The Wrong Way to be Right

I have a grandson who thinks he’s right about everything. Even the things he knows nothing about! No matter what you’re talking about, he typically takes the opposing opinion, and he’s convinced he’s right. Even if you show him he’s wrong, he won’t concede. He just walks away.

There are a lot of marriages out there where one or both spouses are always convinced they’re right. They take a stand and an opinion on various things, and they’ll ride the “I’m right” train to the very end of the line. And if you somehow prove they’re wrong, they will shift the point to something else, or just withdraw.

Why is it so Important for Some People to be Right?

Why is being right so important to some spouses? There can be a wide variety of reasons why a spouse becomes so doggedly determined to prove they’re right.

  • Maybe they were raised in a home where being right was highly valued.
  • Perhaps they saw their parents fight a lot about who was right or wrong.
  • Maybe they were not believed in the past by parents, friends, or coworkers.
  • Perhaps they’ve been wrongly accused in the past and suffered injustices.
  • Maybe they struggle with low self-esteem, and being right is a way of feeling better about themselves.
  • Perhaps they have a competitive personality that turns disagreements into competitions.

Whatever the case may be, there are spouses out there who just have to be right about everything. And maybe you’re one of them.

You Can be Right in the Wrong Way.

Now being right can seem like…well, it can seem right. But did you know that you can be right and still be wrong? In other words, you can be right in the wrong way.

You can be right in the wrong way when…

  • You’re condescending.
  • You cut your spouse off.
  • You don’t consider your spouse’s thoughts and ideas.
  • You’re competitive.
  • You don’t control your emotions.
  • You feel you need to dominate the situation or your spouse.
  • You see everything as right or wrong…even the little things.

You may be right in some situations, but if you are right in the wrong way, you will lose more than you gain.

How to be right the right way?

I know that saying there’s a right way to be right sounds like I’m one of those people who always needs to be right. So, let’s just say there is a better way to be right. And it’s a way that will help both you and your spouse to stay connected despite disagreements.

When you feel you’re right about something, here are seven things to keep in mind:

Be kind.

If you’re right, kindness goes a long way to softening someone up and making it easier for them to admit it. And if you’re wrong, kindness makes being wrong easier to swallow.

Be considerate.

Everyone wants to feel heard…even if we’re wrong. This is especially true in marriage. Considering your spouse’s point of view will do one of two things. First, it may show you that you’re not as right as you thought you were. And second, it may show you how your right can be made better. Create space for your spouse and their views; even if you don’t agree with them.

Be compassionate.

Just as you need to consider their point of view, you also need to consider their feelings. Care about what they think. Right or wrong, their views may be driven by hurts, fears, or insecurities. These call for compassion, not conquering.

Don’t be competitive.

I know it’s easy in disagreements to get sucked into a competition to see who will come out on top. But remember…you’re both on the same team. If one of you loses, you both lose. If you become competitive, you will lose…even if you win. Marriage is not about competition. It’s about collaboration.

Don’t be condescending.

When you become condescending to your spouse…in words, tone, or attitude…you leave a lasting scar on them that apologies don’t erase. When you got married, you vowed to love and protect your spouse. But when you become condescending, you become the one inflicting harm. Consequently, it becomes harder and harder for your spouse to trust you.

Control your emotions.

When you’re in a disagreement with your spouse, it can be easy to let your emotions elevate and eventually run away with you. At that point: you elevate your volume, you use words you shouldn’t use, and you take on attitudes that do more harm than good…all for the sake of winning the argument. You may win the argument, but you will lose your spouse. I’m not saying your emotions are invalid or wrong. But you cannot let your emotions drive you in these situations because they will drive you over a cliff.

Consider if this is a hill to die on.

Finally, when it comes to being right, you need to consider whether this particular situation is really a hill worth dying on. There are some hills worth dying on. Hills like: abuse, betrayal, abandonment, substance abuse, child endangerment, illegal activity, etc. But for most spouses, the fight to be right is over much smaller hills. Hills like: whether someone’s parents are intrusive, whether there’s enough money in the clothing budget, who should be in charge of scheduling date nights, and whether to have sex twice a week or twice a month. Not every hill is a hill to die on.

A FINAL WORD…

If spouses put as much time and energy into being loving and supportive as they do into being right, the issue of who’s right and who’s wrong wouldn’t be such an issue. It’s not so much about having the right opinion as it is about being the right spouse. And this is not always about being right. You don’t have to compromise the truth, but you don’t always have to be right…even when you’re right.

Speak Now or Struggle Later

Speak Now or Struggle

Often, people in my office tell me about how their spouse said or did something that hurt or offended them. But, when I ask if they said anything to their spouse about it, they typically say, “No.”

And as a result of not saying anything, their hurt and resentment gradually build. The rift between them and their spouse gets bigger. And their hurt begins to leak out into other areas of their marriage.

Why don’t we speak up when we’ve been hurt? What is it that leads us to keep things to ourselves when we’ve been offended?

REASONS WE DON’T SPEAK UP

There can be many reasons we don’t speak up when we’ve been hurt, offended, or angered by our spouse.

We lack self-confidence.

