22 November 2012

Thankful for My Marriage: Today and Always

There is ALWAYS a reason to be grateful. Always. Without exception. Find your reason today. Don’t stop when you find one. Collect a whole basket of reasons to be thankful, and then take the time to express that thanks and appreciation. Gratitude isn’t just something we dress up in for Thanksgiving - it is an attitude that allows us to see the sunshine in every rainy day.

If your marriage is thriving...

Be grateful for your marriage, for life as it is, the happy moments, the laughs, the intimacy, the meaningful conversations, the great sex, feeling loved, the trust between you and your partner, someone to share your heart with, a soul mate, a partner you can entrust every part of yourself to, memories that leave romance novels in the dust, and the promise of a great future. Be thankful for a spouse you can give every part of yourself to with reckless abandon...

If your marriage is good, but not great...

Be grateful for your marriage, for a partner who loves you, for someone to share your life with, for a companion who stands with you, for someone who cares about you and lets you know that, for those special moments that create good memories, for the growth you have seen in your marriage, for knowing you are not alone, and for the promise of more good things to come. Be thankful for a spouse you can give yourself to, knowing they value you as you are...

If your marriage is surviving...

Be grateful for your marriage, for a spouse who is tough enough to hang in there through the hard times, for the promise that things can get better, for buried hopes that can be resurrected, for new dreams that can be created today and lived tomorrow, for someone who honors their marriage vows, for the knowledge that tomorrow gives you a fresh start, and for the promise that it is not too late to have a great marriage. Be thankful for a spouse who is still in the process of learning to value and appreciate you, and for the opportunity to demonstrate daily how much you value and appreciate them...

Happy Thanksgiving!

08 November 2012

Stardust Exposed by an Attitude of Gratitude

Thankful. Appreciative. Cognizant of how others have contributed to their lives. These are the people who typically enrich our lives. We find them encouraging and energizing, and we enjoy being around them. They seem to bring sunshine into a cloudy day. They put a smile on our faces when we have begun to feel invisible. Showing gratitude on a regular basis may not feel natural for everyone, but everyone has the capacity to grow in gratitude and have a sunny effect on those around them.

Husbands, have you thanked your wife for something she has done or said today? Wives, have you taken the time today to show appreciation to your husband for something he did for you or someone else?

Thankfulness does not get worn out with use: not in your workplace, not in your place of worship, not in social get-togethers, and definitely not in your home. But it is easier to become ungrateful at home than it is anywhere else. Over the years, our marriage partner becomes so familiar to us that we sometimes don’t notice them the way we notice colleagues, or neighbors, or strangers on the street. In the early years of marriage, we may have thanked them profusely for everything from the burnt toast they made for us to the way they chose to love us when we felt undeserving of their love. Yet, with passing years, we start to take their acts of giving for granted. We begin to expect their selfless acts of kindness, and stop thanking for them or thank only on occasion. And as we thank less often, we begin to wonder why we don’t feel appreciated ourselves.

 While a lack of gratitude serves as a slow poison for a relationship, a regular show of heartfelt gratitude can heal a relationship. But what if I am not naturally expressive like that, you may ask? If you are intelligent enough to be reading this post, you are also smart enough to learn how to show gratitude. Fortunately, it is not very difficult to learn. In essence, all it takes is for you to take your eyes off your own needs for a short time, and focus on your spouse. Even if you are going through a rough patch in your marriage, and you feel unloved and unappreciated, you can still identify small things that have enriched your life thanks to your spouse. It may be a cup of coffee they brought you, or a small gift they gave you, or the call they made when they were late for dinner, or the way they smiled at you when you least expected it. It doesn’t have to be significant, erotic, or even intimate things that should get your attention - simply make the effort to notice what your spouse is doing.

For those who like practical methods they can use to change their behavior, here’s a simple set of steps that will point you in the right direction.

1. Put a pen and a piece of paper next to your bed.

2. Before you go to sleep, challenge yourself to write down 3 things you can be grateful for in your home and marriage. Remember that these don’t have to be deeply emotional or intimate in nature. They can be as simple as “I am grateful that my wife ironed my work shirt today,” or “I am grateful that my husband works so hard at his job despite it not being fulfilling for him,” or “I am thankful that my wife brought me a new roll of toilet paper when I discovered (too late) that there wasn’t enough on the roll,” or “I appreciate my husband taking our car to be washed today.” Look for the “specks of stardust” in your marriage - every marriage has some of these tiny glimmers of hope or sparks of joy, and they happen every day so take the time to identify a few of them each day.

