Is it Too Late for Our Marriage to be Renewed?

I often get the question (or objection) from married men – “Could it be too late for my marriage to get significantly better?”  The premise of the question is that after 15, 25 or even 35+ years of marriage, isn’t it impossible to think that our bad habits, our disconnects, and our overall marriage relationship could change much for the better?    

The short answer from my experience and perspective: it’s never too late for your marriage to be renewed and here’s why:

  • It only takes one spouse to begin the transformation of your marriage.  And numerous studies and authors have documented and posited that when one spouse is committed to selflessly loving their partner without contingencies – the other will respond in the same direction in a relatively short period of time.
  • God has done far bigger miracles in the course of history and time than repair your marriage.  If He can speak our entire existence into being, can’t He be trusted to do miraculous things in your marriage? 
  • If your hesitation is that there’s too much water under the bridge, too much hurt, and too much sin in either or both of your pasts.  In a counter-intuitive way, when a married couple wrestles with these difficult issues and walks through the process of confession and forgiveness – they actually come out of the other end of the process with a better and deeper relationship than they even experienced before the relationship erosion occurred.  And that includes your dating and honeymoon season – because of the richness of being more mature, fully known and re-committed to each other like never before.    

What about you?  What are the steps you and your spouse can take to make this all-important investment in the most important relationship in your life? 

  • Is it a weekend marriage intensive? (there are many effective ministries that offer these – and now most are offered virtually)
  • Reading a good marriage-related book together? (or a few, for that matter)
  • A marriage counselor?
  • Joining a small group of married-couples at your church?
  • Or maybe it’s getting back into the habit of praying together on a regular basis?

The bottom line – it’s never too late to transform your marriage, especially with God at the center of the journey.  If you’re tempted to think, “what good will it do us at this late stage?” – consider your children first and foremost – it’s the very best gift you could give them!

The next “Marriage Matters” workshop for husbands launches Thursday, January 28th for 6 consecutive weekly lunch sessions in the Alpharetta area – and we will be in person and socially distanced!

Here’s the registration link in case you or someone you know could benefit.  www.menyourmarriagematters.com 

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Our Expectations…and Contentment

I’m in the “red zone” of writing a book about healthy mindsets and wanted to share a small excerpt in this ‘musing’.  And since we just passed the Christmas gift-giving/receiving season of the year, it might be perfect timing to make the excerpt about contentment…so here goes:

Much of our worry and mindshare can be focused on our aspirations and desires for the future.  How can that possibly be bad?  Maybe it’s our desire to move to a new, bigger house.  A career change you’ve always wanted to make?  Or a dream vacation that’s been on your bucket list forever?  And countless others that likely come to your mind.  And those desires and aspirations aren’t innately bad…until they morph into your expectations.  And therein lies the challenge – because our expectations often lead to profound disappointments if they aren’t met.

I came across a video recently that featured Gary Smalley, the well-known author of numerous books on marriage and relationships.  He was discussing contentment and he talked about a time a few years previously when he was struggling and dissatisfied with life and he came across a simple equation for happiness.  Happiness, he said, is the gap between our expectations in life and our reality.  When the gap is large in important personal areas of life (our career, our financial status, our family, for examples), we tend to be unhappy. 

Think about this concept – there are only two ways to close the gap: you can substantially improve your current reality (not always easy to do) or you can let go of some expectations.  In Smalley’s case, he became determined to give up his unrealistic expectations to God and it changed his entire outlook. 

Said another way: the less we expect, the happier we’ll be!

You may bristle at the notion of giving up a dream by lowering your expectations.  But you don’t have to give up the dream!  You do, though, have the ability (and the choice) to manage your expectations for your own happiness. 

Such a simple concept can be stunningly powerful.  It makes me recall a short fable that highlights this point.  I’ve tried to find the author but to no avail – see if this strikes you as it did me:

An American businessman struck up a conversation with a fisherman in a small coastal Mexican village. Noticing his fairly small catch, the American asked why he didn’t stay out longer and try for a bigger catch. The fisherman said he had enough to support his family’s immediate needs.

“What do you do with the rest of your time?” the American asked.

“I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take a siesta with my wife, Maria, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos. I have a full and busy life, señor.”

“I am a Harvard MBA and could help you,” said the scoffing American, who proceeded to advise him to buy a bigger boat and eventually a whole fleet, followed by a cannery, and then have enough money to move to a big city to run his expanding business empire.

