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7 Things to Remember About Sex

SOURCE:  Family Life Ministry/Bob Lepine

Your spouse approaches intimacy much differently than you.

It’s no surprise that many husbands and wives think differently about sex. And these differences can easily become a source of conflict in marriage.

With that in mind, I want to suggest seven things men need to remember about sex and seven things wives need to keep in mind as well:

What husbands should remember about sex

1. Hollywood sex is made up. It’s a fantasy. The people in romantic scenes in movies are actors. Don’t try to measure your marital sex against what you see in a romantic film.

2. Sex is probably (but not necessarily) a lower priority for your wife than it is for you. Are you as committed to meeting her needs and desires as you’d like her to be with your desire for sex? Could you even name her top three relationship needs? Here is one of them …

3. Your wife needs a safe and secure relationship. In order for her to engage in sex with heart and mind and body, she needs to know that you will be there for her, that you are committed to her, and that she is your one and only.

4. Your wife wants to have sex with a companion, not with someone who simply shares her mailing address. If you’re not spending time having fun together in all kinds of settings, she’s going to be less motivated to be with you sexually.

5. You don’t need to have an affair to be an unfaithful husband. Whether you look at pornography or at other women, the Bible makes it clear that any lust for a woman who is not your wife is adultery.

6. There is no secret formula to arousal. If you think you have found a secret formula, and you attempt to repeat the recipe, your wife will change the secret. Women don’t want to be figured out. They also don’t want to be manipulated.

7. Your wife is insecure about her physical beauty. She sees all the flaws. Watch what you say to her.

What wives should remember about sex

1. Sex is God’s idea. He created it and gave it as a good gift to husbands and wives in marriage. It is a key part of His plan for how we become one in marriage.

2. For most men, sex is a big deal—and it’s not because men are perverted or ungodly. God delights when a husband and wife enjoy marital intimacy.

3. How you respond to your husband when he initiates sex is critical. To be uninterested can communicate a lack of respect and honor for him. I’m not saying you need to say yes every time he initiates. But when you say no, explain why in a way that still affirms your desire for him.

4. Sex is a marital discipline. It’s a part of how we serve each other in marriage. It is wrong for a wife to use sex as a reward or a lack of sex as punishment. The Bible clearly teaches that husbands and wives are not to deprive each other in this area.

5. Men are visually oriented. No matter how you see yourself, he is stimulated by sight. Again, God is the One who made men with a desire to see women naked. And the only legitimate way for your husband to satisfy this God-given desire is for you to let him see you naked.

6. Men in romance novels and soap operas are made up. The strong, sensitive, caring men portrayed in most romance novels are fictional characters. No husband can live up to the near perfection an author presents.

7. Creativity is good. The Bible says that the marriage bed is undefiled. This means that a husband and wife have freedom to explore what brings them pleasure and enjoyment in the sexual arena of marriage. Neither of you should be pressured to do something you’re uncomfortable with in the sexual relationship. But passion can be stirred by variety and creativity in the sexual relationship.

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3 Unrealistic and Detrimental Expectations About Marriage

SOURCE:   /PsychCentral

There’s no shortage of unrealistic expectations about marriage. Which we can pick up from our families, from friends, from fairy tales, from television and movies, from magazine articles. And these supposedly true beliefs can sabotage our relationships, creating a whole lot of misunderstanding and chipping away at our connection.

Unrealistic expectations “set up couples to fail,” said Clinton Power, a clinical relationship counsellor. “When you expect that your relationship is meant to be a certain way, and that expectation doesn’t happen, this can create feelings of anxiety, sadness, and despair.” It can spark resentment, which can ruin relationships.

Below are three unrealistic expectations—and the truths behind each one.

Unrealistic expectation: Happy couples continue to feel the same intense feelings of love. “Falling in love is often called a ‘temporary psychosis’ for the very reason that when you are ‘head over heels’ in love with another person, you are often blinded to some of their differences and quirks,” said Power, founder of Clinton Power + Associates in Sydney, Australia. You love everything about your partner, and want to be with them. All. The. Time.

There are physiological reasons for this. According to psychotherapist and relationship expert Melissa Ferrari, “Oxytocin, dopamine and serotonin dance with the sex hormones estrogen and testosterone, fueling our desire and keeping us on a ‘happy high’ of love and lust.”

