When I was a teenager I grew infatuated with romance novels. I loved love. I loved the thought of love, the look of love and most of all being in love with the one who loved me most. Those novels craftily sucked me into the fairytale of romantic love and I’m willing to bet some of you too. I desperately wanted to have that INTENSE love I grew to admire! Believe it or not I am still very much a romantic after twenty+ years of marriage. However, I am fully aware of the pitfalls of my fantasy. Reality has a way of ruining even the best intended dreams. Don’t get me wrong, I still love love. I just now love it differently.
Living together brings interesting challenges to the ideal of love. It tests the depth and fabric of the love you profess. We say we got married because we deeply loved one another but how much is the question. When encountered by the habits and upbringing of another adult, love can quickly turn into frustration, anger and dislike. I had not prepared for the differences, conflict and confusion that arise in marriage. I figured if Ray would just do what I wanted; when I wanted it and how I wanted it done all would be back to fantasy land. I had no idea he would have the same thoughts about me. As time went by, I became angry with what I wasn’t getting from Ray. I was easily frustrated by the littlest of things he would do that were different from me. I couldn’t believe this was the man who claimed to intensely love me more than anyone. I was so wrong about wanting this INTENSE love. It wasn’t all that the romance novels pictured it to be.
When I settled down and did some research, I realized I had it all wrong. The love I wanted was still achievable and, in fact, was present and alive. I just didn’t see it. The word intense comes from the Latin word intendere meaning “to stretch out.” I wasn’t happy because to do things Ray’s way required some compromises or even changes and change is hard. It caused me to open my eyes to different perspectives rather than sticking with what I already know. It made me reach deep inside myself and face the fact that I am an imperfect human being capable of improvement. This love I wanted so desperately challenged me to stretch beyond the single me to the 2.0 me, the married me. Relationships are hard whether at work with your boss, at home with your child or extended family like in-laws. As difficult as they may be the pressure to fix them daunts your existence and fractures your inner peace. Your only choice is to figure out how to make them better, especially your 24/7 marriage. You can choose to fight the pressure of modification or allow the process to transform you into something new and beautiful. As you open yourself up to change, you allow your journey to inspire your husband, children, family and friends to do the same.
You see I had it right after all (pun intended, ha)! Intense love is not only what I wanted but what I needed. And although it may not always be romantic, it is always right in the arms of the one you love! My hope is that you too allow yourself to be ever-changing, ever-growing into the new and improved you with the gentle nudge by the love of your life, your superman, pool boy or whatever he is to you tonight (wink, wink).
Effective communication is vital to a successful relationship. Here are 10 steps to assist in your success.
1) Value- Determine if the topic/subject or situation is 1-10. 1=small stuff & unnecessary to communicate; 10=urgent and MUST communicate; 5=you could handle independently or it could snowball into something worse so WATCH CAREFULLY. Don’t sweat the small stuff. No one wants to be labeled as a nagging wife or a judgmental husband. Everyone wants to feel loved and accepted for who they are. Over communicating can cause your spouse to feel criticized and shut down communication altogether. Choose when to communicate wisely. Don’t sweat the small stuff.
2) Transparency- We must be willing to share our depth of feelings and emotions without FEAR of rejection. As difficult as it is to let your guard down, it is essential in building a bond to last a lifetime. The marital relationship is the one place where you and your spouse should feel safety. Create a spousal communication culture that is free of judgment/criticism and open to vulnerability.
3) Honesty- Be honest with yourself recognizing that you only have one perspective; be honest in your evaluation of the situation and the circumstances surrounding it; be honest with your spouse by truthfully sharing your needs and be honest by taking responsibility for the role you played in the current state of the relationship.
4) Timing- There’s no perfect time but there is bad timing for difficult conversations. Think it through before approaching your spouse with a difficult conversation. Anger has no place in solution oriented resolutions. I would even suggest setting an agreed upon place and time, therefore giving both parties an opportunity to collect their thoughts and prepare for the upcoming conversation.
5) Active Listening- Listen to understand versus to defend. Easy to intellectualize but difficult to execute. All things worth achieving require work. Practice being an active listener until you achieve it. I have found I am most successful when I write down the points my spouse is trying to make. It frees me from trying to memorize his points and from trying to think of my response. It deactivates the analytical part of my brain and allows me to absorb the information being shared.
