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Posts tagged ‘communication’

Protecting Your Cross-Cultural Marriage: 10 Tips

External stressors are magnified in cross cultural marriages because of disappointments when cultural assumptions are unmet. Developing a shared identity is the key to growth.


My wife Dalia and I met in our senior year of college. And, for much of that final undergraduate year, I was on my best behavior to win her over. When she finally said “yes”, my youthful naiveté led me to believe I had gotten through the toughest part. It wasn’t long after our nuptials that I realized just how wrong I was.

I expected some bumps on our marital road. I knew marriage comprised constant adjustments and difficult compromises. But nothing (neither our parents, our respective churches nor our college education) prepared us for what we ultimately would find most challenging – thriving in a cross-cultural marriage! On the day that Dalia, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Panama, and I, an African-American from the rural south, wed, “culture clash” was furthest from our minds. But, it wouldn’t be long before its presence was felt.

Disappointment: The Threat to Your Cross-Cultural Marriage

My first clue that Dalia and I were going to stumble over some cultural differences came when she lovingly offered to fix me chicken with gravy. “Excellent!” I replied. I could almost taste my grandmother’s succulent smothered chicken with biscuits.

But, when Dalia served dinner, I was visibly disappointed by the chicken entrée. Instead of the flour-based brown gravy that I was expecting, Dalia used a tomato-based gravy common to Panamanian dishes. This was certainly not what my grandmother would have prepared. After a few rounds of clarification, the misunderstanding was clear. Dalia and I used the same term “gravy” with a completely different set of expectations.

Disappointment associated with unmet expectations is a drain on many marriages. However, the threat of unmet expectations to cross-cultural marriages is more pronounced because of differing cultural idiosyncrasies. What makes the pain more difficult is that the disappointment often extends to your parents and others who are most important to you. Generally, the more dissimilar the cultures, the more pronounced the disappointment.

For Dalia and me, cross-cultural conflict has revolved around the authority of our parents, financial decisions and social interaction. Whether your expectations come from your family of origin, the social context in which you live or simply your ingrained attitudes, fundamental differences in beliefs and behaviors often impede the sense of covenant that God expects. What are your examples of unmet expectations in your cross-cultural marriage?

With twenty years of experiences in a cross-cultural marriage, I have learned that culture influences nearly every important aspects of marriage. To a large extent, communication style, boundary setting, elderly care, parenting, gender roles, food preferences, biblical interpretation and even worship style are negotiation points for the cross-cultural marriage.

When you married your spouse, you married his or her culture too. This is both the challenge and opportunity of cross-cultural marriage. Just as the kingdom of God is enriched by the diverse background and experiences of the people that worship Jesus Christ as Savior, diversity enhances marriage. Though from a different culture, your Christian spouse and you are joint heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17). This shared identity, enabled by honest communication, transforms your differences from liabilities to assets by leveraging cultural strengths. Your marital diversity covers one another’s weaknesses, broadens your ideas, models healthy conflict resolution and extends your reach for ministry.

Ten Tips for Protecting Your Cross-Cultural Marriage

Despite the stressors and disappointments in your cross-cultural marriage, if you desire God’s gifts for your marriage, He promises you a more excellent way (1 Corinthians 12:31). As you and your spouse attend to the following ten tips, I am convinced that you will see each other and your marriage the way God sees it – a vessel of honor:

  1. Prioritize your spiritual identity as a Christ follower over your cultural identity.
  2. Prioritize understanding over judging.
  3. Do not minimize what your spouse maximizes. (If your spouse thinks it is important, it is!)
  4. Everything important to you should be explained to your spouse rather than assumed.
  5. Honor and value your spouse’s parents and extended family.
  6. Negotiate boundaries with your extended families that are acceptable to each of you. (Caution: In a healthy marriage, parental loyalty should never exceed spousal loyalty.)
  7. Give your spouse the benefit of the doubt. (Grace asks that you assume the best of your spouse rather than the worst.)
  8. Embrace your identity as a cross-cultural person. (Value the fact that you represent the fusion of two cultures that enhances your perspective.)
  9. Integrate elements of your respective cultures in your daily living (e.g. food, language).
  10. Pray daily for the wisdom, grace and patience necessary to treat your spouse with trust and respect.

Be Lovingly/Honestly “Different” With Your Kids

SOURCE:  Adapted from an article by  Stepping Stones

Transformational Thought

Some mothers prepare their teenage daughters for premarital sexual activities by helping them with birth control plans. They may feel guilty asking their teenage daughters to abstain from sex outside of marriage, especially if they, as teenagers themselves, did not. Likewise, some fathers may allow their teenage sons to drink alcohol … after all, they did when they were teens … how can they say “no” now?
No matter what mistakes we may have made, that is history. If we have received Jesus’ forgiveness, the past is past. This is today … and God is calling us today to train our children in the way they should go. The way that is pleasing to Him.
But for your message to have real impact on them you need to do 3 things:
1.      Don’t just tell them the right decision to make, but live it, role model it.
2.      Understand the reasons that those behaviors aren’t good and explain them to your child. Your explanations need to go deeper than “the bible says so” or “because you’ll get in trouble”.
3.      Start equipping them with a concrete strategy so they can become better decision-makers. Teach them decision-making skills and the rewards and consequences they will experience physiologically (their brain chemistry), psychologically (their personality), and spiritually (their connection to and relationship with God). Knowing the benefits of doing the right thing will help motivate them to do the right thing.
Today, remember you don’t have to do it alone. Ask God for the courage, the strength, and the wisdom to train your children in the way they should go. Today, do some self-assessment and see how you disciple those God gave to you to mentor with decision-making skills.  
Dear God, help me to guide and disciple my children so that they won’t make the same mistakes that I did. Help me to train them in the way they should go. Help me understand how You designed me and why I make the decisions I make. Help me learn how to make Godly decisions and teach these principles and motivations to my children. I pray this and all prayers in the name of the One You sent to train me in the way I should go, Jesus Christ;  

The Truth
Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.
Proverbs 22:6
The Lord your God will delight in you if you obey his voice and keep the commands and decrees written in this Book of Instruction, and if you turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and soul. This command I am giving you today is not too difficult for you to understand, and it is within your reach. Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live! You can make this choice by loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and committing yourself firmly to him. This is the key to your life. And if you love and obey the Lord, you will live long in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Deuteronomy 30:10-11, 19-20


SOURCE:  Adapted from  the book, Once a Parent Always a Parent by Stephen Bly

(The following are notes excerpted from the source book for a workshop on how to parent and relate to adult children.)


Many have adult children at home?

Many have adult children out of the house?

Many have adult children that are in the process of returning home?

Sometime when our children are between the ages of 18 – 20, a dramatic turn of events takes place in our parenting.  Dr. James Dobson (with Focus on the Family) calls it our “final release from parental responsibility”; that is, we have completed the task of our responsibility for our children’s day-to-day behavior.

That is when we let them go.  “We are given 18 or 20 years to interject the proper values and attitudes,” Dobson says, “then we must take our hands off and trust in divine leadership to influence the outcome.”

The parental role changes drastically at this time, but it has not been eliminated.  As long as we live, we will be much more to our children than simply friends, counselors, or encouragers.  We will always be Mom & Dad.