“What then, señor?”

The American told him he’d be a millionaire.

“Then what, señor?”

“Then you would retire and move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take a siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.”

The irony: we spend so much time chasing “the dream” only to find, often too late in our lives, that what we really treasure is often what we already have.  That’s what contentment is about in practical terms – loving what you have instead of wanting what you don’t have.

Paul wrote about this principle, …for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need and I know what it is to have plenty.  I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do everything through him who gives me strength. (Phil 4:11-13)

What about you?  Do you have a happiness “gap”?  Have you considered letting go of some of your expectations in order to love what you have instead of wanting something more?

I always appreciate your comments and feedback…

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Top 8 Things People Desire But Can’t Seem to Attain

I’m in the midst of doing research and writing on the topic of ‘mindsets’ and the impact our mindsets have on our happiness and even on our trajectory in life.  The paradox to me is fascinating: Why do so many generally-successful & talented people, including faith-filled people, struggle with excessive worry, a lack of joy, and an unclear sense of purpose? 

One relatively non-scientific survey I found was published in Forbes Magazine a few years ago Forbes article link and the question the author, Kathy Caprino, asked is fascinating by itself but the results are even more intriguing.  Here’s how Caprino introduced the topic in the article:

Several months ago, I offered a survey to my subscribers and community exploring a number of critical life and career questions. To date, 771 people have responded, and their answers have been riveting. Working with professionals every day, I hear first-hand what they deeply long for. But what’s so intriguing about these responses is that it’s becoming more obvious with each passing year that the things we humans desperately long for today are not only universal and timeless, but also have become even more elusive and challenging to access and sustain, even as we “evolve” and develop in this tech-frenzied, time-crushing world.

The key question this survey probed was this:

“If you could say in one word what you want more of in life, what would that be?”

Of all the things people indicated they want more of, the following were the eight most frequently mentioned and the challenge the respondents described collectively.

(It’s me again: now, before I reveal the results of her survey – stop for three minutes before you are influenced by the survey responses and ponder the question above for you personally…do you have an immediate answer?  Did you struggle to come up with one?   Now take a minute to compare your answer with the most common answers she outlines below…)

No. 1: Happiness  – and the biggest challenge:Not knowing what I want to do.”

No. 2: Money – and the biggest challenge: “Not having enough money or time to accomplish the things I want to do.”

No. 3: Freedom – and the biggest challenge: “Having the freedom to find my ‘true purpose’ or being lit up by the day-to-day at work.”

No. 4: Peace – and the biggest challenge: “Lack of clarity about who I am and my purpose.”

No. 5: Joy – and the biggest challenge: “How to find the right role or position for me now that will bring joy in my work.”

No. 6: Balance – and the biggest challenge“Balancing my need/desire for flexibility while making enough money and having the benefits I want.”

No. 7: Fulfillment – and the biggest challenge: “Utilizing my potential in the best possible way, for myself and for others.”

No. 8: Confidence – and the biggest challenge“Feeling like I have something to offer now, rather than feeling constantly as if I’m not ready and need more training.”

There it is…do these resonate with you and those you know? 

My immediate temptation is to categorize the 8 answers into 4 “buckets” – Joy (including happiness); Freedom (including money); Peace; and Purpose (including fulfillment). 

What’s compelling about these major categories is that they represent the lament of most adults in my experience – and our desire for these elusive “things” is common and persistent whether we are successful or not; have a high income or a modest one; or even whether we’re facing challenges in life, or not. 

In other words, these desires are elusive and perhaps it’s because they aren’t achievable as an end unto themselves.  They are experienced as an outcome of a healthy set of mindsets.  My hypothesis in this work is that our mindsets have a bigger impact on our personal satisfaction and contentment than our success, status, bank account or even our circumstances. 

What about you – does the list of 8 distinct words above resonate with you?  Or surprise you?  What would you add to the list that you aspire to?  I’d love to hear your thoughts as I continue the journey to understand what we all wrestle to attain in life. 

I always welcome your feedback!

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The Narrow Line Between “Masters” & “Disaster” Marriages – The Power of Bids

If you had to guess as to what makes the biggest difference between great marriages and mediocre ones, what would you guess?  Compatibility? Selflessness?  Intimacy? Faith-centered spouses? Or something else?