When you lack self-confidence or have low self-esteem, it’s hard to find the ego strength to stand up for yourself. You may doubt your thoughts, feelings, or intentions. Or maybe you don’t speak up for yourself, because you assume you’re wrong or your concerns don’t really matter.

We judge by prior history.

If you’ve tried to speak up for yourself in past relationships but were consistently ignored, told you were wrong, or put on the receiving end of that person’s anger, then you will be hesitant to speak up for yourself now. You just assume history will repeat itself.

We fear our response.

If you have a history of blowing up or saying things you shouldn’t, then you may be afraid of speaking up, because you don’t want to hurt your spouse.

We fear their response.

If you have a history of being on the receiving end of your spouse’s anger when you’ve tried to speak up, then you may find yourself thinking, “I can’t speak up, because it will just make them mad and I don’t want to deal with that.”

REASONS TO SPEAK UP

But despite the reasons we don’t speak up, there are some really good reasons to go ahead and speak up…especially if your spouse has hurt or offended you.

It promotes honesty.

When you speak up, you’re being honest. No marriage can survive, let alone thrive, without honesty. Even difficult honesty helps to breed trust and respect. Honesty is also an important part of setting boundaries in a relationship. It may feel like it’s making things worse at times, but you can’t get to a better place without honesty.

It keeps things from festering.

Speaking up keeps things from building up emotionally. The less you speak up, the more things stack up inside. And this colors your thoughts, emotions, and perceptions in the marriage. Not speaking up is like continuing to walk with a rock in your shoe. If you don’t learn to speak up, the limp will just get worse.

It creates an environment for solutions.

You can’t fix something in a marriage if you can’t talk about it. There has to be mutual honesty and understanding before you can find a solution that will work for both spouses. Not speaking up ensures that the problem will continue…and possibly get worse.

HOW TO SPEAK UP

So we’ve talked about some reasons why we don’t speak up, and we’ve talked about some reasons why we need to speak up. But how can you best speak up; especially if you know it could be difficult?

Here are some steps you can take to best speak up when you’ve been hurt or offended:

  • Speak when you can control your words. If you’re the type of person who has trouble controlling your words and emotions when you speak up, then don’t speak until you know you can control yourself. And if while you’re speaking you find yourself getting out of control, then table the conversation and come back to it when you’re more in control.
  • Speak kindly but truthfully. There’s a passage of Scripture (Ephesians 4:15) that tells us to speak the truth in love. You need to do both. Speak lovingly so they can hear you, but speak truthfully so you can address things.
  • Speak earlier rather than later. The longer you sit on something that’s bothering you, the more you stew on it and the worse it gets. Then when you do bring it up, your emotions are already high. Address things at the moment they occur and the emotional volatility will be low and manageable.
  • Speak when you can best be heard. Try not to speak up to your spouse when they’re already tired, frustrated, upset, or angry. Chances are neither of you will get anywhere. Instead, pick a time when they’re more calm and open. But, don’t put it off too long, or the issue will go cold in your spouse’s mind.
  • Speak to your contributions as well as theirs. If you’ve contributed to the issue you want to address, lead the conversation with your contributions to the problem. You may even want to ask your spouse to forgive you for those things. This will set a much better tone and help them be more open to what you have to say.
  • Speak consistently. What I mean by this is consistently take this approach; even when it seems to be getting you nowhere. Don’t try it for a while and then give up. That just teaches your spouse that if they wait long enough, you’ll eventually drop it and they won’t have to deal with it. Continue to speak up until the two of you can come to some sort of consensus and agreement.

A FINAL WORD…

Or more like a final disclaimer…

Doing these things doesn’t mean the conversations won’t be difficult or that things will go according to your desire. It takes a lot of practice to break old habits. But keep at it. Following these suggestions will give you the best long-term probability of improving things and being heard. So, learn to SPEAK UP!

Does Your Marriage Need a Time-Out?

We’re all familiar with children needing a time-out when they’re having trouble controlling themselves, but there are times when spouses need a time-out also. I’m not talking about taking a time-out from marriage, but rather taking a time-out in marriage.

THE SITUATION.

If you’ve been married any length of time, you’ve probably experienced something like this:

You and your spouse are in the middle of a “DISCUSSION” when you begin to realize things are heating up and heading south. And you know if things continue it’s not going to be good, because…

  • You’re getting tense.
  • Your pulse rate is rising.
  • You feel offended, defensive, or angry.
  • You’re raising your volume
  • You want to attack or withdraw.
  • You’re thinking or saying things you wouldn’t normally think or say.
  • You no longer remember…or care…what started it. You just want it to end.

From time to time, every couple will find themselves in one of those “discussions.” It’s just part of sharing life together.

THE REASONS.

There are a lot of reasons why you might need to take a time-out…

  • The “discussion” comes at the end of the day when you’re tired and spent.
  • The “discussion” comes after a day of difficulty.
  • The “discussion” addresses something you’re especially sensitive or passionate about.
  • The “discussion” seems to attack you, your personality, or the way you were raised.
  • The “discussion” just keeps coming up and never gets resolved.

