Actively engage

Sitting right now on a plane ride over the Atlantic, preparing for 10 days away.

I’ve slept a bit, watched a few movies, was about to watch one more when… something S. said to me before I left came to mind.

What are you going to write about while you’re away?

Why does everyone ask such good questions!

But that got me thinking… What do I do? Normally when I’m on a trip away, it gives me an opportunity to throw myself into everything – I don’t have to worry about bed times or date nights, I can go at my work 110%.

But does being in a different country make me stop being a husband or father?

Clearly the answer is no. (Unless you believe in the area code rule, in which case good luck making that work…)

So what does it mean to actively engage with S & family while there is so much going on around me? And when I have very few opportunities to be in touch?

Well, I guess the answers may be different for everyone, and in every situation, but here’s my list:

  • I can pause the movie on this plane and actually take time to pray for my family’s day that has just begun – and continue this regularly through my time away
  • I can make the effort to send the odd update SMS – even if I can’t have lengthy conversations
  • I can carve out time and opportunities for chats – even if they are sometimes inconvenient to what’s going on around me here…
  • I can choose to actively engage my mind with what’s going on with the family – staying connected emotionally (even if not to the same degree as usual)
  • I can send specific encouragements to each family member – to let them know they are being thought about and loved
  • (This one is for my gift-crazy family) Presents Presents Presents Presents…

I’m sure there’s more, but that’s probably enough to be getting on with while doing my job faithfully!

Now – there’s a reason I’m writing this on day 1 – So that I can be held to my intentions…

Bring it on!!

How we respond to good news…

This is one that I struggle with, but I’ve never heard it so well put as I read here:

http://www.businessinsider.com/lasting-relationships-rely-on-traits-2015-11?IR=T

I definitely need to work on the whole ‘active constructive’ approach – I think I often fall between the passive-constructive/active-destructive schools of response… In any instance – work to be done!!

In one study from 2006, psychological researcher Shelly Gable and her colleagues brought young adult couples into the lab to discuss recent positive events from their lives. They psychologists wanted to know how partners would respond to each other’s good news. They found that, in general, couples responded to each other’s good news in four different ways that they called: passive destructive, active destructive, passive constructive, and active constructive.

Let’s say that one partner had recently received the excellent news that she got into medical school. She would say something like “I got into my top choice med school!”

If her partner responded in a passive destructive manner, he would ignore the event. For example, he might say something like: “You wouldn’t believe the great news I got yesterday! I won a free t-shirt!”

If her partner responded in a passive constructive way, he would acknowledge the good news, but in a half-hearted, understated way. A typical passive constructive response is saying “That’s great, babe” as he texts his buddy on his phone.

In the third kind of response, active destructive, the partner would diminish the good news his partner just got: “Are you sure you can handle all the studying? And what about the cost? Med school is so expensive!”

Finally, there’s active constructive responding. If her partner responded in this way, he stopped what he was doing and engaged wholeheartedly with her: “That’s great! Congratulations! When did you find out? Did they call you? What classes will you take first semester?”

Among the four response styles, active constructive responding is the kindest. While the other response styles are joy-killers, active constructive responding allows the partner to savor her joy and gives the couple an opportunity to bond over the good news. In the parlance of the Gottmans, active constructive responding is a way of “turning toward” your partners bid (sharing the good news) rather than “turning away” from it.

Active constructive responding is critical for healthy relationships. In the 2006 study, Gable and her colleagues followed up with the couples two months later to see if they were still together. The psychologists found that the only difference between the couples who were together and those who broke up was active constructive responding. Those who showed genuine interest in their partner’s joys were more likely to be together. In an earlier study, Gable found that active constructive responding was also associated with higher relationship quality and more intimacy between partners.

Building a lasting relationship

Quick scan of facebook and my brother posted this one… Great article – purely scientific, looking at the “masters & disasters” of relationships.

There’s a whole load of good stuff in there, but this observation is great (highlighting mine), the first is about respect & appreciation of the partner’s ‘bids’ for connection:

“There’s a habit of mind that the masters have … which is this: they are scanning social environment for things they can appreciate and say thank you for. They are building this culture of respect and appreciation very purposefully. Disasters are scanning the social environment for partners’ mistakes.”

“It’s not just scanning environment … It’s scanning the partner for what the partner is doing right or scanning him for what he’s doing wrong and criticizing versus respecting him and expressing appreciation.”

How often have I fallen into that trap? Not necessarily intentionally, normally out of neglect – not choosing to respond to those points of connection ‘can I have a quick word with you about…’ – “Not now. Busy.” Or something along those lines…

And that’s not just with S. – I have 3 connection-hungry children too!

What about this one – the other important trait is kindness:

Research independent from theirs has shown that kindness (along with emotional stability) is the most important predictor of satisfaction and stability in a marriage. Kindness makes each partner feel cared for, understood, and validated—feel loved.

