have a dramatic and powerful impact on their relationships today. Men, the chances are pretty high that you pay the price at times for other men who have hurt your wife in the past. That is certainly not fair, but neither is it purposeful and mean-spirited. It’s more likely that you just said or did something that she connected with an earlier memory. Wives, please note the same about your husbands. He does not mean to lash out at you at those times, but if you have just somehow reminded him—consciously or unconsciously—of a hurtful moment in his past, he will quite likely take it out on you.

These can be moments of immense healing and growth, but only if you handle them well. Fortunately, marriage provides numerous opportunities for practice. I encourage you, in those moments, to purposely choose to be extra gentle, loving and sweet to your mate. They need you and you need them, and together you really can have a wonderful marriage.

Chapter Challenge: Take some time to consider the wounds from your past and determine if they may be the cause of distress in your life and/or your marriage. If so, please don’t settle or feel you are stuck in that condition. Invest some time, money, and effort into counseling or coaching to learn how to put these memories in proper perspective. They will never go away entirely, but you can diminish their impact.

It’s not always what you say……

I’m feeling nostalgic these days. The song Love and Marriage keeps rolling through my head. Some of you remember it- “goes together like a horse and carriage. Any time or weather you can’t have one without the other.” My they just don’t write songs like they used to. I know I’m dating myself since the song goes back clear into the last century, but it is indicative of a time when marriage held an honorable place in our society. At least much more honorable than appears to be the case today.

It seems we have evolved, or is that devolved, into a society where each individual’s wants and concerns are all that matters. If you please me, I will stay married to you, and if you don’t, I will leave you and find someone else who will.  I’ve heard of couples who vow to each other at their wedding to stay married “as long as love shall last.”

Last week I challenged you to realize that the person you married is no more or less perfect than you are and that there would be times when he or she got on your nerves. Times when you didn’t particularly like each other at the moment. This is normal and in no way an indication that you married the wrong person or that you should consider leaving.

It’s at these times that the XYZ technique can be very helpful. XYZ is a part of the PREP course (Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program) developed by Drs Howard Markman, Scott Stanley, and others. The beauty of this technique is that it enables you to draw attention to behaviors of your spouse without attacking them or their character.

Here’s how it works. The X is the specific behavior that you find objectionable. The Y gives specifics to help the other understand what you’re talking about and the Z is simply an expression of how or why the behavior bothers you. In other words – “when you do X, in situation Y, I feel Z.”

Here are a few examples: “when you leave your coat on the couch when you come home rather than hanging it in the closet I feel unappreciated for my efforts to keep a clean home.” “When you showed up 15 minutes late for our appointment with the realtor I felt you don’t respect my need to be prompt.” “When you invited the neighbors over to watch the game without checking with me first I felt disrespected as if my desires don’t matter to you.”

I realize that on a scale of 1 to 10 of hot button issues these examples are likely way near the bottom. I’m just trying to give you an idea of how it might sound to voice concerns about disturbing behaviors without giving offense or making the situation worse. The XYZ technique is certainly helpful in dealing with your spouse, but it shouldn’t be limited to your marriage relationship. You may want to use it with your children, co-workers, other family, and friends, etc.

Now let’s be honest. There are times when we get so upset with our spouse that we just want to rip into him or her and give them a piece of our mind. I hate to be the one to tell you this, but some of you don’t have enough extra pieces to be giving much away – just kidding. While that may be a strong temptation, let me urge you to do all you can to fight and overcome it.

George Thompson, author of Verbal Judo said you should “never use words that rise readily to your lips, or you’ll give the greatest speech you’ll ever live to regret.” I like how Dr. Kevin Leman, author of 42 books on marriage, parenting, and family puts it: “if you follow your feelings for 30 days, you’ll likely find yourself in jail.”

There is absolutely nothing wrong with letting your spouse know that something he or she is doing is disturbing to you. In fact, in the healthiest marriages, this is a common occurrence. It’s all a matter of how and when you voice your displeasure. Say it as an attack, and you can expect a negative reception. Use the XYZ approach to voice it as a respectful suggestion or request, and you’re far more likely to get your desired result.