But eventually, these electric effects dissipate. And what’s left are two people dealing with the reality of day-to-day life, Ferrari said. “And this is where the hard work starts.”

After the honeymoon period is over, it’s totally normal to enter a period of conflict, Power said. For instance, the quirks you once found adorable, like your partner regularly running late and losing things, are now like nails on a chalkboard. Now it’s a significant source of tension. After all, you take pride in your punctuality, and you have a penchant for organization. Which your partner keeps messing with.

The good news is that conflict isn’t inherently a problem. In fact, it’s actually an opportunity, Power said. When you’re experiencing conflict, you “learn to negotiate and manage your differences” and “how to successfully soothe one another when one or both of you are upset.”

Unrealistic expectation: Happy relationships remain the same. We assume that the person we married will remain exactly as they are, and thereby so will our relationship. This expectation might even be subconscious, but it rises to the surface in the form of surprise: Your spouse starts exploring a new career path or passion or moving away from something they used to love (and you still do), and you’re taken aback.

Maybe you even think, this isn’t the person I married. And maybe they’re not.

“[P]eople grow and change over time, and this means that the relationship changes,” Power said. He shared this example: A couple starts dating when one partner is only 19 years old. This younger partner receives a big promotion—and begins traveling more and more and spending more time at the office, building their dream career. The other partner, who’s at home, misses them and becomes increasingly bored. So they start going out more. Both partners are upset at their new reality because they feel disconnected from each other, drifting further and further apart.

“The issue is they haven’t accounted for some of the individual changes they are each going through. The relationship can’t be like it used to be, because they are different people now than they were when they first met.”

Unrealistic expectation: Partners are responsible for each other’s happiness. We tend to have expectations about what we’ll “get” from our partners, Ferrari said. And when our partner doesn’t give us what we think we should be getting, resentment emerges, and starts settling in. (“Over time, resentment can evolve into contempt, which is coined ‘the sulfuric acid of love’ because it will erode a marriage.”)

Ferrari works with many, many couples who expect their partner to meet their happiness quota. For instance, they expect their partner to earn enough money to give them anything they want. “That places pressure on your partner to make you happy about something that you could be aspiring to yourself.”

Plus, it’s very different from trying to understand your spouse in a profound, meaningful, vulnerable way, and fulfill their unmet needs. This might look like giving your partner a big, long hug every time you come home because you know that physical touch helps them to feel loved. This might look like making it a point to thank them for their kind gestures, because you know that as a child, they regularly felt unappreciated. This might look like talking calmly through conflict because they grew up in a volatile home.

The above is about being considerate and getting to know your partner. It isn’t about doing something for them that they can do themselves. It isn’t about taking responsibility for satisfying their needs. It is about supporting them.

It is about helping them to heal past hurts, Ferrari said. Which can “help them greatly psychologically, particularly in terms of confidence, feeling loved, safe and secure…” And that is incredibly powerful.

Explore the expectations you have about relationships—about what healthy, connected marriages look like, about how you and your partner should behave, about what you should “get.” Then explore where these beliefs stem from—and whether they’re genuinely true. Because many of our expectations are not, and many of them can interfere with our relationship.

Your Family Voyage: Discarding Resentment

SOURCE:  Adapted from Your Family Voyage by P. Roger Hillerstrom

Some of the heaviest weight to unload is that of resentment.

The object of animosity may be a parent, sibling, authority figure, or some other significant person from your past.  You attempt to “get them back” by withholding love or approval, withdrawing, being uncooperative, ruminating on your anger, or severing the relationship altogether.  You may have denied or buried your anger so long that you aren’t even aware of your bitterness, but the emotion is expressed in a variety of ways:

Unmerited explosions of anger.

Avoidance of certain individuals.

A strong desire for vengeance or retaliation.

A pessimistic or critical outlook on life.

Sarcasm, cynicism, or critical attitudes toward individuals or situations.

Over-reactions or under-reactions out of proportion to the current situation.

In harboring resentment you suffer more than anyone else – anxiety, tension, regret, and isolation as well as physical effects such as headaches, high blood pressure, and digestive problems.  The offending individual may not even be aware of or affected by your indignation.

The resolution of resentment is forgiveness.

When we choose to forgive another person, we receive the primary benefit – the freedom to choose our responses and commitments to others, to ourselves and to God.

Our model of forgiveness is God.

