Life, Marriage, Relationships

Lead Us Not Into Temptation

Candies by Daniel Horacio Agostini on flickr

Ah, that delicious feeling of falling in love… Isn’t it wonderful?!  The thrill of being noticed, the discovery of common interests and mutual affection – even the delight in your differences!  Your passions are ignited; you just can’t get enough of each other – you want to spend all your time with one another, to know each other’s every thought, to share all your hopes and dreams…

There’s nothing else quite like falling in love.

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There has been a lot of talk about infidelity with the recent Ashley Madison scandal.  For those out of the news loop, Ashley Madison is (was?) a website dedicated to the arrangement of extra-marital affairs – a ‘hook-up’ site for married people.  That such an organization existed was news to me; I was shocked that there was a company dedicated to orchestrating infidelity.  Worse still, it seems to have been a thriving business.

There are those who argue that humans just aren’t meant to be monogamous; marriage, to these people, is a social construct – and one which contravenes our very nature.  To proponents of this theory, the marriage relationship has little to no merit.  With all due respect (kind of), I’m going to dismiss this theory as disillusionist propaganda – the philosophy of those so jaded by their experience of dysfunctional relationships that they are closed to the possibility of a healthy and fulfilling union.

I’m writing with the belief that marriage is indeed something special.  As one definition puts it:

Marriage, also called matrimony or wedlock, is a socially or ritually recognized union or legal contract between spouses that establishes rights and obligations between them, between them and their children, and between them and their in-laws.

It is, at its essence, a monogamous relationship; maintaining and protecting the sanctity of that relationship is one of the ‘obligations’ mentioned in the definition above.  And, far from being restrictive (which is the argument of marriage’s many detractors), the bonds of matrimony provide those within their confines with the freedom to love one another liberally and without restraint.

But what about when that sanctity is destroyed?  Infidelity is a betrayal of that sacred trust we bestow upon our spouse when we exchange marriage vows.  As I’ve discussed in the past, this betrayal also reaches beyond the couple themselves into the extended family and society as a whole.

I don’t think that many people set out to become unfaithful.  Well perhaps I should say that, aside from the multitude of Ashley Madison subscribers, I don’t think that married people who end up having affairs do so because they’ve intended to do so.  I do think that those who end up having affairs often do so because they haven’t been intentional enough about NOT being unfaithful.

There are plenty of people who simply don’t know that they need to be on their guard against temptation.  In fact, if you talk about the concept of temptation amongst your group of friends you will probably find that the discussion revolves around the temptation to eat too many treats, or the temptation to be a bit ‘naughty’ with spending or reckless in our use of time.  Rarely do we treat the issue of temptation with the seriousness it truly merits, because temptation – not only the urge to indulge in the vices of gluttony and sloth, but also sexual temptation – has the potential to destroy lives.

So – if we agree that temptation is a risk, and that falling prey to that temptation can have damnable results, we need to look at how to guard ourselves against it.

First, we need to understand that temptation isn’t a physical thing.  It’s not just acting on temptation that’s a problem; we need to cut it off at its source.  Keeping our thought-life in check is our first line of defense.

But there’s no harm in just thinking something!, you might say.  Have you ever heard the legal term ‘malice aforethought’?  This term is particular to culpability in cases of grievous injury or murder – but the same idea applies here.  Thinking about something is often the first step to doing it; as the Bible says, “from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries” (Mark 7:21).  In other words, our thoughts give birth to our actions.

What this means in real life is this: don’t indulge in fantasies about men other than your spouse.  Don’t allow yourself the train of thought, “What would it be like to live with that guy?” or “What if I’d married that boyfriend?”*.  Once again the Ten Commandments come into play – “you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife” (Exodus 20:17) and “you shall not commit adultery” (Jesus said, “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”)

Fantasizing about someone (other than your spouse) is a sin against that person.  If that idea doesn’t sit comfortably with you, let me ask you this, “Would you think it was OK for some guy – let’s imagine for a second that he’s NOT someone you find at all appealing – to indulge in sexual fantasies about you on a regular basis?”  No, right?  Kind of gross – kind of creepy.  That’s because he’s assuming a relationship with you to which you haven’t consented.  And if you’re getting all hot and bothered about someone (other than your husband) YOU find attractive, and indulging in fantasies about him, you’re kind of being like that creep.  Sorry!