XYZ can also be used to express gratitude. “When you brought me flowers on Valentine’s Day I felt so loved and appreciated by you.” “When you told my parents how grateful you were for how they raised me I felt so respected and honored by you.” The XYZ technique takes some getting used to, but I think you’ll find it well worth the investment of time and effort.

Ron Price is the co-founder and Executive Director of the Four Corners Coalition for Marriage & Family, a 501-C-3 organization dedicated to strengthening and equipping marriages and families in the Four Corners Area. He can be reached at ronp@fccmf.org or 505 327-7870.

Does Love Mean Look for the Good?

Please stop what you’re doing and get a pen and some paper. OK, now please jot down 2 or 3 criticisms of your mate. Just take a moment (by the way I’ve heard that a moment is 90 seconds) and list 2 or 3 of his or her imperfections. Alright, now that you’ve done that I ask you to take the same pen and paper and write down 2 or 3 of your mate’s positive qualities. Just 2 or 3 aspects of him or her which are noteworthy and commendable.

I’m curious. Which list was easier to compile? Well, I guess that depends on the overall quality of your marriage at the moment. If your marriage is good and you’re happy together, the second list was likely the easier, although the first list is always doable.

The big mistake you made in marriage was that you married a human being who, by definition, is going to have faults and who is going to do things that annoy you at times. Unless he or she married someone other than human I wouldn’t be too quick to pass judgment.

I heard somewhere that some folks find fault like there’s a reward for it. It’s so easy to find fault, and so many of us do. What’s ironic, however, is that at those times when we are most critical are usually the times we’re most upset with ourselves.  You’ve got to live with yourself, so you can only take so much self-abuse and criticism. After a time you’re going to naturally look for another outlet. And all too often that other outlet is going to be your spouse. It may be common and normal, but it’s not right, and it’s certainly not conducive to a healthy marriage.

I have a video clip called repentance which makes a great point in a comical way. A husband tells his wife he wants to discuss the sermon they heard in church that morning. The wife agrees, but then he asks her to go first. The message of the sermon was repentance, and he suggested they should start their conversation with her telling him what she needed to repent of.

Needless to say, the conversation did not get off to a good start. The wife got justifiably upset that he would try to railroad her into admitting her faults and she took great offense. They then go on to point out each other’s need for repentance, and it gets ugly and loud.

Finally, the husband has a change of heart and admits that he really wanted to have the conversation so he could repent, but it was difficult for him to do so. He then goes on to apologize for starting the conversation by putting pressure on her, and he offers a sincere, heartfelt apology for the way things are going in their marriage. He acknowledges his anger and the destructive impact it has had on her and their children.

The reaction of the wife is heartwarming. Rather than continuing to jump his case, she softens and accepts his apology with humility. She then begins to list some of her faults and what she has done to steal the joy from their relationship. The couple is able to stop haranguing each other and instead begin to encourage and lift each other up – which by the way is what married folks are supposed to do.

We live in a rude world, and we’re used to people putting us down or disappointing us in some way. Home is supposed to be the place where each one is rooted for and supported and believed in. When you get criticized and put down at home the pain goes deep and the resentment even deeper.

So what am I saying? That you should never tell your mate when something he or she is doing is upsetting you? Not a chance. But I’m certain you’ve learned by now that there is a right way and a wrong way to express your displeasure. The former is likely to result in voluntary behavior adjustment. The latter in world war 7,235.

I’ll try to remember to write next week about the XYZ technique for voicing criticisms in a manner which will be well received and addressed. In the meantime let me challenge you to throw away your list of faults and add to your list of positive attributes. It wouldn’t hurt to spend a few moments each day looking over that list and remembering why you chose to marry him or her in the first place.

A few years ago the keynote speaker at the Four Corners Conference for Professional Development made a statement that “love in Greek means look for the good.” Well, I’m certainly not a Greek scholar, but I don’t think she’s correct. I love the thought though. To deepen and solidify the love in your home why not spend some time looking for the good and expressing appropriate gratitude to and for your spouse. My hunch is you’ll be well pleased with the results.

 

Ron Price is the co-founder and Executive Director of the Four Corners Coalition for Marriage & Family, a 501-C-3 organization dedicated to strengthening and equipping marriages and families in the Four Corners Area. You can reach him at ronp@fccmf.org or 505 327-7870.