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
- Fill your spouse’s Love Tank or Bank Account by practicing the right love language
- Words of Affirmation
- Quality Time
- Receiving Gifts
- Acts of Service
- Physical Touch
2. Recognize & Stop the Fear Dance or Crazy Cycle
- The Dance – I hurt, I want things to be different, My core Fear is touched, I react in an unhealthy way, My spouse is hurt, they want things to change, their core fear is tapped, they react in an unhealthy way, you are hurt even more.
- The Crazy cycle – I feel disrespected, I react in an unhealthy way, She feels unloved, she reacts in an unhealthy way, we both are hurt.
- Identifying your core fear, helps you to stop the crazy cycle
- My story – I was in the Kitchen fixing a salad, my wife say’s “leave everything out for me, so I can fix a salad as well.” When I was finished with my salad I start putting lids on, she says didn’t you listen to me I told you to leave it out (sarcastic), I immediately get defensive and start explaining what I was doing, she says, “well you don’t have to yell at me”, I say, “I am not yelling!” – We just did the fear dance and the crazy cycle. I felt disrespected, she felt unloved, my core fear of being inadequate and a failure were pushed and her core fears of feeling invalidated, ignored & unimportant were touched. That is how quickly we fall into this unhealthy routine and it soon becomes a way of life.
3. Understand & Nurture the three types of intimacy needed in marriage
- Emotional intimacy – Friendship
- Spiritual intimacy – Deep Connection
- Physical intimacy – Need I say more
4. Understand & Improve the way in which you communicate
- Really Listening – Eye contact, positive body language, repeat back what you heard, ask questions
- Having the Floor – Allow the other person to have the floor and explain their position. You only ask questions and repeat back what you heard. Once the other person is satisfied that you heard them, you get the floor and repeat the process.
- Be interested not interesting – Spend 5 minutes within 5 feet of your spouse everyday
- Know Your Filter – men & women are very different. Your background, your experiences all are used to filter what you see and hear.
- Settle disagreements – don’t allow conflict to go unresolved for long periods of time
5. Understand How Powerful Forgiveness is – Every relationship has to practice forgiveness.
- It is not forgetting, but it is the first step toward forgetting
- Forgiveness trumps anger – unforgiveness breeds anger and bitterness
- Be quick to admit when you are wrong and ask and give forgiveness
- Don’t let arguments go unresolved – Are we OK?
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.
Most of us would agree that there are areas of our lives that are not where we want them to be. It might be a marriage relationship that has deteriorated or maybe a relationship with a son or daughter or parent that is unhealthy. Maybe we are not where we want to be in our professional lives. For some it could be emotional health, hurts from our past that are causing problems in our present lives. Many of us struggle to be where we want to be spiritually as well. So what holds us back from growing in these important areas of our lives? Why do so many people simple remain the same and maintain the status quo instead of growing and changing?
Here are some of the distractions that keep us from growing:
- Busyness – Being consumed in a rat-race to keep up and get things done does not allow us the margin to think deeply and focus on the important things. We keep adding things to our lives without stopping other things, so the list just gets bigger and longer.
- Comforts – Most people look for and desire comfort and when they find it they become trapped by it. Getting out of our comfort zone becomes more difficult the longer we stay there.
- Too Many Options – Today there are so many opportunities to learn and grow and change that we can sometime be confused by the wide range of options and opportunities. When we have too many options, we often choose nothing. This can also lead us to simply be busy because we choose to do too much.
- Insecurity – If we don’t really know who we are, how can we know what we are suited to do or where we should go.
- The Past – Issues not dealt with will hold us back, and this is often expressed through fear. Fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of being misunderstood, fear of being inadequate and hundreds of other fears. These fears pop up every time we experience something that connects us to our past hurts.
- Laziness – This is often what keeps us in our comfort zone.
- Secret Sin – This dulls our senses and blocks our ability to enjoy healthy emotions and relationships. It keeps us from the vision that God has for our lives and keeps us stuck in darkness and slaves to sin.
One or more of these may be keeping you from growing and making progress in certain areas of your life. In order to move forward it takes a decision to face these things head on by first acknowledging the problem and then developing a plan to make a change.
I love to spend time planning this time of year. It is a great time to evaluate where we are at in all the important areas of our lives. If there is an area we are not happy with, we can begin to focus on how to make a change in that area. It might mean getting help from someone that has been through what you are dealing with or taking a risk to try something new or different. The important thing is to acknowledge that you do not want to remain the same and that you desire to grow. Then start praying and asking God to help make this happen. A year from now will you be the same person you are today or will you be in a new place spiritually, emotionally, physically, relationally and financially?
One of the keys to effective leadership is to empower the people that you lead. In a growing organization empowerment is a must, otherwise the leader becomes a bottleneck or a barrier within the organization. If the leader continues to block people instead build people, the people, especially the leaders will begin to leave. If you want to be a successful leader, you need to learn to empower people instead of trying to control people. I love this quote from Theodore Roosevelt “the best executive is one who has the sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and the self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it.” Empowering people is hard work, it takes a lot of self-restraint to not get involved with things when people want to do things a little different than what you would do.
Leaders that empower are able to lift people up. They work hard to add value to people and develop people and then empower them to do what they are asked to do. This is a skill set that can take some time to develop, but if you can do this well you will grow your organization in a healthy way. So how do you empower people?
- Believe the best about your people – This can be the hardest part if you are naturally skeptical about people. If you find it hard to believe the best about people you might need to deal with your own insecurities and past hurts in order to move forward as a leader. Sure there have been people that have let you down and hurt you, but that does not mean that the next person will do that. It all starts with trusting that the people you are leading have huge potential.