6) Reiteration- Repeating what you heard for clarity, understanding and unity (being on the same page). Oftentimes what we hear our spouse say is different than what they were trying to communicate. Simply say, “What I heard you say is… Is that correct?” This simple statement decreases the probability of misunderstandings and mishaps due to incorrect interpretation of what was communicated.
7) Facts- Be fact driven. Don’t let emotions cloud the situation. Sometimes you may have to collectively jot down the facts in order to stay on topic or point. However, don’t let facts discount feelings. Feelings are important and should be validated.
8) Validation- Agreement isn’t necessary to validate your spouses feelings or emotional reaction to a situation. Sometimes validation of feelings is all your spouse needs to recover from an uncomfortable experience. Facts are important, however the way you communicate them or even the timing of your communication can be inappropriate and cause unnecessary stress on your relationship.
9) Follow up- Some conversations require a follow up to ensure follow through. Agree on a day and time for further discussion. It shows commitment to resolve.
10) Politeness/Positivity- DO NOT use harsh, negative words when describing or discussing a situation, your spouse or your spouses behavior. Being rude only causes your spouse to become more emotional which further clouds the discussion. Name calling breeds resentment and contempt which can become detrimental to a marital relationship.
I wonder how many newly married men were like me with a slightly skewed view of what it looks like to be the head of the household and the leader of the family unit. You see I thought leadership was a man who makes all the decisions, protects his wife and family from situations and information that he feels is above their head or that they cannot handle, and when everything goes the way he plans he is looked upon as a hero and admired by his wife, his children, and all those who are looking intravenously at his relationship and family. This picture looks real good from Hollywood’s perspective, but real life isn’t scripted like a perfectly drafted screen play with minor twist and turns but always ends happily ever after. In my 21 years of marriage I have discovered life to be extremely unpredictable, and the times where I thought I had an amazing plan of how to move our family forward, convinced that everything would work out exactly the way I planned it, and even at the pleading of my wife (the few times I actually did include her in my personal planning sessions) to not move in the direction I was determined to take us in…more often than not I found myself having to pick up the pieces of the disastrous situation. A scenario that was full of problems that I did not account for, and ultimately a situation that broke down trust between my wife and I and that shook her confidence in my ability to make sound decisions and lead our family properly. This is such a common issue in so many marriages that
Michelle and I have worked with over the years and even in our own relationship. Men, it is so important that we remember what marriage is… Marriage is all about teamwork! Now every great team has people fulfilling different roles, but no one role makes one person more valuable than the other. In sports, the quarterback is considered by many as the most important person on the team. He is the face of the franchise in many respects. However, if he doesn’t make his offensive line feel they are just as important, if not more important than he is, he will be very ineffective in his ability to lead his team because he’ll get clobbered on every single play! Great leadership is the ability to make everyone on your team feel valued and appreciated for what they bring to the team. Great marital leadership is the ability to make your wife feel valued and appreciated for what she brings to the marriage.
Using every single attribute that benefits your family should be your ultimate goal. In college, NFL recruiters would watch me practice and chart my strengths and abilities to evaluate if I would be an asset to their team. Likewise, we as husbands have the same opportunity to sit back and observe our wives’ individual skillsets that when brought to the marriage relationship those gifts enhance our marital team.
In 2006, during the Indianapolis Colts Super bowl run, Peyton Manning was in the huddle with his team against the New England Patriots trying to put them away. While discussing the most crucial play of the game, the most unassuming usually quiet wide receiver Marvin Harrison spoke up and differed saying, “I think we should run the ball!” This decision required sacrifice and humility from the future Hall of Fame quarterback. The best way to lead our wives is to make sure they have equal say in the choices and decisions that we make. This will require sacrifice and humility on our part, but I have found that when we as husbands are inclusive with are wives in these types of conversations and decisions it creates more unity, greater trust, deeper intimacy, and a more healthy marriage. Why? Because when everything goes according to plan we get to celebrate together because we were in it together. And if by chance things don’t work out as planned, you work through it together, because you made the decision to move in that direction together. If we as men are inclusive like this with our wives trust me when I say fellas, our women will love us more for it, and will follow us wherever we lead them.