Our obligations to them change quite dramatically, however.  Up to this point, we have interjected our parenting into their lives in decreasing levels of intensity.  But from this point on we must stop altogether.  The adult child must now be the one to determine when and where our love, wisdom, and skills are needed.

Many parents look forward to the empty nest.  However, for many parents, the empty nest is a myth.  Some parents shudder at the thought that the nest will never become empty.  Many can feel resigned, maybe angry, and sometimes like failures…or even just trapped.  Sometimes, the nest is more than full, it’s CROWDED!  The bottom line is our roles will certainly change and vary with age and circumstances, but we will always be parents.  And, in some sense, our job is never finished.


PRI – Premarital Residential Independence

RYAS – Returning Young Adult Syndrome

ILYA – Incompletely Launched Young Adults

First, if you have adult children at home, relax.  It’s a common practice.  Research data indicate that, among midlife parents (age 45-54) who have adult children, about half have an adult child living at home.  Second, if you have adult children at home, it is not necessarily a sign of failure.

Why Adult Children Come Home:

– Economics – college, graduate school, spiraling education costs; slow job market; inadequate salary; saving for buying a home, etc;

– Marriage Deterioration – divorce or separation;

(Adult children seek a place that provides security, stability, and acceptance –>home.)

– Career Changes

– The Comfort-of-Home-Factor

(Some children are in no hurry to abandon the comfort of the world we have created for them.)

Six Problems to Anticipate When Adult Children Return Home

– Arguments

(Chances are, your patterns of settling differences with your adult children will be very similar to what it was when they were teenagers.)

– Increased Need for Privacy

(Big people take up more space than little people and have more stuff; they stay up later; they begin their free times later; they have friends over later who stay longer.)

– Continuing Sibling Rivalry

“It isn’t fair.”  “Mom and Dad are spoiling him/her.”

(There will be rivalry between your resident adult child and your nonresident adult child.)

– Disagreement Over Finances

(More people cost more.  Consider incremental costs and extend these costs out over a year…two years….money can become a source of serious contention.)

– Extra Tension Between Mom & Dad

(Mom and Dad might not agree on whether they should allow the adult child to move back at all.  They may not agree about what the rules should be once the adult child moves back.  Most often, it seems fathers see resident adult children as some sort of failure, while mothers view them as kids who still need mothering.)

– Serious Strain in Households with Returning Stepchildren and in Single-Parent households

(If there has been conflict between a parent and a step-child (ren), it can be tolerated because parents hope for relief when stepchildren reach the age to seek independent residence.  BUT what if the stepchild does NOT move out…..or moves BACK?  In a single parent situation, a returning child can cause  an emotional and financial burden difficult to bear.)

It is helpful to understand the potential sources of conflict that can occur in a crowded nest, but it can work.  While always striving for the biblical goal of independence for our children, we can still enjoy the benefits that come along with the strain of having an adult child at home.

Building the Family WITH Resident Adult Children

– Talk More But Don’t Yell

(Weekly family council meetings might be a good forum where the entire family sits down and discusses how things are going.  Any subject can be approached.  Any subject can be offered.  No yelling…No insults…Just open talk.)

– Divide the Tasks and Expenses

(Negotiate roles and responsibilities in the context of a “shared household.”  Who is going to do what when?)

-Plan Together Where All of This is Leading

(It is important to discuss what the long-term goals might be for the present living condition.  Having a plan does not guarantee it will be completed, but it does unite all parties around a common goal.)

– Spend Time Playing Together

(Find ways to have fun with your adult child.  Parental satisfaction with co-residence appears to be highest when parents are involved with adult children in pleasurable activities.  Don’t allow your home to be a lonely place, merely a room and a bed, for your resident adult child.)

-Times to Say “NO” to adult children

+Refuses to recognize your authority over the home;

+Is physically abusive

+Is verbally abusive

+Is using your home merely to avoid facing any unresolved situation such as responsibilities of life, mar4riage difficulties

+Abuses or is addicted to drugs/alcohol and refuses treatment

+Repeatedly steals or destroys your belongings


Wait until your son/daughter stands at the altar, pledging vows to some other person.  He’s not the baby anymore.  She’s not Daddy’s little girl.  And, you are certainly not the focus of your grown-up child’s attention.

A constant question for parents is at what point should we attempt to stop living out our plans for their lives and let them begin to discover their own.  How can we give advice, ask the right questions, and let them think through what they are planning to do?

Mate Selection Questions The Adult Child Should Consider

– Does This Person Bring Out Your Best Behavior?

(This should be true whether your child is 20 or 40.)

– Do You Enjoy Being Around His/Her Relatives?

– Do You Have Compatible Views on Sex, Money, and Religion?

– Can You Love This Person for a Lifetime, Even If He or She Never Changes?

– Do You and Your Prospective Mate View Each Other As Equals?

– Is Your Prospective Mate Serious Enough To Make A Long-Term Commitment?

– Do You and Your Prospective Mate Understand Each Other’s Goals?

Four Crucial Times To Talk To Your Adult Child About His/Her Upcoming Marriage

– When You Have Reasonable Concern About the Mate Selected

(Make sure your child understands the difficulties ahead.)

– When Your Friends/Family Are Asking Why Your Adult Child Isn’t Married Yet

(If anyone is nagged into marriage by worried parents/friends, that person’s marriage will have a very weak foundation.  Single adult children are just as delightful, fun, interesting, and successful as married ones.  Let your adult children know you love them the way they are…single or married.)

– When It Is Time To Begin Planning The Wedding Service

(Many times the first major arguments between an adult daughter and her mother is about the wedding service.  Parents see this as the last big hurrah they can provide for their adult children, and the adult children see this as one of the first events in adult life they get to plan the way they desire.  Remember, learn to advise and ask the right questions to guide their thinking.)

– When Your Adult Child Is Marrying For the Second (+) Time

(Have frank discussions about the wisdom of waiting…that you love them in spite of divorce…..discuss how the relationship will be with the former daughter/son-in-law…how you will grandparent your grandchildren….how the new adult child’s spouse will be treated as a first-class member of the family….let everyone know they are in your prayers continually.)

Being parents of adult children usually hits it highest intensity when your adult child marries or remarries.


How do we learn to “worry” about our adult kids in a nice, healthy way?

How much should we, as parents, be aware of our adult children’s comings and goings?

We need to be involved and aware to be a healthy constant factor/presence in their routine family life….BUT…trying to know where they are all the time and involved in the details of their lives opens us up to being a pest.

Guidelines For Communication

– Assume It Is As Much Your Responsibility As It Is Theirs To Keep The Friendship Growing With Your Adult Children

– Develop A Communication Routine With Your Adult Children, And Be Careful About Keeping It.

(Consider letter writing, fun activities, evenings out, holidays, family meals, and phone calls)

– Adapt The Communication Routine To Best Fit The Individual Needs Of Each Child

– Special Times For Contact:

* Change of vocations, job positions, etc

* Participation in their favorite hobby, tournament, competition, interest, special event

* Purchase of something major such as a house, swimming pool, piano, etc.

