Relationships are hard and messy and most men are not good at developing healthy relationships. Once we get married it is easy to sit back and focus on our work and providing financially or focusing on our own needs. Most guys, myself included are selfish and we are not always thinking about how to love our wives or lead our household.
Peter talks about this in one of his letters that is part of the Bible. Peter talks a lot about submission, respect, blessing and honor. This is not only in marriage relationships but in all relationships. He writes this after having spent a significant amount of time with Jesus. After observing how Jesus treated other people he was able to write about how we should treat our bosses, our political leaders and our spouses.
I want to zero in on his comments to husbands. in 1 Peter 3:7 he is talking to husbands, I like the Message version of the Bible which says “Be good husbands to your wives. Honor them, delight in them. As women they lack some of your advantages. But in the new life of God’s grace, you’re equals. Treat your wives, then, as equals so your prayers don’t run aground.”
He is calling husbands to live with their wives in an understanding way. We are to honor our wives and model submission and service. We are to initiate blessing, rather than retaliate when things go wrong. Men are called to be spiritual leaders and that means we take responsibility for the health of our relationships. This means we set the tone and we initiate what we want others to do. Don’t wait for her to start treating you with respect before you make an effort to love and respect her.
The way we treat our wives will affect our spiritual health. It starts with us and how we respond to our wives. The words we use, the things that we do, the time that we take, and the way that we listen.
Peter sums this up by saying this “Be agreeable, be sympathetic, be loving, be compassionate, be humble. That goes for all of you, no exceptions. No retaliation. No sharp-tongued sarcasm. Instead, bless-that’s your job, to bless. you’ll be a blessing and also get a blessing.”
Now I realize that we won’t always get it right and we will mess up. We will do selfish things and say stupid things, but in order to love our wives we must keep pushing forward, trying to understand our wives and treat them as a precious gift. Being humble means asking for and giving forgiveness on a regular basis. The key is to not give up, keep trying to learn how to love your wife better, learn from your mistakes and above all else keep growing closer to God. Only God can help you to love your wife the way you should.
I spend a good bit of time with people that are in the midst of personal catastrophes. Most are relational struggles, whether in a marriage, a family or at work. The health of our relationships are an indicator of the health of ourselves.
Whenever I am meeting with someone that is going through a relational struggle, I always try to bring it back to the person I am talking with. There is not much in life that we can control, but when it comes to ourselves, we do have a choice in what we do, think, say and believe.
For someone that has a broken relationship, it always starts with yourself. It is easy to look at those around you and blame their behavior, attitude or hurtful actions for why things are so bad. Yet that will never resolve the issue or change the circumstances. It always starts in your own heart. It starts with your own character. Your character is who you really are. It will reflect how much you accomplish in life and how well you love yourself and others.
Your character is the internal script that you follow in response to conflict, mistreatment, pain and even success. When that script is focused on yourself and preserving or getting what you want, the actions that follow will usually dig the hole even deeper or add fuel to the fire. Part of our character is the defense mechanism’s we have developed over the years in dealing with conflict and pain. It might be sarcasm, humor, withdrawing/silent treatment, yelling/escalating or even going into fix it mode.
Changing that internal script is hard work, yet it is the only way to work through a relational crisis. It starts by taking personal responsibility for what you contributed and how you have reacted. Then it involves the hard work of self-actualization, seeing yourself, your reactions, your character and your beliefs and where you are off course. This is hard work and will take the help of God and other people. It means being humble enough to ask for help and to admit your mistakes. When you get on your knees and ask God to change your heart and character, that is when the rough edges start to get smoothed out. It will take time, perseverance, patience and practice, but you can change.
Working on yourself is one of the most productive things you can do in order to be successful in life. Take the time and energy to get healthy emotionally, to work through the hurts and hang-ups from your past. Take time to grow in your faith and connect more with God and involve him in every area of your life. Take time to build trust with yourself and others and work on relational skills like listening, asking questions, asking for and extending forgiveness.
The best thing you can do for any relationship in your life is to be healthy emotionally, spiritually, relationally and physically. In a relational crisis the way in which you respond will either add fuel to the fire or add water to the fire. How you respond is a reflection of your character. The choice is always yours.
Communication is one of the most important skills a leader has. The ability to clearly communicate with the people around you is vital to the success of any business, marriage or relationship.
Here are a few ideas on how to improve as a communicator. Do these these things consistently and your relationships will improve.