- By believing in people you build their self-esteem – The greatest leaders draw out the best in the people they lead. Many times the people you are leading don’t realize what they are capable of doing. As the leader it is your responsibility to know the strengths and weaknesses of your team and place people where they can use their strengths on a regular basis. Once they are in that right place you can empower them by giving them authority to make decisions without having to always check in with you.
- Keep growing yourself – A leader that is not growing will not empower others. The more you grow the more you can give away. Personal growth helps you to become more secure as as a leader and allows you to be able to invest more in the people you lead. Leaders that are teachable and humble realize they don’t know it all and are willing to allow others to contribute to the team.
- Endorse people in public – To empower people it is necessary for others to know that you are endorsing them and believe in them. Give them praise in public and let others know that they have authority. Bring to light their strengths and acknowledge their contribution to the team. When they make mistakes talk to them in private and coach them to learn and improve.
- Invest in people – What I mean by that is you must do more than believe in someone in order to empower them. You need to take steps to help them become the leaders they have the potential to be. This requires your energy and time. Spend time pouring what you know into them and by learning about what makes them tick. This can be done one-on-one and in groups. I often do book studies with people that have potential. I also meet with people one-on-one to get to know them and to let them get to know me. Another way I invest in people is by giving them tests. I give them a project to work on and see how they do with it. As I get to know the person I can quickly determine if they are in the right place on the team and how much I can trust them. The more potential someone has, the more time I give them, not micro-managing them, but listening, encouraging and coaching them.
- Lastly, be clear – It is vital that the people you empower know the outcome you are looking for. The method they use may be different that you would take, but the outcome is what you are concerned with. Establishing clear Key Results Areas or Objectives is vital to healthy empowerment. It means putting it in writing and then reviewing it with them along the way. If you take the time upfront to establish clear direction and objectives it empowers the person to focus on what is important.
So who do you need to empower? Who do you need to believe the best about? What is your plan to grow yourself? Do you have a plan to develop others? Who do you need to spend more time with? What can you give away? Are you clear about what you want to accomplish as an organization?
When we talk about health most of us think about our physical health. That is an important thing and I try to take that seriously by eating healthy and exercising. Emotional and spiritual health is something we don’t think about or talk about as much. I believe that they are even more important than physical health because they contribute to physical health. When we are unhealthy emotionally or spiritually it can actually contribute to physical problems because of the unhealthy beliefs and thinking that contribute to the emotional state we are in. So how do we get a handle on how healthy we are emotionally.
One of the biggest indicators of emotional health is the level of trust a person has. The dysfunction of mistrust hurts relationships, marriages, work environments, churches, families and even entire countries. Mistrust and control often go hand in hand. At its core control comes from not trusting others to make healthy and wise choices. Mistrust is often present when there is not proper clarity and when boundaries are not defined. When their is a lack of communication people begin to mistrust. Here are some things that create a culture of mistrust, either at home or at work:
- Approaching people from the beginning with an attitude of mistrust. Many people have a built-in attitude of mistrust. This attitude says, “I will not trust you until you prove that I can trust you.” That is the reverse of what a healthy person would think. This attitude often is the result of being hurt in the past and therefore guarding against that ever happening again.
- Believing something to be true when you don’t have all the facts. In other words assuming things that turn out to be false or untrue. This happens when you don’t ask questions and dig for the truth. It also happens when you automatically think the worst instead of believe the best.
- Believing what someone says without hearing the other side of the story or knowing all the facts.
Healthy people don’t draw conclusions without doing due diligence.
So how do you build trust? How do you change a culture in a home, church or workplace that has mistrust?
- Choose to trust unless you are given a reason not to.
- Assume that motives are right even when you disagree.
- Be proactive in clarifying issues rather than assuming something to be true.
Finally here are some trust building principles that will help transform your relationships at home and at work.
- Choose to Trust – Choose to trust people unless they give you a reason not to. When trust is broken make the effort to let that person know how trust can be re-established.
- Be up-front and candid – Tell people what you are thinking and don’t hope they pick up on your hints. Tell people what your expectations are and be clear about what you are thinking and why.
- Keep your Promises – Do what you say you will do and be honest when you know you can’t.
- Act Consistently – Your life needs to match your words. You need to be consistent in how you treat people, how you express love to people and how you handle conflict.
- Listen Carefully – This will transform your relationships because it will help to cut down on misunderstandings. To listen well you need to ask clarifying questions, repeat back what the person said, honestly consider peoples opinions and suggestions and even change your mind if they have a better idea. Seek first to understand and then to be understood.
- Caring for People – Be genuine and treat people the way you would want to be treated. Care about them as a whole person not just for how they can help you. No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.
- Be Self-Disclosing -Be quick to admit your own weaknesses and when you have made a mistake. Share your story with people in appropriate ways. For people you are close with open up and share the good the bad and the ugly. If you are hiding something, it eventually comes out in your behavior.
- Empower people don’t control – Give people the freedom to do what they are responsible to do. Allow them to make mistakes and coach when necessary. In a marriage relationship this means allowing your spouse to have other friends and activities they enjoy. Clarify your desires and vision for your marriage. Speak their love language without expecting them to speak yours. Don’t give in order to get.
- Clarify, don’t Assume – Always believe the best instead of assuming the worst. When he is late again, believe that he had a busy day and something unexpected came up instead of assuming he intentionally worked late to make you mad.
Healthy people trust, unhealthy people mistrust. It is the same way spiritually. Healthy people trust God completely and believe He will do what he says He will do. I encourage you to get healthy, take a risk and start trusting more.