3. Within 24 hours (before it is time to write a new list), find a way to express gratitude for at least one of the points on your list. Express your gratitude out aloud. Send an email. Make that call during your spouse’s lunch break. Send a text message. Write it on a piece of paper and slip it into the pocket of their work clothing or put it in their lunch box. Don’t let a day pass without expressing gratitude for something small and seemingly insignificant.

4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 every day.

Feeling unappreciated and unloved this week? Finding it hard to communicate with your spouse? Wanting something better for your marriage? Move your focus off finding fault in what your husband or wife has done. Stop thinking about how disrespectful your wife is and how deserving of punishment she is. Wives, stop thinking about what a loser your husband seems to be. Quit hammering your spouse with your criticism. This week, try a dose of gratitude instead. Give what you need, and enrich your marriage in the process. Develop an attitude of gratitude, exercise that attitude daily, and take the way you love your partner to the next level.

03 November 2012

Promise Keeping Without Punishment or Nagging

In “Keeping Your Word”, we explored the price that husbands pay for dishonoring their word. A husband’s leadership in the marriage takes a knock each time he fails to deliver something he said he would. But is that fair? What if he is genuinely forgetful? What if he just said what he said to get his wife to stop nagging him? What if he really didn’t mean what he said, or what if he changed his mind? 

“Our word” refers to the things we say, and not necessarily things we deliberately promise. “Our word”, from the concrete, well thought-out plans we share right down to the vague intentions that slip from our lips, create expectation in the heart and mind of the listener. We all want to be listened to, particularly by our spouse, yet we also want the luxury of not being held accountable for what we say. This is where we must choose. A man or woman of his/her word is someone who assumes responsibility for what they say, even when it was said without fully counting the cost of making that statement. An honorable man or woman takes the words that they say (or write) seriously.

If a husband’s authority in the home is affected by how he backs up his own words, it makes sense for him to make the effort to keep his word, even when he wishes he had not said anything to begin with. In “Keeping Your Word”, we suggested that husbands ask their wives to help them grow in this area of integrity and leadership. But how can this be done without the husband relinquishing his authority or encouraging his wife to become bossy?

In essence, the husband, when asking for his wife’s help, must choose to trust her to not abuse the power he is placing within her grasp. The power she has access to is vast: she may claim he said things he never did and hold him to promises he never made; she may grab opportunities to nag him about his promises; she may use his commitments as an excuse to tell him what to do; she may use his failures as reason to criticize or humiliate him. If the husband does not trust his wife in this area (whether or not she is trustworthy), he is not ready to ask for her help. He will need to find other accountability partners to help him grow as a man of his word, until he is ready to trust his wife.

If the husband wants help, what can the wife do to help her husband honor his word in the home and marriage?

A very simple (albeit tedious) exercise is to convert the spoken word to written word for a few weeks. Habits are supposedly formed in approximately 21 days, so couples should not expect instant change. They should realize this exercise is time-consuming and requires some effort. Doing this exercise for a few weeks will not convert a person into someone who never makes a mistake and ALWAYS remembers to do what they said they would. Instead, it raises awareness of how much people expect of us based on things we say (sometimes without thinking). It is this awareness that can help motivate us to be careful about what we do say, and to honor whatever we have said.

1. Start with the husband agreeing to (and committing to) the process of him speaking and his wife writing. The husband also commits to doing all that he says he will. This accountability system does not work if the husband only wants the system in place when it is convenient. The wife agrees to (and commits to) giving her husband the space, for the duration of the exercise, to resolve any issues that arise from him not keeping his word. She acknowledges that she may become frustrated if her husband doesn’t make good on all his promises when she expected him to, but commits to refraining from making it right on her own.

2. Mount a small whiteboard in the kitchen, acquire a big family datebook, make use of a communal computer with a task organizer, or use sticky notes on the fridge. Choose a medium that suits your family. Make sure you choose a central place to host your “reminder space” - it needs to be where the husband and wife will walk past and notice reminders a few times a day.

