Attitudes in Marriage; Discovering our Patterns

Winter Chill

It’s February, almost Valentine’s day and it’s freezing! The temperature has hovered between zero and eleven degrees all day. The weather is what got me started on this topic of “attitude.”

The reason being, I have chosen not to fight winter. I need to accept it instead of wasting my emotion and energy trying to fight it. The weather is never going to be perfect. It’s always going to be too hot, too cold, too wet, or too dry, too windy, or not enough air moving. I can be angry at the weather, wanting something else.

People living on the coast get the sea breezes, but then come problems with the humidity and salty air that eats and corrodes and grows mildew and mold. Then there are the hurricanes. Do we hunker down and ride it out? Or do we evacuate? Where will we go and for how long?

In the desert-like Phoenix, my childhood home, it’s nice in the winter but look out come June, July, and August where triple-digit heat is the norm. The monsoon doesn’t always show up. It’s sweltering hot with relief found only in a swimming pool or an air-conditioned car, or room.

Then there’s colorful Colorado, where I live. Spring and Summer are great, but the winters can be snowy, and periods of deep freeze can come. Like now with the temp at zero with snow at three p.m. It’s temperate here compared to Minnesota, Chicago, or Michigan, where they can drive out on the lakes, set up huts, and icefish. Brr.

At least here, after a period of cold and snow, the wind direction returns to the southwest, where the deserts are, and it warms back up melting the snow. The sun always returns after a few frosty days and temperatures moderate some and the snow starts melting.

Why am I talking about all this?

You can’t change the weather; you have to accept it! You take the benefits of your situation, then learn to live with the rest. You endure it at times without complaining and choosing depression just because it’s not the “way you want it to be.” The beauty offsets the price of shoveling snow.

The same holds true in relationships, where’s the shovel?

Attitudes and Marriage

People have “bad” marriages because they have bad attitudes.

Think about it for a moment; A marriage is made up of the attitudes each spouse has towards the other. Your reactions to each other create the “dynamics” you live and breathe daily. “You,” and “they” create your dynamics and the marriage it produces, whether stressful or enjoyable, intimate and connected, or distant and withdrawn.

Taking responsibility for your attitudes and dynamics and changing them is the key to happily ever after.

This book is written for that goal; To change your bad patterns to good ones through God’s transforming grace. This happens when you honestly unpack it together by talking it out.

I remember a handout at a church youth camp fifty years ago. How’s that for memory? It can work against you as well. A good memory means you can have a hard time forgetting things you want to forget. I remember the guy’s name who wrote it. It said;

“Your attitude determines your altitude.”

I’ve never forgotten it. Even though I know it, and reminded of it when I’m tempted to “lose my attitude,” I don’t choose a good attitude 100% of the time. None of us do because we aren’t perfect. Perhaps at times we get pushed to our “limit” for the very purpose of growing.

It’s only when we “hit the wall” and come to the limits of our character we grow more. It’s when I’m frustrated and disappointed, I can choose to love and grow. I can grow out of my selfish “neediness” and demands.

Welcome to marriage.

Let’s get right to it.

What shapes our attitudes?

Expectations

What happens when I don’t “get what I was expecting?”

I can dump negative emotion into the marriage, or I can adjust my expectation. It’s my choice, I’m not a victim, powerless to choose. (For whatever reason.)

This isn’t easy, as expectations can run deep, outside our awareness. We don’t know how strong they are, or their influence on our emotions. Conflict exposes them if we let it.

Expectations can push us to control the relationship or our partner to conform to them.

It may be fairy tale thinking or powerful beliefs we’ve formed about “how it should be.”

 Expectations and how they affect the “emotions of marriage” cannot be overstated.

Without Communication

Without identifying and unpacking your expectation with your spouse, they will tend to perform more, trying harder to “please you” or “make you happy.” Their efforts are doomed to failure because “them trying harder” isn’t the issue. The issue perhaps is the unmet expectation you have that hasn’t been communicated or negotiated with them.

He won’t be able to get his need for affirmation met because you are withholding it until he “meets up” to the expectation you have. More distance is then created  as you “withhold” because they aren’t “doing what you expect.” They might not even know what it is.

Maybe, just maybe, your “unmet expectations,” and your response and attitude towards that, is giving you the “bad marriage” you are blaming them for, then demanding they change.

What if he can’t “engage you and initiate” the way you want because of the negative emotion your unmet expectation is creating? What if the “distance” and accompanying loneliness is “self-perpetuated” from your attitude towards them? We may think they are withdrawing when in reality we could be pushing them away.

