Fighting the Good Fight – Influence

Over the last few weeks we have been exploring how to fight better.  We discussed the soft start-up, repair attempts and compromise.  This week let’s take a look at how we allow our spouse to influence us.

Recently I was sharing with some friends that when I was much younger I got a little depressed about my work situation and joined the Air Force without discussing it with Patty.  In essence, I made a life-changing decision that took a newly married young woman away from her family of origin without allowing her to influence my decision.  I didn’t even ask her opinion.   I returned home and advised that within 3-5 days I would be in a uniform being yelled at by a training instructor and within a few months we would be moving.  Destination – Unknown.  Looking back I am surprised I didn’t show up to basic training with hand prints on my throat.

In the end, it worked out.  Looking back I am surprised it did.

When couples fight one of the things that they are often trying to do is influence their spouse.  According to research, couples who resist influence are much more likely to divorce.  When a man is not willing to share power with their wife the couple is 81% more likely to end up in divorce court.  A marriage is a commitment to allow the other person input into those issues that effect them.  Couples who share power, who allow their partner to influence them during an argument, feel like they are part of a unified marriage.

Common sense should tell you that you need to allow your spouse to influence you.  Patty sees things from such a different perspective than I do.   Wisdom would dictate that I not only take her insight into consideration, but that I seek it out regularly.  She is more relational where I am task oriented.  In our ministry both are needed and her strength offsets my weakness.  She was made a helpmate for me, and I am blessed to have her and blessed when she “weighs in” on issues.

However, when emotions are running high and a fight ensues we often withdraw and refuse to listen.  We feel we have the right viewpoint and then work hard, sometimes too hard, to defend it.  When that happens people feel disrespected and unappreciated.  Then it is on like donkey-kong.

Before the crazy cycle starts take a moment and ask yourself if you are resisting influence and if so, why.  Are you embarrassed over a decision you have made and now feel the need to defend yourself?  Do you really feel that your spouse has no valid viewpoint on the situation?  Are you really so filled with pride that you feel you don’t need input from your spouse?  Beware, you are crossing into dangerous territory.

Strong couples value the opinion of their spouse and seek influence often.  They may not always choose to take the advice when provided, but they seek the advice and consider it when making a decision.

The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.  (Proverbs 12:15)

Fighting the Good Fight – Compromise

A couple of weeks ago we started this series with an intro to Fighting the Good Fight and discussed a Soft Startup.  Last week we discussed Repair Attempts.  This week we want to focus on compromise.

Work to Compromise

Since 69% of arguments will never be completely resolved, compromise is often the best we can expect from some of our differences.  Compromise takes place when we attempt to understand our conflicting needs and then explore ways those needs can be better met. One of the best examples is frequency of sex.  Research indicates that over a lifetime a man will desire sex six times more often than women. Tommy Nelson, author of The Book of Romance, said that if God had given man and woman the same sex drive as the man, there would be children everywhere but we would all live in caves because we would never have time for planning or building houses.  If God had given both man and woman the same sex drive as a woman, we would have lived in a very highly advanced culture, for one generation. Then mankind would have disappeared from the face of the earth because we would seldom have sex.  This, of course, requires compromise. Ryan and Celina Fredericks,  authors of Fierce Marriage, often talk about how they resolved this issue themselves. He determined he needed intimacy/sex 3-4 times a week. She did not need it anywhere near that often and was often exhausted raising two children.  The compromise, their goal would be three times a week and he would settle for two times a week when she had a rough week with the children. They then entered the time for twice a week in their calendar as a reminder so she did not forget, which had been a problem historically. He agreed to be flexible based on her needs and challenges of the day.  This is a great example of how couples can talk through issues and then come to a compromise.

Have a Plan

When issues arise, take the following actions:

  1. Work to identify the real need – As we have discussed before, often our fights are not what our fights are about.  Try and work together to discover what the real issue is.
  2. Explore possibilities of how those needs can be better met.  Allow the other person to influence your thinking and agree to try different ways until something works.
  3. Choose an option and try it for a short period of time until you find something that works.

This course of action often requires patience, sacrifice, compromise, a dedication to peace, a gentle approach and not just a little self control.  Sound familiar?  Remember, a really joyous marriage is not possible without the indwelling spirit of Christ, and that always produces the fruits listed above.

A Final Note

If the topic is an emotional one, the three steps above may requires three separate conversation.  One to identify the problem, one to brainstorm solutions and a third to choose an option to try.  There is nothing wrong with breaking these into three different discussions as you work through your issue.  In fact, many therapist recommend that very thing.