* Receiving an honor, award, achievement

* Times of serious illness or an accident

* Experiencing failure or disappointment or setbacks

* Holidays

* Events involving grandchildren

Showing You Care

– Let Them Know Where You Are And What You Are Doing

– Let Them Know You Keep Up With Them And Their Activities

– Have A Regular Prayer Time For Your Adult Children, And Let Them Know

– Ask Their Advice Given Their Expertise

– Display Current Photos

– Keep Their Treasures

(Not the 97 broken crayons and the box containing only half of the puzzle pieces)

– Enjoy Your Adult Children’s Friends

– Say “I Love You”

– Participate In Their Adventures, Interests

– Show Support In Times Of Successes And Struggles

– Don’t Let Them Get Away With Sin

This is the tough one!

We all have times we need to be lovingly confronted….do so with patience and instruction….letting them know you are not perfect.  Don’t make enemies…the goal of confrontation is a loving, biblical lifestyle and relationship.


– Get Yourself In Good Financial Shape First.

– Distinguish Clearly Between Gifts And Loans

(Gifts should be gifts with no strings attached and no payments due.  You can give your adult child your vast wisdom about how to use it, but the gift is all theirs.)

– Put All Loans Of Any Significant Amount In Writing

(Loans should be based on more than just memory.)

– Make Sure You and Your Mate Completely Agree.

(Agreement in parenting is an extremely important factor whether your kids are 5 or 50.)

– Make Sure Everyone Understands The Strings That Might Be Attached

(Everyone must understand the details…all assumptions must be written down….any particular requirements must be noted.)

– When You Just Don’t Have Money To Spare, Or When You Think Assisting With Money Is The Wrong Thing To Do, Help Your Children Find Another Solution

(Maybe you could help them find a used car instead of a new car….maybe selling something to raise the cash…maybe getting an extra job instead of a loan.)

– As Parents, Understand And Uphold A Biblical View Of Money

For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil….Let your character be free from the love of money….being content with what you have….

There’s more to family life than trying to take care of every monetary need your adult children might have.  Parents are not the cavalry ready to rescue adult children from every financial pinch.  Our kids are on their own.  They need to learn to pray and pay their way, budget their funds, live within their means.  But, at the same time, why in the world have we worked so hard for so long if we can’t enjoy using part of our income to help out our own kids?



We all have times when we just have to say “no.”  Some decisions are quite simple.  Many are not.

Four Important Things To Do Before You Give Your Answer

– Listen

(Make sure you have heard the whole story.  Maybe the real need takes a while to surface.)

– Think

(Ask, “How much time do I have to think about this before you need an answer?”  Don’t just say “yes.”  Don’t just say, “You must be kidding.”)

– Discuss

(Talk over the situation carefully with your mate.)

– Pray

(There is higher knowledge..and divine wisdom…take time to talk to God.)

When you heart tells you one thing and your mind tells you something else, let your spirit cast the deciding vote.  Your decision, whether yes or no, should be one that you feel at ease with in the presence of God.

Characteristics Of  A Nice “NO”

– Be Reasonable

(Your answer should come  with good reasons to support it, and it should be open to reasonable questions.  Reasonable does not necessarily mean that your children will agree with the reasons.  Reasonable does not mean you are always right.  Reasonable does not remove the ability to change your mind.  Reasonable means you thought it over carefully and acted upon your best wisdom at that particular moment.)

– Be Gentle

(Put forth an answer that coveys the feeling of tenderness and compassion.)

– Be Distinct

(Jesus said we should let our “yes” be yes and our “no” be no.  Make your “yes” indisputable.  Make your “no” crystal clear.)

– Be Edifying

(Edification means that your words helped another person’s moral, intellectual, or spiritual improvement.  How will saying “no” help them understand and benefit from this?  By setting boundaries, coming up with alternative solutions, by giving solid, reasonable information.)

– Be Peaceful And Strengthening

(But “no” is such a pessimistic word???  They will get mad if I tell them “no.!!!”

Remember, that peace and strength are much more than just the absence of conflict.  Peace is confident assurance that God is still in control in the midst of conflict.  Strength is the ability to endure a tough situation and come out of it tougher than you were before.  Both characteristics assume conflict and trial.  Sometimes saying “no” is just what our children need to toughen them up. In facing up to the dilemma, they can find peace and strength.)

– Be Concerned About Long-Term Goals

(Proper behavior when your children are old is a long-term goal.  If saying “yes “would enable a behavior or lifestyle or decision that is ultimately harmful to them and their children, perhaps the answer is “no.”  Example:  “Could you loan us the money to buy the boat so we can spend weekends at the lake?”   Maybe you know this would perhaps enable them to never come to church.)


What do you do when adult children reject moral, social, and spiritual wisdom and choose a life that is totally unacceptable?

Remember –

* A Good Environment Does Not Ensure Perfect Children.

(Consider the Garden of Eden….The Prodigal Son)

* There Are No Perfect People

* All People Are Responsible For Their Own Actions

* All People (even our adult children) Are Capable Of Totally Unreasonable Actions

* Behavior Does Not Necessarily Reflect Home Environment

* Eventually We Have To Allow Our Adult Children To Make Their Own Choices

* Make Sure Adult Children Know The Door To Home Is Never Completely Shut

* Make Sure Adult Children Know There Is A Longing To Forgive

(This does not mean they are let off the hook of personal responsibility.  No does it mean they can blame others or the devil that a particular behavior is sin. But we are determined to see him/her through one way or another.)

* Make Sure Adult Children See An Open Display Of Compassion

(Many times for fallen adult children, parents are sometimes their last hope.)

* Make Sure All Adult Children Have Explanations When They Don’t Understand Your Decisions

(It is the adult child’s sibling that has the hardest time understanding.)

* Make Sure More Emphasis Is Placed On Relationship Than On Finances Or Material Possessions

(The more serious the offense committed, the more difficult it is to forgive.  The less repentant the offender, the more difficult the act of forgiveness.  Truly repentant children, no matter what the acts committed, need your forgiveness almost as much as they need God’s forgiveness.  And true repentance of sin (that is repentance that leads to a change of behavior) is always accepted by God.)

But what about those tough cases where there is no repentance?  We must do our share and trust in God’s empowerment as we live with the burden of incomplete relationships until they are ready to repent of their failure

* Parents Can Not Give Up

(Keep praying, seeking counsel, reading, setting boundaries, exploring alternatives that might work, but keep your heart and home open.)

* Parents Can Not Cut Off All Contact

( Look for the little things…the exceptions…the meager attempts that you can use to capitalize on and reinforce the type of behavior that will be beneficial.)

* Parents Can Not Negate The Sin

(There is right…there is wrong…and even the best raised children do wrong.)

* Parents Can Not Reverse The Damage

(You can’t prevent circumstances and consequences from taking place.  You can’t always protect the grandchildren from psychological harm.)

Forgiveness is not the end of the story.  Forgiveness is not the last step in reestablishing a relationship.  It is the first.


SOURCE: Adapted from The Second Half of Marriage by David/Claudia Arp

Are you in the second half of marriage?  Check out these symptoms:

*You have teenagers who will soon leave the nest.

*Your own parents are aging.

*You were recently invited to a 25th high school reunion.

*You exercise more and burn fewer calories doing it.

*You just received an invitation to join AARP.

*By the time you get your spouse’s attention, you’ve forgotten what you were going to say.

If you identify with these symptoms, you are in or are approaching the second half of marriage. The first half of marriage involved launching your union and surviving the active parenting years.  For some, menopause and the adolescent years may hit simultaneously, making the challenge in the second half of marriage even greater.