You might be surprised to know what researcher and Author John Gottman has concluded – it’s the power of “bids.”  Which begs the question, “What’s a bid?” I’ve excerpted an article I found recently from Logan Ury about Gottman’s research and findings:

…The notion of “bids” comes from innovative research conducted by John Gottman, one of my relationship science heroes. “Bids,” which are attempts a person makes to connect with their partner.

Gottman’s groundbreaking ideas about bids were born from his 40-year-long quest to answer one question: What separates the relationship masters from the relationship disasters?

He conducted this research with his colleague Robert Levenson at the University of Washington. He brought couples into an observation facility, dubbed the Love Lab by the media, and recorded them discussing their relationship. He asked them to share the story of how they met and then to recount a recent fight. He even had some couples spend a week in an apartment decked out with cameras (with their permission) to see how they interacted during everyday moments.

Six years later, the researchers followed up with the couples and divided them into two camps: the masters, couples who were still happily married, and disasters, couples who had either broken up or remained together but were unhappy.

When he studied the tapes of these two types of couples, he looked for differences in the content of their conversations. What did the masters discuss that the disasters didn’t?

In his book The Relationship Cure, Gottman writes, “But after many months of watching these tapes with my students, it dawned on me. Maybe it’s not the depth of intimacy in conversations that matters. Maybe it doesn’t even matter whether couples agree or disagree. Maybe the important thing is how these people pay attention to each other, no matter what they’re talking about or doing.”

Simply put, successful couples are attentive. They listen, and they put their phones down when the other person wants to chat.

This research led Gottman to develop one of the core tenets of his philosophy for building successful relationships: healthy couples constantly make and accept bids to connect.

What’s a bid?

Gottman refers to bids as “the fundamental unit of emotional communication.” Bids can be small or big, verbal or nonverbal. They’re requests to connect. They might take the form of an expression, question, or physical outreach. They can be funny, serious, or sexual in nature.

For example, your partner might say, “Hey, whatever happened with that situation at work with your manager?” or, “Do you want to talk about our plans this weekend?” or simply, “Can you pass the water?”

They could also give you a loving squeeze, pat you affectionately on the head, or tease you with a wink.

Bids are often purposely subtle because people are afraid to be vulnerable and put themselves out there. It’s scary to say, “Hey! I want to connect! Pay attention to me!” so instead, we ask a question or tell a story or offer our hand for connection. We hope we’ll receive connection in return, but if not, it’s less scary than pleading, “Connect with me, please!”

How should I respond to a bid?

There are three ways you can respond to a bid:

  1. Turning towards (acknowledging the bid)
  2. Turning away (ignoring or missing the bid)
  3. Turning against (rejecting the bid in an argumentative or belligerent way)

When your partner reads their email and sighs audibly, they’re making a bid. You could turn towards them and ask, “What’s wrong?”

Now imagine you’re tidying up the kitchen and your partner asks you how your day was. You could pause, look up from what you’re doing and respond with details about the challenging phone call you had that day. That’s turning towards. You’re telling your partner you see and value them.

Turning away from your partner, in the same situation, would be ignoring them or just grunting and continuing what you were doing.

Turning against them takes the form of an attack, such as replying, “Why are you always interrupting me when I’m trying to get things done?”

Why do bids matter?

A tendency to turn towards your partner forms the basis of trust, emotional connection, passion, and a satisfying sex life.

Gottman found a critical difference in how masters and disasters respond to bids for connection. In the Love Lab, masters turned towards each other 86% of the time. Disasters turned towards each other only 33% of the time.

None of us are perfect at accepting all of our partner’s bids, but the masters are better at it than the disasters.

Some people think they can put their relationship on ice and then thaw it out with the occasional romantic date night. But relationships are built and maintained with daily attention, not grand gestures.

It was the bids we made and received at dinner in New York, not the fancy dinner itself, that saved my relationship with my boyfriend.

If you want to read the balance – here’s the link on my Marriage Matters website: http://www.menyourmarriagematters.com/marriage/gottman/  

The bottom line – the “bidding” concept is a series, often hundreds or thousands of “bid” transactions that couples offer each other that either create connection and longevity or lack thereof – which creates contempt or resentment.  It’s the drip, drip, drip that often creates the disdain between spouses!

One last point that Gottman emphasizes – the marriage “masters” have approximately 5 positive bids/interactions for every 1 negative interaction.  Maybe you should make a mental note today on the ratio of positive to negative interactions you have with your spouse or someone close to you?  Are you a relationship “master” or “disaster”? 

