Monday, March 25, 2013
Faith and Parenting
Celia is realizing how much she wants a shared spiritual life with Rob, despite knowing that he wasn’t interested in religion when they got married. Having a son changed things for her.
“I don’t want to go to church to pretend to be interested,” Rob said. “I don’t see how that helps the situation at all.”
Celia got out of bed and put her bathrobe on.
Rob sat up. “Celia, when William gets older I want to take him to ball games and put a basketball hoop in our driveway. What good will it do for you to do that with us? You’d be bored. You’d just get in our way.”
“Going to church is not the same thing as going to a basketball game!”
“How are they different? I’d really like to know how they’re different!”
“Faith is not a sport, Rob,” Celia said, raising her voice. “It’s about”—she groped for the words –“a meaningful life together.”
Now Rob got out of bed, too. “What are you talking about? We have a house with a backyard, and a beautiful son to play in that yard, and jobs we like – I mean we’re not rich but”—
Celia cut him off. “You’re describing financial security, Rob. That’s not the same thing as meaning.”
Rob looked stunned.
“I know financial security may be the highest form of meaning for you,” Celia continued. “But someday we’re going to die anyway.”
“I don’t think about that!”
“I think about it every day!”
Rob and Celia stood facing one another, their unmade bed between them, though to Celia it felt like the Grand Canyon. They had discussed, even argued, their faith differences before. They typically reached a lukewarm agree-to-disagree stance, but for the first time Celia feared the obstacle was insurmountable and would create a friction on their relationship that would subtly degrade it over time.
“All right. I’m taking William to church on Easter,” Celia said. “I hope you’ll come with us.”
How does Rob respond?
Friday, March 18, 2011
If you care, I care (Harold’s response)
God designed marriage as a journey of spiritual formation. As each spouse is able to open up and trust someone who is often quite different from him or her they both are refined into Jesus' likeness. Too often, however, our spiritual maturity is stymied by our selfishness. In a sense, we stand in the way of what God is trying to do in us. We have to prioritize what God prioritizes. We have to care about what God cares about. But, this isn't only a truth between us and God. It is only a portrait of what God expects the marital relationship to look like. We are to care about what our spouse cares about.
This isn't easy because usually whatever motivations or forces are driving our spouse's perspective probably looks different in our lens. How can we care about that which we really don't care about? That is the ultimate question. It is an issue of sacrifice. We have to keep our proverbial finger on our spouse's pulse. Because we care about them (and what God is doing in them), we have to prioritize his/her viewpoint over our own.
By taking this sacrificial stance, we cultivate empathy in our relationship. And, empathy breeds trust. And, ultimately trust breeds intimacy. In other words, when we make the sacrifice to care about what our spouse cares about, we take a significant step towards a more intimate marriage (and spiritual maturity). And, that makes it all worthwhile. But, it starts with sacrifice.
Friday, February 12, 2010
Love is…finding your empathic self (Harold’s response)
My wife, Dalia and I teach an intense marital communication class periodically. One of the most vital components of the class is an exercise where we have couples identify the marital issues that they most struggle with. The issues typically orient around finances, parenting, sex, intimacy, spending time together, household duties, and food. As couples talk about these issues, you can almost see the fire. These are heated issues that are the source of much consternation. After hearing them out, Dalia and I ask them to reach deep within and see if they can identify the good in their spouses perspective. Almost inevitably they struggle to do so. As we record these good responses on the board, we do so with a yellow marker that they can't even really see. Here is the message, we clearly focus on the negative aspects. We know them well. But, it is very difficult for us to see the positive or remember the good in our spouse's perspectives--especially when when we are in a crisis.
In our current episode, Rob and Celia (and of course Celia's mom) need to remember the good in one another. It is there. We just have to look hard sometimes. And, when we do, we give an awesome display of love. That is empathy.
Monday, February 08, 2010
Love is…finding your empathic self
Celia has just walked out on her
mother and Rob, left alone in the house with his mother-in-law, has just called
her on her behavior.
you came down here in the middle of the night to talk to me like that?” Mrs. Gillespie said to Rob. “I don’t need this.” She turned and walked back
exhaled. Typically Celia’s mother
liked him and Celia had made use of the fact that Rob, who was not set off by
Mrs. Gillespie’s reactivity the way Celia was, could calm her and reason with
her about things. Rob knew his
last comment had not exactly been soothing. But it had been honest.
front door was still open though the screen door was shut. Celia’s mom was lazy – she did not
remove the screen door in the winter like his father had always done. Who needs an extra door when there are
no bugs, Dad would always say. But
it occurred to Rob that this was part of the package of being a divorced
mother. There would always be more
work to do than time or energy to do it, and worse, there was no one to ask for
help. Why would she take off
a door in November that only had to be put back on in April? As a wave of sympathy washed over him
for his mother-in-law, he saw the next layer – that Celia had lived with a
tired, depressed, overworked single mother for a decade. In their own ways Celia and her sister
Catherine had tried to help their mother, but Rob could see now that there was
never enough help for someone so needy.