The transition into the second half of marriage is a crisis time for many couples.  The current trend of long-term marriages breaking up in record numbers is alarming.   Why the jump in divorces for this age group?  Could it be that as people begin to realize they are going to live longer, they don’t want to spend the rest of their life in an unhappy and unfulfilled marriage?  While many long-term marriages avoid divorce, other second-half issues can produce much stress.  The children grow up and leave home; our parents age and die; we may add a few pounds and more bulges; we may have less energy and move slower; one’s career may be winding down (while the spouse’s career is taking off); we begin to realize how fast life goes by and that if we are going to make changes, we’d better hurry, because we don’t have a lot of time left.

Marital researchers have discovered that for couples who hang together through the midlife transition, marital satisfaction begins to rise again and stays that way – if couples risk growing in their relationship.  The second half of marriage gives you the opportunity to reinvent your marriage, to make mid-course adjustments, and to reconnect with one another in a more meaningful way.  Healthy long-term marriages have staying power, because they are held together from within.

The following eight challenges describe the areas that if worked on will enrich your marriage for the second half.

The Eight Challenges for the Second Half of Marriage:

1.  Let go of past marital disappointments, forgive each other, and commit to making the rest of your marriage the best.

2.  Create a marriage that is partner-focused rather than child/career-focused.

3.  Maintain an effective communication system that allows you to express your deepest feelings, joys, and concerns.

4.  Use anger and conflict in a creative way to build your relationship.

5.  Build a deeper friendship and enjoy your spouse.

6.  Renew romance and restore a pleasurable sexual relationship.

7.  Adjust to changing roles with aging parents and adult children.

8.  Evaluate where you are on your spiritual pilgrimage, grow closer to each other and to God, and together serve others.

Challenge 1Let go of past marital disappointments – forgive each other – commit to making the rest of your marriage the best.

A.  Identify grievances.  Actually make a list.  This list is personal – not necessarily to be shared with your spouse.

B.  Evaluate the grievances you listed.  Which ones can easily be forgiven?  Which need to be discussed?  Which do you need professional help with to overcome?

C. Decide to forgive.  Are you willing to forgive your spouse for the items you listed?  Forgiveness begins with a simple decision – an act of the will.

D.  Let go.  Ceremoniously let go of the little grievances you listed.  Perhaps you will want to burn them or bury them.

E.  Change your responses now that you’ve forgiven your spouse.  Try replacing any future negative response to a situation with a loving encouragement for your spouse.

F.  List the things you will do in the second half of marriage:

*We will release and let go of our missed dreams and disappointments with each other, with our children, with our parents, and with ourselves;

*We will accept each other as a package deal;

*We will forgive and ask forgiveness when needed;

*We will renew our commitment to each other and to growing together in the second half of our marriage.

Challenge 2. Create a marriage that is partner-focused rather than child/career-focused.

A. Recognize that we grow at different rates, roles may switch, and rules may change.

*Many wives may become more focused and assertive and are eager to try their professional wings – especially if the first half of marriage was dedicated to parenting children.  Many men may decide to slow down and enjoy life a little bit more.

B. Recognize the need to become closer companions.

*Many couples facing the second half of marriage have little shared privacy because lives have been consumed by children and careers. As important as children, parents, friends, jobs, and hobbies may be, strive to make the marriage more important.  Develop a concept of “we-ness” and look for ways to develop it.

C. Make a commitment to personal growth, to developing an effective communication system, and to learn how to make creative use of conflict.

Challenge 3Maintain an effective communication system that allows you to express your deepest feelings, joys, and concerns.

A. Avoid negative patterns of communicating – Consider doing what is positive and works.

*Negative pattern 1 – Avoider-Confronter Couple.  The avoider often retreats into his or her own world.  He/she prefers to ignore problems and let them slide.  For the most part, avoiders are uncomfortable talking about their feelings.  The confronter has no trouble expressing her or her feelings.

*Negative pattern 2 – Conflict-Avoiding Couple.  Conflict-avoiding couples may work well together in many areas, such as building careers or parenting.  However, they lack close personal relationship.  When it comes to deep, intimate conversation or dealing with personal issues, they are distant from one another.  Instead of dealing with negative feelings, they stuff them inside.

*Negative pattern 3 – Conflict-Confronting Couple.  The conflict-confronting couple has no lack of communication, however, much of it is negative and hurtful.  Instead of dealing with conflict, they vent frustrations to the point that effective communication is stifled.

*Positive pattern – Interpersonally Competent Couple.  This involves working on developing  new and better ways to communicate and learning to use conflict constructively. Avoid what doesn’t work, and seek out more of what works better through reading, counseling, workshops.

Challenge 4Use anger and conflict in a creative way to build your relationship.

A. Understand that conflict and anger are givens in any marriage, but if we learn the skills for dealing with them, we can build rather than destroy our relationship.

*Analyze your own anger.  Ask yourself, “What am I really angry about? What is the problem, and whose problem is it?  How can I sort out who is responsible for what? How can I learn to express my anger in a way that will not leave me feeling helpless and powerless?  How can I clearly communicate my position without becoming defensive or attacking?

*Together as a couple make an anger contract.  This is a protective way to confront anger as a couple. Make your anger contract at a time when you are not angry!

First, agree to tell each other when you first realize you are getting angry. Second, renounce the “right” to vent your anger on your spouse.  Third, ask for your spouse’s help in dealing with whatever is causing the anger.

B. Marriage turbulence can even be healthy.  A solid marriage relationship provides “a safe place to resolve honest conflict and process your anger. It can help your marriage grow.”

Challenge 5. Build a deeper friendship and enjoy your spouse.

A. Building a long-term friendship in the second half of marriage is influenced by many things including health issues.

*Take care of yourself.  Invest in your health.

*Pace yourself.  Is it realistic to try to maintain the same pace of ten years ago?

*Build relationships and maintain them.  Build friendships outside your extended family to maintain a good support system.

*Stretch your boundaries.  Try new things or a new approach to “old” things.

*Stay involved with life.  Actively search for your passion.  Continue to learn and grow.

*Hang in there.  Avoid making drastic decisions when you’re feeling down.

B.  Plan for fun and have fun.

*Picnic in the park date.

*“I’m too tired date.” Grab some takeout food and avoid the phone/answer


*Photo date. Set the timer on the camera and take some couple pictures.

*Gourmet-cooking date.  Plan the menu, do the shopping, and cook dinner – together!

*Highway date. Go exploring within a fifty-mile radius of home.

*Workout date.  Take a walk together or exercise together.

*Home Depot date.  Go to a home improvement store and plan and scheme your next improvement project.

*Window-shopping date.  Go window-shopping…maybe when the stores are closed.

*Airport date. Sit in the air terminal and watch the people come and go.

*Proposal date.  Go to a public place and ask your mate to marry you again.

Challenge 6Renew romance and restore a pleasurable sexual relationship.

A.  According to researchers, the hardest part of maintaining love and closeness is learning how to keep intimacy alive through the years of a marriage – especially the second half.

B.  Marriages grow in stages.  In the first decade couples learn about each other.  Children come along and test the limits of our energy.  The second decade of marriage entails fighting off boredom.  But, it’s in the third decade that things can really change.  Sex is an important aspect of marriage, but it is an area many couples are hesitant to talk about.  It is important as we face the empty nest years that we reexamine our attitude and bravely talk with our partner about our love life.  Also, as we reach midlife and beyond, we need to understand how our bodies change as we age – physically, psychologically, and hormonally.

