Marriage: You’re Closer Than It Appears

objects-in-mirrorObjects in the mirror are closer than they appear.  Why?  Because the mirror bulges in the middle.  Imagine the mirror as plastic wrap spread across a frame.  If you took a ball and pressed it into the wrap it would bulge outward taking the shape of the ball.  This is a convex mirror.  Light reflects differently in this kind of mirror, bouncing off at an various angles.  In a flat or planar mirror light reflects at ninety degree angles virtually recreating a picture of the object being reflected.  In the  convex mirror on the passenger side of cars the different angles of light compress the image in the middle and expand the image at the outer edges increasing the field of vision by about 30% but making  reflected objects appear to shrink.  Both mirrors are useful in their place.  If you want to see around a corner you’re going to need the convex type, but if you are trying to put in your contact lenses a flat mirror is going to be your best bet.

Have you notice how some people have a wider perspective than others?  They can see things other people don’t see.  On the other hand there are people who are very good at reflecting exact pictures of what they see.  Same light, different reflection.  Mirrors have warnings.  People don’t.  In relationships it is often a good thing to suspend judgment about who saw something in a certain way until you have a better feel for their perspective.  Flat mirror types often feel like the picture they see is getting distorted by convex mirror types.  Convex mirror types often feel like the flat mirror types aren’t looking at the big picture.  Both perspectives have value and can be combined to  help you safely navigate your relationship.  Either way you see things, you are closer to each other than it appears.

Why Do I Think My Husband Hates Me?

My husband comes through the door and goes directly to his seat on the couch.  He turns on the TV and barely glances up when I kiss him and ask him how his day was.  I serve him the meal I’ve been planning for a week.  It is his favorite.  He swallows it and goes out to mow the lawn and work in the yard, not coming in until after dark.  Why doe the man hate me?  What did I do?!  What is this all about?

I am a thinker, so I process the world by thinking about things and trying to sequence them with logical patterns.  If action A, then result B.  The cool response by my husband to me must have something to do with what I said to him last night or what I forgot to do before he went to work.  This may or may not be true, but the thing that will help us most at this point is not for me to drill into him about why he isn’t responding to me right now.

How to I know this is about me at all?  Well, all I really know is that if I was in his place and treated him cooly, it would be because he offended me some way.  I really don’t have insight into why he is acting the way he is acting right now, I only have my own way of doing things as possible motives.  Do you see what I mean?  The only lens I have to view his actions through are my own actions in the same situation.  He sees the world through a completely different set of lenses, and on top of that experiences a whole different set of things I don’t know about.  Does he hate me?  What if he was so preoccupied with getting the yard done before it rains because he knows my family is visiting this weekend that he didn’t notice I kissed him, cooked for him or even looked at him?  That is hard for me to see on my own.  What can I do to change lenses and see things more clearly?  I have to judge my own judgments.

full_1324062160Screenshot2011-12-16at2.04.24PMNone of us are motivated by the exact same things.  Each of us has a history that makes us do things differently and for different reasons.  My A leading to B is not your A that leads to the same B.  And even when my A leads to B and yours does too, it takes a different path.  Instead of assuming you know why your spouse is giving you the cold shoulder or is not responsive emotionally or sexually in a given situation, judge your judgment. Recognize first that you only think you know why they are doing what they are doing, that you really don’t know why.  Ask questions.  Use your judgments as entry points to understanding your spouse or your children or your friends, not as evidence to convict them.  Say, “Hey, if I was acting this way in this circumstance, it would be because I was angry/sad/distracted/etc, what are you feeling right now?”

A warning.  The reason this is so hard to apply to our relationships is that we rely on judgments more than we know.  We do it all the time and we think it serves us well; it may serve us well in many cases.  If you are a fairly intuitive person, you may get many judgments right.  You develop a track record and a confidence that you are the kind of person who just “knows people” or you think you “know what makes people tick.”  Trust me on this, you don’t know as much as you think.  I mean, lets be reasonable – do you know why you do what you do all the time?  You perfectly understand your own motives? I don’t.  I find myself doing things I have no idea why I’m doing them.  The implication of this is obvious: if we can’t get our own judgment about ourselves right, what makes us so sure we have anyone else sorted out?