3. When the husband says something that creates expectation (e.g. I will call the plumber tomorrow), the wife should write down what she hears him say. To avoid later conflict (on who said what), its a good idea for the wife to check with her husband that she heard him correctly and that her transcription of his words is indeed correct.

4. The wife should post this “appointment” in the agreed upon place so her husband can be reminded of what he said he would do. Once posted, there is no further need for the wife to remind (or nag) her husband of his commitment - it is now his responsibility to follow up on every one of his commitments posted in the reminder space, and to do so by the time he said he would have it done. If he anticipates not being able to complete a particular task, he should speak to his wife about the problem before the deadline. He needs to treat each of these seemingly insignificant commitments as serious “business” contracts with his wife.

5. While this exercise is in play, the wife has the duty to write her expectations based on what she hears. Her husband’s duty is to fulfill that expectation that he created. If the wife doesn’t bother to write down a particular “promise”, she is not entitled to expect a positive outcome. If she doesn’t check that she has heard her husband correctly he may later dispute what she wrote, and such disagreements are difficult (if not impossible) to resolve.

6. As expectations are met, the husband removes the relevant reminders from the reminder space. At the end of each day, any unmet expectations for that day need to be addressed. Set aside some time (perhaps at bed time) to discuss unresolved issues. It will take courage for the husband to admit to his wife that he did not accomplish what he set out to do - some men may feel this “failure” makes them less of a man in their wives eyes. Hiding the failure is probably a lot more damaging to trust than admitting it happened. And being man enough to address this issue is part of the growth of integrity. Admitting that you have not kept your word isn’t the end - it is the first part of the process of making it right. A husband can use the opportunity to discuss what went wrong and couple his own wisdom with that of his wife to find a way to make up for his mistake. 

This is a tough exercise, and not suitable for everyone. It demands a lot from both husband and wife. It does not take away from the husband’s authority. It does not force the wife to be bossy or to take charge. She does not get to punish or berate her husband if he makes a mistake. He remains in charge, and she serves as his accountability partner, helping him fill out his integrity core. In relationships where the husband struggles to understand his wife’s frustration and expectation of him, where he is convinced he has made no promises while his wife is sure he has, where the wife disrespects her husband and disregards what he says and he cannot understand why, this exercise can help the frustrated husband see how much expectation his words create. A man of his word commands respect - his integrity invites respect. Keeping our word (as a husband or a wife) isn’t always easy or convenient, but our integrity, and the pursuit of integrity, enriches our marriage. Isn’t our marriage worth that kind of effort?

02 November 2012

Keeping Your Word

Honoring one’s word used to be the mark of a man. An honorable man (or woman) did what they said they would do. And they did it even if it was uncomfortable or inconvenient. In fact, most honorable folk would keep their word even if it hurt them to do so. When did that change? When did a man’s word cease to be his bond?

Have men of today traded being honorable for being comfortable? If it costs us anything to keep our word, are we tempted to look the other way and conveniently “forget” our promise? A young man recently told me that he didn’t think he was obligated to keep his word unless he had coupled it with “I promise”. When did it become necessary to tag “I promise” on to make one’s word into a commitment?

Certainly we need to look after our health, finances, and other areas of our lives that may be affected by our commitments. If those commitments (perhaps made without counting the cost) threaten our well-being, are we justified in turning our backs on those commitments? Self-preservation has replaced honor and integrity for many people. Is that so bad?

There is a side to not keeping your word that people don’t talk about much. It was refreshing to find an article that actually focused on the price we all pay when we don’t keep our word.
Michael Hyatt stresses that keeping your word is at the heart of integrity. Without integrity, leadership is compromised. So what does that have to do with your old fashioned marriage?

A husband of a traditional marriage is a leader. The degree to which he honors his word determines how effective his leadership is. Hyatt hits the nail on the head when he links integrity to trust. If you want to be the kind of husband whose wife chooses to follow your lead and desires to submit to you, then you have to be the kind of husband who can be trusted. And how do you become that kind of husband?

You start by honoring your word 24/7 - not just in business or in your workplace, but especially at home in your marriage. If you said you would do something, don’t drop the ball - do it. If you find you often forget about things you said, ask for help. Put a system in place that encourages your wife to help you become an honorable leader. Place yourself in a position of accountability to her when it comes to keeping your word. When you become a man of your word, your integrity as a leader will encourage your family to follow you.