*Reset the pace.  A man’s response time slows down as he ages. Instead of worrying about it, relax and enjoy it.  Think of the sexual relationship in the second half as a delightful stroll, not a sprint.

*Take action.  While younger men are stimulated by what they see, by age forty or fifty, men may be more stimulated by touching and caressing.

*Balance the seesaw.  Stop boredom by having both partners be the initiator from time to time.

*Dare to experiment. Because response times may be different or longer, this is a great time to experiment remembering “getting there can be half the fun.”

*Achieve more from less.  Find whatever frequency works best for your.  Let your lovemaking be anticipated and savored, and make the quality of the sexual experience your focus.

C.  Rekindling romance doesn’t just happen.  It takes some effort.  Couples can read books and talk together about how to “spice up” their love life.

D.  If because of severe health or other issues, the sexual relationship is difficult, talk to a physician or counselor to bring in other resources and perspective.

Challenge 7. Adjust to changing roles with aging parents and adult children.

A.  Being caught between teenage or adult children and aging parents is a dilemma many second half couples face.  The challenge is, how can you keep your marriage the anchor relationship while relating to other family members on both ends of the “family seesaw”?  Whatever your situation, your relationship with your elderly parents affects your marriage.  Whether the effect is positive or negative depends more on you than on the situation.

B.  Typical problems that prevent a healthy relationship with aging parents:

*Lack of trust. If parents have little trust and respect for their adult children, it will be hard to have a close relationship.  Not all elderly parent-adult children relationships are close.  Accepting those things you cannot change will help you to change the things you can.

*Lack of adult status. Ever feel as if you’re still a kid in your parents’ eyes?  And whenever you’re around your elderly parents, you react much as you did when you were growing up in their home?  You may not be able to change your parents’ view of you, but you can make a choice to treat your adult children differently.

*Denial.  Lack of open communication with your aging parents will make helping them more difficult.  Also, should memory losses occur and physical changes take place, elderly parents may deny that they need any help.  This leaves the adult child in a frustrating place.

*Excessive demands and manipulation. Along with a demanding parent can be the one who is manipulative.  With outside resources such as reading and counsel, it is important that we learn how to deal with issues of false guilt, not feeling responsible for what we can’t control, and maintaining a healthy, balanced life of our own.

C.  As we honor and care for our parents, we should not put them above our spouse.  At the same time, whatever our situation with our parents, we should try to build positive bridges with them.

D.  Dealing with adult children.  The transition into adult relationships with our children and their spouses can be a difficult challenge and if not well-managed can greatly affect our own marriage.  We need to be willing to let go and respect our adult children’s boundaries.  An unwillingness to let go is closely related to lack of adult status and lack of trust.  The question is, are we willing to let go – to release our children into adulthood and let them lead their own lives?  Building healthy, trusting relationships with your adult children can enrich the second half of your marriage.  and when your children marry, develop a relationship with each couple.

Visit but don’t stay too long.  Let them parent their own children.  Try not to give advice. Build a relationship with each grandchild.  Whatever your family background and whatever relationship you have today with your own parents, remember that you can build a healthy bridge to your own children and grandchildren.

Challenge 8Evaluate where you are on your spiritual pilgrimage, grow closer to each other and God, and together serve others.

A.  Consider what are your basic beliefs about what elevates your own marriage.

*God brought us together in the first place.

*Our continuing life together is part of God’s divine purpose.

*We have a witness to bear together.

*A shared life must have a sacrificial quality.

*A Christian marriage must find spiritual expression.

B.  It is God who can give us new passion for our spouse.  He is the one who can enable us to have an open and honest relationship and to construct a quality marital relationship.

C.  As each spouse grows in his or her spiritual pilgrimage:

*Accept where both you and your spouse are on that journey.

*Don’t force or coerce your spouse to attend or do something with you that you know he or she won’t enjoy.

*Be teachable and willing to learn.

*Promote spiritual closeness and unity through simple couple devotions and/or praying together.  Start with just 10 minutes a day.

D.  Consider serving others.

*Reflect His image together to others in a hurting world.

*Be beacons that give light to others and create a thirst for healthy marriage relationships.

*Reflect on these questions –

-What is something about which we are both passionate?

-If we have adult children (or will have), how can we be role models for them?

-What are some ways in which we can serve others together?

The Eight Challenges for the Second Half of Marriage

1.  Let go of past marital disappointments, forgive each other, and commit to making the rest of your marriage the best.

2.  Create a marriage that is partner-focused rather than child/career-focused.

3.  Maintain an effective communication system that allows you to express your deepest feelings, joys, and concerns.

4.  Use anger and conflict in a creative way to build your relationship.

5.  Build a deeper friendship and enjoy your spouse.

6.  Renew romance and restore a pleasurable sexual relationship.

7.  Adjust to changing roles with aging parents and adult children.

8.  Evaluate where you are on your spiritual pilgrimage, grow closer to each other and to God, and together serve others.

10 Ideas: Connecting With Your Kids

SOURCE:   Mary May Larmoyeux 

Children are a heritage from the Lord.
—Psalm 127:3

In today’s activity-packed society, it’s more important than ever to intentionally connect with your kids. Here are 10 ideas that can help you get to know your children better and pass on a legacy of faith and fun.

1. During dinner ask everyone to share one piece of both good news and bad news from the day.

2. Have regular “Kids’ Nights to Cook.” Set up a restaurant atmosphere in your home and create some lifetime memories. Little ones will enjoy decorating the table and making special menus for the evening.

3. Visit a local bookstore with your children and ask them to help you choose a family devotional. Then work through it together.

4. If you have a sports enthusiast in your home, ask him or her to give you and your spouse regular updates about what’s going on in the world of sports—both locally and nationally.

5. Do a one-on-one activity with each child at least once a week.

6. Take turns choosing Bible verses that the entire family can memorize together. Using a special journal or notebook, ask the children to record each verse after the family has memorized it together.

7. Once a week after mealtime, draw names to see who will be in the “hot seat.” (Discard each name after it is drawn so everybody will eventually be chosen.) Family members will ask the person in the “hot seat” a question that cannot be answered “Yes” or “No.”

8. When bringing the kids to school, take turns being prayer warriors—praying for each person’s day.

9. After dinner, rotate sharing a “joke of the day.”

10. Have regular family nights doing something fun that everyone enjoys.



SOURCE:  Bill Bellican

Below are some examples of questions you might use in building your relationship with your child/teen.  Prayerfully consider how the Lord might have you work these into conversations at different times.  Don’t use these questions like a project where you ask your child to answer all the questions as though it was a homework assignment.  Weave them throughout your interactions with your child.  Get to know them better.  Enter their world.  Explore what is of interest to them.  This is not a time to fix things or pass judgement.  Make it about them as opposed to you.  Listen.  Learn.  Proverbs 1:5 admonishes us: “Let the wise listen and add to their learning.”  Seek the grace and ability from the Lord to really listen and add to your learning about your child.  Then, you will become wiser with your parenting.  Plus, you will be building a great relationship.  Finally, ask the Lord to give you the insight and creativity to add more of your own questions to this list.

