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Posts tagged ‘differences’

Questions Answered: Blended Family; Sex Silence; Anger Styles

SOURCE:  Dr. Diane Langberg

Dear Dr. Langberg,
I’m in a second marriage, and the holidays are just the worst because that’s when my husband’s teens visit (his ex-wife has custody). There’s a lot of tension between his children and our children, and they compete for attention. It’s placing stress on our relationship. What can I do?

Mixing children from two different marriages does often cause quite a bit of tension. It usually requires hard work and good communication for the various relationships to mesh well.

As the adults in the home, you and your husband need to set the tone for all the children and their respective relationships. So think about how you’d like the children to relate to each other. What are your goals for your time together? What characteristics would you like to nurture in the children? How can you two work together to help both sets of children grow in love and respect for each other?

As you discuss these issues, you’ll also need to consider how you help or hinder your children from relating effectively. Do you carry any resentment toward the older children? Do you wish they didn’t come to your home? Does your husband feel guilty about not seeing more of them, and either distance himself or give them excessive attention? Hidden attitudes such as these can leak out and infect your home’s atmosphere. As you and your husband establish goals and examine your attitudes, pray together for yourselves and each child.

Help your younger children prepare for your husband’s teens’ visit well in advance. Why not encourage the younger ones to pray for their father’s other children? Perhaps they could send notes or cards to them throughout the year. Teach them about hospitality—what God says about it, and how they might demonstrate it to their guests at Christmas. Perhaps your husband could encourage his teens to reach out to your children throughout the year as well.

This difficult, stressful situation is full of potential for demonstrating to all your children God’s great love for us—and his call to us to love each other in like manner.

Although my husband and I have sex, we never talk about it. How can we broach the subject so we both feel more fulfilled in our sex life? I’ve never felt comfortable talking about sex, and I don’t think my husband does, either.

I’ve found, through years of marriage counseling, that many couples have sex regularly but never speak to each other about it. It seems rather common that what husbands and wives do with the lights out they cannot bring themselves to discuss when the lights are on. It’s a shame because many couples end up spending decades merely guessing whether or not their spouse is pleased, fulfilled, and comfortable, or miserable, unfulfilled, and in pain.

When I work with couples in similar circumstances, I find it helpful to use an outside resource as an aid to get them talking to each other, such as The Gift of Sex by Clifford and Joyce Penner. Such a book provides a helpful medium. You might begin by each reading the first chapter, then setting aside some time during the week to discuss what you’ve read. Simply choose one thing from the chapter that speaks to you, then talk about it. As you progress chapter by chapter, week by week, you’ll begin to read portions to each other that are important—and you’ll begin to use some of your own words rather than relying on the book. Soon you’ll find a growing freedom to discuss sex together.

If you think your husband’s discomfort level is too high even to suggest reading a book together, then simply hand him this column and tell him you would like to try what’s suggested here.

Sex is a wonderful part of marriage, and we aren’t meant only to enjoy it but to be free in our enjoyment. Since God is the one who thought of sex in the first place, it’s something we ought to be free to talk about. And there’s a side benefit: As you and your husband work through your discomfort and awkwardness, your relationship will improve—in all areas!

My husband and I are having a real problem handling anger. I like to blow off steam and get my anger out of my system, while my husband simmers. He’ll stay angry with me days after an argument, while I’m ready to kiss and make up minutes after I’ve vented. I’m frustrated by how long he holds on to a grudge.

You’re frustrated by your husband’s slow simmer, which lasts for days. But do you know how your “blowing off steam” affects him? Are you careful with your words, or do they run away from you? It’s possible that part of what feeds your husband’s slow simmer are the words that fly out of your mouth when you vent.

You and your husband need to discuss your different anger “styles” and find out how they impact each of you. I think you’ll find that your venting and his grudgebearing are both damaging. Scripture says, “Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires.” (James 1:20). As you delve into God’s Word and open yourselves up to his Spirit, you’ll find you need to be careful with your words and gracious in your speech. Your husband will discover that letting the sun go down on his anger opens the door to bitterness and resentment, both of which erode love.

You cannot keep your husband from holding a grudge. You can, however, encourage dialogue, listen to his perspective, pray for and with him, and most important, ask God to transform the way you manage anger.

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Diane Mandt Langberg, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice and the author ofCounsel for Pastors’ Wives (Zondervan) andOn the Threshold of Hope: Opening the Door to Healing for Survivors of Sexual Abuse (Tyndale).

Rebuilding Friendship With Your Spouse

SOURCE: Adapted from an article by Kyria/Tim & Julie Clinton

Aren’t we all suckers for love? Tender, passionate, embracing love. Love that lifts and protects. In this fast-paced, hectic world, we need love–and we need that wonderful person we’re in love with–more than ever. God designed and desired it that way.

But often life’s demands soak up our energy and attention, leaving nothing to fuel passion. Stoking that fire becomes a real struggle.

Paradoxically, friendship can turn the struggle into a labor of love.

True, intimate friendship is love in action. An intimate friend is there physically, emotionally, and spiritually when needed. Friends build on the other person’s strengths; they understand, challenge, and sometimes ignore the other person’s weaknesses. Friends sometimes read each other’s thoughts. They laugh and, at times, their tears mingle.

Acting as an intimate friend can re-ignite the fire, can turn a predictable marriage into that kiss against a sunset. How can you revitalize your friendship with your spouse?