Take this to heart and your marriage will improve today – it isn’t a miracle cure for all that ails us, but is a great way to start cutting down on meaningless arguments and misunderstandings and to begin building some trust in communication.  Try it.  Judge your judgments.

Why Do I Think My Wife Hates Me?

I come through the door from work, walk up to my wife and kiss her.  She doesn’t look up and barely acknowledges me.  I take the trash out and wash the dinner dishes.  She doesn’t have anything to say.  Why doe the woman hate me?  What did I do?!  What is this all about?

I am a thinker, so I process the world by thinking about things and trying to sequence them with logical patterns.  If action A, then result B.  The cool response by Tina to me must have something to do with what I said to her last night or what I forgot to do before I went to work.  This may or may not be true, but the thing that will help us most at this point is not for me to drill into her about why she isn’t responding to me right now.  How to I know this is about me at all?  Well, all I really know is that if I was in her place and treated her cooly, it would be because she offended me some way.  I really don’t have insight into why she is acting the way she is acting right now, I only have my own way of doing things as possible motives.  Do you see what I mean?  The only lens I have to view Tina’s actions through are my own actions in the same situation.  Tina see the world through a completely different set of lenses, and on top of that experiences a whole different set of things I don’t know about.  Does she hate me?  What if she was engrossed in finding me the perfect pair of shoes because last night I complained about how much my feet hurt after work?  She was so engaged in loving me the way she shows love that she didn’t even realize I kissed her and washed dishes and took out the trash!  That is hard for me to see on my own.  What can I do to change lenses and see things more clearly?  I have to judge my own judgments.

None of us are motivated by the exact same things.  Each of us has a history that makes us do things differently and for different reasons.  My A leading to B is not your A that leads to the same B.  And even when my A leads to B and yours does too, it takes a different Jan2011-March2011-autocritica_799671110path.  Instead of assuming you know why your spouse is giving you the cold shoulder or is not responsive emotionally or sexually in a given situation, judge your judgment. Recognize first that you only think you know why they are doing what they are doing, that you really don’t know why.  Ask questions.  Use your judgments as entry points to understanding your spouse or your children or your friends, not as evidence to convict them.  Say, “Hey, if I was acting this way in this circumstance, it would be because I was angry/sad/distracted/etc, what are you feeling right now?”

A warning.  The reason this is so hard to apply to our relationships is that we rely on judgments more than we know.  We do it all the time and we think it serves us well; it may serve us well in many cases.  If you are a fairly intuitive person, you may get many judgments right.  You develop a track record and a confidence that you are the kind of person who just “knows people” or you think you “know what makes people tick.”  Trust me on this, you don’t know as much as you think.  I mean, lets be reasonable – do you know why you do what you do all the time?  You perfectly understand your own motives? I don’t.  I find myself doing things I have no idea why I’m doing them.  The implication of this is obvious: if we can’t get our own judgment about ourselves right, what makes us so sure we have anyone else sorted out?

Take this to heart and your marriage will improve today – it isn’t a miracle cure for all that ails us, but is a great way to start cutting down on meaningless arguments and misunderstandings and to begin building some trust in communication.  Try it.  Judge your judgments.

This Sexual Revolution Thing is Working Out Great… if You’re a Man

“When we examine simple connections between recent and lifetime sexual partnering, frequency of sex, and a variety of emotional-health indicators—including depression scales, self-reported episodic crying, life satisfaction, depression diagnoses, and current use of prescription antidepressants—it quickly becomes apparent that having more numerous sexual partners is associated with poorer emotional states in women,
but not men.”
Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate, and Think about Marrying by Mark Regnerus, Jeremy Uecker)