It works both ways; It could as easily be him having them (expectations,) about you, applying the same pressure, creating the same dynamic. It’s worth considering and exploring. It may be your key to breakthrough.

Either way, distance is created in the relationship through unmet expectation and the accompanying emotional reluctance, withholding of affirmation, and “punishing dynamics.”

We are deceiving ourselves if we think our pressure to change them will cause change. It won’t. It only creates anxiety for you, and distance and pain in your spouse. Our control will fuel negative emotion, energy, and dynamics in the marriage. They won’t feel loved because punishment does not feel like love.

What Can I Do?

Be honest with yourself and take a prayerful inventory of “what you expect.” You will find God more than willing to show you what you are doing. If you persist in blaming you will not be able to see “yourself.”

Acknowledge the pain you’re feeling about this unmet expectation. Let it surface. (It’s often connected to the family of origin and how we were treated and “conditioned.”) It may have to do with past trauma, abuse, or wounding. We tend to project our brokenness on those closest to us (spouse,) blaming them for how we feel.

Be willing to examine and challenge the belief behind the expectation. There is one. Why should it be the “way you expect?” You may discover it’s irrational, or unreasonable. (Like me expecting desert summertime temperatures at 6400 feet in February at this latitude. It just isn’t going to happen. The sooner I accept it the better.)

Try to see the need connected to the expectation and the fear behind this need not being met. What are you afraid of? Why can’t you risk? What’s keeping you from truthfulness? Rejection and abandonment fears often lurk here. God wants to heal these.

Unpack it with your spouse. They likely have no idea you have it, feel punished by you, and don’t know why. They just know they “aren’t feeling the love.”

Try to get honest about your expectation and get real with them about it. You will be amazed at what you discover. They can’t love you the way you want to be loved if you don’t tell them. They may be confused feeling as lonely as you, not knowing “what your problem is.” You may not know what it is, you just “feel unhappy,” with unmet longings.

Change the status quo; lower the bar of your expectation, requiring them to meet it before you will love them. Declare to yourself and your union; “I’m not doing this anymore.” I choose unconditional love and acceptance. Say it out loud to each other. Craft a declaration.

Disappointment

Life is full of disappointments. I get disappointed. What happens when I get disappointed? It depends on my maturity level. In my “immature stage,” I would pout, withdraw, or possibly punish when my “expectation” is unmet. I could fall into that anytime if I let myself.

The spiritual journey is about growing to handle disappointment in more mature ways.

We must grow out of the “throw a tantrum or withdraw and punish” attitudes to be happy in the relationship.

How we handle disappointment is huge when it comes to the “emotions of marriage.”

Marriage is “bad” when spouses don’t healthily handle these emotions. It may not be because you married the wrong person. It could be because your attitudes are generating negative emotions and feelings you are forced to breathe in and out every day.

Hope

There’s a lot of hope in this if you receive the truth that your attitudes are creating the emotional reality in your marriage. This is great! It means that all you have to do is change your attitude. I believe it can be that simple. Getting there is the growth process.

How do I do that?

  1. Become aware of how you react to disappointment; you need discernment.
  2. Ask God to show you what you do, how you respond emotionally.
  3. Take responsibility for any withdrawing or punishing you do. (We all do some.)
  4. Become emotionally honest with yourself and God.
  5. Invite your spouse into this process with you.
  6. Allow them, without defending, to show you how your negative responses affect them. This reflects to you the damage you are doing without realizing it. It goes both ways. Him & her.
  7. Make choices in your heart about how you will change and grow.
  8. Tell them your commitment to connect with them and share your resolve to grow.
  9. Enjoy the fruit of taking responsibility for yourself; new intimacy and connection with your partner as you risk vulnerability with them. When you change, the marriage changes. “Woo-Hoo!” It will feel so much better clearing the air and gaining understanding of the “disconnects.” They aren’t hard to fix. An adjusted attitude works miracles in a marriage. I promise.

Passive-aggressive behavior

Passive-aggressive behavior; What does this mean to you?

I’m not even going to look it up. This is my definition; I think it’s close.

Passive-aggressive behavior is displayed when you say something is “alright or okay,” when it’s not. You comply with the wants of another, instead of voicing what you want. (Passive), then you punish them for it. (Aggressive.) It’s the fallout of “lying” communication.