Preparation

We have learned over the years that before a meal we need to prepare our food to be cooked. If we wash it first, the food taste better, it is cleaner, and therefore healthier after removing the dirt, grime, and possible diseases that come with harvested crops.
We have also learned, the hard way at times, that a surgeon needs to prepare before performing a surgery. Again, we have figured out that if we wash the dirt, grime, and possible diseases off of the hands before the surgery, the risk is a lot lower that the patient will be infected with bacteria or worse and have a harder time recovering, if they recover at all.
A teacher, before presenting a lesson, should prepare the lesson. Reading over it, making notes, making sure the audience will understand the information being presented.
With each of these examples one can easily see the benefits of taking time to prepare for the tasks at hand. Why is it, when it comes to marriage, that we do so little to prepare. The bible says in Ephesians 5:26 for husbands to make your wives holy and clean by washing her with the word. We should be open and communicate with our spouses often and intimately. We should share in the daily decisions that are presented to us. Be a student of your spouse, learn your spouses love language and talk to them in that language so they understand and receive the message. Prepare for the tasks at hand. We know there is an enemy trying to steal, kill, and destroy our marriages. Put on the armor of God that He has given us to use. Help your spouse each morning be ready to enter the day. Encourage them with who they are in Christ. If we will help our spouses each day to face the day at hand, we will increase intimacy and closeness in the relationship.   More victories and fewer defeats. I believe it is well worth the preparation to get the benefits of the results, what about you?

Fighting the Good Fight – Repair Attempts

After three plus decades of marriage research John Gottman, from the University of Washington, was able to identify a number of strategies that help when couples are already engaged in a fight.  One of those strategies involves repair attempts.

Fighting the Good Fight – Intro

The great philosopher Jack Sparrow said “It’s not the problem that’s the problem, it’s your response to the problem that’s the problem.”  That guy is a genius.

Did you know that 69% of all of the things you and your spouse fight about are perpetual problems.  By that I mean they are problems that will most likely resurface throughout your marriage.  If you are like most couples in their first three decades of marriage you will be fighting about:

– Division of Housework

– What a clean house looks like

– Finances and other issues of security

-In-Laws

– How to raise your children

– Frequency of Sex

These issues often have a lot to do with deep seated expectations, roles played in family of origin (how your mom and dad did it) and preferences around security and money.  Over time, as your marital relationship matures and God works within your marriage towards unity, these issues may come to some resolution.  However, these changes do not take place quickly.  As a result, you will have fights.

The question is not if you will have a fight, it is how you choose to fight that makes all the difference.  If you want to have a fight which results in anger, disharmony, disunity, demeaning behavior and possibly homicide (because divorce is not an option), try one or more of these methods:

  • Wait until your husband has been working three hours in 102 degree weather under the hood of a car and is hungry, then ask him about the $20 he spent at Academy with an accusatory tone;
  • Come home from work after your spouse has spent the day with two sick children then roll your eyes when she asks if you can run and pick up dinner for the family;
  • Try to motivate your spouse to look for a better job by comparing him to the neighbor that just pulled up in a new Vet.  In fact, it will be even more effective if you wait until the neighbor can see you and then turn around, point your finger at your hubby and yell “You need a job like his so I can get a new car;”
  • Start asking him hundreds of questions just as he walks into the house after a long day at work.

A second option is to use scripturally supported and time tested methods to have conversations with your spouse that have a better chance at resolving conflict.  This week let’s explore the first one.

Slow Your Roll

Proverbs 15:15 says “A hot-tempered person stirs up conflict, but the one who is patient calms a quarrel. ”  In short, make sure you have your temper and emotions under control before engaging in a conversation that may result in a fight.  In addition, give your spouse the opportunity to prepare for the discussion.

Let’s Throw Down

Sally walks into the house after a long Monday to find John standing there with his phone.  He has just seen a $200 charge she made over the weekend and is angry because they had agreed to watch their spending so they would have funds for a vacation next summer.  As she walks in he holds up the phone and in an accusatory voice says “You never keep our agreements.  Can’t you control your spending for even one month?  You’re just so irresponsible!”

What went wrong?

  1. You should never point a phone  at someone, it’s rude.
  2. He does not know what she spent the money on or why.
  3. Terms like “always” and “never” put people on the defensive, primarily because they are an untrue accusation.
  4. He jumped her at the door and did not give her the emotional room to prepare for the conversation.

As a result, she feels attacked and in self-defense says something like “If you had a real job I wouldn’t have to worry about a few hundred dollars.”  She goes on the attack and treats him with disrespect because he was unloving towards her.  It’s on like Donkey-Kong.