Each one of us has broken God’s laws and erected barriers in our relationship with him.  The offenses are ours, not Gods.  God’s forgiveness is not based on his denial of our sin; he is very aware of our offenses against him.  God’s forgiveness is not the result of his ability to pretend that we never committed any wrong.  The forgiveness our heavenly Father offers is based on his willingness to bear the cost of our sin.  Christ’s death on the cross was the payment for our sin.  Because of that payment, God is free to respond to us as a gracious loving Father rather than as a righteous judge.

When we decide to forgive someone who has offended us, we must choose to bear the cost of the wrong committed against us.  Once we forgive, we no longer require a payment for the offenses we experienced.  We cancel the debt by accepting the offense.  In essence, we pay the debt owed us.  We no longer punish the offending person through anger, silence, avoidance or criticism.  This process frees us from the burden of resentment and allows us to let go of troublesome patterns from the past.

If we are going to unload baggage from our past, it will be necessary to relinquish any bitterness we may harbor.  Forgiveness is necessary.  Without letting go of our desire for vengeance, we trap ourselves into the patterns of the past.

Does forgiveness mean I’ll forget the offense?  No.  Forgiveness isn’t a matter of blocking memories or denying the past.  You will probably always carry a memory of the offense, but your emotional response to that memory can change as you forgive.

How long does forgiveness take?  This varies a great deal.  Forgiveness is a process and seldom occurs instantly.  The process of forgiveness begins with a conscious decision.  Once you have decided to forgive, God can begin to work in you to heal your wounds and change your perspective.

How will I know when I’ve forgiven this person?  While the memory will remain, the experience of that memory will become a recalling of history rather than a current experience of anxiety, anger, or hurt.

How do I start forgiving?  Forgiveness begins with a decision.  Once you’ve decided to forgive, prayerfully ask God to soften your heart and broaden your understanding of this experience from your past.  As you sincerely look to him, he will be faithful to shape you into his image in this area.  Once you have confronted those painful memories, they lose their power.  When they “feel” real, you react emotionally.

Your painful memories may cause incredible and unpleasant discomfort the first few times you mentally walk through them.  But once you’ve confronted them, they lose their immediacy.  Conversely, as long as you expend effort trying to avoid a memory it will retain its vivid reality and negative power, even if in your dreams or in the far corner of the haunting attic you try to pretend doesn’t exist.

Why I Never Drink Alcohol

SOURCE: MICHAEL BROWN/charismamag.com

I simply want to share with you why I have totally abstained from alcohol for the last 46 years, since I’ve often been asked this question over the years.

Forty-six years ago, in 1971, the Lord graciously saved me from a life from sinful destruction, which included very serious drug abuse and some heavy drinking as well. From that day until today, I have never abused drugs again or had a sip of alcohol, other than taking Communion with a taste of wine when that was the only option.

Do I believe that the Scriptures require total abstinence for all believers? No, I do not.

Do I believe that Jesus literally turned water into wine in John 2, even if the wine was not as fermented as today? Yes, I do.

Do I believe that some Christians can drink some alcoholic beverages in moderation without sinning before God? I certainly do.

So, I am not here as anyone’s judge or jury, nor am I trying to force my convictions on anyone else. I simply want to share with you why I have totally abstained from alcohol for the last 46 years, since I’ve often been asked this question over the years.

First, although I loved getting high on drugs and getting drunk before I was saved, I did not enjoy the taste of alcohol. Once I gave up getting drunk, I had no interest in drinking at all. There was no temptation or desire.

Things were very different for my wife Nancy, who was born again in 1974. She really enjoyed the taste of alcohol and also got drunk before she was saved. So, for her, there was no question at all that she should avoid even the taste of alcohol once she was in the Lord. Why play with fire? Drinking only had sinful connections in her life.

Second, the church in which Nancy and I came to faith practiced total abstinence, so this became our practice as well.

I honestly don’t remember the pastor teaching on it in those early, formative years. Instead, we learned it from the other believers, some of whom used to be heavy drinkers before they were saved as well. For them, too, it was quite natural to cut that cord of attachment with the world.

Third, I began preaching in 1973 at the age of 18, so I was quickly looked to as a leader on some level. What kind of example was I setting? If others followed my lead, would they be helped or hurt?

For me, this was another good reason not to drink socially, since so many believers struggled with drinking before they saved, and some continued to struggle after they were saved. Why put another stumbling block before them?