A good thirty years into the sexual revolution, the throwing off of “traditional” views of sex along with how we view gender roles, is working out great; if you are a man.  Men who used to pay a much higher price in terms of commitment and stability in order to gain access to sex, can now have sex for little or no commitment.  Women, who were encouraged to view their sexual decisions in a “liberated” way (ie to have sex when they wanted with whoever they wanted) are not faring so well by putting that into practice.  In the traditional view of sex, women were the gatekeepers who could demand relational security in exchange for sex, and men were the pursuers exploring the market for the price they had to pay for sex, and trying to have as much of it as they could get for the lowest cost.  As more women adopted these liberal attitudes toward sex, the market slowly started to flood with lower cost sex in terms of commitment to the point where a woman who withholds sex from a man is no longer an obstacle for him – he has plenty of options readily available.  Now men can have sex for next to nothing with many partners – literally a school boy’s dream, and they are doing it with abandon, and, evidently without causing themselves much long term damage.  Women on the other hand, are not faring so well.

Even getting married—deciding to settle down with only one sex partner for good—doesn’t erase the emotional challenges for women who’ve had numerous sex partners in their lifetime. While no association with depressive symptoms is apparent among now-married young women who’ve had up to four sex partners in their lifetime, problems appear among those who’ve had 5–10, and even more among those who’ve had more than 10 partners.  [Such] women display more intense emotional difficulties. Among those who’ve had more than 10 partners, 41 percent report being depressed at least some time in the past seven days. Just over 14 percent are actively taking antidepressants, and only 79 percent say they’re satisfied or very satisfied with their life. So while the security of a marital relationship can diminish sex-related emotional-health problems, it doesn’t often take them away.

It makes you wonder who’s idea the sexual revolution was in the first place, and what were they hoping to accomplish.  One name above all others attaches itself to this: Hugh Hefner.  Hefner is the living image of the beginning and shriveling up of the sexual revolution; a man of small physical and moral stature who lacks the generally valued masculine qualities which would attract and hold the attentions of a real woman.  A man who has everything to gain by tearing down the traditional sexual structures in order to gain access to what he wants.  It was all couched in such inclusive terms from the start – why shouldn’t we all stop feeling guilty about sex and relax?  Why shouldn’t women be able to have as much sex as men are having?  The truth was (and still is) that men were not having more sex than women; that single men always had (and still have) less and less satisfying sex than their married friends, and that women enjoyed sex much more when they had a greater power over the sexual market place by rejecting casual sex and waiting for sex in an emotionally stable relationship. What will happen in the next 30 years?  Given what I know about women’s character and ability, I predict they will tell their daughters and sons what a disaster the “sexual revolution” has been, and begin to teach them to reject it.  The generation raised by the victims of the sexual wars will raise a generation who will reassert sane and workable sexual practices that work for both genders.  When they do, many will be surprised at how “traditional” it looks.  I won’t, because to me it isn’t tradition, it is truth written into the fabric of the universe by our Creator, and rejecting it always wreaks havoc.  Maybe we can help get things started by putting posters of the original Playboy in every dorm room of America…

Hugh_Hefner_Shoot-00513824

How to Improve Your Marriage Today with One Simple Act

Before I go further I want to give you a disclaimer:  simple does not equal easy; simple is just simple, meaning it is not difficult to grasp the concept I’m going to give you.  Applying it is not easy, but if you do, it will improve your marriage or any other significant relationship right away.

The principle is this:  judge your own judgments.  What do I mean?  Well lets use a common marital interaction to illustrate.  I come through the door from driving the school bus and walk into the kitchen where Tina is sitting at her desk  I say hi and give her a kiss.  She barely looks up and gives me a half-hearted kiss in return.  I am a thinker, so I process the world by thinking about things and trying to sequence them with logical patterns.  If action A, then result B.  The cool response by Tina to me must have something to do with what I said to her last night or what I forgot to do before I went to work.  This may or may not be true, but the thing that will help us most at this point is not for me to drill into her about why she isn’t responding to me right now.  How to I know this is about me at all?  Well, all I really know is that if I was in her place and treated her cooly, it would be because she offended me some way.  I really don’t have insight into why she is acting the way she is acting right now, I only have my own way of doing things as possible motives.  Do you see what I mean?  The only lens I have to view Tina’s actions is my own actions in the same situation.  This is crazy!  And it is killing plenty of relationships.