Whatever the reason, there is something about this “discussion” that moves things from a spark to a blaze. And if you don’t do something, everyone’s going to get singed…or burnt to a crisp.

It’s during times like these that you need to call a time-out. That’s right…children are not the only ones who need a time-out. Sometimes spouses need one too.

HOW DOES IT WORK?

When things are getting heated, taking a time-out is easier said than done. So here are 6 rules of engagement when it comes to taking a time-out…

  • Talk about the time-out strategy before you need it. Don’t just spring this on your spouse without having discussed it with them ahead of time. That could come across as a way of shutting them down. So sometime, when things are good between the two of you, bring up the idea of time-outs as a way of not getting into hurtful fights. (Who wouldn’t want that?!)
  • Signal a time-out. When things are getting heated, use an agreed-upon sign to signal when you need a time-out. You can use the “T” sign used in sports, or any other sign you agree on. Make it something fun, but NO MIDDLE FINGERS!
  • Explain why you called the time-out. Let your spouse know that the time-out is about you. Tell them that you’re getting to the point where you’re afraid you will say or do something that would be hurtful to them, and you don’t want to do that.
  • Give them a reconnect time. This is important. Without giving your spouse a time when you will come back and re-engage in the discussion, it will feel like you’re just blowing them off to get them off your back.
  • Keep your reconnect time. This is equally important. If you do not keep your promise to finish the discussion at the set time, your spouse will not trust any further time-outs you ask for and will keep pressing you. Keep your word and reconnect at your promised time.
  • Repeat as needed. This is not a one-and-done tactic. You will need to repeat this from time to time. But the more you do it, the better your “discussions” will be.

So the next time things are getting heated between you and your spouse, try taking a time-out. I promise you’ll eventually get further with less damage than continuing to let things heat up until there’s nothing but scorched earth.

Are You the CEO of Your Marriage?

How would you respond to the following question… “Are you the CEO in your marriage?” Maybe you would say, “Well, no! of course not!” Maybe you say your spouse acts like the CEO. Or, maybe you would say, “What do you mean by that?”

DO MARRIAGES HAVE CEO’S?

Every company has a CEO, or Chief Executive Officer. This person is the highest-ranking person in the company and the one ultimately responsible for making managerial decisions.

By this definition, you might say, “Marriages don’t have CEO’s. They’re not a business or a corporation.” And you would be right.

But many marriages still have a CEO. I call them the Chief Ego Officer, and they function much in the same way as the CEO of a company. They carry a lot of weight in the relationship, especially when it comes to direction and decision-making.

DECIDING WHO’S THE CEO.

How can you tell if you’re the CEO in the marriage? Ask yourself the following questions…and try to be honest with yourself:

  • Do you tend to make most of the decisions?
  • Do you get upset when your spouse makes a decision without checking with you first?
  • Do you often explain to your spouse why your way is better?
  • Do you have trouble listening to and considering your spouse’s opinions and approaches?
  • Do you get frustrated or angry when your spouse doesn’t take your advice or do things as you want?
  • Do you look down on your spouse for thinking or believing as they do?
  • Do you see your spouse’s differences of opinion as a threat to you or the marriage?

You may believe this list better fits your spouse than it does you, but the more you answer “yes” to these questions, the more likely you are to be the Chief Ego Officer of the relationship. You may have become the CEO in response to their behavior, but it still will affect your marriage.

WHAT ARE THE EFFECTS OF A CEO ON A MARRIAGE?

Though a company benefits from a strong CEO, a marriage suffers from a strong CEO. When a marriage has a strong Chief Ego Officer, two things typically happen:

The marriage becomes oppressive.

Whether it’s implied or stated out-right, the CEO of the marriage has a my-way-or-the-highway approach to the relationship. The other spouse’s thoughts, opinions, or approaches are ignored, dismissed, and not considered. The CEO increasingly stifles their spouse, not allowing them to be themselves.

This is a poison that will slowly kill the love, affection, and attraction in the relationship. And, the longer this continues, the harder it becomes to recover the relationship.

Then, the second effect a Chief Ego Officer has on marriage is…

The marriage becomes abusive.

Many CEO marriages stay stuck in the oppressive stage. But there are some marriages that progress to the abusive stage.

When the Chief Ego Officer experiences disagreement or push back from their spouse, they will begin to push back themselves. At first, the CEO will try to convince or cajole their spouse into seeing things their way. If that doesn’t work, the CEO’s approach will become more pointed and frustrated. If that doesn’t work, their anger will come out and they will become emotionally abusive, and possibly physically abusive.

WHAT TO DO IF YOU’RE IN A CEO RELATIONSHIP.