– understand your listeners frame of reference – this is important because everyone has a different filter. They have different experiences, personalities, hurts and hang-ups. So you need to think about how they might view what you are saying, not from your perspective but theirs.
– know the facts and the truth about the topic – focusing on the facts and truth can help take the emotion out of it. It also will help your listener understand the why behind your message.
– shed light on the issue – you need to clearly explain why this issue is important to your listener.
– get their full attention – you must know the best time to have the talk. Only address important issues when you have someone’s full attention. You might need to make a statement or ask a question that will get their attention. Never use negative tactics like sarcasm or yelling or swearing.
– use word pictures or stories – people remember pictures and stories much better than words. Try to use a story to bring clarity to what you are communicating and why you are feeling a certain way.
– focus on the real issues – it takes work to figure out the real issues that are driving someone’s behavior. Asking questions to try to understand the real issue is important, but you must listen without reacting or challenging them as they answer. Patiently ask clarify questions and even repeat back what they said.
– finally, be interactive – what I mean by that is don’t lecture someone, make it more of a conversation. When you listen before you speak, you send the message to the other person that you care about them. If things begin to escalate stop, take a deep breath and ask a clarifying question. If you cant do that, then you need a break until you or the other person are in a better place to talk.
Communication is something we do every day. If we don’t work at it and improve the way we communicate all of our relationships will suffer. If this is an area of struggle find someone to coach you, it will be well worth the effort.
Marriage is a very challenging yet rewarding relationship. I’ve been married now for 24 years and I’m still learning, making mistakes and trying to grow and get better at being a husband. I think a lot of people enter marriage thinking that this relationship will make me happy. That is a dangerous mindset entering marriage. Oh there will be times of great happiness, but there will also be times of sorrow, anger, disappointment and conflict.
All healthy relationships are messy and hard at times. Gary Thomas said this in his book Sacred Marriage, “God intended marriage not to make you happy, but to make you holy”. That is so true if you are a Christian. God uses the relationships in our lives to shape and mold our character. Each of us has a choice in the matter. Do we view marriage as a place to get my needs met, or where I become more like Christ?
Marriage is not primarily about feeling happy everyday. It’s not about getting what you deserve or getting the sex you want. Marriage is a lifelong training ground to knock off the rough edges and reform your selfish nature in order to make you holy. The cool thing is when you become more holy you become more happy.
Marriage is about commitment, giving, serving, forgiving, sacrificing and humbling yourself. That doesn’t sound like a lot of fun, but marriage is also about intimacy. The healthiest marriages have 3 kinds of intimacy: Spiritual, emotional and physical. When all 3 of those areas are healthy and growing there is usually a good bit of happiness as well. However to be healthy and growing in those areas, you must be committed, giving, serving, forgiving and sacrificing.
Knowing how to love your spouse is also a learning experience. Knowing, understanding and applying the 5 love languages that Gary Chapman lays out in his book The Five Love Languages is vital to a long healthy marriage. If you don’t know them, then get the book and read it.
If you want a better marriage it will take some work like reading a book or ten, going to see a counselor and actually being open and honest. It might mean learning new ideas and changing old mind sets about marriage. It might mean learning what your fear buttons are and how that triggers your unhealthy responses. It might means asking for forgiveness or extending forgiveness.
The point is you must work on yourself in order to improve any relationship. The more you focus on yourself and your own issues the better your relationship will get. When you also include God in the process you can transform any marriage or any relationship no matter how damaged it may be.
Love always trusts, always hopes, always remains strong.
I have been studying a workbook called “How People Change” by Timothy Lane and Paul David Tripp with a group of people. This is the material we use to prepare mentors for ministry at NewPointe Community Church. The material is great but the conversations we have is even better. We finished up last night and everyone in the group agreed they had grown a lot and experienced a sense of community with the other people.
Here are some quotes that really stood out in this last session:
“God does more than deliver us from the Heat (hardships of life), he delivers us from ourselves so that we can stand up under the heat and not merely survive but bear good fruit. Under the pressure of family difficulty, love can grow. Under the heat of unappreciated sacrifice, perseverance grow. In the middle of suffering, peace and sturdy faith can blossom. In the midst of want, giving can grow where thorns of greed and selfishness once lived. Under the heat of life in a fallen world, new and surprising fruit can and does grow.”
That is some amazing insight. That God does some of the most incredible work in our lives in the midst of the most difficult times. We all face challenges, hardship, struggle and even celebration moments. That is part of life in this world. Keeping God in the center of our lives during these times allows him to work deep within us. Only when our hearts are changed will our behavior and responses change. So if you are in the middle of a great struggle, look inside your own heart and ask God to do a work there.