1.  Who is your best friend?

2.  What color would you like for the walls in your bedroom?

3.  Who is your greatest hero?

4.  What embarrasses you the most?

5.  What is your biggest fear?

6.  What is your favorite type of music?

7.  What person outside the immediate family has most influenced your life?

8.  What is your favorite school subject?

9.  What is your least favorite school subject?

10. What have you done you feel most proud of?

11. What is your biggest complaint about the family?

12. What sport do you most enjoy?

13. What is your favorite TV program?

14. What really makes you angry?

15. What would you like to be when you get older?

16. What chore do you like least?

17. What three foods do you like most?

18. What is your most prized possession?

19. What is your favorite family occasion?

20. What activity did you most recently enjoy?


Source:   Before a Bad Goodbye by Tim Clinton

Call a truce – a cessation of hostilities.  Give it all a rest.

This is not giving up territory.  None of the issues that have brought you here have been resolved or lost.  All lines in the sand remain where they’re drawn.  You don’t have to jump into each other’s arms; just stop lobbing shells at each other.

Stop hurting each other.  There has been enough of that!

The last thing you or your spouse need right now is more negativity and hurt.  From this point on, choose to be either polite or be positive.

Specifically do and don’t do the following:

*DO Respect Your Partner: This might be very hard to do right now.  Having been hurt as you probably have, respect might be a difficult word to reclaim for your vocabulary.  But try.  You and your spouse may view things very differently.  But by learning about those differences and what motivates them, and by exercising patience and understanding, you can come together and find workable solutions to your problems.  How do you gain respect?  By behaving respectfully to one another, and by behaving in ways worthy of respect.

*DON’T Use Words To Hurt: Give up old patterns of using wild accusations, vulgarity, name calling, raised voices, and threats to make yourself heard.  These destructive behaviors accomplish nothing and leave both partners feeling angry and manipulated.  Screaming only means that somewhere along the way you’ve lost control and have failed to get your message across effectively.  If you suddenly feel like exploding, stop, realize that you still have some work to do to make your point, and quietly restate your argument.

DON’T Force Settlements: Insisting that a dispute be settled “immediately,” no matter how poor the setting might be—mealtime, bedtime, in public—can be disastrous. A postponement allows tempers to cool and gives both partners time to look over the situation more realistically and less emotionally.

DON’T Attack Your Partner’s Soft-Spot: You know your spouse’s buttons—you probably know them better than your spouse does.  Stay away from them.  Intentional wounding cuts deeply and heals slowly.  Stick to the issue.

*DON’T Shut Down: Not only does the “silent treatment” end effective communication, but it also defeats any possibility of compromise and allows misunderstandings to fester. If you need a break—take one!  But come back quickly.

*DON’T Involve Others: No matter how heated the argument, no matter how important it is that you win, don’t drag the children or other relatives, or friends, or any one else into it.  If you need an ally, call on the Lord; and if you need someone to mediate, call on an objective professional counselor or pastor.

It is scary to think about giving up negatives—the barbs, the intimidation, the yelling and screaming.  It’s not only been the only way to be heard, but it’s also been your method of defense. So, naturally you’re frightened.  The idea creates a terrible vulnerability.  In actuality, standing firm without barbed wire defending your perimeter is a much stronger position to hold.

As you can imagine, there are obstacles that can rear up that cause couples to hesitate in establishing the truce.  Most center around a fear of failure and, ultimately, a fear of being hurt again.

“Before I commit to anything, I want to see a flicker of love from my partner” is the most common statement of hesitation. You want some assurance that if you make the commitment, your partner will love you enough to not turn the commitment against you.  But there is no assurance.  Even if you could see a flicker of love, it could go out tomorrow.  The only safety is to strengthen yourself in the Love of Jesus, to realize that He is the only One whose love never flickers or fails.

By committing to make your marriage the most important thing in your life for the next few weeks and to be polite and positive with your mate, you’re risking very little.  If betrayed, you can always begin the war again.  Of course, once you feel the relief this kind of strength gives you, you may never see the need to rejoin the war.

Another obstacle concerns the cost of love; opening yourself up to being hurt again may seem too great a risk.  The fear of being hurt is normal.  Some 2,000 years ago, our Savior weighed the price His Father had placed on His love for His people.  “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done” (Luke 22:42).  Jesus, although prepared to go to the cross and to suffer separation from His Father to save His people from their sins, for a moment poignantly asked God the Father if He might reconsider.  If you’re concerned about the cost of loving your spouse, consider the cost Jesus paid for loving you.

Another common obstacle is the statement, “Making this step is foreign to me,” or some similar words.  It may be that people who say this just don’t want to take the chance that things might only get worse.  They’ll admit that all this talk of truce and rebuilding sounds good but think, in the end, it won’t amount to much.  Then they’ll have just spent more time on the road getting to safety or the divorce court.  But God fashions life; chance never enters into it.  He’s called you to do the right thing, and loving your spouse and committing yourself to a vital and God-honoring marriage is definitely the right thing.

And finally, one other statement is said often:  “I can’t love again.”  It’s a terribly forlorn statement.  Love is so basic to us – we were born in the garden out of God’s love and to believe that love is an emotion of the past is like waking to an eternal winter.  What’s worse is those who take it a step farther and believe love is at the root of all the evil that’s befallen them, that it’s actually a blessing to live the rest of their lives loveless.  But love is not the culprit; not loving in God’s model is.

Over the next four to six weeks, do your part to make the truce work as you take the next steps allowing the Lord to heal, rebuild, and restore your marriage to the way He originally intended it to be.


Source:  Family Life Today

The following are specific questions to ask your wife to learn from her, to acquire meaningful information that you can use in the marriage in your role as a husband, to develop more relational intimacy and emotional depth in the marriage, and to engage in needed conversations about important matters affecting the marriage.

1.  What could I do to make you feel more loved?

2.  What could I do to make you feel more respected?

3.  What could I do to make you feel more understood?

4.  What could I do to make you feel more secure?

5.  What can I do to make you feel more confident in our future direction?

6.  What attribute would you like me to develop?

7.  What attribute would you like me to help you develop?

8.  What achievement in my life would bring you greatest joy?

9.  What would indicate to you that I really desire to be more Christlike?

10.  What mutual goal would you like to see us accomplish?

50 Ideas for Husbands, Wives, Dads & Moms

Source:  Family Life Today


1) I will compliment my spouse about something at least once a day for the next two weeks.

2)  Since I am likely blinded to my own subtle selfishness, I will ask my spouse to carefully identify (with sensitivity) an area where to him/her I appear selfish.  Then I will make needed adjustments.

3)  My spouse and I will discuss specific ways the homes in which we were raised have had an effect on our marriage.

4)  My spouse and I will discuss the expectations we feel from one another.

5)  At the next opportunity, I will tell my spouse, “You are not my enemy.”

6)  [For Husbands]  I will begin praying with my wife on a daily basis.

7)  Recognizing that the best thing I an do for my children is to love my spouse, I will tell my children this week that I love their mother/father very much, and that our marriage comes first, ahead of them.

8)  As a tangible way of receiving my spouse as God’s perfect provision for me, I will:

-Tell my spouse that I am thankful that God brought us together;

-Ask forgiveness (from God and from my spouse) for how I have rejected my spouse in the past;

-Make a fresh commitment to God and to my spouse that our marriage will reflect God’s image.

9)  I will specifically affirm my spouse for the differences that may have irritated me in the past.  I will look for the hidden strengths in those things I have seen as weaknesses.