If you find yourself in a CEO marriage, what should you do? Well…

If You’re the CEO…

  • Humble yourself. Apologize to your spouse for being so dominant and inconsiderate. This is hard, especially for a CEO, but you need to start here. And your apology must be sincere, not just a way to get the heat off or to get your spouse to soften back up to you. If you’re not really repentant for your behavior, you’ve not changed and the relationship can’t change.
  • Invite and listen to your spouse’s opinions. This is not just something to check off the list so you can then get on to how you want to do things. Take your time and honestly listen to them. To paraphrase Stephen Covey, seek first to understand them before trying to get them to understand you. Hear their thoughts, their heart, and their desires.
  • Look for reasons to defer to your spouse. This is hard for a Chief Ego Officer because they usually believe their spouse should defer to them. But try hard to defer to your spouse whenever possible. You may feel your way is better, but don’t push your way through. Share it with your spouse and make sure you both agree your way is better before implementing it.
  • Make the above a way of life. If you just do these things to get back on your spouse’s good side, then you’ve not really changed. You’re just manipulating the situation to get back in their good graces. These changes need to be a way of life for you…even if the marriage fails.

If Your Spouse is the CEO…

If your spouse is the CEO, you have three options:

  • Continue on as it is. Some people decide they will just go on tolerating the CEO’s behavior. Perhaps they don’t want to rock the boat out of fear of the CEO’s response. Maybe they’re concerned for others in the family. Or maybe their own insecurities make them wonder if there’s something wrong with them. Continuing on as-is is a valid option, but know that such a marriage rarely improves over time.
  • Begin to push back against the CEO’s behavior. This could go from standing up for yourself and your opinions, to not being easily coerced, to insisting on counseling, to threatening to leave the relationship. Chances are, the CEO will not react favorably to such changes, and they will do whatever they can to get things back to “normal.” If they feel they’ve got no other option, the CEO will seem to concede, but it usually doesn’t last.
  • Leave the relationship. If all else fails, you may decide you can no longer tolerate the relationship and make plans to leave. Departure is a last resort option and can either be temporary, until the CEO truly changes, or permanent. The CEO may have a variety of responses to your decision to leave. They may act shocked and say they didn’t know anything was wrong. They may try to convince you that things are not that bad. They may get angry and blame you for all the problems. And if all else fails, they may concede and offer to make changes. But, oftentimes their changes are only an attempt to get you back in the fold.

A FINAL THOUGHT…

Can CEO marriages really change? Yes! But…the ego of the Chief Ego Officer will not change quickly or easily. It will take work and practice to learn to exchange ego for humility. But it can be done. So, if you’re the Chief Ego Officer in the marriage, honestly and humbly enlist the aid of close friends, accountability partners, pastors, or counselors. Do whatever it takes to resign as CEO of your marriage. And if your spouse is the CEO, do everything in your power to share the problem and encourage them to change. Either way, you (and they) will be the better for it.

How to Waste Your Marriage…and Your Life

 

I’m currently in a season where it’s hard to get everything done I need to get done. (Know how that feels?) So I thought, rather than not deliver anything, I would rewind a post from 3 years ago. It’s especially pertinent in our current times and I hope you find it helpful. – Bret

It’s easy to waste your marriage on things that don’t benefit you or your spouse. The problem is, you often don’t realize you’re doing it until it’s too late. So below are five contributors to a wasted marriage that you need to watch for. (To help you remember them, they form the acrostic – W.A.S.T.E.)

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The List – Insist on Doing Things As Your Family Did

My wife and I had only been married for six months, and it was Christmas eve. We had finished dinner, and I was preparing to watch some Christmas specials when it happened. She asked me a question that jarred me. It came out of nowhere. I hadn’t expected it. I couldn’t even believe she was asking it. But there, on Christmas eve, she had the nerve to ask me…”So, you want to open presents now?”

“What do you mean, ‘you want to open presents now?!’ It’s Christmas eve! You don’t open presents on Christmas eve! You open them on Christmas morning! That’s the way I’ve always done it!” It was quite the scene. But to be fair, she was just as incredulous when I suggested she cook a full breakfast of ham, eggs, bacon, sausage, biscuits, gravy, etc. on Christmas morning…because that’s the way my mom always did it.

Suddenly I realized that we grew up in families that did things very differently.

You don’t have to be married long to realize this. Perhaps…

  • Your mom cooked every evening, but your wife wants to go out and eat.
  • Your dad was handy at fixing anything, but your husband can’t do anything but call a repairman.
  • Your family went on nice family vacations, but your spouse’s family never went anywhere.
  • You were raised to pick up after yourself, but your spouse wasn’t.

You probably have other examples you could share, but when it comes to marriage, these are the types of things that dampen the relational magic and make things seem more like work.

WHY IS IT BAD TO INSIST ON DOING THINGS LIKE YOUR FAMILY?

Whether it’s holiday traditions or everyday ways of doing things, both you and your spouse come into marriage with different memories and experiences. Some of those memories and experiences you want to hold onto and recreate, while others of those you would rather change. But I can tell you that insisting that your spouse do things like your family did will hurt your marriage.

Maybe you’re just trying to recreate special moments from your childhood so your family can experience them too. There’s nothing wrong with that desire, but insisting on doing things as your family did is not good for the following reasons…

It’s disrespectful and belittling to your spouse and their family.

You come across sounding like the way your family did things was right and the way your spouse’s family did things was wrong. This is hurtful to your spouse and won’t win you any points.

You come across as dictatorial.