Celia walking out as she did, and Rob speaking to Mrs. Gillespie as he had,
might be the best responses they could have enacted. Rob did not necessarily think this would change
Celia’s mom, but hopefully it could change the way Celia dealt with her.
walked out the front door, checking that it was locked but closing it hard
enough that Celia’s mother would hear it and know they had left, in case she
was waiting in her room to be coaxed back into their good graces.
was in the driver’s seat of Rob’s car.
Rob walked over to that side of the car and gestured to Celia to open
the window, which she did. She
looked upset, staring out of the windshield.
don’t you let me drive?” Rob asked.
I figure you’re still drunk,” Celia said.
She continued to look straight ahead.
had been drunk when they had gotten in the car, at which point Celia was
ostensibly driving them back to Rob’s parents’ house where they were spending
the weekend. Rob remembered he was
mad at Celia, too, for kidnapping him and driving down here instead, although
he had – admittedly – fallen asleep – well, maybe it was more like passed out –
as soon as his butt hit the seat.
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Family Patients (oops Patience)—- Harold’s response
Sometimes I must admit that I just don't understand my wife. Even after more than 21 years, there are those episodes where I just can't get why she sees a situation the way she does. By the way, I know she feels the same way about me at times.
Earlier in our marriage, I saw it as my duty to point out what I thought was erroneous or irrational thinking on her part. Somehow I thought that by pointing that out that eventually she would adopt a way of looking at things that was more akin to my own. Uhhhhh... NOT!
What actually happened was that she became annoyed at me and felt that I disrespected her opinions. And, she was right--though I would never have admitted (or honestly recognized) that back then.
In a healthy marriage, we must come to accept that there are some things that our spouse can explain to us that will make sense. And, then there are those other things that just don't. We demonstrate our love and our grace to our spouses as we are able to sit patiently with their opinions (without judging them). We show respect and build trust as we communicate verbally and non-verbally that what our spouse is saying has value (even if we don't agree with it). As we listen empathically, however, we may come to see our own positions as shifting some. This is a good thing in most instances because God placed you and your spouse together to shape one another--not for you to always have the right answers (because you don't).
In this episode, Rob is in another one of those key trust-building moments. He can show patience and sit with Celia's emotional frustration or he can take a more self-centered tact. The former will build trust. The latter will not. The former will bring them closer together. The latter will likely nudge them apart--even if a little. The same goes for your marriage and mine. Always choose closeness or distance. That is God's way.
Saturday, December 26, 2009
Negotiating through the Family Pull (Harold’s response)
Healthy marriage requires boundaries. This includes personal boundaries that must guard the identity that God gives each person. But, it also includes boundaries around the married couple--protecting against outside intrusions that are unsafe for the marriage. There are unsafe people, places, things, and even ideas that are enemies of your marriage. Sometimes, these unsafe people are ones that we hold dear.
Don't get me wrong. This isn't the time necessarily to excommunicate yourself from your loved ones. But, it is important to understand when you must draw a proverbial "line in the sand" for how much you allow people who aren't safe for your marriage to influence it.
In this specific episode, Celia is acutely aware that a boundary is necessary. And, I applaud her for refusing to be drawn into her mother's issue. It is a move that is likely important for future decisions as well.
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Negotiating through the Family Pull (Joanne’s response)
I wrote last week about the family pull. The family pull is harder to resist when you are in the middle of it, as Celia is right now. Our family crazy is the air we breathe: we get so used to it we don't even know it's there. Celia is using a ton of emotional energy right now to identify and break the gravitational hold her mother has used since the divorce to keep Celia close. Mom has her own work to do right now, obviously. She welcomed Rob into the family, but it is more complicated than gaining a son-in-law to be the man in the family. Celia can facilitate the process by staying out of it, for now. Sometimes we have to speak our truth and back off, letting the consequences unfold. It's never pleasant in the short term, especially around the holidays, but it allows long term growth and change to happen.