We need to guard our thoughts if we are to avoid falling into temptation.

Secondly, we need to guard our eyes.  We don’t literally need to wear blinkers; figuratively, though, blinkers are a good idea.  What that means is that, although we’re able to see what we need to see, we decide what to look at and we opt out of looking at things that ‘lead us into temptation’.

Let me be clear about this: God created beauty.  He made our bodies to be things of beauty (our own insecurities notwithstanding), and there’s nothing shameful about the attractive nature of our design. God created the world to be a sensuous place – full of texture and appeal to delight all our senses.  God created love, too – and in this, too, there are textures and shades.  There’s unconditional (agape) love, familial (storge) love, filial (phileo) love, and eros.  Eros, or romantic love, is to be reserved for our spouse.  Job, described in the Bible as ‘blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil’, said, “I have made a covenant with my eyes; How then could I gaze at a virgin?” (Job 31:1)

Guarding our eyes means not ogling that guy’s six-pack in the underwear ad.  It means not turning our head to gaze for longer at a good-looking dude as we drive by.  It means not indulging in movies or magazines or other media that show gratuitous nudity.  Pornography, in particular, is damaging to our sexuality.   Looking away from these things is as much about protecting our own sense of sensuality in our marriage as it is about honouring our spouses.  West is very good about keeping those blinkers on, but I tease him a bit – we’ll be driving down the road past a pretty girl, and I’ll turn in the passenger seat and just stare at him, watching to see his reaction, until he laughs.  Sometimes he hasn’t even seen anything, and he has to ask, “What did I miss??” But it’s a joke between us, really, because he has never caused me to feel jealous by gawking at other women.

We need to be prepared to look away from temptations.

 

Third, we should be wary of our actions.  So maybe you’re a touchy-feely kind of girl – I’m pretty physically demonstrative, so I can relate – and you think there’s no harm in giving your workmate (‘he’s more like a brother…’) a shoulder-rub, or you naturally reach out and squeeze the arm of a guy-friend as you walk by…  And in a way you’d be right: there’s nothing wrong with showing physical affection for others – even others of the opposite sex – but you’d better be careful that your gesture of affection isn’t interpreted as something else (something more).  And you’d better be sure that it doesn’t turn into something more.

Can I just say here that I do have very close, beloved male friends – and I am not trying to make the case that ‘guys and girls just can’t be platonic friends’, because that’s just rubbish.  What I am saying is that I’m careful about how I behave with them – no flirting, no innuendo, no coquettish brushing against them.  In the Bible it says, “Abstain from all appearance of evil” – so I don’t give my male friends – or my husband – any cause to wonder if I might feel something more for them.

We have to guard ourselves physically.

This might seem like a post full of ‘do nots’; let’s move on, then, to some more proactive stuff.  Avoiding temptation also involves some decisive action.

We need to focus on our own spouse.  We should avoid fantasizing about others, but we should indulge in a healthy thought-life about our spouseWe should think good things about them.  We should bask in delightful memories of our love and use our imaginations to enhance future interactions with our spouse.  We should be mindful in how we talk to them and we should be intentional about appreciating them.

We need to look away from other tempting sights, but we should have our eyes open to the appeals of the one to whom we’re married.

We have to be careful that we don’t send others the wrong signals with our physical contact; we also have to be careful to send the right signals to our spouse.  We should nurture our physical relationship and not take our closeness for granted.

Sometimes, when we’ve been married for a while and we sometimes feel like just another part of the furniture, we can be taken by surprise when temptation jumps out at us.  Sometimes we underestimate our ability to attract the attention of the opposite sex; and when someone notices us it’s a pleasant surprise.  But we have to guard ourselves against trading our sacred contract for a momentary thrill.