I welcome your comments/ideas!

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Want Some Encouragement? A Few Predictions for the Next 10 Years

I regularly follow an economist, John Mauldin, who tends to be a good balance of optimist and pessimist when it comes to the economy, investment trends, etc.  He also spends a considerable amount of time doing research on fiscal and monetary issues and even trends in emerging technologies

With all of the tension and turmoil surrounding the post-election results, I thought you might be as encouraged as I am in reading his take.  In fact, because we are often so laser-focused on the news of today – it’s easy to lose sight of just how exciting and encouraging it is to consider the innovation that is possible (perhaps even probable) in today’s world.

So, take heart – and here is the excerpt from Mauldin’s recent newsletter for your pondering pleasure:

A Few Predictions for the Next 10 Years – Let me make a few “happy” predictions for the next 10 years.  Like all such lists of predictions, several will be wrong but at least you will get the idea of where I think we are going.

  1. We are going to see major advances in healthcare. I mentioned a few weeks ago the invention of Far UVC which doesn’t penetrate the skin or eyes of human beings, but will kill viruses and bacteria. Cancer will become a nuisance, rather than life-threatening and expensive. Treatment will likely be done in a doctor’s office rather than a hospital.  Advanced MRI scans will be done annually or at least every two years, with artificial intelligence to help interpret them. Treatments that will look like the “Fountain of Middle-Age” will help us make it to the time when we can turn our own biological clocks back.

There will be treatments for obesity and heart disease. Muscular regeneration will be much easier. These studies and a thousand others are happening all over the world. Picking the winners today is difficult, but the true winner will be humankind.

  1. We will see a continuing move to renewable energy, not because it is mandated under some climate policy, but because it will be cheaper. There are already places where solar energy costs less than conventional methods. I believe by the end of the decade solar will be cheaper than even natural gas.

It would not surprise me, given the number of research projects in motion, if we see new renewable energy technologies that will even outpace solar. Battery research and technology is improving (finally) and will make solar ever more viable.

  1. We will be moving to electric cars (or their hydrogen fusion cousin) by the end of the decade. Urban dwellers will either own cars in co-ops or simply opt to use ride-sharing services.
  2. Self-driving autonomous cars will be ubiquitous. Half the cars manufactured in 2040 will be autonomous. This will have a profound impact on the transportation business much sooner though, as the millions who are currently employed as drivers will have to find new sources of income. But it will also reduce the number of deaths on the highways and car wrecks that have to be repaired, lower insurance rates, and a dozen other things.
  3. New agricultural technologies, including a whole new generation of seeds and plants, will make food cheaper, more nutritious, and hardier, without the “GMO” stigma. This will have more impact than the Green Revolution did 70 years ago. Imagine plants tailored to produce meat substitutes or reduce allergic reactions.
  4. Of course, computers will be incredibly fast and we will begin to see the beginnings of the quantum computer revolution. That extra speed will make artificial intelligence, communications networks, the Internet of Things, robotics, and a dozen other technologies far more viable.
  5. You cannot begin to make predictions without mentioning the improvements that the blockchain will make use of.
  6. And while the pandemic has caused a major setback in worldwide poverty, I expect that to be short-lived. We will see the number living in poverty steadily decrease, as it has for the last 50 years.

I told you it would be encouraging!  People’s God-given capacity for creativity and innovations are stunning!  What about you – what did Mauldin miss in his list that you can’t wait to see?  I always welcome your comments!

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Caring Less is Liberating…If You Can Do It!

Does anyone else sense that this upcoming national election is a potential powder keg in the U.S.?  It may be because everyone has taken sides and is firmly entrenched in their respective bunkers – on a constant watch for someone from the other ideological side to opine so they can deliver ‘justice’ in the form of a verbal take down (or worse).

As a not-so-official armchair psychologist, I’m convinced that the reason the tension and the temperatures are running so high currently is two-fold – 1) both sides are implored by their favorite, self-righteous, and anything-but-objective media sources that this election, unlike any before now, will change the trajectory of this nation and ultimately lead to the destruction of our existence (sound familiar at all?).  And 2) We care wayyyyy too much about things that we have almost no ability to impact. 

Are you prone to the same temptations as me – thinking and worrying about way too many things, much of which you have almost no ability to impact?  It could be politics, the stock market, your company’s long-term future, and myriad other issues…including sports.  And if we’re not careful, we’ll end up with our mind twisted like a pretzel in a cycle of worry which is generally useless and often debilitating.