Friday, December 18, 2009
Conflict Resolution Starts With An “I” (Joanne’s response)
Harold has identified what Rob and Celia are doing right in their relationship. I will therefore highlight the other half of Celia's growth edge right now -- being married to Rob while still being her mother's daughter. As we have noted here before, leaving home and cleaving to one's partner are not only about first hiring a moving van and then having sex. These are emotional as well as physical tasks, and they are therefore ongoing, not fully accomplished just because "I do" has been spoken. For Celia to leave well, she will learn to balance her role in her family of origin with her role as Rob's wife. "Resist the family pull," we say in the field of family therapy. Our birth families' pull on us is powerful; maturity requires that we acknowledge and make conscious choices about how to respond.
Monday, December 14, 2009
Conflict resolution starts with an “I”
Rob and Celia are having their
first home-from-the-honeymoon disagreement over whose family they will spend
Christmas with, after Celia made promises to her mother before consulting
her head buried under her pillow, heard Rob leave the room. She was angry – at herself, mostly, but
she felt petulant, like a tantrum was coming on. Why couldn’t Rob just give in and let her have it her way?
pulled off the pillow and sat up, listening to Rob opening the refrigerator in
the kitchen. She could not just
have it her way, she thought, because she was married now. Somehow she and Rob were going to have
to find a way to strike a balance that felt fair to both of them. Sometimes Rob would get his way,
sometimes Celia would get hers.
Perhaps they could figure out what win-win looked like more often than
not so that married life surpassed kids on the playground fighting over whose
turn it was.
a comfortable average, calculated over decades, was a useful theoretical
construct that did not bring much to bear on this moment, today, when Rob and
Celia each wanted their way.
Rob had been correct, she conceded, in making an assumption that what
fair would look like here would be for them to be with Rob’s family, since they
had indeed been with Celia’s mother and sister Catherine last year. And a grandmother’s birthday
party – you’re only ninety once, after all.
to be completely honest with herself, Mom’s depression and its cycles would be
with her, Celia, always, unless Mom could figure out how to actually do
something about it herself. But in
the greater scheme of things, an emotionally unstable mother and a birthday
party seemed comparatively black and white in terms of importance, and this was
an angle she could parry as she and Rob talked.
threw off the covers and found her bathrobe on the floor next to the bed. But it would be an intellectually cheap
angle, she knew, because it wasn’t that clear-cut at all. Just because Rob married a woman with a
depressed mother did not mean Rob’s life, nor hers as his wife, could revolve
was going to have to tell her mother that she had blown it by making a promise
she couldn’t keep without being unfair to Rob. Celia felt a wave of nausea as she thought about it. It’s not that Mom would get mad –
actually Celia wished she would, more often – but she would moan and carp and
Celia would as a result feel guilty.
walked into the kitchen where Rob was standing at the counter pouring milk on
cereal. She hugged him from behind.
blew it,” she said. “I shouldn’t
have made plans without talking to you first.”
her head leaning on Rob’s back, she felt him nod his head. She wished he would say
something, but he did not. He
seemed to think this ball was still in her court.
it was. “So I’m going to call Mom
and tell her we can’t be there for Christmas. I can tell her I did not know about this party.”
finally spoke. “Well, I have an
idea about that. Canton and
Cleveland aren’t that far apart.”
does Rob suggest?
Wednesday, December 02, 2009
Making marriage work for the holidays (Harold’s response)
Holiday traditions are an important part of married life. Most spouses seek to replicate the traditions they enjoyed in their family of origin. However, difficulties tend to arise when unspoken expectations result in conflicting objectives. This is particularly the case among newlyweds who are still trying to negotiate mutual arrangements and at the point after the first child is born. Do we visit parents for Christmas or stay home? Will there be a traditional dinner served? Should we get gifts for everyone? These are just a few of the questions that couples must discuss intentionally rather than making assumptions.
In my own family, my wife and I alternate Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays that we spend with our respective families. We have been doing this for twenty-one years. And, since we are both the eldest siblings and first to marry our younger siblings have mostly adopted this pattern as they have gotten married. That way everyone is together for the holidays.
The bottom line is that making marriage work for the holidays is just like everything else in marriage. It takes time to think about and often takes sacrifice to execute. It is a negotiation. Ultimately, these traditions will be what lives on in the minds of generations to come. And, that makes it all worth it.
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