One of the best ways to guard yourself from succumbing to the temptation of new love is to hold a deep and abiding belief in the unique pleasure we enjoy in having a mature love.  Believing in the special nature of marital longevity and believing in the virtue of fidelity (and the sanctity of marriage) will go a long way to fending off temptation.  Think about all your inside-jokes as a couple, your shared history, your unique bond.  A marriage that has stood the test of time is a very, very special thing.  Don’t trade that for anything.

Finally, we should be both on our guard against temptation and willing to flee from temptation.  Joseph (of the Technicolour Dreamcoat) literally fled the advances of his boss’s amorous wife.  Indeed, turning away from temptation and running in the opposite direction is the biblical way:

Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body.

(1 Corinthians 6:18)

 Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.

(2 Timothy 2:22)

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On my run the other day, I was tired.  I felt weak.  All I really wanted to do was find a shortcut and head home – but I knew that I had further to go.  As I approached my own street on the circuit, I crossed the road away from it.  Physically moving myself further away from the path home was remarkably effective; I was able to focus on the road ahead and I was no longer tempted to curtail my progress.

Don’t be afraid to take evasive manoeuvres in avoiding temptation.  Politely remove yourself from the company of someone who insists on flirting with you.  Disengage yourself from discussions in which someone of the opposite sex is unloading to you about the difficulties in their marriage (unless you are a minister or a marriage counsellor and listening to their trials in an official capacity – or if you as a couple are supporting them in their marriage).  Decline the offer of a car-ride from someone if it seems like there’s a frisson of desire there.

A surprising fallout from the 9/11 tragedy was the dissolution of the marriages of a number of New York firefighters.  The reason?  They left their wives for the widows of their fallen colleagues. Nobody suspected that something as seemingly innocent as supporting a grieving widow could have these unintended consequences for their marriages; it would have been wiser to have offered this support as a unit or a couple.  Maybe it seems old-fashioned, but it is not a good idea for a married man and a single woman to consistently spend time alone together (or a married woman with a single guy) – it can lead to a sense of intimacy and pull the married person away from his or her spouse.

It doesn’t matter if you feel foolish for being careful.  It doesn’t matter if you feel a bit rude for being firm about your boundaries.  ‘Abstain from all appearance of evil.’

There’s nothing like falling in love, true – but it’s no substitute for the love that’s stood the test of time.

How to Affair-Proof Your Marriage

  • Recognize temptation
  • Avoid temptation:
    • Guard your mind
    • Guard your eyes
    • Guard your actions
  • Keep your focus on your spouse
  • Believe in the importance of both fidelity and marital longevity

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*Further to this point: Imagining ‘what ifs’ is a fool’s game.  It’s bound to lead to unhappiness and disenchantment, especially when our marriage is going through a rough patch.  We have to remember, if everyone got divorced when they went through a phase of finding their spouse chronically frustrating and impossible to live with, there wouldn’t be any marriages that lasted longer than two or three years!  

PS Just a note to the guys reading this – apologies for writing from the female perspective instead of making it all even or neutral, but it just got too messy.  The same applies for you, though, as I’m sure you’ve figured out.  Thanks for reading!

-Trix

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Family Harmony, Life, Marriage, Relationships

‘Til Death Do Us Part (or until it gets boring…)

Boring by Cheryl Colan on flickr

I woke up this morning to a Pokemon transaction taking place on my right, a pocket-money negotiation on my left, and a nappy-clad wriggly bottom right. in. my. face.

It’s not glamourous, this parenting-of-small-children.  Don’t believe anyone who tells you it is (is there such a person?  I can’t imagine so.)

Just in that moment, though, surrounded as I was by all my special little people and flanked on the left by my one scruffy big one, I was perfectly content.  This is my life, I thought, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Married life, when you’ve got kids, is so often not wine and roses.  It is so often waking up at an unearthly hour next to a chronically unshaven spouse (prickly legs or prickly face – equally uninviting), to the indescribable noise and chaos of some cranky early risers doing battle in the next room.  So often it’s leaping out of bed into the cold when you’d rather snuggle into the duvet and curl closer to your hubby or wife; it’s rushing to stop the six-year-old from flooding the kitchen as he pours milk from the giant containers that take up too much space in your always-too-small fridge; it’s stepping into the shower to find that your ten-year-old has used up all the hot water; it’s tripping on toys or sliding on a book left on the floor and having nobody there to help you up because everyone’s busy and it’s not like in the movies when your other half is there to lift you lightly to your feet or mop your brow or rescue you.