None of us are motivated by the exact same things.  Each of us has a history that makes us do things differently and for different reasons.  My A leading to B is not your A that leads to the same B.  And even when my A leads to B and yours does to, it takes a different Jan2011-March2011-autocritica_799671110path.  Instead of assuming you know why your spouse is giving you the cold shoulder or is not responsive emotionally or sexually in a given situation, judge your judgment.  Recognize first that you only think they are doing what they are doing, that you really don’t know why.  Ask questions.  Use your judgments as entry points to understanding your spouse or your children or your friends, not as evidence to convict them.  Say, “Hey, if I was acting this way in this circumstance, it would be because I was angry/sad/distracted/etc, what are you feeling right now?”

A warning.  The reason this is so hard to apply to our relationships is that we rely on judgments more than we know.  We do it all the time and we think it serves us well; it may serve us well in many cases.  If you are a fairly intuitive person, you may get many judgments right.  You develop a track record and a confidence that you are the kind of person who just “knows people” or you think you “know what makes people tick.”  Trust me on this, you don’t know as much as you think.  I mean, lets be reasonable – do you know why you do what you do all the time?  You perfectly understand your own motives? I don’t.  I find myself doing things I have no idea why I’m doing them.  The implication of this is obvious: if we can’t get our own judgment about ourselves right, what makes us so sure we have anyone else sorted out?

Take this to heart and your marriage will improve today – it isn’t a miracle cure for all that ails us, but is a great way to start cutting down on meaningless arguments and misunderstandings and to begin building some trust in communication.  Try it.  Judge your judgments.

How Our Sorry State is Ruining Our Marriages (and an accessible solution)

“I’m sorry.”  “He offered an apology.”  “She made a public plea for forgiveness.”  It is hard to imagine a day’s news cycle without hearing something like this.  Everybody is sorry about something or wants someone to be sorry about something.  It permeates everything we do.  It is a smog of sorriness.  Our kids bring it home from school.  It seeps in through the TV and the internet.  We start to think sorry is our normal condition and we wonder what may be wrong with us when we find we really aren’t sorry. We are living in a sorry state.  A sorry state is a “pressed down” state.  It sits on us, this feeling of being sorry. forgive-meIt lingers over us until we start saying it for no reason at all.  A little girl who we keep in our daycare walks around all day saying, “I’m sorry.”  She just says it out of the blue.  I ask, “What are you sorry for?”  She never answers, she just starts telling me about whatever she is doing.  It makes you wonder though doesn’t it?  It makes us feel like we must be doing something wrong if this child feels compelled to say “sorry” ten times a day.  But it is a pretty good reflection of what goes on in our culture every day all day.  Many of our relationships are suffering because of this sorry state.  We are like the little girl.  We walk around with the feeling we ought to say we are sorry, but we’re not sure why.

Let me tell you a few things about being sorry.  First of all, and so obvious you may not notice it at first, feeling sorry is not natural.  If you and I are cosmic accidents who are only part of the animal world and making a way through it by being bigger, faster, stronger, then sorry is stupid.  You ever see a lion who was sorry it stole the last bite of antelope right out of the mouth of the slower lion? No.  Feeling sorry is unnatural, meaning it is something outside of us we can’t explain based upon what we see.  Second is that sorry is just the tip of the iceberg called forgiveness.  The real ruinous part of our sorry state; the thing that kills marriages and all our significant relationships, is the idea that “feeling sorry” is how forgiveness is accomplished, and if we don’t “feel sorry” we are not truly able to experience forgiveness, and if someone asks us for forgiveness who doesn’t feel bad enough (whatever that means – it varies from person to person) can’t or shouldn’t be forgiven.  Since it is almost impossible to make ourselves feel bad enough, or to know exactly how bad someone ought to feel in order for us to get on with the business of living, we end up with a lot of loose ends in our relationships; a lot of unease about ourselves and our spouses.