1. Work at becoming your spouse’s best friend.  Decide to be attentive, to listen, to see the meaning and the merit. Get morning coffee and the evening tea, care about his comfort and the lotion on her back.

If you’re persistent, you’ll both begin to break the crusty residue of hassles and distractions. Man and woman were not designed to be alone (Genesis 2:18), so stop being alone. Pray together and share Scripture as that friend your romance needs.

2. Show interest in what interests your spouse.   He likes sports? Have popcorn with him during the playoffs. Does she adore classical music? Go to a concert with her.

3. Recognize that you two are different.   Couples often believe they have to behave, think, and feel alike–and if they’re not alike, they embark on a plan to change the other. It’s best to respect and celebrate differences.

If you do, you’ll find that a husband’s strengths support his wife’s weaknesses while his weaknesses are buoyed by her talents. By supporting each other, you become a force for one another and God’s kingdom.

4. Allow your spouse to be himself or herself.   Forgive mistakes.  Praise achievements. Correct your spouse gently, but never demean.

Friends can laugh and get silly with each other. Start some pillow and water balloon fights, and snap a few towels. Playing like children will lead you to play like married adults again.

As friends, look into one another’s eyes and allow the sparks of friendship to rekindle the romance. For romance is friendship at its deepest and purest level.

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Dr. Tim Clinton is president of the American Association of Christian Counselors. Married for 28 years, Tim and his wife, Julie, have two children.R

What Is ‘Normal’ Sexual Desire?

SOURCE:  by Juli Slattery

Every couple has a unique sexual relationship. Accept yours for what it is and enjoy working toward wholeness as a couple. You can have a very fulfilling sex life even though you may not be functioning like the average married couple.

There are a few primary reasons why couples find themselves outside the norm in their sexual relationship. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of individual differences, and other times it can be attributed to a dysfunction that you may be able to address. Unfortunately, in some cases there are more menacing reasons couples struggle with this issue. Let’s look first at normal differences between individuals before we address dysfunctions and other issues.

Don’t Confuse ‘Average’ With ‘Normal’

The next time you’re in a large group of families, pay attention to the height of men and women who are married to each other. You’ll notice that in most cases, the man is taller than his wife. The average height for an American man is five feet, nine inches, while the average American woman is five feet, four inches. However, you’ll find a few couples that defy the odds, with the wife being taller than her husband. Does this mean that there is something wrong with this couple?Average means that many will be taller and many will be shorter. So, what if a five-foot-eight-inch-tall woman falls in love with a five-foot-seven-inch-tall man?

Are they weird or abnormal? Certainly not. They both fall within the normal ranges of height, but they don’t represent the average coupling.

The same principle applies to sexuality. If the average married man desires sex every three days, there will be normal men who have both higher and lower sex drives. Likewise, if the average woman desires sex once a week, the bell curve will include women with both higher and lower natural sexual desire.

The first step on the journey to communication and healing is to revisit this concept of normal sexuality. Both research and society’s representations help form our perceptions of what’s normal. Based on what you see on television, hear people talk about, and read in women’s magazines, you may conclude that you and your husband are sexually abnormal because you don’t fit the stereotypes. But don’t confuse what is “average” with what is “normal.” Although in the average marriage, men desire sex more often than their wives, there are very normal marriages in which the opposite is true. Be careful not to get hung up on what everyone else seems to be doing in their bedrooms. The only thing that matters is assuring that you and your husband work toward intimacy and fulfillment in your own bedroom. Standards such as how often the average man or woman wants sex are really irrelevant and may become a destructive measuring stick. Your relationship with your husband is what it is. What your friend, your neighbor, or the rest of the country is doing should have little bearing on how your marriage works.

If this explanation describes you and your husband, healing begins when you embrace the fact that there is nothing wrong with your marriage. Like the woman married to a shorter man, although you don’t reflect the average couple, you are perfectly normal. Resist the urge to blame your husband or entertain feelings of inadequacy. Every couple has a unique sexual relationship. Accept yours for what it is and enjoy working toward wholeness as a couple. You can have a very fulfilling sex life even though you may not be functioning like the average married couple.

[From No More Headaches, published by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. © 2009 Julianna Slattery.]

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.

REFLECTING ON OUR MARRIAGE: Discussion Points

Source:  Bill Bellican

The following are some suggested, simple discussion points to have with your spouse.  The goal of the discussions would be to relate with each other at a deeper level in order to move the relationship to a higher level.  Perhaps these discussion points will lead you to add a number of other items to discuss.

1.  In what areas do we need adjustments for this stage of our marriage  (e.g., roles, functions, how we handle anger, parenting, communication)?

2.  What are our dreams (individually and as a couple)?

3.  What do we want our marriage to look like when we come to the end of the race?

4.  Who could help us do marriage better (e.g., marriage mentor, trusted friends, counselor)?

5.  What are we individually passionate about?    Do we have a “couple passion”?

6.  What are our financial goals?  Retirement plans?

7.  What are we doing individually for our health and physical fitness?

8.  What do we do for fun and leisure?  What could we start or do more of?

10. What are the best aspects of our marriage?

11. What are the areas that cause the greatest stress in our marriage?

12. What do we fear the most about our marriage in the future?

13.  What  are we looking forward to in our marriage in the future?

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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