Here is another great quote: “We all know that sin causes us to be more committed to ourselves than anything else. It causes us to love ourselves more than anything else. Sin makes us self-centered and self-indulgent as we give in to desires of the sinful nature and feed its cravings. Such selfish living destroys relationships and harms people. Our chief problem in relationships is not the fallen world we live in, but the fact that we ourselves are deeply self-centered and have trouble loving one another.”
Wow, that is very convicting. This speaks to the importance of understanding our human nature and how much we need God to transform our hearts. Only when we surrender to God and allow the Holy Spirit to flow inside our hearts can we change all of that. Our relationship suffer when we allow self-centered behavior or thinking to rule.
It is important to remember that Jesus asked us to follow him. He didn’t say follow these rules or go and do these certain things. He said simply follow me no matter where you are at. If you stumble and fall, Jesus waits for us to get up and continue following him. God has provided the Holy Spirit to help us follow him and help us get back up when we fall. If you want to change, it starts in your heart.
We all have things that set us off. I like to refer to them as our buttons, and when pushed we respond. Our response tends to be some sort of a defense mechanism. Think about the last time you really got tee’d off. You could feel the blood rushing to your head and that weird feeling in your stomach. Then you either said something sarcastic, funny or hurtful, or maybe you raised your voice. Others may have calmly explained how wrong the other person was or defend our actions and some go silent.
All of those behaviors are unhealthy and lead to increased conflict. As we grow up, we learn how to handle things that hurt us or make us mad. Nearly all of us have learned the wrong way of doing this. Unfortunately we all had bad examples growing up and of course we have a sinful nature.
So where do these button come from? Why do I get so mad at some things and other things don’t seem to bother me? Again we have to look back in order to understand. We all have core fears that have been ingrained in us from past life experience. Things like rejection, failure, being ignored, being misunderstood, being abused, being humiliated or neglected. All of those things shape the fears inside us.
When we experience a situation that brings up a similar emotion or feeling that fear button gets tapped and we are off to the races. By the time we realize it, it is often too late, we have turned around and pushed the other persons button as well and we are in the midst of full blown conflict.
So how do we overcome this all too familiar pattern? Here are a few ideas:
* First you need to find out what your core fear is. I highly recommend the book called the DNA of Relationships by Gary Smalley. He has a test in the back of the book to help you discover your core fears.
* Once you have identified what sets you off, start praying for God to help you in that area. Ask for courage to see it coming and to respond in a better way. Also talk to a trusted friend or mentor about it and ask them to pray as well, and ask you how you are progressing in changing.
* Start asking yourself why am I so mad about this? A simple question like that can help to think more rationally and not emotionally.
* Awareness and accountability are important, yet without some action not much will change. Learning new behaviors takes hard work and practice. having the humility to go get help is very important when making big shifts in behavior. Go see a counselor, life coach or pastor to help work through these changes.
So here is the bottom line. If you want to have healthy, thriving relationships in your life you will need to understand your buttons and learn how to respond in a healthy way when they are pushed.
What does a Healthy Marriage Look Like?
To be healthy in any area of our lives, it takes work and being intentional. If you want to get healthy physically you need to eat right and exercise. This does not mean perfect but healthy. When one area of our lives is out of whack or unhealthy it affects all the other areas of our lives. When we are struggling financially, it causes stress on our relationships and work. When we are struggling with a relationship with our spouse or children, it causes us to be distracted, unfocused and can even affect our work performance and work relationships. Many times we try to compartmentalize our work, our family, our faith and our person time, but the reality is that they all affect each other either in a positive healthy way or a negative unhealthy way.
Marriage is one of the most difficult relationships we will ever have in our lives. I believe marriage is hard work, because we all struggle with selfishness and unhealthy views of what marriage should or shouldn’t be. Many times we have learned about marriage from our parents, from television or the movies or from other people we see from a distance. Many of the things we have learned are not healthy. The way in which we handle conflict; the way we communicate; the way we approach sex; the way in which we parent; the way in which we handle our finances; the way in which we handle extended family issues; the way in which we do household chores.
What I want to share with you today are some of the best practices I have learned over the 23 years of my own marriage and also what I have learned as a pastor over the last 10 plus years in meeting with couples.