I asked a couple this week what they thought forgiveness was.  They told me it was about owning our mistakes and then agreeing to go on together.  I thought that was a good start.  Then I asked this:  So you uncover the fault and agree to go on together.  What happens if a week, or a month or a year from now you bring it back up again and demand more answers or more concessions or whatever?  What if every year on the anniversary of the offense the offended person brings it up again?  Is that forgiveness?  Have you really forgiven?  They both laughed at that and agreed it was not forgiveness.  I agree.  But what is forgiveness then?  Does it mean forgetting an offense ever happened?  Try that.  Many of us have tried to do that.  It isn’t very practical is it?  And it doesn’t feel healthy.  It feels like I’m trying to fool myself into believing something bad never happened, and that can’t be right.  I also discovered that when I most need to forget the offense I am in the worst position to do it.  When do you need it most?  When things are forcing you to remember the offense, right?  Triggers.  People, places, words, things.  Forgetting just can’t be the right answer.

imagesForgiveness is a decision, not a feeling and not forgetting.  Both the person needing forgiveness and the person extending it must decide.  It is not a mutual decision, but a personal one.  A decision?  Yes.  A decision about cost.  Who is going to bear the cost of the offense.  In real forgiveness the person who is hurt must decide to bear the cost of the hurt alone and not try to make the other person pay for it.  And there are plenty of toll booths set up along the way where we can make others pay; plenty of decision points.

Years ago my wife collected ceramic figurines called Precious Moments.  She put them all in a cabinet in a little walkway just off the kitchen.  Some of them were limited editions and many were no longer made.  One day my daughter hit the cabinet as she walked by it.  It came off the wall and fell onto a tile floor. The sound of breaking glass went on and on.  Out of perhaps 50 pieces only one or two survived the fall.  It was a total loss.  I remember the look on Nicole’s face and Tina’s face.  “I’m sorry Momma!  I’m sorry, I’m so sorry Momma!” she said.  It was pitiful really.  What could she do?  What could Tina do?  The mistake was made.  The pieces were never coming back together again and never could.  There was no replacement cost because there were no replacements to be had.  It was an accident, you say.  Surely you have to be forgiving when accidents happen.  Right.  And do we usually set out to hurt our spouses?  Our friends?  Our children?  No.  Forgiveness isn’t easier because it was an accident.  It is the same thing.  It is a decision to bear the cost rather than break the relationship. It is a decision to take the loss rather than to make the other party pay for it.  If every time Tina saw a Precious Moments figure from then on she reminded Nicole of how she destroyed her collection, she makes Nicole bear the cost.  If someone asked Tina where her cabinet full of figures was she used the opportunity to run Nicole down and call her clumsy, then she decides to make Nicole take the loss.

Someone is going to bear the cost of an offense.  It doesn’t matter if it was an accident or on purpose.  And here is another angle that we often miss:  if you are asking for real forgiveness you are agreeing to let the other person bear the burden for your offense.  You are not asking them to let you pay it off in an installment plan, you are leaving the decision with them and you can’t do anything more about it.  If you keep trying to pay for it, you really aren’t asking for forgiveness, you are asking them to tell you when the account is paid off; and most people will never be able to tell you when that happens.  Do you see how different this view of forgiveness is from what we’re being sold in our sorry state?  How upside down it is?  Our culture is obsesses with extracting the cost of forgiveness from the person who committed the offense.  True forgiveness is squarely on the shoulders of the offended party and their decision to bear the entire cost.  How did this get flipped on us?  Take God out of our collective consciousness and we have a real problem.  We do feel sorry.  We do feel guilty.  We are not like the other animals.  But we have no explanation for it.  No God means no right or wrong.  It means there are no burdens to bear and no apologies to make.  If you are bigger, faster, stronger you win.  And why worry about accidents when everything is an accident including your own existence?  Leave God out and you get a sorry state with no remedy, no forgiveness.  The problem is that letting God in means having to face up to offending him; to having to ask him for forgiveness.  What about that?  What if God doesn’t want to bear the cost?  How are we going to pay off that debt?  What happens when we knock all his Precious Moments to pieces?  If God decides we owe him for the things we’ve broken and wants to make us pay for them, how long will it take to pay it off?  When we’ve broken things of infinite worth we are in for an eternal work day to make it right.  Can you see now what the gospel is?  Can you see how it is God accepting the cost of calling us his daughters and sons?  When things are broken someone must bear the cost.  God decided to bear it.  The cross is the payment for God to stay in relationship with us and never abandon us.  We must accept it or try to come up with the payment on our own.  It is hard to accept true forgiveness.  Very hard.  I’ve had to watch my wife’s face when I put hurt into her life.  I had to see the struggle to decide not to make me pay while I stood by helplessly, knowing I did that to her.  I did that to the person I love.  It is terrible and wonderful to see.  What is the resource she has to do this?  How can she bear it?  She believes the cross is God’s forgiveness for her and for me.  She sees that God bore the cost of her failures so she could be his daughter.  That gives perspective.  It shrinks the size of my offenses against her.  But she also sees something else, something that releases her heart and clears her mind to remember my offenses but images (1)to live without the heavy burden.  She sees that when I hurt her it was an offense against her,yes, but it was also an offense against God, her Father.  He takes it personally.  It is his to take.  All things are his.  All abuse is abuse to his property.  All the offenses against people are offenses to his family.  And he decides to forgive. He decides to bear the cost.  Now my wife sees that she isn’t bearing the cost alone, that Jesus is under the full strain of her husband’s offense.  This is how our marriage works.  This is how we escape the sorry state.