The great teams win together and they lose together but the common theme of those types of teams is they stay together. One of my favorite moments as a chaplain was after the game several players gathered on the 50 yard line as one to give thanks for the opportunity to play this game we love together whether we won or lost. The same applies to marriage. If what we do is done together with an attitude of gratefulness and thanksgiving the end result will always be a win.
I asked my wife the other day if she ever gets tired of me telling her how unbelievably gorgeous I think she is. She smiled and said, “NO!” However, I also realize a thing that is truly beautiful cannot holistically be appreciated by just its mere appearance. What is beautiful to me is a Sunday afternoon, on the field, 3rd down and 15 and you know the quarterback has to throw the ball for a first down. You see the wide receiver running his route, you see the quarterback release the ball in his direction, and just before the receiver makes the catch….BOOOMMM!!!! The defender lights up the intended target with a thunderous hit that jars the ball harmlessly to the turf. That is just beautiful to me…but here’s what you don’t get to see in that moment. You don’t get to see the work that went into making that play happen; the long hours of practice, meetings, and film study spent. The early morning commutes day after day to the practice facility all while nursing nagging aches and pains from the intense contest just days earlier. Not to mention the ability to block out the family drama going on behind the scenes. What we see as beautiful when it happens live rarely reveals the struggle and the effort and the work that actually went into making it happen.
And I think that’s what I appreciate most about my marriage. Michelle and I hear people say to us all the time, “You two are so beautiful together. You guys are the perfect couple. I want to have a marriage just like you two!” Well, I will tell you it is possible. And though I would agree with everyone that our marriage is phenomenal, I would also share in all transparency that the beauty of our relationship is a result of the willingness to have the hard conversations, the work of listening to the other person and walking in their shoes versus standing intently on our own ground, and a mindset of blocking out the issues that would try to divide us, but rather be resolute in searching for the principles, the people, or the products that encourage togetherness. A great artist, a great actor, a great athlete….those amazing individuals who we would pay top dollar to see perform leave us in awe with the beauty in which they perform. But that’s the thing with the great ones…they make the hard things look easy. My friends what is beautiful to me is when I see couples not only committed to marriage, not only committed to looking good to the onlookers on the outside, but they are also committed to the work, the pain, the discomfort, the battle of what it takes to stay together successfully within the relationship. To me that is absolutely beautiful; yeah that’s what great marriages look like to me…but hey, the great ones, they make the hard stuff look easy.
Being a mother is one of the most rewarding jobs a woman could have. Yes, of course, each stage of development comes with its own challenges, but as I have helped my child learn some important things in life, so have I learned along the way.
For the past 15 years, I have been the main person to do my daughter’s hair except for occasional trips to the salon. Yes, of course, she is old enough and has done a great job of styling her hair in the simple ponytail when she wants an up-do. But certain styles where she likes it wavy or crinkled, more effort and skill is required and has to be done the night before.
One day after a long day of work, she asked me to prepare her hair for the next day. It was late, I was exhausted, and just didn’t have the time nor energy to comb her hair.I suggested she give it a try… needless to say, that did not happen. I realized quickly how much time I invested in not showing her how to be independent, at least in this area, but maybe in other areas, as well.
Over several months, I promised myself I would have to give a hard “No” to let her try it on her own. The few times she attempted to try, she didn’t make it far and I’d give in. But one evening, after another long day of work, I was determined to get some rest and gave a real firm “No” and encouraged her to try it again for herself. She was not happy but I was determined. This had to work, I couldn’t and wouldn’t be the mother doing my daughter’s hair once she’s in college!
As much as my heart hurt to see her frustrated and struggling in the mirror for hours, she endured and by midnight, she finally finished several braids before the next morning. That was a proud moment, not only for her, but for myself, as well. I didn’t give in and she learned how to persevere, problem solve, and endure until she figured it out.
As a mother, I have had many moments realizing that if I do everything, she won’t learn how to do certain things for herself. If you are one of those mothers who does it all, take a moment to realize your child isn’t learning from you doing it all.
Allow the space and time for your child to grow, develop, and mature in some of the most basic things in life. From cooking, laundry, financial management, to setting the table, balancing life and school work, etc. Hopefully, you too can take a moment to find those invaluable teaching moments that allow your child to blossom, grow, develop, and mature.