Wrapping Up the Year

Posted on December 20, 2017


“I guess you wonder where I’ve been. I search to find the love within.”  Bobby Caldwell

“You can bend my ear.  We can talk all day.  Just make sure I’m around when you finally have something to say.”  Toad the Wet Sprocket

“You can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar.”  Ruth Wood

“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”  Romans 12:18

“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” Proverbs 27:17

“For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” 1 Cor. 13:12

“And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”  Lennon/McCartney

My wife and I were out with some longtime friends on Saturday, one of whom was the best man at our wedding.  I particularly enjoy that we get each other’s jokes (and think they are funny[1]).  It is a wonderful blessing to have people who are constants in your life and who really get you.  My friend had mentioned that he had written a couple of blog posts that day and that he had not seen any posts from me in quite a while.  That is largely because I haven’t written any.

My dad used to say that he thought writing a comic strip would be easy for about the first six weeks and then it would get hard.  At the time, the word “blog” did not exist, but I would assert that the same concept applies here.  After 6 years and a couple hundred posts, I have told you most of what I had to say.  The remainder needs a little softening so it doesn’t come off as a rant.  One of the dangers of print is that you lose a large part of communication.  Hence, I generally counsel couples to not have important conversations by text message.  But I digress.

Coming up on Christmas as we stand at yet “another sun-dappled crossroads[2],” here’s what I know.  1) Life is great when you have close, safe relationships.  2) You can’t control your partner; you can only control you.  3) You do what you do for a reason, even when it isn’t getting you what you want.  4) If you change your steps in the dance, the impact on the relationship can be transformative.  5) You can change.  If I did not truly believe that people are capable of change, I would be in a different line of work.[3]  So let me save you a bunch of money on therapy or attorneys[4].

Be kind.  If you get this one right, largely everything works out pretty well.  Being nice is a big part of this, but it isn’t the whole story.  Kindness means acting and speaking in a way that communicates love and caring to your partner.  If you need some practical help with this, try out Shaunti Feldhahn’s Kindness Challenge, https://shaunti.com/tb-books/the-kindness-challenge/.[5]  On rare occasions, I have seen couples come to therapy who are fairly nice to each other.  I have never seen a couple show up where they were consistently kind to each other. Hopefully, they are when we finish.

Now if you are thinking that the problem is that your partner is not kind to you, you are missing the point.[6]  You can’t control your partner.  Let’s take a tip from scripture.  Whenever scripture talks about husbands and wives (e.g. Colossians 3, Ephesians 5, 1 Peter 3, Titus 2), the direction to husbands is always what husbands need to do and to wives what wives need to do.  Not vice versa.  You are not accountable for whether or not your partner is a good mate.  You are for whether or not you are.   So be a great spouse.

Kindness does not mean giving up your voice in the relationship.  Responses to any situation need not be binary.  There is a whole range of responses besides “Yes, dear” or “NFW[7].”  Decision making for the team does not have to be somebody wins and somebody loses.

In close relationships, we are all somewhere on a continuum between looking at you and me as individuals and viewing us as a team.  There is danger in the extremes.  If everything is about each of us as individuals, it really isn’t a marriage.  Marriage inherently is about us winning as a team.  If what I think is good for me is bad for you, then it is a problem.  I ought not do it.  We ought not do it.  The other problematic extreme is in giving up one’s individual identity.  If I don’t exist apart my role in this relationship, that is not a healthy place to be either.  Having said that, the former is a much more common problem than the latter.

Getting back to how we make decisions, if one of us is really not on board with a course of action, we need to keep talking about it.  We, Christians, can be really good at spiritualizing what we want to do.  E.g. “I feel called to do ____.”  Or “I prayed about it, and the word I got was ____.”  I do not want to discount or disregard the working of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers.  I do think it takes wise discernment to differentiate 1) the prompting of the Holy Spirit, from 2) the desires of my own heart and mind, or 3) a prompting from something or someone other than God.  The first test is that whatever prompting you get from the Holy Spirit will be consistent with scripture.  E.g.  The Spirit generally does not bestow the spiritual gift of spousal abandonment.  Second, if the word God spoke to you is substantially different from the word your mate received, the two of you really need to examine that together.[8]

Before I leave this topic, let’s talk about accepting your partner’s influence.  One of the things that separates the master of relationship from the disasters[9] is that the masters of relationship accept their partner’s influence.  If your partner does not feel like he/she has a voice in the relationship, it is damaging to the relationship.  Believe me when I tell you that you are not the keeper of all wisdom in the relationship.  Your partner brings something to the table as well.  It is hard to realize the experience of secure attachment if one of you does not feel their opinion is valued.

Secure attachment.  Let me get back to basics.  Human beings are made for relationship with other human beings.  From cradle to grave we need someone we can turn to for care, comfort, and support in times of stress and distress.  At your wedding, somebody[10] read from 1 Corinthians 13: 4-7.  You know how it goes, “Love is patient. Love is kind, etc…”  What they didn’t read was the rest of the chapter.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.  For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.  And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

A few observations are in order.  First, this was originally written in Greek.  The word that is translated love is agape.  Agape is an unmerited self-giving love.  A former pastor of mine used to assert that love was not something you feel, but something you do.  That seems a reasonable assertion when we are talking about agape love.  Second, Paul seems to be asserting that as we mature (become an adult and put childhood behind us), we should be growing in our capacity for agape.

Third, Paul transitions to talking about our future in heaven.  His description of this is “I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”  This is a description of intimacy.  It is secure connection.  It is vulnerability.  I can allow myself to fully know and be known.  Here is my assertion.  Secure connection, true intimacy in marriage is a foretaste of heaven.  The benefits to our physical, mental, and emotional health are well documented by research.  Fourth, when everything is said and done, love is what lasts.

If you can learn to and choose to love your partner, not for your benefit, but truly as an act of agape, your life will be better for it.  Your partner’s life will be better for it.  Your children’s lives will be better for it.

Wishing you a wonderful Christmas.

[1] I am usually doing well if someone realizes I have made a joke.  It is bonus if they get the joke, and a further bonus if they think it is funny.  I am hilariously funny, but it is generally a well-kept secret.

[2] I think it was from the liner notes of an early Rod Stewart record.

[3] There is an old joke about how many therapists it takes to change a lightbulb.  It only takes one, but the bulb really has to want to change.

[4] Alimony, two households, health care, antidepressants, etc.  I am not making this up.  The data supports it.

[5] A client who tried this recently told me after a couple of days that they were “two of the best days I’ve had.”

[6] We can talk about boundaries and how to ask for your needs to be met in another post.

[7] Meaning “absolutely not.”

[8] Even though you are much more spiritual than your partner.  I get that a lot.

[9] Based upon research from John & Julie Gottman

[10] Probably the friend that just missed the cut to be in the wedding party.