Insisting on getting your way is never endearing to your spouse. And it’s especially hurtful when you’re dictating against some of their traditions or ways of doing things. This will leave your spouse with only two options: (1) They can roll over and be subservient, but this is going to create hurt and bitterness on their part. Or, (2) they can become rebellious and refuse to do things the way you want. This will create anger and resentment on your part.

It keeps the two of you from forming new ways that are uniquely yours.

Many wedding ceremonies involve the lighting of a unity candle. The bride and groom each take a candle symbolizing their family, and together they use those two candles to light a candle that symbolizes the start of a new family. Scripture calls it, “the two becoming one.” This involves more than just consummating the marriage. It involves the two of you melting and merging your ways and approaches into something new and unique to the two of you. Insisting on doing things the way your family did is the opposite of that.

SO WHAT CAN YOU DO?

It’s easy to say that the two of you should stop insisting on doing things as your families did, and instead find new ways to do things. But just how can you do that without becoming a doormat or a bulldozer?

Well, it will probably be a little different for each couple, but here are some general principles you can follow:

  • Don’t make fun of the way your spouse’s family did things. Even if your spouse makes fun of something they did, refrain from doing that yourself. Just think about how it stings when they do that to you.
  • Ask yourself if you want things a certain way because you think it’s best, or just because it preserves a special memory for you. So often, we want to do things the way our family did because we’re trying to preserve a memory or share it with our spouse or family. But often, those memories were for that time and that family, and now’s the time to make new memories with this family.
  • Each of you identify the things that are not so special to you and you’d be willing to change. Just because you have some special memories about something in your family doesn’t mean that everything was critical to that memory. Both of you figure out what you could do without and offer that up to your spouse.
  • Take what’s left (the things you want to keep) and see if you might be able to fit those together somehow. Maybe there’s a way for the two of you to take the things that are really special to you and join them together into something that fits both of you.

Let’s go back to my Christmas example. After applying the above steps, some possible solutions might be:

  • You each open one present on Christmas eve and then the rest on Christmas morning.
  • One year you open presents on Christmas eve and the other year you open presents on Christmas morning.
  • You have something different than you usually do for Christmas breakfast, but not as elaborate as a four-course meal.
  • You have an elaborate Christmas breakfast, but a lite and easy Christmas lunch.

The options are many, depending on whether you have kids, how close you live to family, etc. The thing is to not get stuck in insisting the old way, but instead, move on to creating new ways.

A FINAL WORD…

I know that all of this can sound rather trivial. Who’s going to lose their marriage over whether they open presents on Christmas eve or Christmas morning? But it’s not just about holiday traditions. It’s about how you decide to do life. It’s about a failure to create your own marriage because one or both of you keep trying to live by old family patterns.

Continuing to insist that you and your spouse do things like your family did them will hurt your marriage. And in the long run, it can cause you to lose your marriage. And so…It’s on the list!

The List – Wait for Your Spouse to Go First

Note: We are currently in a series called “The List.” The list refers to a list of ways you can lose your marriage, and is based on information gleaned from over 20 years of counseling records and watching marriage fail.

“You go first.” “No, you go first!” “Why should I be the one to go first? You go first!”

Parents hear this from their kids when those kids are facing something challenging, scary, or something they just don’t want to do.

But this also occurs between spouses. It just sounds different. It sounds more like, “Well, it would be a lot easier for me to do what you want if you would just ___________.” Or, “How can I do that when you’re still doing this.” This is the married version of “You go first.” “No, you go first.”

SO WHO GOES FIRST?

So many marital disputes boil down to who’s going to go first. We usually know what we need to do. We just don’t want to go first. We want our spouse to make the first move toward making things right.

But waiting on your spouse to make the first move makes things worse. And doing that long enough can cost you your marriage.

You should be the one who goes first in trying to make things better.

Now some of you are thinking, “Why should I be the one who goes first! You don’t even know the situation! You don’t know what my spouse has done! How can you say I should be the one who goes first to make it right?!”

Well first, let’s talk about why it’s so difficult to be the one who goes first.

WHY IS GOING FIRST SO HARD?

If you push back against going first, that’s perfectly natural and understandable. Going first is difficult. Here are some reasons why going first is so hard…

Hurt.

Maybe the reason it’s hard for you to go first is that your spouse has hurt you. Maybe they’ve hurt your feelings, or your pride, or your sense of fairness. And just like any wound, burn, or broken limb, that hurt has made you very sensitive and guarded.

Fear.

Perhaps it’s hard for you to go first because you’re afraid of being taken advantage of. Maybe you’re afraid of getting hurt again. When you’re hurt by your spouse, it can make it harder to trust them going forward, for fear that they’ll do it again.

Pride.

This is a subject none of us what to admit, but pride can often get in our way of going first. Our pride causes us to think things like: “Why should I go first? They’re the ones who messed up!” “If I go first, they’ll think I’m weak.” “I can’t go first. Then they’ll think they can get away with anything!”

Stubbornness.

And finally, we often let our stubbornness get in the way of going first. We’re convinced that we’re right, and we’re going to stick to our guns no matter what. We’re not going to compromise our principles…no matter what.

WHY GOING FIRST IS SO IMPORTANT.

