Monday, April 27, 2009
The Half-Dead Marriage
This past weekend I took advantage of gorgeous 90+ degree weather to do some spring cleaning in my yard. As I worked on cleaning leaves from one of the mulched beds around my home, I was struck by one of our bushes. No, I wasn’t literally struck by it. But, I was intrigued that buds are only forming on half of the bush. The other half appears dead. Perplexed, I looked for an explanation. It didn’t take long to notice that half of the bush was mostly uprooted while the other half was still firmly planted. While I’m not sure what to do about my half-dead bush, it triggered in my mind an email that I had just received from a couple that alerted me to some marital problems they are having.
You might ask, what does my half-dead bush have to do with marital problems. Fair question. Here’s the connection. My heart is really tugged by half-dead marriages. What is a half-dead marriage? It can be a marriage where one spouse is giving most (or all) of the effort and the other one is failing to hold up his/her end of the bargain. It could also be a marriage where spouses just go through the motions with little to no real emotional connection. In some ways half-dead marriages are particularly dangerous because they lull unsuspecting couples into a false sense of security (for example they see their half-dead state as better than a divorce).
I want to challenge those who feel emotionally disconnected from their spouse to make another genuine effort at moving closer together. I don’t necessarily expect a miracle—just a step. What can you do today to take a step towards your spouse? Remember that half-dead means that it is also half-alive. There is life in your marriage. The question is how to make it more abundant.
Posted by Harold Arnold on 04/27 at 05:10 PM
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Monday, November 17, 2008
Handling Differences with Grace
Over the past several posts I have sought to demonstrate the importance of grace in the cross-cultural marriage. I have offered the acrostic G-R-A-C-E as a practical model for improving the day-to-day interaction between spouses who hail from differing cultural backgrounds.
I have had the pleasure of interacting with many cross-cultural couples. And, I always watch them. I want to see how they interact. I look for the points of similarity and I am always curious about those moments when their differences manifest. Watching couples navigate their differences (though verbal and nonverbal expressions) tells you a tremendous amount about the health of that relationship.
In my experience there are three things that you learn by how couples handle differences: (1) we learn about the health of the boundary the couple maintains, (2) we learn about the value that the couple places on their marriage, and (3) we learn how much power exists in their partnership.
Let’s start with boundaries. How many times have you been in the company of a couple that lacked the discernment to realize that everyone in their presence was uncomfortable with the manner in which their disagreement was being handled? Everyone realizes that this is out of bounds and awkward. Sometimes, someone interjects humor in an attempt to diffuse the situation. But, everyone knows this is no laughing matter. It is important for couples to learn appropriate times and settings to deal with their most volatile issues.
The couple’s handling of disagreements is a proxy for the value they place on the relationship. When couple’s berate one another’s views, dismiss the concerns of the other, or threaten “punishment” for a dissenting perspective we know that there is little value being placed on authentic, mutual marriage. Have you ever seen those spouses who appear to want a slave more than a husband or wife?
Ultimately, a couple’s handling of differences tells us the strength and power that lies within the partnership. Each spouse has unique skills, talents, and interests. But, the partnership is much more than the sum of these personal attributes. True partnership is about synergy. Synergy in marriage is the exponential power that a couple demonstrates when their abilities and interests intermingle in the context of a loving and committed relationship. The capabilities of such a tandem is profound.
This brings me to the last principle of the G-R-A-C-E model for cross-cultural marriage.
Principle 5: E – Embrace your differences
Let’s be honest. Differences cause discomfort and misunderstanding-especially in cross-cultural marriages where the assumptions are often at odds. But, healthy cross-cultural couples embrace their difference because they understand that they are actually enriched when their thinking is stretched beyond its own default limits. As couples learn to defer in this way, it shapes their character because it shows care and respect. In the end, mature cross-cultural couples understand that it is their differences more than their similarities that foster growth by challenging them to extend grace to one another.
The next time you are in the company of a cross-cultural couple, watch the way they interact. And, remember they may also be watching you.
Posted by Harold Arnold on 11/17 at 05:31 PM
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Wednesday, November 05, 2008
Disagreement! All marriages have it. Husbands and wives frequently just can’t see eye to eye on an issue. Sometimes these disagreements amount to trivial skirmishes that are easily dismissed. Other times such disagreements can be rationalized and negotiated to arrive at a common understanding. But, sometimes try as we may we sometimes have to just agree to disagree. That is to be expected when two people with differing views are living life together.
Many couples errantly think that they are not supposed to have disagreements. Young couples are often disoriented when disagreement arises because they think the harmony and bliss that accompanied the romantic phase of their relationship is supposed to last forever. Husbands often keep their opinions to themselves so as not to face the argument of a disagreeing spouse. Wives sometimes bite their tongue to maintain household harmony.
In cross-cultural marriages the disagreement is more pronounced. Disagreements over food, dress, family, friends, religion, parenting, and home are often frequent and emotionally charged. At the heart of most of these disagreements is a belief that one’s cultural upbringing is valid and should be appreciated by your spouse. Yet when our spouses fail to appreciate our perspective, we sometimes take measures that harm the relationship. Such destructive actions include emotional withdrawal, verbal (and sometimes physical) attacks, withholding physical intimacy, and other behaviors that we know makes our spouses mad.
The reality is that disagreement is healthy for your cross-cultural marriage. Disagreement is one of the most effective ways that you can be influenced by your spouse’s cultural identity. Disagreement is healthy for a relationship because it allows each person to shape the attitudes and behaviors of the other. This shaping process is the fuel for personal and marital growth. There is one key, however, that is vital to using disagreement to build the resilience and depth of your marriage. And, this point captures the fourth letter in our model of grace for cross-cultural marriages.
Principle 4: C – Complain without criticizing
When you disagree with your spouse, you don’t necessarily have to keep quiet about it. You can complain. The problem is that many cross-cultural spouses do not understand how to complain. Oftentimes, we allow the unspoken rules of our culture to dictate how we complain. Some cultures condone loud emotional responses. Other cultures allow belittling personal attacks. Still other cultures use more passive aggressive means. Effectively complaining, however, focuses on how your spouse’s actions make you feel. For example, an effective complaint to your spouse might be “I get frustrated when you make rice and beans every night for dinner.” This complaint keeps the focus on how you feel rather than attacking your spouse’s cooking. By complaining in this manner you set the stage for an emotional connection that strengthens your relationship rather than a criticism that tears it down. In this manner you show each other grace. Try it out during your next disagreement. And, let me know what happens.
Posted by Harold Arnold on 11/05 at 05:29 PM
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