The best example I can point to is my own guilty (even if innocent) past.  As a kid growing up, I was a certified (if not certifiable) baseball fanatic and specifically a San Francisco Giants fanatic.  I could literally tell you the batting average of every Giants starter and the Earned Run Average (ERA) of every starting pitcher in the 1970’s.  Their success wasn’t just important, it was crucial.  And when the Giants lost (especially to the LA Dodgers), I could barely function (a bit of an exaggeration but not as much as you may guess).  How unhealthy and illogical is that?  Unhealthy to say the least.  Why did it happen?  Because I cared too much – about something that didn’t REALLY matter and that I had absolutely no influence over. 

I can remember being nearly as zealous about my golf scores, a neighborhood tennis match, and my favorite sports teams – both professional and college-level.  And why?  I can’t even tell you why – that’s how crazy my zeal was.

A funny thing has occurred to me in the past 20 years related to these sports I play and these teams that I follow – I stopped caring so much.  I still thoroughly enjoy the activities but consciously decided to not care as much about the result.  That decision has not only made watching and participating in sports so much more fun but it’s also proven much better for my mental health.

Now let’s apply this principle to our upcoming election…

I’m convinced the reason this election means so much to so many is that we have an inflated view of its importance and a mistaken belief that we can have a profound impact on the outcome. 

In reality, we have exactly one vote (out of 150M plus likely voters), which we should exercise BTW.  And regardless of the election outcome, this country is resilient – with a set of constitutional protections and balances of power that has allowed it to thrive for 240+ years to-date, etc.

So, what’s the alternative? My suggestion is that you care less…literally!

Let’s borrow a concept from Stephen Covey’s best-selling book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People that he calls the ‘Circle of Influence.’  Covey argued that we spend too much time, energy and mind-share on things we can’t directly impact – what he calls the circle of concern (see graphic below).  Doing so causes us to worry about things with almost no return on invested time or energy.  Instead, we spend our waking hours focused on the things we can influence and control (our behavior as a simple example), we’ll be far more productive and waste little or no time on things beyond our control.

A few years back I used to spend way too many cycles pre-occupied by national politics (which can be downright depressing by the way).   Even though my ability to impact our nation’s politics is tiny at best, I wasted precious (and finite) brain cycles on things I couldn’t really impact.  What’s changed in the last few years?  I still try to stay abreast of major developments and I certainly vote when and where I have the opportunity, but I now spend very little time and almost no energy focused on national politics.  Nor do I let it impact my joy anymore.  I simply made the choice to stop worrying about it. 

Arthur Brooks is a recognized expert on the topic of happiness – how it’s derived and why it’s elusive.  I’ve excerpted below a portion of an article he published this month in The Atlantic Magazine:

As the election season heats up, many Americans are attached to their opinions—especially their political ones—as if they were their life’s savings; they obsess over their beliefs like lonely misers, and lash out angrily when they are threatened. This is the source of much suffering, for the politically obsessed and everyone else.

In sum, if you spend the election season glued to your favorite partisan news outlet, read and share political outrage on social media, and use every opportunity to fulminate about politics, you might become less happy, less well-liked, less accurate, and less informed.

I am not advocating for everyone to stop paying attention to politics, of course. Good citizens are attentive and active in the political process. However, for quality of life’s sake—yours and others’—you would do well to put boundaries around the time and emotional energy you devote to politics this fall.

The fall is going to be rough, politically. The election will be brutal and bitter; there’s no way to avoid this. But Americans have to decide whether we want our own lives to be brutal and bitter as well. Each of us has political views, many of them strongly held. Each of us is convinced that we are right—and some of us might well be. But if we let these views dominate our thoughts, our time, and our conversations, they will harm our relationships and happiness.

Take a minute to think about what other issues/topics you spend lots of time thinking (or worrying) about.  Which of these are outside of your ‘circle of influence’?  Here’s my suggestion: make the decision today to consciously stop spending time fretting about things you can’t control or influence.  You can’t imagine how little you’ll miss what you think you could never stop!

Part of mastering this concept relies on asking a simple, yet profound question: “Do I trust God for the things beyond my control?”   If the answer is “no”, you’re far more likely to be endlessly caught in a pattern of obsessive worry.  If, on the other hand, you can put your head on the pillow each night with a genuine faith and confidence that God’s “circle” is amazing and beyond our understanding…you’ll sleep like a baby. 