A Better Way

When John sees the charge and starts to get angry, he should ask himself two questions:  Why am I so angry and what do I not know about this situation.  In most cases we get angry because we are not getting our way.  In addition, he has very little information concerning the “what” and “why” of the situation.  Instead of waiting at the door to pounce he could simply wait for her to come home and let her know he wants to talk to her about their finances later that night.  Then, in a calm manner point out that he had seen the charge made on the credit card and felt like it might violate their agreement concerning finances.  This is known as a “soft approach” and allows a couple to start a conversation that has a better chance of a positive outcome.  Yes it requires some self control and patience.  However, as a follower of Jesus you have both (Gal 5:22-23).

So here is the first step towards better fights;  Choose a good time and place for a discussion and then give your spouse some warning so they can prepare for an emotional conversation.  In the event your spouse has had a long day, give them some grace and choose another time for the conversation.  Don’t wait too long and stand firm on the need to have the conversation, but be sensitive to your spouse.  A friend of mine used to use the phrase “I need to enter your garden” when he needed to talk about an emotional topic with his wife.  She then could proceed with the discussion or take a few minutes to get mentally prepared.  If she postponed the discussion, she was responsible for “reengaging” before the evening was over.  Patty and  I simply say “I need to talk you about something that might get emotional, is this a good time?”  By being patient and letting both parties mentally prepare, there is a much better chance of a positive outcome.

Next Week:  When things get out of control – attempting to repair hurt feeling in the middle of a fight.

A Renewing of the Mind

A few years back, Patty and I were reading a marriage book. The author spent a lot of time focused on behavior. At one point while reading the book I was supposed to stop and ask Patty what I could do to make her feel romanced. She shared a couple of things that were helpful. One way I could express romance was to open the door for her when she got in a car or entered a building. According to the book, I needed to make sure I did these things so she would feel loved.  Now that she had shared,  I should open the door for her every time.  That is when the issue of door opening became complicated.

There were two issues at play; I now felt I was required to open the door for her whether I wanted to or not;  In addition, she had an expectation on her part that I would follow through with the action because she had shared a simple way for me to romance her.  She then determined she would help me by standing at the door waiting for me to open it when I forgot.  I would be starting the car and she would be standing there, waiting.  I would look at her waiting by the door frustration settling in.  I would think, “God gave her hands so I don’t know why she can’t use them.” Then I would get out, walk around the car, and open the door all the while grumbling under my breath. Resentment started to build.

One morning I was thinking about who God says I am.  You have probably heard it but if not God says I am loved, accepted, valued, a favored son, a servant, a saint, etc. Great way to start the day.  Then, He started telling me who Patty is.  I had not asked but apparently I don’t always ask the right questions.  Patty is a child of the King (that makes her a princess), a person He delights in, His favorite daughter, passionately loved, completely accepted, and highly valued. When you start thinking about it you have to come to the conclusion that God had given this favored daughter to me and, furthermore, had given me to her. I was to be one of his expressions of love to her. One of the ways I could express that love was to open the door for her. I can’t fully explain, but as this realization sank in there was a change in the way I saw both who she was and who I was in relation to our marriage. This realization changed the way I thought about opening the door for her. It was no longer a response to an expectation or a chore, but something I wanted to do because it was part of who God calls me to be. Part of my identify in Christ is that I am an expression of God’s love to Patty and one way I can express that love is by opening the door for her. This is the business God is involved in, renewing minds and changing hearts.

I know people who really don’t want to be married, people who have given up on their relationships, or people who simply live together as room-mates. They may try all kinds of things from the Love Dare Challenge to the Respect Dare Challenge to regain that spark in their marriage, and these are all well and good in their place. Many times, however, what they really need is a new way of thinking. A new way of seeing their spouse, their marriage and even themselves. What they need is a revelation from God so they can see their spouse, marriage, and self from God’s eyes. They need His perspective and point of view.

This week meditate on how God sees you and your role in your marriage to his favored child. Be open to hear from Him concerning how He wants to change the way you see your spouse. Once you start to see these truths the behaviors can’t help but follow.

Thought for the Week: Am I open to seeing my spouse the way God sees my spouse. Am I open to being a expression of His love for them.

Romans 12: 12 – Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…

Note:  Patty no longer waits for me to open the door.  If I do, she is thankful.   If I forget, she uses the arms God gave her and opens her own door…and is thankful.  God worked on her expectations while he was working on my point of view.  I am constantly amazed at His ability to multi-task.  God Bless.