It’s “going along” with something, saying you’re in agreement, but really not, then punishing them for it. They say they’re along for the ride, but in truth they are “sitting down on the outside, but standing up on the inside,” and you will pay for it later. There is a price tag with passive aggressive people. It’s not a free ride though they say it is. It’s not agreement.

My experience is you don’t know you’re passive-aggressive until God reveals it to you in a relationship. We can get away with things living alone that marriage will expose.

An easy example is I love Mexican food and she loves Tokyo Joes, or I like science-fiction movies and she prefers Hallmark. If I fear conflict, preferring to avoid it, I won’t represent myself honestly and say what I want. So, I die at Tokyo Joes eating rabbit food and get depressed over too many “chick-flicks.” All because I won’t stand up and be honest.

Even if I don’t punish her for the dynamic, it is still unhealthy because I am abdicating my wants, needs, and desires, (to be liked,) instead of “representing myself with integrity,” by being truthful. I’m making her “approval” an idol which is idolatry. It takes time and practice to be honest and truthful with yourself to be free from doing this. It is the masculine journey for a man. The feminine journey for a woman.

I am hurting “us” when I do this because I withdraw emotionally when I “shortchange” myself allowing fear to keep me from speaking the truth and stating what I want. I “blame” her when I’m the one creating this painful merry-go-round, by being pusillanimous, (weak,) and non-assertive.

She gets no chance to “give me what I want” because I’m not “assertive.” The opposite of passive-aggressive. Power is not the issue here, rather weakness. The issue is not being assertive and courageous enough to negotiate in love to balance things out. Also, how can she please me or give me what I want if I hide in this manner and don’t tell her?

I believe this is a devilish pattern to keep us out of our promised land. God gladly meets us here to heal our hearts so we are enabled to give and receive love in a greater capacity.

Why do we do this?

  1. We fear disagreement, disapproval, or even abandonment so we don’t “rock the boat,” by saying the truth of what we want or need. It is self-sabotage, learned dysfunction that needs healing.
  2. We’re afraid of emotional honesty with our spouse; we fear vulnerability and the risk involved. We can’t feel love in this state, only fear and self-protection that sabotages honesty.
  3. We don’t have a track record or experience where being truthful or emotionally honest worked for us. We lack security.
  4. We weren’t allowed to “express ourselves,” and discuss feelings at home.
  5. We survived by “stuffing everything,” and not knowing any other way, we repeat what we learned at home.

What Can I Do?

The list is always the same for any disconnect or conflict.

Engage your heart, your emotions, and God.

Bring your pain to God, and ask him to reveal your relating patterns to you. So many times over the years He has been faithful to show me my brokenness along with the wrong ways I’ve tried to get my needs met out of fear, or apart from Him.

I’ve taken many time outs with Linda, and gone to God in my confusion. He never shames me and is never harsh. I know no lover more tender and compassionate than our comforter the Holy Spirit. He doesn’t demand repentance, His lovingkindness leads us to repentance.

The sooner I can get honest, and “get in touch” with my feelings and what I’m doing, the sooner the strategy for love and freedom comes from the heart of God.

Hear me, God isn’t hiding this stuff from us. He longs to reveal strategy and heal our hearts and marriages, if we’ll only humble ourselves before him in honesty and surrender.

Then engage your spouse with what God is showing you about yourself and confess it to them. James 5:16; confession brings healing. Talk openly and honestly about the dynamic and breakthroughs will come.

My prayer is that He will join each of you who read these words and pour out grace, strategy, love, connection, and power. In Jesus’ Name. . .XO

The Anatomy of Marriage Meltdowns

Nothing hurts like a disconnected marriage. We can find the disconnects, and heal them. We can develop a strategy that brings hope. Awareness of what’s going on brings immediate hope. I can choose to change what I can see.

Oh, that’s what we’re doing!”

So shall the knowledge of wisdom be to your soul; If you have found it, there is a prospect, and your hope will not be cut off. Proverbs 24:14

Cause and Effect

Newton’s third law states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Without doing the research, I think he must have been married.

Perhaps many of us have been victimized by Newton’s law unawares. Simply stated, how we treat others will affect how they treat us. Big time.

There is also a sowing and reaping principal that governs life. Seeds and growing what we plant and such.

The Control Meltdown

Control or manipulation begins a marriage meltdown that won’t stop until you forsake the behavior and focus on what you are bringing to bear upon the marriage. I may think it’s them when I’m the one causing it.