It’s tough.  It’s gritty.  It is not romantic.

So many couples find, in fact, that as the dust settles after raising small kids – whether it be the slight release from the constant exhaustion of the parenting-babies stage or the final emptying of the nest as grown children set up their own homes – they are left depleted, scraped-out, and devoid of any semblance of the romance that first drew them together.

Others wake up, in the midst of a mundanity that they’d never imagined in their most pessimistic dreams, and discover that they’ve drifted into complacency about their relationship and it has grown stale.  Life as they know it has become Boring.

And it is at this point that the cheerleaders of the world start to offer their tuppenceworth, with the ‘wisdom’ of modern philosophy (i.e.. if it’s broken then throw it out):

You deserve better.

You deserve to be happy.

You need romance.

Couples whose relationship has become Boring realize that changes need to be made.  They decide that they deserve better.  They decide that they deserve to be happy.  They decide that they need romance. And so these couples make a big decision – to call it quits.

What’s important, says the world, is that you do what you need to do to make sure that you are happy.

As long as you end it first before starting another relationship, it’s just fine.

Kids are better off with happy single parents than unhappy married parents.

People change.  It’s not fair to expect someone to stay married to a spouse that’s so different from the one they married.

You’ve heard all those before, right?  Sometimes you’ll even hear celebrities marketing these philosophies.  Undoubtedly you’ve heard friends or relatives speaking in this way about a marriage that has gone sour.

We throw away a life together with the same careless abandon we’d display in tossing a carton of milk that is past its Use By date.

It is a throw-away society that we live in.  We are a society that applauds people for walking away from mistakes and failures instead of teaching them how to fix and restore.

We forget that when we get married we take on the responsibility for another person’s happiness as well as our own.

We should be willing to work to meet that other person’s needs, to go the extra mile to answer the question, What can I do to be the husband/wife that my spouse needs?

We should be willing to fight hard for our marriages.  We should be willing to claw our way back to togetherness when we find we’ve drifted apart.  And, more than that, we should be alert to the signs that our marriage is eroding in some way, and act with great effort and intent to repair damage – with the clear goal of restoring the relationship – before things get to a point where the problems feel irreparable.

Of course I understand that there are marriages in which abuse and serial infidelity have so marred the trust that the relationship cannot be salvaged without both a complete change of heart by the offending partner (such change is possible) and the wronged spouse’s courage to forgive.

Of course.

We live in a broken world, and broken people can break the things and the people around them if they do not look to the Restorer of Life for the strength to heal.  But these are the rare exceptions to the rule of ‘til death do us part – and we are kidding ourselves if we think that these particular separations are any less painful and damaging than those in which a decision to divorce is taken more lightly.

Bless you, friends who have been hurt and harmed by the ones you should be able to trust the most.  Bless you if you have watched, helpless, while your spouse has walked away.  God sees your pain, and I do not judge it.  It is not your story to which I direct my critique; you know all too well the damage that is done when a marriage relationship is ruptured.  You know all too well how it can bleed you dry to cut off a part of yourself –and you weren’t even given a choice.

We used to refer to divorced couples as having had a ‘failed marriage’.  But in treading lightly out of care for the feelings of divorced people we now do them the disservice of championing their decision to call it quits.  Instead, we say that couples have ‘split up’ or that they’re just ‘not together anymore’ – as if marriage were just a casual arrangement that has just as casually been undone.  We no longer speak the truth about divorce – that it is, indeed, the result of a ‘failed’ marriage.  It does, indeed, damage people – and not only does it damage the couple at the epicentre of this severance but also their family and friends.  Their children – those poor innocent bystanders in the whole messy operation – are damaged, too.  These children’s marriages may suffer because of the trust their parents broke with one another.  How do you just stop loving someone like that?  And on it goes, through the generations, like a curse.

We need to see divorce clearly for what it is.  It is an amputation.  It is a severing of a part of you – it will leave scars.  We need to return to the ideology that marriage is for life, and anything less than that is a failure and a denial of sacred vows.