Our obsession with politics and ideologies is poisoning our culture and even our relationships.  And you and I have a choice to stop it…at least personally.  It’s ok to care…just not to an unhealthy degree!

I always appreciate your perspectives!

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Things Aren’t Going Back to Normal

If you’re waiting for things to go back to normal – stop waiting!

The most successful clients I work with are re-engineering their businesses based on the assumption that we are not returning to the old version of normal.  And if you look around – so many things are changing faster than we ever could have predicted.  We could assume that some of these things would have changed eventually, but COVID-19 has forced many changes to occur at warp speed, i.e. the Zoom conference explosion, the precipitous drop in business travel, the empty commercial office buildings, and, pleasantly, the reduced rush-hour highway traffic jams.   

If you’re expecting people to stop wearing masks soon – many likely won’t.

If you’re expecting 100,000 fans to pack a stadium for a college football game any time before 2022 – don’t hold your breath!

If you’re expecting the small restaurants in your community to re-open soon – sadly, many won’t.  I’ve read recently that as many as 50% of these establishments have either already closed or will close permanently in the relatively near future. 

These realties pose two questions that are worth pondering:

How should I handle the uncertainty of not knowing when things will really be “normal”?

And, what can I do personally to make things better?

On the first question above – I’m challenging myself (and welcome to my world) to make the assumption that we’re not going back to normal at all.  If we make the assumption that things stay as they are for the foreseeable future, what would we do differently?  Would we change our business model?  Would we change our financial approach to savings, investments, and even retirement planning?  Should we re-think where we live?  And what cars we drive (a lot fewer miles-driven BTW)? 

In essence, this is a perfect time to re-think our base assumptions and life-decisions because the world around us may look entirely different than it has previously.  And perhaps the one thing that has prevented you from thinking more seriously about these bigger life choices is the mistaken belief that everything will return to “normal” (whatever that is).

On the second question above – because our culture and our world is in such turmoil – from pandemics, to politics, to record high unemployment – maybe it’s time to take a deep breath and just stop it!  “Stop what?” you ask? Stop being so firmly entrenched in our personal points-of-view and strongly-held biases.  Let’s err on the side of empathy, kindness and respect.  Just because someone has a different world view and/or political view, doesn’t mean you can’t love them – exactly as they are.  You don’t have to love their world-view – but we all know people we love deeply who don’t share our politics, our preferences, or our faith.  Choose to love them regardless!

My challenge to you is twofold: if you assume things aren’t going back to normal – what would you change?  In your business?  In your career? In your family-life?  In your time allocation for that matter?

And, choose to care about others.  Choose to listen.  Choose to love – these are choices we all get to make…even if we don’t agree with them on every issue.

I always welcome your comments.

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Do You Compete With…or Encourage Your Spouse?

One surprising thing I’ve learned from walking with married men for the past decade (www.menyourmarriagematters.com ) is that a remarkable number of men feel a sense of competition between them and their spouse.  Think about that for a minute.  You’d logically assume that the average marriage relationship is far more characterized by encouragement and ‘cheerleading’, not competition.   I even saw a recent tweet of a C.S. Lewis quote that reinforces the notion, “There is, hidden or flaunted, a sword between the sexes till an entire marriage reconciles them.”

Which begs a few questions: What is it in our innate nature that creates this phenomenon?  Is it our pride?  Is it our desire to be right all the time?  Is there a built-in, competitive nature that is exaggerated in marriage, more so than almost any other relationship?  Maybe it’s related to the sibling-rivalry that many of us grew up experiencing?  Regardless of the source, it’s common enough for me to conclude that it’s real.

Here are some tangible examples you may recognize:

  • Battling over who is right in a discussion – do you feel an almost-child-like desire/need to be right when you disagree about something with your spouse?
  • Sometimes it manifests itself in sports and games – do you hate to lose in general? And perhaps hate it even more to lose to your spouse?
  • What about deciding who’s at fault for a problem that occurs? Is most of the focus on the solution to the problem or determining who created the problem in the first place?
  • Or, who gets credit for a good decision that we made? Is it important for others to know that you were integral to that good decision?  Or not responsible for the bad ones?