Control is the action, him or her withdrawing from the control is the reaction. I won’t move toward you if you are invalidating who I am by trying to control, pressure, or change me. I respond to acceptance and affirmation creating a willingness to negotiate almost anything.

Truth be Told

It’s a hopeless feeling when we’re stuck and don’t know the way out, or lack the tools to change any of our dynamics.

In our brokenness, unable to communicate with emotional honesty, we will manipulate and apply pressure instead of risking the vulnerability to get honest about what we need. We need to get in touch with those needs first.

We need honest words that are respected, then move us into the truth of where we are as a couple. With commitment, we can then strategize together and do something about it.

There’s hope in this because I can choose not to manipulate. I can learn to be a safe talker and listener. So can my partner. We can practice communication skills together, and learn to take emotional risks as we build security into our marriage. We can choose to not be victims, living with distance in our marriage.

We Build the House we Live in

Our actions cultivate the environment we live in, like the air we breathe. I miss the boat if I focus on her and start demanding change, which seems to be the normal relational default;

If I can only change the thing in her or him that’s bothering me, then I’ll feel relief, the discomfort will go away and things will be better.

This belief or thinking actually creates a distance dynamic affecting our intimacy. The controller always pushes the controlee away from them.

The meltdown will stop and my partner will move towards me when I embrace the new belief that says;

I will accept them and validate them for who they are instead of trying to change them.

I will leave the dark territory of manipulation, and start communicating and negotiating for how I can meet my needs.

Differences in needs

It’s business as usual after the honeymoon for the typical male. It seems like for him the adventure is over because he has her now.

For her, the adventure’s just beginning, but instead of pursuing her heart and drawing her into the adventure, unaware of what her heart needs, he clams up and leaves her at home. Living in the absence of a connection with his heart and feelings, she emotionally withers.

He gets most of his needs met out there, as she waits for him to come home and hopefully meet hers there. Instead of tuning into her at home, he plops down and turns on the tube or checks out some other way.

Two Lovers Losing

His inability or unwillingness to meet her needs in the way she wants him to,(her love language), creates a reluctance for her to give herself to him in the way he needs and wants. The cause and effect of this dynamic accumulates and creates conflict and negative emotion in the marriage.

As time goes on, her default is to nag him or apply pressure to change him in order to meet her needs. Her needs are legitimate, but lacking sensitivity he is unaware of them and doesn’t know how to meet them even if he sees them there.

It helps her to have compassion and warmth if she can see him in the light of not understanding her needs. Seeing him as needing her help, not knowing what to do, rather than stubborn or unwilling to meet her needs helps.

The Strategy She Needs; Understand Your Man

Her way out is to hook up with Newton’s Law and change the cause and effect. She needs to stop applying pressure and come up with some creative ways to get his attention, (one thing I know works pretty well).

He needs words of affirmation and meaningful touch. If his needs aren’t met, he will withdraw further. If you nag, complain, criticize, or cut him off, he will withdraw feeling inadequate, criticized, and devalued. He’ll check out, and just work harder out there keeping away from you to avoid pain. There are ways in, you have to find them.

If you change your strategy and reel him in, he’ll be more receptive to what you want and need. Remember your goal in accepting and loving him also includes connecting him to your heart that wants to know and be known. It takes time and persistence to change the old dynamics but very doable.

You then need to teach him about your needs being specific about what it looks like to have them met. You have to get in touch with them yourself to articulate them to him. Believe me, he doesn’t know how to do it, you have to show him. He needs a sensitivity education from you.

Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respect her husband Eph. 5:33

The Strategy He Needs; Understand Your Woman

The best thing a man can do for himself is to understand his wife’s needs are different than his. He then needs to do everything he can to learn about and meet them. (her love language.)

She needs validation, security, and reassurance. Ignore her and she gets none of that. Her emotions need your attention and understanding, she thrives on this, not your neglect. That’s the nourishing and cherishing part the man struggles with.

Men, the worst thing we can do is criticize or demean her sensitivity or emotions. This is where the tenderness we need comes from, and if we crush her there, she won’t give her heart or anything else to us. we can end up cooking our own goose and losing the promised land.

So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself.

For no one ever hated his own flesh but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. Ephesians 5:28,29

Let’s Make a Deal

I’m a reasonable businessman. My language is negotiation, honestly in the open without pressure or manipulation. Anything is negotiable if it’s done with respect and good communication. Both parties win and get what they need.

Marriage meltdowns occur when two people are trying to change each other without negotiation or respectful communication. I think we all do this at first until we learn a better way. The meltdown only stops when each takes responsibility for themselves and what they are doing.