Married people, we all need to evaluate ourselves regularly: Am I doing what it takes to nurture this relationship?  Am I giving my best to my spouse?

So – you deserve better?  Do better.

You deserve to be happy?  Invest in keeping your spouse happy.

You need romance?  Instigate it – make a date, plan for romance.  Make it happen.

We need to cultivate a good relationship.  We need to cultivate feelings, actions, and attitudes to have a successful marriage.

We need to be invested in our relationships; to perform check-ups and tune-ups on our marriages.  We need to be willing to work on ourselves instead of pointing the finger at our spouse.  We need to avoid the trap of vanity; the presumption that the person we married should look better, be better, act better, ‘because we deserve better’…  Instead, we need to be working to better ourselves.

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‘Til death do us part should be a thrill and a privilege.  And Boring?

A marriage is what you make it.

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At the end of the day, it boils down to the choices we make:

What’s easier: taking time out each week to connect with your spouse or watching the one you said ‘I do’ to walk out of your life?

What’s worse: having to work at keeping the romance alive or accepting the status-quo of a relationship that feels boring and unfulfilling because you have done nothing to bring enrichment or satisfaction to your marriage?

What’s better: seeking opportunities to grow as a couple through attending marriage events and courses or allowing your spouse to become a distant stranger?

Choose love.

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Family Harmony, Marriage, Parenting, Relationships

How to Sell Your Husband (or Wife)

How to Sell Your Husband

If you’re married – and have been for longer than a minute or so – then in your tougher moments, the title of this post might pique your interest: How to Sell Your Husband (or Wife).  It’s just tongue-in-cheek, of course – a hyperbolic title like those of the comedies ‘How to Murder Your Wife’ and ‘Throw Momma from the Train’.

Frustrations in a relationship are inevitable, unless one of you is overdue for sainthood (Hint: you’re not).  And in the tougher moments, those frustrations can bubble up a little.

I don’t know about you, but when I get steamed up, I tend to vent at the mouth.

It’s easy to let those little niggley frustrations turn into little nit-picky comments.  And, as with anything that you practice at, eventually it becomes a habit: nitpicking becomes the norm; nagging becomes your default.  Letting things slide goes by the wayside, and you give voice to whatever isn’t perfect.

Sometimes that happens in this house.  Sometimes I get a little too ‘good’ at picking up on what’s not perfect about my hubby and a little too bad at noticing the good stuff.

So here I am, married to this kind, strong, loving, loyal guy – and instead of telling him all about the wonderful things I see in him, I end up pointing out the negative things I observe.  Remember, too, that what we notice when we’re mad tends to be coloured by our emotion – so those little things that ordinarily wouldn’t worry us suddenly become sources of rage.  I’m talking about the dry cough; the incessant leg-bouncing or pen drumming; the towel that just gets flung down every.single.time and never gets to dry properly (ugh!)

And what happens when you’ve got kids?  Well, you’ve got an audience for the whole thing.

What we don’t always realize is that how we talk about our spouse is how we’re ‘selling’ them to our kids.  We are marketing our spouse’s qualities through what we say about them as well as how we speak to them.

The shoe can be on the other foot, too – at times the way our spouse speaks to us or about us within earshot of our kids negatively influences our kids’ opinions of us, even unintentionally.

Sometimes I notice a creeping disrespect in my boys towards me.  I find them trotting along to their Daddy for verification of whatever I’ve said.  I see them taking longer to come when I call them.  I hear them arguing more when I ask them to do something.

Feeling ignored or disrespected is my particular catalyst to misery (I am thin-skinned, after all) – so when I see this behaviour I know that I need to tackle it right away.

When these challenges arose recently, I reflected, observed, and prayed.  And through this process it was clear that we have created the problem, West and I:  the root of our boys’ disrespect is in how we speak to (or about) one another and in how we choose to respond.  We need to focus on ‘marketing’ each other’s best points so that our kids develop a healthy sense of respect (and, if it’s not too much to hope for, admiration) for both of us.