One of the principles I emphasize in the Marriage Matters workshops is focused on our journey to sanctification – in essence, becoming more and more Christ-like.  And there’s obviously a strong correlation between our Christ-likeness and our ability to shift from an unhealthy sense of competition with our spouse to one characterized by a genuine sense of ‘oneness.’  Where it doesn’t matter who’s right, or who wins, or even who’s at fault.

You may be asking a different question – like, why does this even matter?

Mostly because marriage is the one, most strategic relationship where we’re called, as husbands and wives, to work together in a spirit of cooperation, support, and encouragement – not one focused on winning or taking the credit.  In the New Testament, Paul said it this way in Philippians 2:3,  “…but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”   Andy Stanley, the Lead Pastor at Northpoint Community Church, contends that marriage, above all other relationships should be a ‘submission competition’ between spouses.  Thought provoking…isn’t it?

What if you shifted your mindset, effective immediately, to embracing the notion that you are called to be the encourager – who is most interested in the success and well-being of your spouse and far less concerned about who’s right?  Or who wins for that matter!

Do you know how much more harmony would exist in a marriage if both spouses embraced this mentality?  What about you?  I always appreciate your comments!

Posted in Faith, Family and marriage, Inspirational, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

We’re Not Listening to Each Other!

Have you noticed how much you tend to enjoy conversations with people who are great listeners and who ask great questions?  Or, from the opposite perspective – how tiresome can it be to have a conversation with someone, even a person close to you, who seems to do most of the talking, much of the discussion is about them and often with agonizing details that matter little in the scheme of things?

Devonie and I have some married friends that we love dearly and with whom we spend lots of time with and part of the reason is that the conversations we have are comfortable, spontaneous, back-and-forth, honest, and even incredibly vulnerable at times.  We leave the evenings we spend with these couples energized and wanting to spend more time with them.

Which makes me ponder – what makes the biggest difference in these common conversations?  So, as I’m prone to do, I asked Google to help me identify some good resources from experts who’ve studied this phenomenon and I found Celeste Headlee’s “Ted Talk” which has nearly 10M views since she presented just 3+ years ago.  Headlee is a professional interviewer for National Public Radio (NPR) and the title of her talk is Coherent, confident conversations.

I’ve never heard anyone outline the key elements this well – much less in 11 minutes!  For your own benefit and the benefit of those you have conversations with – please take 11 minutes this week to watch:  Celeste Headlee Ted Talk

For those of you who’ll opt for the short cut – I’ve provided below a synopsis of her “10 ways to have a better conversation.”  Here’s my best attempt to capture the key points:

  • Don’t multi-task in a conversation – be present and in that moment – not in a previous discussion and not thinking about what you’re going to be doing for the balance of your day.
  • Don’t pontificate! In her words, if you have an opinion – write a blog!  In conversations, assume instead you have something to learn and listen!
  • Use open-ended questions – who, what, where, when, and why? It’s the difference between asking, “Were you terrified?” (which deserves a one-word answer) and asking, “How did you feel?” You’ll draw the other person out far better with the latter!
  • Go with the flow in the conversation – when thoughts come in your brain…let them go out of your brain. Instead of fixating on what you’ll share next, go with the flow and enjoy listening.  For too many of us, there is talking, and waiting to talk – which is not conducive to great conversations
  • If you don’t know, say you don’t know. You don’t have to be an expert on every topic.  Err on the side of caution in this regard.
  • Don’t equate your experience with theirs – if they lost a family member – there’s no need to mention that you lost someone last year. In Headlee’s words, “It’s not about you.”
  • Try not to repeat yourself – and don’t use ‘re-phrasing’ as the surrogate strategy.
  • Stay out of the weeds – people don’t care about the dates, times, etc. – leave 80% of the details out of your story and you’ll enjoy a far better conversation.
  • Listen! If your mouth is open, you’re not listening. Listen to understand.
  • Be brief. As Headlee tells it, “A good conversation is like a miniskirt; short enough to retain interest, but long enough to cover the subject.”

Do these resonate with you?  Are you guilty of some of these bad habits?  I always welcome your perspective and hope you’ll take a few minutes to watch Celeste and enjoy better conversations!

 

Posted in Business-related, Inspirational, Pop culture | 2 Comments

Take 2% of Your Time to Care…About Someone Else

Everyone knows we’re called to love others and it’s pretty easy to buy into the notion that this is a good and fitting goal.  It’s biblical; it’s moral; it’s even socially admirable.

But…(you knew that was coming) how many times in a given day or week do we genuinely do something that makes someone get the real sense that they’ve been loved in a notable way?