Your assignment as a couple is to read this together and talk about where control might be present and decide what to do about it. Also, talk about your two biggest needs and whether they are met or not and what you can do about it. Take time and honor feelings.

Prayer; Lord, thank you for being the God of Hope who takes away our hopelessness and despair. Thank you for the grace to relax our white knuckles of control and to trust you with our spouses, and our needs. You are the God of transformation, help us put our trust in you. Give us courage to be honest with our needs and feelings and communicate them well to our spouses. Thank you for some fresh strategies. We love you, In Jesus name. Amen. XO

Wind In My Sails

wind in my sails

My Dad was an electrician on a ship in the Navy and he told me stories of being on the ship.

I didn’t inherit the ship anointing. I did do a little sailing on what’s called a sailfin, a tiny sailing craft just larger than a wind surfboard. Two people can squeeze on with co-operation.

I practiced tacking back and forth a while in this quiet marina until I had enough confidence to bring Linda on board to show off my Captain’s skills.

Things went downhill badly while her fear and control took my confidence away. We ended up running aground in shallow water among the rocks as she abandoned ship.

It didn’t help that others on shore were watching and laughing at my humiliation and lack of control of my crew. At least I imagined them so.

If she would only trust me. Or maybe I just needed a little more training time with my crew and the rigging of the ship.

Although it was painful and my ego was bruised, my identity was intact because I had already proven to myself that I could do it alone.

Sailing alone is easier without the fear, power, and control another can bring on board. It’s how you do the navigating together that’s tricky. Are you Captain Ron, or the Co-dependant captain?

She was in the way of how I moved the sail. There were too many dynamics to navigate successfully! We were not an effective team.

Yes, alone is easier but lonely. Together may cost you more as you explore and resolve, but you will grow in love, and that will make you happier.

I would rather fail at sailing together, enduring a little humiliation but growing in love, than sail the seven seas alone and lonely, unchallenged and not growing.

The winds of the past

I am today what the wind in my sails has made me. The wind that’s blowing on me is made up of the influences that have shaped me into who I am.

They determine how I react, handle my emotions, use power, and get my needs met. They are the fabric of my relational dynamics and control how I behave in relationships.

These influences have come from my family of origin, the culture I live in, life’s experiences, beliefs I’ve developed and agreements I’ve made along the way.

As long as the winds of the past are blowing in my sails, I will keep reacting the same old way when my buttons get pushed. It doesn’t matter who pushes them. I can blame multiple others, but it’s my buttons that are the problem.

Whether it’s an identity button or some unhealed past wound or trauma when I feel the pain, my sails will fill and blow my ship in a predictable direction and pattern.

This leaves me having run aground hurting, confused and frustrated. I want to blame and go, the victim.

The only way for me to change the wind is to recognize where it’s coming from, track it back to its source, and do something about it.

This is growing in love, something God wants us to do.

New winds

The new wind is the truth that I am not a victim of who I’ve become from past influences or experiences.

I can challenge past influences as I become aware of the truth, then change my choices.

I can break bad agreements I’ve made that try to control me. My choices can then change the wind blowing in my sails. My destination can be made different.

The truth is, I’m not a victim. I don’t have to react that way, I can choose how I respond in any situation.

It’s gentle warfare that says; I can choose love. I can forgive. I can let go of past hurts and move on. I can heal and open my heart to love.

Awake O north wind, and come O south! Blow upon my garden, that its spices may flow out. Let my beloved come to his garden and eat its pleasant fruits. Song of Solomon 4:16 XO

I feel connected when…

I feel connected when…
  • We spend quality time together.
  • We slow things down enough to spontaneously do something fun together.
  • We determine to find enough reserve in our lives together to do that.
  • We’re present to each other without any screens to distract us.
  • We talk together about the season of life we’re in & how we feel about it.
  • We do a state of the union together, talking about how we feel we are doing in our marriage.
  • We talk about our needs. The ones that are being met & the ones that aren’t.
  • We can validate each other’s feelings without judgment or trying to fix each other.
  • We verbalize the stress and anxiety we feel and strategize how to alleviate it.
  • We invite each other into our fears and struggles and have the courage to go there.
  • We resolve our conflicts by fighting fair, discovering needs, and honoring feelings.
  • We aren’t being selfish & are saying kind things to each other.
  • We treat each other like lifelong partners & not inconveniences to what we want. XO