My gift to you: The week’s guest article by Dr. Jeff Rees. We hope it makes a big difference in your communication and ultimately your relationship!
Marriages go through different developmental stages. When periods of joy and pleasure are sustained, life is good. But when marriage has its equivalent of the Terrible Two’s or tempestuous teenage years, marriage can be the source of great discomfort. Most people are unfamiliar, unprepared, and at times, unwilling to plod through the valleys and climb the mountains of marriage challenges. Prepared or not, these stages and seasons will surely come.
The good news: You can benefit during each season. At our marriage retreats and seminars, we examine and unpack these periods to help you discover the communication practices to make it through with love still intact. Each season has value and provides opportunity to create deeper bonds.
Someone going through a difficult season may be muttering, “Are you kidding me! The ‘season’ around my house right now is cold. Ice cold.” Maybe you’ve tried to hum your own version of Do you want to build a snowman? and there’s been little to no response. What next?
All living systems ebb and flow in and out of stages and seasons. When the climate changes outside, we adjust. We put a coat on when it’s cold and wear light cottons or shorts when it’s hot.
Just as physical climates change from season to season, changes in marital relationships happen. So the same principle applies. Healthy relationships can be fostered by making adjustments.
Experiencing relationship tension on a regular basis caused by your unwillingness to adjust can prove unhealthy. That’s like shaking your fist at the Texas summer sun because you decide to wear your favorite wool sweater in August. Failure to adjust ensures discomfort. For example, if your spouse needs a little space for alone time, understand and provide it without pouting and feeling “hurt.”
My wiring is to identify problem areas first. If I were a football coach, I’d naturally be drawn to the weakest area of the team and make corrections there. When preparing a meal, I concentrate on the food that needs the most attention so that particular dish will be a standout success. When rolling out a new project at work, I look for gaps that will be most challenging and make improvements there.
Focusing first on areas of weakness is not a bad thing when applied to systems and projects, but that can produce problems in relationships.
For example, say your mate goes through a seasonal change. He or she turns 40 and the ol’ mid-life crisis raises its ugly head. You’re astonished when they pull into the driveway in a shiny-new red sports car. If you are wired like me, quick to identify problems first, you might say, “We can’t afford this. Take it back.” Or, “Remember, we said we wouldn’t make a big purchase without the other’s approval. You – broke – our – pact.”
Such a purchase might, in fact, put a financial strain on the bank account. And maybe the pact you two had agreed on was broken. These concerns need to be addressed, of course. But should they be addressed first? Usually not.
Every human being responds favorably to affirmation. Attaboys and attagirls nurture the spirit. We create stronger relational bonds with those who affirm us.
When the car pulls in the driveway, maybe the first response should be, “SWEET! That car is so cool! Take me for a spin!” This gives you relational credit when later that evening you say, “Hey, we need to chat about the car.”
Leverage stages and seasons of marriage by making adjustments through valleys of change. Take a deep breath and give affirming comments while you’re climbing up the seasonal mountain. You’ll come out stronger on the other side.
(NOTE: The above two tools are not to be used to mask significant and serious relational issues such as abuse, harmful addictions, or betrayal. In these cases, therapeutic sessions with a professional counselor are recommended.)
Dr. Jeff Rees is pastor, author, conference speaker, and proud husband, father, and grandfather. His book, MAKE ROOM for Happiness and Intimacy, is endorsed and recommended by Dr. Gary Chapman, author of The 5 Love Languages and other relationship counselors. Dr. Rees and his wife, Martha, facilitate relationship conferences from Singapore to South Africa in a variety of settings, including churches, military bases, and gatherings for first responders.