This isn’t a concern unique to us, either – many families struggle because their kids have developed attitudes of disrespect and ambivalence towards one or both of their parents; and, if not nipped quickly in the bud, those attitudes take root and grow.

So, how should you sell your husband (or wife) to your kids to avoid selling him (her) short?

Guard your words.  You need to be careful not to dismiss or belittle the things your spouse has to say.  Avoid dismissing or belittling him (her) as a person, too.

Master your thoughts.  The little negative opinions you hold can shape your behaviour; being aware of the ways in which you fail to cherish your spouse can help you to care better for him (her).

Demonstrate love.  When you’re overtly demonstrative, you help reassure your kids that you love your spouse.  Not only will they thrive in the security of seeing your love in action – your spouse will, too.

Avoid criticising.  Bite your tongue.  Seriously – Bambi’s little friend Thumper had it right: “If you can’t say something nice, then don’t say nothin’ at all!”

Lavish praise.  If you can think of one good thing about your spouse, he (or she) should hear about it.  So should your kids.  Chances are you can think of quite a few things you appreciate about your mate.  Praise him (her) truthfully, regularly, and abundantly.

Communicate intentionally.  This one’s tough for some.  But failing to communicate sends the message that your spouse isn’t worth your consideration or attention.  So take the time and trouble to let him (her) know what you’re up to.  Apologize if you’re running late.  Share your thoughts and feelings on general topics as well as those closer to your heart.

The last thing any parent wants – in fact, the last thing anyone wants – is to be dismissed and disrespected.  Belonging and significance matter greatly – show your spouse that they’re an integral and important part of your family; and be deliberate in how you work to curtail disrespectful attitudes in your kids.

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Remember: If the way we speak to/about our spouse is like marketing them to the rest of the world, we have to be intentional about how we’re ‘selling’ their image.  Their reputation depends on it.

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Food for Thought

How do you sell your spouse to your kids?  If you asked your children what you think of Mum or Dad, what would they say?

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Thanks for reading!

-Trix

June 2015 Shared on the Wise Woman Linkup

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Family Harmony, Marriage, Parenting

The Dance

shadow dancing by Kevin Harber on flickr

 

When you go to a dance, do you know what to do?
Swing your partner, swing your partner, swing your partner to you…

-lyrics from ‘Swing Your Partner Round and Round’, by Judy Garland

It’s a dance, parenting (when there are two of you) – sometimes a waltz; sometimes a jitterbug; sometimes a good ol’ country square dance; but always an exercise of partnership, of moving together in harmony and avoiding stepping on each other’s toes.

Good parenting involves teamwork.  It involves communication and co-operation. It requires us to extend ourselves beyond our selves and figure out how to bring out the best in someone else.  Needless to say, this isn’t accomplished by pointing out one another’s faults.  And yet, just the other day, I found myself telling West, “Well, I hope you enjoyed playing with Buzz Lightyear while your son sliced his fingers to ribbons.”  It felt good, for about a nanosecond, and then I realized that it was neither true nor helpful; the baby had only picked up a dull table knife, and West had only been momentarily distracted.  All I had achieved was the fleeting satisfaction of being snarky.

It’s so easy to get into the habit of making sharp little comments or criticising one another; it’s too easy to see all that you do and miss the things he does…  And the thing I’ve found with this kind of interaction is that it breeds discontent and causes more sniping, and more unkindness, and more ingratitude towards your spouse.  I’ve been guilty of perpetuating that kind of atmosphere at times – when I’ve been extra-tired or hormonal or otherwise emotional – and it’s just not nice.  All of a sudden we find we’re at odds more often than not.  Neither of us can anticipate or appreciate what the other is doing, and it’s hard to find some common ground; indeed, without effort on one or both parts it would be easy to see that any common ground would soon be lost.

Good teamwork –  having an effective parenting partnership – requires us to maintain a healthy balance in a few main areas.

One of the most important areas couples need to work on is figuring out an agreeable division of labour.  We have to share the workload.

I’ve often heard women complaining that their husbands don’t carry their weight around the house, or that their men act helpless when it comes to looking after the kids – and often this complaint comes in the same form: “It’s like I have another kid to look after!”