Fourth, I have heard the same sad story many times over the decades, and it gives me real pause.

A former alcoholic sees another brother or sister have a glass of wine with their meal, or they visit your house and see that you have beer in your refrigerator. They then think to themselves, “Well, if it’s OK for them, I guess it’s OK for me,” and they have one drink—just one—and quickly find themselves enslaved again, sometimes for years.

So, your liberty, which might be totally fine between you and the Lord, ends up destroying a precious brother or sister.

Paul addressed this in the context of food sacrificed to idols, but the principle is the same: “and by your knowledge [meaning, the knowledge that food itself doesn’t defile us] shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? When you thus sin against the brothers, wounding their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat, least I cause my brother to stumble” (1 Cor. 8:11-13).

The lesson here is that we should put greater emphasis on helping weaker brothers and sisters than on enjoying our liberty.

Fifth, I minister in many different church cultures, some of which also practice total abstaining, therefore I take the more stringent road as a way of life.

For example, I’ve ministered in Italy and England on 40 different trips, and on my occasions, I’ve had meals with other Christian leaders who enjoy a glass of wine or beer with their meals.

I’ve never seen them drunk, nor have I felt they were doing something wrong. It’s their culture, and this is between them and God. (If this seems to be in violation of my last point, it’s not. I’m sharing my own counsel and convictions, not imposing them on others.)

I’ve also ministered in Asia on more than 40 different trips, most commonly in India, and I’ve never once seen a believer drink alcohol there, nor have I seen it on my few trips to Africa.

Again, for my own life, I’d rather live the same way in both cultures. In that way, if I’m ever asked about my personal practices in the stricter environment, I can say that I never drink at all.

Sixth, we are commanded in Scripture to be sober and vigilant (for example, 1 Pet. 5:8), whereas alcohol can easily lead to sluggishness, impaired judgment, sloppy thinking and acting, and outright drunkenness.

Since I believe in fleeing from that which destroys (see, for example, 2 Tim. 2:22), I run towards sobriety and away from anything that leads to drunkenness.

Seventh, I do not want to be enslaved by any earthly habit. (For decades, I was a chocoholic. By God’s grace, I’ve been totally free that from enslavement, along with other food addictions, for more than three years now—and I emphasize the words “by God’s grace.”)

It’s so easy to become dependent on that one drink just to calm your nerves, that one drink just to take the edge off, that one drink to quiet your fears, that one drink.

Perhaps you’re leaning on that one drink rather than on the Lord? Perhaps you’re becoming dependent on it? Perhaps one drink will lead to two or three or more?

Despite the lies of the flesh and the world, sin never satisfies. Instead, it leads to more sin, then to worse sin, and then it enslaves.

Which direction is your drinking taking you? Are you now getting into alcohol in general? Are you now trying out harder and harder liquor and encouraging your friends to do the same? Are you even having some drinking parties where you glory in your “liberty”? Have you had more to drink than you planned, even getting mildly drunk?

Again, I’m not playing God here, and I’m not sitting as your judge. But if you said yes to any of these last four questions, I can almost guarantee you that you’re on a slippery slope in the wrong direction and that, soon enough, your “liberty” will turn to bondage.

That’s also why I have a personal problem with the whole “beer and Bible” approach to ministry.

On the one hand, I understand that churches want to meet sinners where they are and invite them to study the Word in a comfortable environment. But at what point do these sinners hear the message of repentance, which includes repenting of drunkenness? And how many former alcoholics in the church now stumble and fall because of this environment?

To say it again, I’m only sharing my personal convictions here, and I’m quite familiar with the argument that those who have learned to drink in moderation all their lives will not struggle with getting drunk.

For many, that is true, just like in traditional Jewish culture, where small amounts of wine are incorporated into various meals and rites.

But in a country like America, where there is so much drunkenness and decadence, I’d rather err in the opposite direction and simply have nothing to do with alcohol in this world. And yes, once more, these are simply my own views, which I share because I’m often asked about drinking.

And even in biblical days, where alcoholic beverages may not have been as fermented as today and where most believers certainly did not practice total abstaining, we still have this warning: “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise” (Prov. 20:1).

The bottom line is that there are far more important things than food and drink, which is why Paul wrote, “For the kingdom of God does not mean eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17).

May we all pursue that “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” in a manner fitting as a kingdom of priests before our God.