I know going first is hard when you feel you’ve been wronged. I struggle with it all the time. But despite how difficult it is, going first is important for the following reasons:

It breaks a stalemate and gets things moving.

When there is hurt or disagreement in a marriage, it creates an emotional and behavioral log jam. Just like a log jam in a stream, love can’t begin to flow between spouses until someone makes a move to remove a log and get the love and behaviors flowing again. It’s within your power to get things flowing again, by going first.

Going first also makes it easier for your spouse to respond positively. You may be thinking, “It’s not my job to make it easier for them. They should do what’s right, even if it’s hard!”  But that’s a two-way street. If you want them to do what they should do so it will be easier for you to respond to them, then you have to be willing to do the same.

It starts to change attitudes.

We feel like our attitude needs to change before we can take the right action. But it’s actually the other way around. When you do the right thing, it starts to change your attitude…making it easier to do the next right thing. When you do the right thing, it not only positively affects your attitude, it positively affects your spouse’s attitude also.

And when you lovingly go first and do the right thing, it makes it harder for your spouse to blame you for their actions. In effect, going first takes away their ammunition.

It’s a tangible expression of love.

Love is expressed more in what you do than in what you say. If you say you love your spouse, but then wait for them to go first, your words of love mean little. You’re basically saying, “I’ll love you, only if you do what I think you need to do.” That’s not love, that’s bartering. Love sacrifices what you want for what your spouse needs.

It makes logical sense.

You can’t force your spouse to change. Trying to force them to do something (like going first) is disrespectful, offensive, and insights resistance. Don’t you feel the same way when they’re trying to force you to do something? So it’s illogical to try to force them to do something they don’t want to do and expect it to make things better.

Any change made in a marriage…no matter who makes it…will have an effect on the marriage as a whole. So, even if you believe your spouse should go first you ging first, will change things.

It’s a spiritual principle.

And finally, if you’re a person of faith, the idea that you should go first is backed up in the Scripture.

Matthew 5:23-26 says that if your “brother” has something against you, you should go and make things right between you. But later in Matthew 18:15, we’re told that if you have something against your “brother,” go and try to make it right with them. If you sum up these two passages, I always should be the one who goes first.

A FINAL WORD…

In marriage, both spouses should strive to go first. But I  know it’s hard to be the one to go first in trying to do the right thing; especially if you’re feeling hurt or fear being taken advantage of. But going first can make a real difference in your marriage. It can get things moving again, change your attitude, and make it easier for your spouse to respond in kind.

But here’s a caveat… I’m not saying if you always go first, everything will always be great in your marriage. It takes two people, working together, to make the marriage work well. You going first and doing the right things does not ensure that your spouse will do the same.

 

But, Romans 12:18 tells us…“If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” That verse infers that it may not always be possible to live peaceably with someone. But it is possible for you to do what “depends on you.” And that involves going first to try to make things right in marriage.

Because if you consistently wait for your spouse to go first, it will be detrimental to your marriage. That’s why…IT’S ON THE LIST.

The List – Let Your Personality Override Your Responsibility

Note: We are currently in a series called “The List.” The list refers to a list of ways you can lose your marriage and is based on information gleaned from over 20 years of counseling records and marriage failures.

Has there ever been a time when your spouse was wanting you to change in some way and you thought, “This is just the way I am. You knew this when you married me.”?

The question is…does your inherent personality relieve you of a responsibility to change?

PERSONALITY DIFFERENCES

There is no doubt that spouses can have different personalities. Personality differences between spouses are common…

  • One spouse can be an introvert, while the other’s an extrovert.
  • One spouse can pay attention to details, while the other ignores the details.
  • One spouse can be a saver, while the other is a spender.
  • One spouse can be very cautious, while the other is full-steam-ahead.
  • One spouse can be quiet and reserved, while the other is boisterous and fun-loving.

It’s all a part of marriage.

PERSONALITY POSITIVES

Now, there’s nothing wrong with such personality differences. In fact, personality differences serve three purposes in a relationship:

  1. They draw us together. – Many couples feel they were attracted to one another because they were so much alike. But actually, it’s our differences, more than our similarities, that attract us to one another. When we’re dating, those differences feel refreshing and add spice to the relationship.
  2. They round us out. – Because our spouse is different than us, they help to provide what is lacking in our personality. Introverts need extroverts to get them out of their cave, while extroverts need introverts to help them learn how to be still and content with themselves. Spenders need savers. The cautious need the bold. Detail people need broad brush stroke people. You get the picture. Our personality differences help to round out the relationship.
  3. They grow us up. – Our spouse’s differences force us to approach things differently. An organized spouse can help a disorganized spouse learn to better organize their life. A spender can help a penny-pincher learn they can loosen their grip on money without being irresponsible. Our spouse’s personality serves as a tool to grow us in ways we might be deficient.

PERSONALITY PROBLEMS

But it’s this last reason that can aggravate us. Typically, we don’t want to change. It’s too much effort. Besides, we think we’re fine the way we are. So we say something like: “This is just the way I am. You knew this when you married me.” But, there are two problems with these statements…

Just because you were this way when you were dating doesn’t mean you were showing it.