But what do we do with our kids and chores?  We all know that our kids will happily accept the status quo if we regularly do all the work around the house.  If we pick up their clothes from the floor, put away their toys, clear the table, make their beds, etc – even if we grumble and gripe while we do it – it’s unlikely that they’ll have an epiphany about the injustice of it all and motivate themselves to help out a bit instead.  If we haven’t trained our children to do so, we wouldn’t expect them to see what needs to be done and just do it without being asked.  So why do we expect that of our spouses?

If we want our husbands (or wives) do to something more, or to do something differently, then we need to communicate that.  Most of us would never actually make a decision to avoid teaching our kids the life skills required to live healthily and happily in community; but by failing to instil helpful habits (tidying, clearing up, and contributing in other ways to the household) we do just that.  And in the same way, we make a choice not to have an equal partnership when we neglect to communicate our feelings to our spouse.  He might not spend time with the kids unless he understands that it’s something you feel is part of his responsibility as a Dad.  She may not voluntarily clean out the car of all the kiddie-debris unless you mention that it bugs you when it gets so filthy.

This communication is best accomplished with a healthy dose of grace.  Sometimes the little things should just be done for the other person as a kindness, without resentment.  But when the scales start to tip – or even if we just feel overburdened by our share – then we need to talk about it.  This may not always change much in the actual division of chores, but more often than not it will expose areas in which we need to support one another.  Parenting can often be an exhausting job; both partners can feel like the workload is too heavy, and both might be right.  But sharing the burden of caring for the family and the household does lighten that burden and make it manageable.

It must be said that communicating our needs as partners is not the same as nitpicking.  It’s very easy to point out what the other person is doing ‘wrong’, but in focusing on someone else’s faults we often fail to acknowledge our own weaknesses.  I remember hearing some great advice to think of the acronym THINK before we speak to our loved ones, to determine if what we’re about to say is True, Helpful, Inspiring, Necessary, and Kind.

The way we support one another is also key to a good partnership.  It’s not enough to lend lip-service to the concept of being a team; our actions need to prove that we’re working as a unit.  This means having one another’s back when the kids are trying to play us off of one another; it means standing up for each other and intervening on the other’s behalf when the kids are disrespectful or unkind.  When one of us is unable to function at our normal ‘best’, we need to exert an extra effort to cover the difference – without allowing ourselves to become bitter or resentful.

This is an area of weakness for me, I must confess; when West is sick I am a crabby and impatient nursemaid.  I can’t wait for him to get better, but it’s not altruism that motivates this desire – it’s selfishness.  The very best relationships are those in which patience and kindness accompany the partnership even when the burden cannot be equally shared.  This is the perfection to which I aspire, but for now each time I’m not functioning at my best I am reminded of my need to be patient when Westley isn’t able to contribute in the way that I’m used to.

Finally, we need to honour and respect one another’s roles.  If men are from Mars and women are from Venus, then maybe a little bit of interplanetary diplomacy is in order.  We all do things differently; because men and women tackle the same jobs from different perspectives, and because we are all individuals who have our own take on how to accomplish chores.

I may have chuckled at how silently and solemnly West changed a nappy (without any of the chatter or tickles or kisses I bestow during changing), but I’d never have criticised him for performing the task in that manner (and as the years have gone by, nappy-changing has become more of an interactive activity for him).  Likewise, West might never understand why I’ve occasionally made the kids late in leaving for school just so that I could scribble their lunchbox love notes and tuck them in with the sandwiches – but he respects me and my role as ‘chief nurturer’ enough to be patient with the process.  Westley has never come upstairs from his home office and questioned why the house is still a mess and why dinner’s not ready.  Maybe one of the fringe benefits of having a work-from-home hubby is that he knows what goes on all day to prevent me from getting stuff done – and thus he knows better than to ask for an accounting of my time…  He’s far more likely to pick up the vacuum and attack the dust-bunnies than to open his mouth and criticise me for not having done my share.  I’m more likely to answer a question he hasn’t heard or give a hug to soften his discipline than to nag him about listening or question him about giving one of our boys a time-out.

