Fighting Fair

I’ve written a few posts about marriage.  I believe in marriage, in supporting people who are married and who want to be married.  One abiding question is: How do you not ruin a marriage?  Here is some helpful material from Victoria Costello over at Psychology Today.  She offers ten rules for fair fighting:

If you wish to avoid conflicts in your life, you should stay single, or find a very submissive partner. To deal with disagreements in a constructive way, you need to establish rules for fair fighting. Any rules you decide on should be tailored to your unique relationship. Someone who can’t tolerate a voice raised in anger (many people) is going need a rule that both partners use a normal tone of voice when fighting. Once you’ve agreed upon your rules, it’s a good idea to write them down.  Then both sign and date this document as you would any binding agreement.

However, before you begin to review these rules, there’s one principle you should understand and think about how it applies to you and your marriage. That is, the difference between emotions and reason in marital disagreements. In most human beings, emotions affect decision-makingmore than logic does. When a woman says “You don’t love me anymore,” she is offering an extreme emotional reaction, also called a “You message,” when someone attempts to put total responsibility for a problem on her partner. Most likely, the woman’s response is provoked by something to which she incorrectly attaches an extreme reaction. For example, she may be bitterly disappointed on February 14th when her husband fails to come home with a Valentine gift. What else might she say that would be more appropriate to the situation? How about, “I’m hurt that you didn’t acknowledge Valentine’s Day by giving me a token of your love.” This “I message” would be both reasonable and appropriate. Especially if, by expressing this feeling, it opens up the subject of gift giving for this couple to discuss, including what holidays they jointly choose to celebrate, and what compromises they settle on if they don’t see eye to eye. Finding harmony within a relationship requires that each partner deal first with his emotions and then for both to explore reasonable accommodations or compromises in the marriage – without making either right or wrong, or making the relationship subject to the emotional swings of either partner.

The following ten rules for fair fighting are designed to help you create the boundaries needed to help you make room for openly acknowledging important emotions that may be lurking behind your behaviors (sometimes feelings you are unconscious of), but then invite in reason and compromise. Boundaries – another word for ground rules – are a safety net. If you cannot provide this safety net on your own, you will need an outside mediator to facilitate those disagreements that tend to generate deep emotional responses and destabilize your marriage.

Rule 1: Keep it private

Fighting by a married couple in front of other people is embarrassing to those around you and undermines your relationship. A sharp criticism or negative outburst made in front of other people is often a power play by the more verbally skilled spouse, or whichever one does not mind theembarrassment. By fighting in front of in-laws or friends, you risk giving them the impression that your relationship is in perpetual strife. This can then become a self-fulfilling prophecy. You also may get uninvited opinions on the issue under discussion. This will only roil the situation and make agreement more difficult. Resist the impulse to ask others’ opinions on your marital disagreements; certainly never call for a vote from whoever happens to be nearby. It may sound silly, but this is unfortunately not unusual in a dysfunctional relationship.

If a fight erupts in front of other adults and especially children make an immediate agreement to handle it privately at another time.

To finish reading click here.  I wonder if you’d add anything.

Conversation With Gary Thomas, Author of Sacred Marriage

The following is a portion of a recent conversation between Edward Lee and Gary Thomas, author of Sacred Marriage: What If God Designed Marriage To Make Us Holy Instead Of Happy?

I had an awesome opportunity last week to speak with best selling author and international speaker, Gary Thomas. Mr. Thomas is the author of at least thirteen books, a couple of which rank on my all-time favorites list. To this point, his most successful book has been the best seller, Sacred Marriage: What If God Designed Marriage To Make Us Holy Instead Of Happy?

Here are a few excerpts from my conversation with Mr. Thomas:

Sacred Marriage asks a powerful question about the real purpose of marriage. It really is a revolutionary and freeing perspective. Where did the concept for this book come from?

Gary Thomas: From experience. When I got married I was challenged in my marriage in ways I was not challenged in my single life. When I was in college if I did not like my roommate, I just had to hang on for a few months and it would be over. In other words I could just run from the situation. But in marriage that is not an option. At a point I realized that no one had breathed a word of anything regarding the spiritual challenges of marriage.

We had heard about conflict issues, financial issues, in-law issues, sexual issues, but nobody talked about the spiritual challenges in marriage. Beyond just learning to deal with someone else, I saw a different side of myself, in marriage. Typically, I am a laid back guy, but coming into marriage I saw myself irritated more.

So to me it was just spiritually forming to look at marriage in this way, and I had not heard anybody else address it at that time, and that is what gave birth to the concept.

The subtitle: What if God designed marriage to make us holy instead of happy? Give us a snapshot of what that means, to those that have not been introduced to the book yet.