Kindness doesn’t mean that we don’t express our anger … but the kindness informs how we choose to express the anger. You can throw spears at your partner. Or you can explain why you’re hurt and angry, and that’s the kinder path.”

Loads of food for thought from these ones!

http://www.businessinsider.com/lasting-relationships-rely-on-traits-2015-11?IR=T

(Photo credit: Reuters / Michelle McLoughlin)

It doesn’t take that long…

So I’ve been going for a little while, and to be honest I’ve been dragging my heels about making effort over the past week. I leave notes on my phone to bless S, and for the most part have become immune…

To me, the thought of thinking of something profoundly loving to say makes me put it off – not that I have nothing to say, but just because I like to give it thought and time and effort.

Which 99 times out of means… You guessed it… Nothing happens.

So here’s a crazy idea – how about I just write something, the shortest blessing… As opposed to nothing?!

Tried it this morning, and this is what I got in reply…

  
So that clearly worked – it’s so great to get an encouragement back… Maybe I’m actually on the right track!

So in short, rather than write/say/do nothing – it’s ok to do a little! 

When you’re tired…

So I’ve had a long few days… Nobody’s fault. But I am tired, and ‘doing good’ can be hard work! Especially trying to be, so and say things that don’t come naturally to you…

I was reading about Myers-Briggs personality type testing yesterday – all about how we have different types and what you should (and shouldn’t) expect from each type in a relationship.

I agreed to a point, my personality type means I am ‘naturally disposed’ to find it harder to express my feelings, I might find it ‘naturally easier’ to hole myself away into my work…

But does that make it excusable?!

I may not get it right all the time, but I want to lay down those ‘natural barriers’ to providing what S. needs – just as much as I’d hope she’d do the same to validate my needs!

Philippians 2 puts it like this:

Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Philippians 2:4

Which is tough. And tiring.

But worth it.

So, for those fighting against some of their ‘natural urges’ to be the best spouse they can be. Good on you. Keep up the good work. Don’t beat yourself up if you stuff up. Look over my catalogue of errors (sorry, blog) and be encouraged!!

These verses are for you:

Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

Isaiah 40:28-31

One really easy idea that will improve your marriage.

This is one to log for a future post. I totally agree (and am very guilty of not making enough effort in this department). I’m definitely working on it… Worth a read – especially for husbands who ‘work from home’. Read the below from ‘Faith, Sigh & DIY’ for more!

Faith, Sigh, and DIY

Hi everyone.

How’s your week going?

Mine’s kinda’ crazy. What with coming home from being gone two weeks and having a kitchen re-model going on and chaos and dust everywhere, and trying to find where I put everything before we left, it’s been nuts.

kitchen remodel kitchen remodel

Then today we find out that the wrong refrigerator was delivered so had to take care of that little detail.

Oops. Didn’t mean to vent.

sorryI want to tell you about a conversation I had with a boutique store owner the other day and how that conversation reminded me of this easy step anyone can take to improve their marriage

I can’t remember how the conversation turned to how women dress when they are at home, but it did. The store owner mentioned she’d just celebrated her wedding anniversary and I mentioned how my husband and I had just celebrated ours as well.

That led…

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Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf? (aka. bricks vs. mortar)

What really set the little piggy’s brick home apart from the others – was it the bricks?

Or was it the mortar?

I think this question touches on the real reason why I’m trying to go through this whole exercise of blog writing – I think I’ve been pretty ok over the years at working on the ‘visible building materials’ – the straw, bricks and wood – these materials are all different in quality, but produce a similar result on their own… A substandard home…

What are these in my example? I guess I mean the visible gestures, the birthday presents (just about?), Christmas when it comes around, and all the things I probably have to do in between, plus a bit more when I’m feeling committed – but essentially, ‘keeping up appearances’, keeping her happy, ticking the boxes…

As far as I’m concerned, we have a ‘decent’ marriage – we communicate, we give each other time, we fight, we forgive… But as I wrote here, something still isn’t quite there yet.. I’ve been wracking my brains over the last couple of weeks about how to describe it, or what I can do to ‘fix’ it. (Because that’s what us guys do best, right? Spanner, hammer, saw – it’ll be better, surely? And if I’m not too handy, I’ll call my handyman, give him a few bucks and job done…)

What I’m beginning to see is that to have a truly healthy marriage, it’s like building something that will last. All of the ‘visible gestures’, these are like the building materials – they’re essential – they’re what our joint memories are made of – the happy times, the moments, the dates, the holidays, the gifts – the things we hang on our walls. Sometimes I might do something simple, like straw, sometimes I might splash out on a few bricks…

But have you ever wondered what set this little piggy’s house apart? How did it stand up against the might of the wolf?

piggie

You guessed it…

He used cement.