10) My spouse and I will discuss ways we can cultivate companionship in our relationship.  We can choose a common interest to begin to pursue together.

11) My spouse and I will discuss ways we have seen Satan work in our relationship.

12) My spouse and I will discuss areas in our marriage where we may still be dependent on our parents.

13) My spouse and I will discuss how our relationship with God affects our relationship with each other.

14) My spouse and I will discuss how we can encourage one another to have a stronger relationship with God.

15) When my spouse is speaking, I will stop what I am doing, be fully attentive, and listen with a sincere attempt to understand before expressing my viewpoint.

16) I will make a date with my spouse sometime in the next _______ day(s) to discuss the following questions:

-What could I do to make you feel more loved?

-What attribute would you like me to develop?

-What attribute would you like me to help you develop?

-What mutual goal would you like to see us accomplish?

-What could I do to make you feel more confident in our future direction?

17) In order to forge a stronger bond with my spouse, I will never weaken the foundations of our relationship by threatening or suggesting the possibility of divorce.  I will ask my spouse to forgive me if I have made those kinds of threats in the past.

18) To cultivate a healthier romantic relationship, I want to plan some kind of fun, creative, and romantic time together with my spouse once a month.

19) Recognizing how different we are as men and women, I will work to be more understanding and more sympathetic to my spouse’s desires and needs for intimacy.

20) I will seek to say positive and affirming things about my spouse’s appearance, instead of saying anything hurtful or negative.

21) If I need to buy a new nightgown or pajamas, I will do it.

22) I will learn to be less demanding and more sensitive to my spouse’s intimacy needs.

23) My spouse and I will discuss fun, non-sexual things we can do together to help recapture the companionship we experienced when we were dating.

24) My spouse and I will discuss the impact my past history of sexual activity, including past sexual abuse, may have had on our sexual relationship.


25) I will look for specific ways I can support my husband and affirm his leadership in our relationship.

26) I will work in the power of the Holy Spirit, to guard my tongue and to avoid critical words or a complaining attitude.

27) I will find an opportunity every day to show that I understand, appreciate, encourage, and admire my husband.

28) I will look for ways to let my husband know that I respect and desire him sexually.


29) Because the calling of motherhood is holy, I will find time each day to pray and to read God’s Word.

30) I will renew my own thinking about the priority of motherhood and remind myself daily that:

-My children are a blessing, not a burden;

-Working to raise children who are spiritually strong and emotionally healthy is a vital vocation;

-My influence on the lives of my children will shape their future in a profound way;

-God will give me the wisdom and strength I need to do the job;

-I will reevaluate my other commitments and responsibilities outside my home to make sure my

husband and my children are my priority;

-Because I have let my children become a higher priority than my husband, I will take steps to

make sure my children know my relationship with my husband comes second only to my

relationship with Christ;

-I will pray with my children each day and look for opportunities to teach them about God.


31) I will take the initiative to begin praying with my wife every day.

32) I will find resources (books, tapes, counsel, etc) that can help me with suggestions on ways I can affirm my wife.

33) Because I know pornography dishonors my wife, I will take the following steps to be free from my struggle in this area:

-I will ask a mature Christian man/counselor to help hold me accountable in this area;

-I will tell my wife about my struggle with pornography and ask for her forgiveness and for

accountability from her;

-I will get rid of the pornography in our home, my computer hard drive, and anywhere else I

have access to it;

-In addition to considering counseling, I will read books by Christian authors concerning

overcoming my attraction to pornography;

34) I will seek to cherish my wife by putting into practice the following ways on a continuous  basis–

*I cherish my wife when I communicate with her;

*I cherish my wife when I bring romance (not just sex) to the relationship;

*I cherish my wife when I am trustworthy;

*I cherish my wife when I pray with her and set a godly example;

*I cherish my wife when I make her load lighter, not heavier.


35) I will take the initiative to begin leading our family in devotions.

36) I will schedule at least one special event with each of my children, one on one, monthly.

37) As there is an area that I need to ask one of my children for his/her forgiveness, I will do it.

38) I will put into practice as much as possible the following ideas:

-Hugging each of my children at least once a week and tell them I love them;

-Praying with my children and asking them to pray for me about specific things;

-Sending them a card in the mail;

-Becoming more playful with them;

-Writing a letter to an older child to express my belief in him/her;

-Going for a walk, getting ice cream, or doing something else with my child(ren) spontaneously.

39) I will discuss with my spouse things I can do to be a better dad from her perspective.


40) I need to be willing to seek forgiveness when I am wrong in the following ways:

-Be willing to admit, “I am wrong.”

-Be willing to say, “I am sorry.”

-Be willing to repent by saying, “I know that I have hurt you deeply, and I do not wish to hurt

you this way again.”

-Be willing to ask for forgiveness by saying, “Will you forgive me for doing/saying _____?”

41) I need to be willing to grant forgiveness by:

-Doing it privately first:  “God, I forgive _______ for hurting me when he/she ________.”

-Doing it specifically when asked by my spouse:  “I forgive you for ________________.”

-Doing it generously:  “Let’s settle this issue and get on with building our relationship.”

-Doing it graciously:  “I know I’ve done things wrong that I also can work on.”

42) I need to remember that my spouse is not my enemy, and I am not my spouse’s enemy.  The issue

is what we need to focus on.

43) If I have hurt my spouse, I must take the initiative to rebuild trust.

44) When I have done something wrong, I need to remember that for my spouse to trust me again, he/she must see consistent behavior over time.

45) When I truly grant forgiveness to my spouse, I need to remember that:

-My attitude must be one of letting go of resentment and my right to get even;

-My action (of granting forgiveness) must be expressed by word and deed;

-My choice must be to set my spouse free from the debt he/she owes me and from the

offense that has occurred against me.

46) Knowing that my anger fuels much of the conflict in our marriage, I will seek to talk to someone to help uncover the “hidden hurt” behind my anger.

47) I will seek to understand that the best thing I can do for my spouse (and children) is to love God.

48) By faith in God’s willingness to help me, I will choose to respond with kindness and with a blessing the next time my spouse hurts me with his/her attitude or words.

49) I will examine my own heart to see if there are actions from the past where I have not completely forgiven my spouse and given up my “right” to punish him/her.

50) I will consistently remind myself, “My spouse is not my enemy.”  My spouse and I will discuss any words we may have spoken to each other over the years that have deeply wounded the other; I will ask my spouse to help me realize when I am angry or insulting.

Six Steps for Resolving Conflict in Marriage

Source: Adapted from an article by Dennis and Barbara Rainey

Few couples like to admit it, but conflict is common to all marriages.  Start with two selfish people with different backgrounds and personalities. Now add some bad habits and interesting idiosyncrasies, throw in a bunch of expectations, and then turn up the heat a little with the daily trials of life. Guess what? You are bound to have conflict. It’s unavoidable.

Since every marriage has its tensions, it isn’t a question of avoiding them but of how you deal with them. Conflict can lead to a process that develops oneness or isolation. You and your spouse must choose how you will act when conflict occurs.

Step One: Resolving conflict requires knowing, accepting, and adjusting to your differences.

One reason we have conflict in marriage is that opposites attract. Usually a task-oriented individual marries someone who is more people-oriented. People who move through life at breakneck speed seem to end up with spouses who are slower-paced. It’s strange, but that’s part of the reason why you married who you did. Your spouse added a variety, spice, and difference to your life that it didn’t have before.