When we’re dating, we tend to show our best selves. We try hard to be what we think the other will like and want. Consequently, we reign in the parts of ourselves we feel might be undesirable.

But after we’re married, we stop trying so hard. We relax, and more of our true self begins to leak out. Consequently, as our spouse starts to see this, they try to get us to go back to the way we use to be. When that doesn’t happen, our spouse feels like they’ve experienced a bait-and-switch in the relationship and they get frustrated with us.

Just because this is the way you are doesn’t mean you should stay that way.

The statement, “This is just the way I am” confuses a right to be who you are with a responsibility to change for your spouse.

If our children were being unkind or unhelpful we would not let them get away with it because “it’s just the way they are.” We would fully expect them to tweak and change who they are and grow into something better. The same should be true for us as spouses.

PERSONALITY ADJUSTMENTS

It’s true that we all have a personality that is God-given, genetically based, and family influenced. And at its core, that personality will be fairly fixed. But, that doesn’t mean you have to be a slave to that personality. Just because you have a certain personality bent doesn’t mean that personality can’t be bent in a different direction. Everyone can make changes in who they are and how they act. It’s failing to do so that increases the odds of losing your marriage.

So the question is…how can you keep your personality from overriding your responsibility to love your spouse…and still be you?

Elevate their needs.

If you want to keep your personality from overriding your responsibility to love your spouse, elevate their needs ahead of yours. Note: I didn’t say in place of your needs. Your needs are important also. Just treat theirs as a little more important.

Some are afraid that if they do this, their spouse will take advantage of them. That is a possibility. But more often than not, your spouse will feel so special by you putting them first, they will want to make sure your needs are met also.

Subjugate your rights.

We each have rights in marriage. But too often, we spend more time fighting for our rights than we do fighting for our spouse’s rights. It is only when we sacrificially subjugate our rights for the sake of our spouse’s rights that we understand and demonstrate true and deep love.

But…I’m not suggesting you need to be a doormat. Nor am I suggesting that you have no rights in the marriage and your spouse can treat you however they want to. A marriage that is abusive, dismissive, and demeaning should never be tolerated.

Redefine a win.

In times of conflicting wants and needs, spouses tend to act like they’re on opposing teams and they easily fall into a win/lose mindset, where either their spouse wins and they lose or they win and their spouse loses.

Don’t forget that you and your spouse are on the same team. If you can facilitate a win for your spouse, you win also. The team wins! Is this always possible? No. But it’s more possible than you think. So help your spouse win and you will win in the process.

A FINAL THOUGHT…

All of this is summarized in the words of the New Testament from Philippians chapter 2, verses 3-4…

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4 ESV)

Did you hear it? “Look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” It’s a “both/and” approach. This is extremely important because if you let your personality override your responsibility to love your spouse, you stand a chance of losing your marriage. It’s one of the things “on the list.”

How to Love Two Spouses

No, this post is not about polygamy or sister wives. It’s just that sometimes it can feel like you’re married to two spouses at the same time; the one you fell in love with, and the one you didn’t.

Let me explain by using a story from the ancient book of Genesis…

A STORY

Starting in chapter 27 of Genesis, you read about a man named Jacob. Jacob is ambitious and cheats his brother out of his inheritance. Consequently, Jacob winds up on the run. He runs to the far country and begins working for his uncle Laban.

Now Jacob’s uncle had two daughters. One was a rather plain-looking girl named Leah and the other was a beautiful girl named Racheal. One course, Jacob falls head over heels for Racheal and strikes a deal with Laban, to work seven years for Racheal’s hand in marriage.

At the end of those seven years, there’s a wedding ceremony. But, the next morning Jacob wakes up to find that Laban had somehow switched daughters and Jacob was now married to Leah instead of Racheal. (Don’t ask me how that happened!)

Laban gives Jacob some excuse and tells him that if he will agree to work for another seven years, he will go ahead and give him Racheal as well. Jacob agrees and suddenly He finds himself married to two spouses…the one he wanted and the one he didn’t!

A TRUTH

In some ways, this is true for almost every marriage. We all get a spouse we want and one we don’t. It’s a package deal!

When we’re dating, we become convinced that this is the person we want. We like their looks, their personality, and the way they make us feel. So we become convinced that they are the one for us.

But sometime after we’ve married, we wake up to discover we’re also married to a second spouse…and it’s not the one we chose. This spouse does things we don’t like. They correct us when we don’t want them to. Sometimes they take an attitude with us. This spouse doesn’t always look good or act appropriately. And sometimes, they’re just hard to get along with.

Now, occasionally, we still see the spouse we wanted; the spouse that’s easy to love. But then the other one shows up and reminds us that we got more than we bargained for.

AN APPROACH

So, you have to learn to love the spouse you don’t want. But how do you do this?

Here are some things you need to do in order to live with and love the spouse you don’t want:

Quit trying to change the one you don’t want.

Understand that you need the spouse you don’t want as much as the one you do. The spouse you don’t want brings gifts, helps, and perspectives that are much needed…even if they don’t feel good.