Gary Thomas: Most people today think that their greatest need is to be loved; that is why they get married. They want to find someone that will love them, they want to be noticed, they feel lonely, they want to be appreciated. The biblical view is that God has met that need. He proved His love for us through Christ, He will love us, He will accept us. So your greatest need has already been met. The greatest need now then is to learn how to love.

I look at marriage as a teacher of how to love. If you are married to a person with a temper, how do you learn to love a person with a temper? If you are married to a person who is overly sensitive or selfish, how do you learn to love a sensitive or selfish person?

Well, it is really through humility, realizing that I am, not like Christ. We often compare ourselves to people we deem to not be good examples of how to be in marriage like a Charlie Sheen and say, “Well I am not Charlie Sheen but I am not Jesus either.” So even though a person might be more spiritual than their spouse they still realize the need to grow in how they love their spouse. So then the things I used to resent about my marriage – now I see it as a purpose of my marriage, as I now see that God designed it to pinch my feet, to show me that I am selfish and that I don’t know how to love, to show me that I am not like Christ so I can become better at how I love.

To read the rest of Edward’s conversation with Gary Thomas, click here.

Making Marriage Work

I’ve quoted and recommended John Gottman for married couples and for folks interested in marriage.  Over my years as a newlywed, I’ve enjoyed learning about marriage from the scholar and marriage researcher.  He and his wife have built a more than thirty-year career answering the question, how do you make marriages work?

Margarita Tartakovsky wrote a piece summing up one of my favorite Gottman books, The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work.  I imagine there is much that you’ll agree with in Gottman, even if you aren’t married.  If you’re interested in seeing Margarita’s article, click here.  From her summary:

1. “Enhance your love maps.” Love is in the details.

2. “Nurture your fondness and admiration.” Happy couples respect each other and have a general positive view of each other.

3. “Turn toward each other instead of away.” According to Gottman, “[Real-life romance] is kept alive each time you let your spouse know he or she is valued during the grind of everyday life.”

4. “Let your partner influence you.” Happy couples are a team that considers each other’s perspective and feelings.

5. “Solve your solvable problems.” Gottman says that there are two types of marital problems: conflicts that can be resolved and perpetual problems that can’t. It’s important for couples to determine which ones are which.

6. “Overcome gridlock.” Gottman says that the goal with perpetual problems is for couples to “move from gridlock to dialogue.” What usually underlies gridlock is unfulfilled dreams.

7. “Create shared meaning.” “Marriage isn’t just about raising kids, splitting chores, and making love. It can also have a spiritual dimension that has to do with creating an inner life together…

Authentic Relationships

I’ve always had a mouth.  That’s what my mother used to say.  Then she started saying it without saying it, by looking and rolling her eyes when I said something I shouldn’t have.  I could see her shaking her when I “mouthed off” or when I “cut somebody without them knowing” or when I told somebody that something they just said made no sense.  I started saying these things as a child.  The behavior stuck.  I still tell people things like that, though I’ve developed more tact and grace.

Even though I’ve always had a mouth, it’s never been easy for me to be transparent.  I’m one of those people who appreciates mystery.  I love the fact that I don’t know everything about a person, a friend, or a relative.  It keeps me interested and engaged.  When I think I know what somebody’s going to say, when I start to anticipate a person correctly, I lose interest.

And yet there’s this quality to my strongest relationships.  Something stemming from familiarity.  I’ll read something or hear something and think of a friend.  I’ll think of my wife.  A memory will spring to mind after a comment on the radio.  A song will make me remember a person and something they did that I needed to rehearse in order to keep remembering.  I’ll want to share that I heard someone refer to Queen Elizabeth as a “thug and a gangsta,” and I’ll know who exactly to text the quote to.

I’ll know how those folks will react, and rather than disengaging, I’ll call or email them specifically for those reactions.  They do it to me, too.  I’ll get a text after somebody’s seen something funny and it’ll be a quick description which leaves me laughing or, at least, smiling.

Those friendships come to mind because of something I read the other day.  In a on creating authentic relationships, Cherese Jackson talks about what is easily taken for granted when you have good people around you–the need for good relationships.  Here are a couple great lines from the article, things you probably know already but should remember:

We do not exist in life without relationships.

Your relationships drive your life.

You can know a lot of people, but if the dynamic of the relationships aren’t adequate, they don’t bring any distinct value in your life.

Our concern, as individuals, is primarily with ourselves, but this can change. If authentic relationships are important to us we can practice being authentic.

Maybe her thoughts are new.  Maybe not.  But their keepable.  If you’d like to read the full article, click here.