6 Myths You May Believe About Drinking — Busted

SOURCE:  Joseph Janesz, PhD/ Cleveland Clinic

Get the sober facts from our expert

When it comes to alcohol, the line between myth and fact can be blurry. Chemical dependency specialist Joseph Janesz, PhD, helps clear up the confusion below.

Myth 1: Drinking perks you up at parties

“Throughout the holiday season, many of us struggle with fatigue and excess stress,” he says. “We may look to alcohol at a holiday party to dissipate that fatigue, enhance our energy level and relieve stress.”

But alcohol is a brain depressant. It first acts by shutting off executive functions like judgment, mood control and natural inhibitions. Some people experience this as elation and excitement. But others experience the opposite: sleepiness, lethargy and even a depressed feeling.

The bottom line: Alcohol interferes with normal brain activity, no matter how you feel when you drink.

Myth 2: A beer before bed helps you sleep

Drinking a beer before bed may promote your getting to sleep more quickly,” says Dr. Janesz. “However, it interrupts your deep sleep, and you’ll wake later on feeling not rested and ‘hung over.’”

Normally, your body cycles through light and deep phases of sleep. Alcohol inhibits refreshing REM (rapid eye movement) sleep and later on causes “REM rebound,” with nightmares and trouble sleeping.

Repeated alcohol use seriously disturbs sleep and makes it difficult to re-establish a normal sleep pattern. Often, this leads to more drinking or to sedative abuse in the quest for sleep.

Myth 3: An Irish coffee will keep you warm on the slopes

Your body normally stores warm blood in its core to preserve important organ functions. Alcohol artificially dilates blood vessels in your extremities, allowing warm blood to escape from your core into your peripheral circulation, where it cools.

Alcohol intake may make your skin feel warm. Yet it deceptively lowers the core temperature of your body,” says Dr. Janesz.

The result: your body can no longer keep vital organs warm as your overall temperature drops.

Myth 4: A beer is less potent than a cocktail

Whether you’re drinking an ale or a Moscow Mule, you’re typically consuming the same amount of alcohol.

“Any alcohol beverage you consume will have a similar effect on your body and on your ability to function,” says Dr. Janesz.

Myth 5: Coffee can sober you up when you’ve had a few too many

Coffee has no real effect on your blood alcohol level, which is the major factor in determining your level of intoxication.

“Drinking coffee or other caffeine products after having one too many drinks can trick your brain into making you feel energized and more awake or alert,” says Dr. Janesz.

“The alertness can create the perception that you aren’t as drunk or intoxicated as you actually are, and you may decide to have another drink or to drive home.”

Myth 6: Men and women react to alcohol in the same way

Drinking tends to produce higher blood alcohol concentrations in women because they are generally smaller than men. This leads to a greater degree of intoxication.

“Alcohol disperses in water, and women have less water in their bodies than men,” explains Dr. Janesz. “So if a woman and man of the same weight consume the same amount of alcohol, her blood alcohol concentration will usually rise more rapidly than his.”

But while women may reach the “drunk driving” limit — 0.08 percent blood alcohol — sooner, alcohol can impair driving at much lower blood alcohol levels. So “don’t drink and drive” remains sound advice for everyone.

10 Habits to Shape a Kind, Well-Adjusted Child

SOURCE:  Rebecca Eanes/ The Gottman Institute

Parenting is complicated. If we’re not careful, we become too focused on one aspect and let the others fall by the wayside.

Many times, I see parents who are intently focused on discipline, and I’m talking about the traditional use of the word here with regard to modifying behavior. Sometimes we get very caught up in “What do I do when…” or “How do I get my kid to…” and we lose sight of the bigger picture.

The truth is that there are many things that are more important in shaping our children than the methods and techniques we use to modify their behavior.

Below are 10 things that are more important than any parenting method you choose, in no particular order.

1. Your relationship with your child

The relationship that you have with your child is the single biggest influence on them. Your relationship sets an example for how relationships should be throughout the rest of their lives.

If you have a healthy relationship based on respect, empathy, and compassion, you’ve set a standard. They will grow to expect that this is what a relationship looks like and will likely not settle for less.

If, however, your relationship is based on control, coercion, and manipulation, well you see where I’m going with this.

In addition to that, your influence comes from a good relationship. Children are more likely to listen to and cooperate with an adult who they are connected to.