Ultimately, it is impossible to keep an accurate tally of everything each of us contributes to the household – to try to do so is not only pointless but detrimental to the relationship.  Partnership – a good partnership, that is – requires us to share the workload; communicate effectively (especially remembering to THINK before we speak); support one another; and honour and respect one another’s roles.

When we parent as partners, we move together in harmony and grace.  It’s a beautiful thing.

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Family Harmony, Life, Marriage, Philosophy

Forget and Forgive

arm in arm - by BC on flickr

 

On her golden wedding anniversary, my grandmother revealed the secret of her long and happy marriage. “On my wedding day, I decided to choose ten of my husband’s faults which, for the sake of our marriage, I would overlook,” she explained. A guest asked her to name some of the faults. “To tell the truth,” she replied, “I never did get around to listing them. But whenever my husband did something that made me hopping mad, I would say to myself, ‘Lucky for him that’s one of the ten.'”

-Roderick McFarlane in Reader’s Digest, December, 1992

 

I read that delightful anecdote many years ago, and the message stuck with me.  Being intentional about overlooking the faults (and mistakes) of others can help us to avoid a whole host of difficulties in our relationships, most especially in our marriages.  And if we’re honest about it, we have to admit that we expect others to extend the same grace to us.  It wouldn’t be much fun living with someone who was constantly irritated by our quirks and unforgiving of our missteps – and nor would we readily keep friends if we were hyper-critical, were easily affronted, or held grudges.

‘Forgive and forget’ – it’s a well-known, noble principle.  As a practice, it affords us a release for bitterness and a healing from the hurt; author and theologian Lewis B. Smedes put it aptly:

“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” *

But what if we turned the phrase ‘forgive and forget’ back-to-front?  In switching it to ‘forget and forgive’, we would approach our interactions with others with a much more easygoing attitude; we’d start by trying not to take offence in the first place.  And in not reacting negatively to other people’s actions, we would avoid being ensnared (or imprisoned) altogether.  This is, I think the true magic of the wife’s approach to overlooking her husband’s faults in that sweet anecdote.  Instead of allowing herself to heap blame upon her husband when he did something upsetting, she shrugged it off.

We all know people who are prickly and over-sensitive; they react to everything as if offence was intended – they never give anyone the benefit of the doubt.  People like this sow the seeds of unhappiness and discontent throughout their relationships, because they’re always feeling hurt or misunderstood by those around them.  For people who are quick to feel insulted, forgiveness is more than a hurdle – it is a giant, often-insurmountable step they have to overcome before they can move on or ‘forget’.  As has been pointed out, “There’s no point in burying a hatchet if you’re going to put up a marker on the site” ** – but people like this almost can’t help taking note of even the tiniest transgressions against them, because they feel that they are such big things to forgive.

On the other hand, those who are slow to anger or to feel affronted are likely to maintain warm and loving relationships with those around them.  Thus ‘forgive and forget’ (and its inverse) isn’t just good advice; it is crucial for harmonious family life and friendships.  It is also biblical:

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.”

– James 1:19

In my own life, I consistently strive to ‘forget and forgive’.  When friends have apologized to me for saying or doing something they were worried might have insulted me, I’ve often been able to reassure them honestly that no offence had been taken.  Why would I imagine that a friend would intend to wound me in some way?  This is not to say that I’m thick-skinned – on the contrary, I may quite easily feel wounded when people are (or seem to be) critical or unkind.  But it’s just that I’m not affronted by it.  I don’t easily see an insult, even if intentional, as a ‘slap in the face’.  I might feel bad about myself as a result of their words or deeds, but I generally don’t allow it to make me feel bad about them.  Especially if they are my friends, I am always willing to extend to others the benefit of the doubt.  This is something that I was taught as a child, and something that I am attempting to instil in my children (as well as practice in my own life).

Forgive and forget is a sure recipe for releasing ourselves from the twin prisons of bitterness and resentment, which are so often by-products of offences against us.  Forget and forgive is how to avoid being imprisoned in the first place.

 

 

“A man’s wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offence.”

Proverbs 19:11

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*~Lewis B. Smedes, “Forgiveness — The Power to Change the Past,” Christianity Today, January 7th, 1983

**quote from Sydney Harris, journalist

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