1. Understand & Speak the right Love Language
2. Recognize & Stop the Fear Dance or Crazy Cycle
3. Understand & Nurture the three types of intimacy needed in marriage
4. Understand & Improve the way in which you communicate
5. Understand How Powerful Forgiveness is – Every relationship has to practice forgiveness.
These five practices are vital to having a healthy marriage, but it takes work and practice. It also takes humility to admit that you need to make a change and do things differently in order to improve you marriage. Sometimes it takes working with a counselor or mentor in order to make the necessary adjustments and changes. The good news is that your marriage can change and improve and be healthy and all the work is worth it. Remember that you cannot control your spouse and what he or she does, but you can control what you do.
How we ask for forgiveness is critical. I don’t know of any relationship that has lasted very long that has not had to practice forgiveness. This is the key ingredient that makes all the difference. Unhealthy relationships lack true forgiveness. Old problems and conflict are brought up on a regular basis and used to hurt the other person. I will be writing several posts in the coming weeks on this idea of forgiveness.
If I accidentally spill a cup of coffee on you, I have not sinned against you, so I do not need to ask for forgiveness. But I should apologize for what I have done. On the other hand, if I throw a cup of coffee in your face, I have sinned against you. I need to ask you to forgive me.
So, is an apology the same as asking for forgiveness? No. The right way to go about asking for forgiveness is to first name the specific sin, and then explicitly asking the person for forgiveness: “I was wrong for yelling at you and using that language with you. Will you forgive me?” I named the sin and asked for forgiveness. If I would have said, “I am sorry for yelling at you,” and stop there, the typical response from the offended person is, “Oh that’s okay,” or “it’s no big deal.” What has happened there is the offender has not admitted to sinning against the other person. Secondly, the offended person has lied by minimizing the sin. It is not okay for someone to sin against another person. This is not the way to healthy relationships.
So the key is recognizing and admitting when we sin against another person. When you admit your mistake openly and ask for forgiveness for that offense it now puts it into the other persons court to make a decision. Either I choose to forgive that person or not. I may not be ready in that moment to forgive if it was a deep hurt or has been a long term thing. I should consider if the person is trustworthy and sincere. Even if they are not totally sincere or trustworthy, it is still my decision to hold onto the hurt or release it by forgiving the person. Unforgiveness is the root of most anger issues and will destroy your relationships. Choosing to forgive is the beginning of healing and wholeness.
Next time I will talk about why we don’t forgive.
This past weekend we opened a brand new facility in Millersburg Ohio after meeting in a High School for three years. I am grateful for all the sacrifice and work that went into making that happen. It took a lot of people working together to accomplish what happened on Sunday. This marks the beginning of another phase in the life of NewPointe Community Church, as we reach out to the Holmes County community through the Millersburg Campus.
I have been a part of NewPointe for 10 years and have enjoyed the journey. It has been challenging, fun, hard, fulfilling and significant for me. As I think about the church, it is way more than building a new building. There is so much that goes into a healthy growing church. So here are some reasons why I love my church:
I Love that NewPointe Community Church:
Our vision is to lead people into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. That is why we exist and that is why we open the doors every day.
Relationships are so important and yet they are also so challenging. When you think about it relationships are what matter most in life because that is what people will remember. I have been doing a lot of funerals lately and am always reminded that none of know how long we have or how old we really are. That is why it is so important to make sure that we are working on the relationships in our lives. Checking our priorities to make sure we are actually putting things like family, spouse, children, friends and God at the top of the list. The real test is what we actually do, not what we say. That is where the real work comes in, putting effort into the important relationships.
Here are several principles that will improve all your relationships if applied:
- Don’t bury the problem or the pain it’s causing you.
- Don’t use inflammatory remarks, sarcasm, or name-calling. Don’t generalize or exaggerate.
- Don’t let the conflict broaden to other issues.
- Never use ultimatums or threats.
- Don’t use disrespectful body language or demeaning nonverbal communication.
- Don’t interrupt, don’t raise your voice, don’t walk away or withdraw or hang up the phone in the middle of conflict.
- Do take time out to regain your composure.
- Do prepare for the confrontation before you engage in it.
- Do ask for advice on what you can do to help resolve the problem.
- Do use many encouraging and positive statements.
- When possible, reassure the person of your ongoing commitment to them and your desire to strengthen and build the relationship.
I could keep going, but those are some of the best things we can do to improve any relationship that is important to us. Keep working at it, it is worth the effort. A healthy happy relationship will bring great joy and peace into your life.