In other words, if you build trust and open communication when they are small, they will come to you when they are not so small. Your attachment helps wire healthy brains, and your responses set the tone for how they respond to you (they’re little mirrors).

2. Your perspective

When you look at your child, who do you see?

Do you see the positives or the negatives?

The way you think about them influences the way you treat them. Your thoughts also influence the way you feel emotionally and physically throughout the day. “He is in the terrible twos” will cause you to look for terrible things, to focus on them, and therefore try to correct them, constantly.

Try to turn these negative thoughts into positive thoughts, like, “He is inquisitive and fun!” Try to see misbehavior as a call for help rather than something that needs squashed immediately. Correction is not needed nearly as often as you might think.

Also watch your tone and language. Lori Petro of TEACH Through Love says, “Be mindful of the language you use to describe your children. They will come to see themselves through that filter you design.” Be careful not to place labels such as “naughty” or “clumsy” on your child. They will come to see themselves the way you see them.

3. Your relationship with your significant other

Your kids are watching and learning. The way you and your partner treat each other sets a standard. Happy parents make happy kids. Read How Your Marriage Affects Your Kids

“The foundation of a happy family is a strong, loving relationship between the two of you. The single, most important thing that you can do for your children is to do everything in your power to have the best possible relationship with your spouse. If they see the two of you getting along and supporting each other, they will mirror you and will likely get along with each other and their friends. Every single ounce of energy that you put into your relationship will come back to you tenfold through your children.”

4. The atmosphere of your home

All of the things mentioned above come together to create the atmosphere of your home.

If you have loving and connected relationships, you likely have a warm atmosphere in your home. If there is discord between you and your spouse, or you and your child, or your child and your other child, then the overall atmosphere will suffer. Have you ever gone to someone’s home and could just feel a negative atmosphere?

You want your home to be a haven, a safe, warm, inviting, and loving place for all family members. Dorothy Parker said, “The best way to keep children home is to make the home atmosphere pleasant—and let the air out of the tires.” You don’t have to let the air out until they’re 16 though.

5. How you relate to others

How do you treat the bank teller, the store clerk, the telemarketer? What about your parents and your in-laws? They are watching your example.

Albert Einstein once said, “Setting an example is not the main means of influencing another, it is the only means.”

6. Your community

Are you involved in your community? Aside from setting an example, there are valuable lessons to be learned from volunteering, supporting a local cause, attending church, or donating items. Seeing a bigger picture, how their acts can influence many lives, will give them a sense of responsibility and reinforce good values.

7. Their school

Whether you choose private school, public school, homeschooling, or unschooling, your choice will have an impact on your child. Choose with care. Peers have a big influence on children, but if our relationship is where it should be, our influence will still be stronger.

8. Your cup

How full is it? You have to take care of you so you can take care of them. If your cup is full, you are more patient, more empathetic, and have more energy.

Not only that, but a child who sees his parents respect themselves learns to have self-respect. Put yourself back on your list.

9. Television, video games, and social media

They are always sending messages to your kids. Now, I let my kids watch TV and play computer games, so I’m not taking a big anti-media stance here, but just be aware of what your kids are getting from what they’re watching.

My son said something out of character for him a while back that came directly from a cartoon character. I knew where he’d gotten it and we had a talk about the differences between cartoon land and the real world. I’m just glad they don’t have a Facebook account yet!

10. Their basic needs

Adequate nutrition, sleep, and exercise are not only essential for the well-being of your child but also influence behavior. Dr. Sears addresses nutrition here. Also read this article, Sleep Better for Better Behavior. Finally, exercise helps children learn to focus their attention, limit anger outburst and improve motor skills.

“If I had my child to raise all over again, I’d build self-esteem first, and the house later. I’d finger-paint more, and point the finger less. I would do less correcting and more connecting. I’d take my eyes off my watch, and watch with my eyes. I’d take more hikes and fly more kites. I’d stop playing serious, and seriously play. I would run through more fields and gaze at more stars. I’d do more hugging and less tugging.” – Diane Loomans

Self-Interest is Not Selfish in Relationships

SOURCE:  Alli Hoff Kosik/The Gottman Institute

It’s hard to fault someone for being selfless.

We’re taught to put a high premium on kindness, generosity, and the needs of others. Sharing is one of the first lessons that many of us can remember learning as toddlers.