If you’re at all like me – when I ponder this question, I’m quickly tempted to make at least two excuses for myself:

  • I can rationalize that because I work hard and have to make a living that I don’t have time and I’m actually loving my wife and my family by helping to provide for all of us. And there’s certainly an element of truth to this but if I’m perfectly honest, it’s more a habit and a duty than it is a true act of love most days
  • The other mental trap (i.e. excuse) is when I rationalize that I’ve not really been presented with an opportunity that day to love someone extraordinarily.

I suspect that I’m not alone in these excuses?

Let’s take this same issue from your perspective – when, in the last few days, has someone you’ve come in contact with shown an act of kindness/love that was striking to you?  I’ll bet most of us can’t think of too many examples in the last month.  (I’d love to be wrong on this bet!)

So here’s the challenge to each of us – don’t fall victim to these excuses and instead find an opportunity today, and tomorrow (and every day for that matter) to literally go out of your way to show someone you intersect with that they are loved…even if you don’t know them.

Bob Goff is a great role model for this concept in his two books – Love Does and Everybody Always .  He lives by this philosophy and he shares dozens of stories in his books about uncommon, unpredictable and often extraordinary ways that he has found to show others the love of God through acts of kindness.

Embracing this notion doesn’t take planning, or even a lot of thought.  Just a heart to love and treat others nicely and an eye that is attuned to looking for small, simple opportunities to do so.  Some would argue that we should be proactively sharing our faith in Jesus more…I would contend that showing someone unconditional and unexpected love might be the most powerful testimony of all!

Here’s a simple, yet powerful example: I’m involved in a job search ministry and it blows me away how complete strangers go out of their way to help others.  The premise of C3G (www.c3g.org ) is that people who are unemployed (or even under-employed) find job search a difficult, trying and often demoralizing process.  And a job seeker’s orientation is naturally to focus tirelessly on finding their next job.  We flip that on its head – and encourage the C3G members to work together, on behalf of each other because we’re better together than any of us is alone – in job search and in life for that matter.

Here’s a recent, specific example when one of our volunteers (Ash) asked a question of the rest of the group that exemplifies the spirit of C3G –

Ash (one of our volunteers): Hi all, I am helping a close friend who is a stay at home Mom who is looking to get back into the workforce after a 12-year hiatus. Has anyone seen or have their own resume that they’ve developed to explain the gap in employment? Any compelling resume formats would be appreciated as examples. Thanks all!

Now, here’s an excerpt from Carol (one of our thousands of alums and members) and her gracious, loving response:

Carol: First, there are multiple organizations that help stay-at-home women re-launch  https://www.workingmother.com/on-ramping-programs-for-working-moms . I found this link quickly – it’s from 2016 and there are probably updates.  I’m very familiar with irelaunch.com and reachire.com which have many resources for helping moms/dads to relaunch.  Many of these programs are in finance and technology and more focused on the northeast although these programs are moving to other cities as well. I actually applied for a position for one of these programs (The Mom Project, that was launching in Atlanta.  I wasn’t selected and I haven’t seen any launch in Atlanta.  Even if a specific program is not in Atlanta or their area of expertise, there are still great resources that are helpful in a relaunch.

Carol’s response above is only one of the 7 paragraphs that went into more ideas, more suggestions, and candidly, more loving guidance and then she finished the note with the following…

I’m happy to talk with your friend if you or she thinks it would be beneficial.  My contact information is below.

So what’s my point?  Carol likely spent no more than 2% of her “awake” hours that day (20 minutes of any given day) to craft her response to that job-seeker in need.  She didn’t have to do that.  And if she hadn’t done it, no one would have noticed!  But, she did it anyway…

So, what’s the challenge/opportunity for us?  I suppose there are a few “headlines”:

  • We get more opportunities to love someone in an extraordinary way than we think – we just don’t often seize these opportunities
  • It doesn’t take much to change someone’s life – evidence – the 20 minutes (i.e. the 2%) Carol spent helping this other Mom in her job search was likely a game changer for her search
  • And I’d contend the ‘giver’ may be the biggest beneficiary of all – because of the deep sense of satisfaction that comes with serving someone else

What about you?  Maybe we could all find more situations and people we come into contact with and allow more sacred ‘interruptions’ to occur that are evidence that love (and Jesus) are real…

I always welcome your comments

Posted in Faith, Inspirational | 1 Comment