You would not be able to become the person you need to be if it weren’t for the spouse you don’t want. So quit trying to change them into the one you do.

Learn to appreciate the spouse you don’t want.

When you realize that the spouse you don’t want actually helps to make you and the marriage better, then it’s easier to appreciate them for what they do.

And…when you appreciate people for who they are and what they bring, they tend to rise to the occasion and become better than they would normally be. Isn’t it true that when your spouse shows you appreciation, it makes you want to be better and do more? If so, then do that for the spouse you don’t want.

Serve the spouse you don’t want.

It’s easy to serve someone who’s saying what you want to hear and acting the way you want them to act. It’s also easy to stop serving someone who’s not saying what you want to hear or not acting the way you want them to act.

But when you stop serving your spouse because they’re not the one you want, you usually get more of the behavior you don’t want. Remember…the way you treat them actually trains them on how to act toward you. So serve them like they’re the spouse you want.

IN SHORT…

Treat the spouse you don’t want as if they’re the one you do, and you might just find out they really are!

And finally, you’re reading these words to figure out how to live with the spouse you don’t want. But remember…they’re also reading these words to figure out how to live with the spouse they don’t want.  Because you’re not the only one who got the spouse they wanted and the one they didn’t.

Not Another Marriage List!

We’ve all seen them. They’re in the magazines that line the grocery store check-out aisles. They’re scattered throughout our social media feeds. They are written by academics, psychologists, and freelance writers. And they have titles that dare us to see how we measure up.

What are they? They are those lists of characteristics that supposedly make up a healthy marriage.

As a pastoral counselor, I might glance over such a list to see how practical and realistic it is. But I don’t spend a lot of time with such lists, because…

  • Marriage is not lived by checking off boxes on some list.
  • Lists are nice and neat, whereas marriage is complicated and messy.
  • No two marriages are the same.
  • We tend to focus more on where we don’t measure up to the list, than on where we do.
  • Once you hold such a list up to your marriage, how do you grade yourself?

But, having said all that, I’m about to eat my words. Because I’ve come across a healthy marriage checklist that’s practical and fits with much of what I see in my counseling office.

THE LIST

I wasn’t looking for a list, but I found it while reading the book, Disarming the Past: How an Intimate Relationship Can Heal Old Wounds, by Jerry M. Lewis, M.D. and John T. Gossett, Ph.D.

I’ve taken Lewis and Gossett’s list on the essential characteristics of a healthy marriage and reworded it as follows to fit my more casual approach to things. But the list is in essence, theirs.

According to Lewis and Gossett, healthy marriages have these things in common:

Power is shared.

Both spouses hold power equally in the relationship. Neither feels dominated and neither dominates. Both can speak into issues and both have equal say in decisions.

There is a good balance of togetherness and separateness.

Both spouses enjoy and even prefer being together, but neither is threatened when the other has outside interests, activities, and friendships. Each spouse has their own identity, along with some healthy autonomy.

Opinions and perspectives are respected and welcomed.

Each spouse is encouraged to share their views, and their views are not dismissed. They are listened to, understood, and respected. To ignore a spouse’s opinions and perspectives is disrespectful to them and destructive to the relationship.

Feelings are welcomed and encouraged.

It’s easy for spouses to get uncomfortable when feelings are brought into the mix because feelings can make things seem highly charged and difficult to control. But, as spouses, we are a package deal, and you can’t welcome your spouse without welcoming their feelings. But remember…feelings must be expressed appropriately and safely in order to be accepted.

Conflicts do not escalate or get out of hand.

Conflict is a normal and necessary part of marriage. It’s a part of two people learning to live and work together. In fact, a marriage without some conflict is not healthy. The health of a marriage is not found in the absence of conflict but in the ability to channel conflict in ways that are productive and helpful to both spouses. This means that: differences are tolerated, the conflict is not generalized or personalized, and resolution is typically achieved.

Spouses share basic values.

This does not mean that spouses are clones of one another, agreeing on everything. What it means is that the couple tends to have the same values when it comes to what they feel is important in life. These couples agree on things like how to raise a family, religion and its place in the family, financial security, morality, etc.

There is flexibility.

Life never goes the way we plan. It tends to throw us curve balls. Children come, jobs change, finances ebb and flow, children leave the nest, illnesses become severe, and retirement becomes a reality. The couples that can anticipate change, roll with the punches, and realign with the current reality will do better than those who can’t.

WHAT TO DO WITH THE LIST

You may be the kind of person who says, “I don’t need to live by no stinking list!” If so, feel free to ignore it the way I do other lists.

But there’s something basic about this list. It’s practical and adaptable, and it makes sense. So don’t toss it out without some thought.

Then, if you believe the list has some merit…

  • Put a check beside the ones that apply to your marriage.
  • Once you’ve done that, pat yourself on the back and celebrate those.
  • Then, put a star beside the ones you still need to work on.
  • Next, pick one of these and talk to your spouse about it.
  • See if the two of you can come up with one thing you could do to make it better.

A FINAL THOUGHT…

And if you’re still having trouble with the idea of a list for marriage, try thinking of it as a recipe. A recipe for cooking up something good.