But after being married for a while (sometimes a short while), the attractions become repellents. You may argue over small irritations—such as how to properly squeeze a tube of toothpaste—or over major philosophical differences in handling finances or raising children.   You may find that your backgrounds and your personalities are so different that you wonder how and why God placed you together in the first place.

It’s important to understand these differences, and then to accept and adjust to them. Just as Adam accepted God’s gift of Eve, you are called to accept His gift to you. God gave you a spouse who completes you in ways you haven’t even learned yet.

Step Two: Resolving conflict requires defeating selfishness.

All of our differences are magnified in marriage because they feed what is undoubtedly the biggest source of our conflict—our selfish, sinful nature.

Maintaining harmony in marriage has been difficult since Adam and Eve. Two people beginning their marriage together and trying to go their own selfish, separate ways can never hope to experience the oneness of marriage as God intended. The prophet Isaiah portrayed the problem accurately more than 2,500 years ago when he described basic human selfishness like this: “All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6). We are all self-centered; we all instinctively look out for number one, and this leads directly to conflict.

Marriage offers a tremendous opportunity to do something about selfishness. We have seen the Bible’s plan work in our lives, and we’re still seeing it work daily. We have not changed each other; God has changed both of us. The answer for ending selfishness is found in Jesus and His teachings. He showed us that instead of wanting to be first, we must be willing to be last. Instead of wanting to be served, we must serve. Instead of trying to save our lives, we must lose them. We must love our neighbors (our spouses) as much as we love ourselves. In short, if we want to defeat selfishness, we must give up, give in, and give all. As Philippians 2:1-8 tells us:

Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

To experience oneness, you must give up your will for the will of another. But to do this, you must first give up your will to Christ, and then you will find it possible to give up your will for that of your spouse.

Step Three: Resolving conflict requires pursuing the other person.

Romans 12:18 says, “If it is possible, as much as it depends on you, live peaceably with all men.” The longer I live the more I realize how difficult those words are for many couples. Living peaceably means pursuing peace. It means taking the initiative to resolve a difficult conflict rather than waiting for the other person to take the first step.

To pursue the resolution of a conflict means setting aside your own hurt, anger, and bitterness. It means not losing heart. My challenge to you is to “keep your relationships current.” In other words, resolve that you will remain in solid fellowship daily with your spouse—as well as with your children, parents, coworkers, and friends. Don’t allow Satan to gain a victory by isolating you from someone you care about.

Step Four: Resolving conflict requires loving confrontation.

Wordsworth said, “He who has a good friend needs no mirror.” Blessed is the marriage where both spouses feel the other is a good friend who will listen, understand, and work through any problem or conflict. To do this well takes loving confrontation.

Confronting your spouse with grace and tactfulness requires wisdom, patience, and humility. Here are a few other tips we’ve found useful:

  • Check your motivation. Will your words help or hurt? Will bringing this up cause healing, wholeness, and oneness, or further isolation?
  • Check your attitude. Loving confrontation says, “I care about you. I respect you and I want you to respect me. I want to know how you feel.” Don’t hop on your bulldozer and run your spouse down. Approach your spouse lovingly.
  • Check the circumstances. This includes timing, location, and setting. Don’t confront your spouse, for example, when he is tired from a hard day’s work, or in the middle of settling a squabble between the children. Also, never criticize, make fun of, or argue with your spouse in public.
  • Check to see what other pressures may be present. Be sensitive to where your spouse is coming from. What’s the context of your spouse’s life right now?
  • Listen to your spouse. Seek to understand his or her view, and ask questions to clarify viewpoints.
  • Be sure you are ready to take it as well as dish it out. You may start to give your spouse some “friendly advice” and soon learn that what you are saying is not really his problem, but yours!
  • During the discussion, stick to one issue at a time. Don’t bring up several. Don’t save up a series of complaints and let your spouse have them all at once.
  • Focus on the problem, rather than the person. For example, you need a budget and your spouse is something of a spendthrift. Work through the plans for finances and make the lack of budget the enemy, not your spouse.
  • Focus on behavior rather than character. This is the “you” message versus the “I” message again. You can assassinate your spouse’s character and stab him right to the heart with “you” messages like, “You’re always late—you don’t care about me at all; you don’t care about anyone but yourself.” The “I” message would say, “I feel frustrated when you don’t let me know you’ll be late. I would appreciate if you would call so we can make other plans.”
  • Focus on the facts rather than judging motives. If your spouse forgets to make an important call, deal with the consequences of what you both have to do next rather than say, “You’re so careless; you just do things to irritate me.”
  • Above all, focus on understanding your spouse rather than on who is winning or losing. When your spouse confronts you, listen carefully to what is said and what isn’t said. For example, it may be that he is upset about something that happened at work and you’re getting nothing more than the brunt of that pressure.

Step Five: Resolving conflict requires forgiveness.

No matter how hard two people try to love and please each other, they will fail. With failure comes hurt. And the only ultimate relief for hurt is the soothing salve of forgiveness.

The key to maintaining an open, intimate, and happy marriage is to ask for and grant forgiveness quickly. And the ability to do that is tied to each individual’s relationship with God.

About the process of forgiveness, Jesus said, “For if you forgive men for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions” (Matthew 6:14–15). The instruction is clear: God insists that we are to be forgivers, and marriage—probably more than any other relationship—presents frequent opportunities to practice.

Forgiving means giving up resentment and the desire to punish. By an act of your will, you let the other person off the hook. And as a Christian you do not do this under duress, scratching and screaming in protest. Rather, you do it with a gentle spirit and love, as Paul urged: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32).

Step Six: Resolving conflict requires returning a blessing for an insult.

First Peter 3:8-9 says, “To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing.”

Every marriage operates on either the “Insult for Insult” or the “Blessing for Insult” relationship. Husbands and wives can become extremely proficient at trading insults—about the way he looks, the way she cooks, or the way he drives and the way she cleans house. Many couples don’t seem to know any other way to relate to each other.

What does it mean to return a blessing for an insult? Chapter three of 1 Peter goes on to say “For, ‘the one who desires life, to love and see good days, must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit. He must turn away from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it’” (verses 10-11).

To give a blessing first means stepping aside or simply refusing to retaliate if your spouse gets angry. Changing your natural tendency to lash out, fight back, or tell your spouse off is just about as easy as changing the course of the Mississippi River. You can’t do it without God’s help, without yielding to the power of the Holy Spirit.

It also means doing good. Sometimes doing good simply takes a few words spoken gently and kindly, or perhaps a touch, a hug, or a pat on the shoulder. It might mean making a special effort to please your spouse by performing a special act of kindness.

Finally, being a blessing means seeking peace, actually pursuing it. When you eagerly seek to forgive, you are pursuing oneness, not isolation.

Our hope

As difficult as it is to work through conflict in marriage, we can claim God’s promises as we do so. Not only does God bless our efforts based on His Word, but He also tells us He has an ultimate purpose for our trials. First Peter 1:6-7 tells us,

In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

God’s purpose in our conflicts is to test our faith, to produce endurance, to refine us, and to bring glory to Himself. This is the hope He gives us—that we can actually approach our conflicts as an opportunity to strengthen our faith and to glorify God.

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