Making a decision based on our partner’s preference or going out of our way for a significant other — even when we’ve had a difficult day ourselves — is sort of the adult equivalent of letting a classmate borrow the crayon that we really wanted to use, no? At any age, these selfless acts are considered fundamentally good.

But that doesn’t mean that being in a relationship with a supremely selfless person is fundamentally easy.

What happens when a spouse’s unflinchingly self-sacrificing behavior is built, brick by brick, into a wall so airtight that it’s no longer possible to understand the interests and desires that they hold near and dear?

Maybe it’s as simple as your partner constantly deferring to you to choose the movie or restaurant, or perhaps they are always willing to talk through the challenges of your day, while never quite opening up about their own. Maybe you feel they are always telling you just what you want to hear.

These selfless acts may feel good in the moment, but over time, they’ll limit your ability to authentically connect in your relationship. You may never learn whether they really like Mexican food and comedies best, and you may always wonder if their political views could actually be so similar to yours.

Finding yourself in a constant state of agreement may grow frustrating — and you’ll likely find yourself questioning if your partner’s selfless behavior is too good to be true. (For your sake, we hope it’s not… but your concerns are perfectly valid!)

In extreme cases, you may even feel as if you are being stonewalled, which, according to Dr. John Gottman, happens when a listener withdraws from an interaction. Have you ever felt as if your partner’s conversational generosity was simply a tool to shut down the discussion and avoid becoming more fully engaged?

Jackie: Where should we go this weekend?

Jim: I’m happy to go wherever you want to go!

Jackie: That’s great, but I want us to decide together. What would be your perfect getaway?

Jim: I will go anywhere you want. Just say the word!

Even if this conversation is sealed with a kiss and plans for an amazing weekend trip, the fact remains that Jim’s selflessness comes with a side of disengagement — and there’s no way that this goes unnoticed for Jackie.

If you’re struggling to find a healthy balance of authenticity and honesty with your selfless partner, perhaps you need to consider working toward deeper, more intimate conversations with them — drawing out their core opinions, setting a standard for more intentional, open, engaged, and reciprocal communication. Dr. Gottman has three basic rules for intimate conversations:

1. Put your feelings into words
2. Ask open-ended questions
3. Express empathy

In order to draw your partner further into more connected conversations, I suggest focusing on the latter two tips. Practicing these skills in your day-to-day interactions may help your spouse to communicate more genuinely — dare we say selfishly? — with you. Here’s how you can apply these principles more specifically with your self-sacrificing special someone.

Ask open-ended questions

Start paying closer attention to the way you engage your partner in conversation. If they are more selfless than most, you may need to be especially careful to avoid the use of yes or no questions. After all, what selfless spouse wants to say “no” when their favorite person wants to hear “yes?”

Maximize your partner’s ability to assert their opinions and preferences — in their entirety — by keeping your questions to them wide open. You may need to do it more often than feels natural. Ask “What would you like to have for dinner tonight?” instead of “Should we go out for Mexican for dinner tonight?”

The results may not be immediate, but as you establish a more consistent pattern of open-ended questioning — about everything from restaurant choices to the best way to manage your finances — we’re willing to bet that your partner will begin to realize that you expect them to engage with you at a deeper level.

Reestablishing the ground rules for conversations in your relationship may take time, but it will pay off in the long run in the form of a deeper connection with your partner.

Express empathy

Perhaps your partner struggles with authentic self-expression because their innermost opinions have never been validated with any sort of intentionality. Assuming you’ve started asking your spouse more open-ended questions, they may have begun opening up about their true preferences and desires. The trick now is to turn toward them (as Dr. Gottman always says) by engaging more fully in the conversation.

Show your partner that what they’re saying makes sense to you. If your partner is only taking baby steps away from constant selflessness, take baby steps with them. You can even show empathy for something as simple as your typically deferential spouse’s admission that they prefer Italian food to Mexican food (bear with us, we know this sounds a little crazy).

“Oh, I totally understand that,” you can say. “I feel like we always get more for our money when we go out to that Italian place down the street. And they have a great bread basket! What’s the best Italian food you’ve ever had?”

Engaging with your partner in this way shows them that you are paying attention to theirneeds, and that you may be in agreement with them as often as they are in agreement with you! Start small by validating their restaurant preferences, and watch them become more comfortable asserting their input in more consequential situations.

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