Unguarded Beauty

My wife is a beautiful woman.  I knew this the first time I saw her walking down a hallway in High School.  I just turned right around and followed her.  She had Sun-In bleach blonde hair and a ribbon around a single ponytail in back with wings in front, and she used a lot of blue eye shadow (it was the 80’s).  I have a very clear picture in my mind of this moment – this first “seeing.”  But I also have other moments when I saw her for the first time again.  I old_pix_0002wish I knew how this happens so I could teach it to people, but I don’t know how to make it happen.  It just happens.  There is no particular pattern to it.  Some times it happens a lot in a short period of time and then it may be a very long time before it happens to me again.  It is always a surprise and a delight.  I think it is a gift God gives me, like many of his gifts, for no good reason other than He delights to delight us.  The most interesting part of this gift is that Tina never provokes it.  She never poses or tries to look a certain way that triggers this gift of re-seeing.  In fact, most of the time I’ve never told her about it because it was too hard to explain.  So she may be reading about this for the first time along with you.

There is a kind of beauty in this world that is unguarded.  It is raw and real and striking.  You may not immediately recognize it because it hides in plain sight.  Advertisers know this about us; that we are susceptible to capture by unguarded beauty.  That’s why they try so hard to make their spots look like they just happened; that there was no real preparation and this beautiful thing or setting just popped out of the background.  We know its fake though.  In our true hearts we know this is not unguarded beauty – it is well fortified beauty.  Beauty built from scratch and etched and carved and photoshopped.  We know lies when we see them because we feel the truth when it hits us.  It isn’t trying to be true or beautiful; it is true and it is beautiful.  C.S. Lewis said in his famous essay The Weight of Glory that we are far too easily pleased, and he was right.  We are also far too easily deceived.  It is almost as if we let ourselves stop hoping for unguarded beauty because we can’t produce it ourselves.  And since we can’t be in control we start to say to each other that the less than and the plastic; the faked beauty is real or it is all we are going to get so we might as well embrace it.  I’ve done it myself.  I do it myself.  But I’m sharing my glimpses of unguarded beauty with you in hopes that you will throw off the lies and stop contenting yourself with less.  I’m sharing with you so that you will share with me too.  Together we may be able to live more authentically in light of our accumulated unguarded beauty.  Of course this is a gift.  Being able to see it at all is a gift.  All of these gifts come IMG_2560from the greatest unguarded beauty of all, Jesus.  The Bible teaches that in his light we see light.  In other words Jesus is the light that shows all other light – he is the beauty that makes everything beautiful.  He fell into darkness and brought us light.  He was marred beyond recognition and made us beautiful.  Do you realize that in Jesus we can know that God looks upon us like I look upon my wife?  We don’t have to guard ourselves or pose or create; we are completely unguarded and completely beautiful to God.  That is beauty unguarded and unassailable.