Take a look at this English country garden wall:

dry-stone-wall

Take this beautiful English country wall, for example – it looks beautiful, but try to put any pressure on it, try to put a roof on it… And it will fall apart.

What about our marriages? I’m pretty sure our marriages are meant to provide ‘shelter & cover’ for each other, for our families, for those that come into our homes, for our community. But a marriage built without mortar will struggle to stand the test of time & pressure.

So what is the mortar?

Good question. Why do you think I’m on this journey? I don’t have the answer fully… yet.

I’m sure there is much more that can be said, but what I am learning at the moment is that all of the ‘less visible’ communication that goes into our marriage creates a picture. The way I talk to my wife, the way that I treat her in front of the kids, the way that I support her choices, her decisions… The way that I  stand up for her in front of our friends (and even my family?).

How do I look at her when she comes in with the shopping? Do I say thanks for a job well done or jump straight to the bill to see if she’s overspent?

Whose side do I take (even if I disagree with how she’s gone about doing something?).

What about the little things? The thank you’s, taking time to actually kiss her goodbye before she leaves the house for the day? The coffee in bed, the flowers for no reason? What about serving without pulling a face? Or helping with the jobs that somehow have become hers for some reason?

This picture, even though it is not always communicated explicitly weaves its way between every single visible gesture, and feeds the bigger picture. She may not be able to put her figure on why, but if we take the time to do this well, one day she will know without question, whatever storm may come:

“I am loved. I am valued. I am honored. I am appreciated. I am respected. I am safe.”

There have been days of my life when I have given a grand gesture and undermined it entirely with every single other bit of communication – this is like laying the most precious stone into the brickwork of your home and cementing it in with acid!

And this is something that takes time – if you (like me) haven’t started very far down this path, it can’t be fixed overnight. It can’t even be subcontracted to a handyman. There needs to be mortar between every single brick in a wall. It needs to be even & consistent.

So here I stand, before a challenge, to get mix cement!

I once told a dear family member on the day of his wedding: ‘God has called you to build a home for your wife and for your family – make sure you build it well.’

I knew back then what I thought the picture should look like. I guess now I feel I’m learning what skills it takes to get the job done excellently.

Am I happy with building a shack that can barely protect us against English drizzle? Or will I actually take the time to invest in crafting a shelter that can open its doors to my piggy brothers when the wolf comes blowing, or even my community when it gets really stormy?

I guess I know what my answer is. But turning that into day to day life is probably something else altogether.

If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward.

1 Cor 3:12-14

The Love Book

This one is a tried and tested tip that I just wish I remembered myself most of the time… The Love Book. Yes, it does involve getting in touch with (and communicating) your more sentimental side, but also yes – it does make a difference!

It is really what it says on the tin – a book. It can be any kind of book, big, little, lots of pages, no pages – anything you can write in. And it’s purpose? To write things in! Encouragements, verses, kind words, praise, prayers, thank yous, pictures, art work, love poetry, songs, whatever takes your fancy… We’ve even used ours to deliver the odd surprise present, or start a good old fashioned treasure hunt…

My saddest admission right now is that the book that we started writing in when we got married almost 10 years ago… Has only just been finished. In 10 years. One measly book. Not proud of that.

So – in my new found desire to be a better husband, I went out and bought not one, but two today!

(That’s a double whammy – gifts and words in one. Jackpot)

I even wrote my first entry… My aim is to write in it at least once a week – it shouldn’t be too hard to say something nice that often, should it?!

Couple of nice words, tactically placed book on the pillow, and hopefully Bob’s your uncle and you have one blessed, loved & valued wife.

Simples.

Oh, and word of warning. Don’t. Ever. Use the book to try and give some ‘constructive criticism’. It is NOT the right place for it.

So you really think you finished the job?

Look at the picture above. What’s wrong with that?

I just “helped clean the kitchen”. Did a great job, didn’t I?

Well, I guess it was a help, but what is a real help is when someone doesn’t have to come down and finish it off!

I guess those last two minutes is what show I care enough to deal with the details that matter to her and not just me.

Lord, help me serve with an unselfish heart!!

Wake up call

So I was woken up at 4.30am today.

Great, thanks God. Appreciate that.

But instead of the usual lazy social media surfing that I might do in the warmth of my bed, the voice was clear…

Get up! Fight for your family!

Do I have to?

Well, actually, I guess I don’t have to. But if that’s what God wants, then it’s what I want too…

Read this post (in my few mins scanning social media before I obeyed…)

Powerful stuff!!

I guess if that’s my job as a husband & father, and that’s how I’ve got to start my week well… Give me more wake up calls!!

Now I guess I better stop procrastinating and actually get on with some praying…