The testimony of two

This Sunday was Mother’s Day. So Saturday was a great day to spend undermining S’s ability as a mother with my words and actions…

You can imagine that when I sat down to write a card on Sunday morning, even though words normally flow from my pen quite freely, this time I couldn’t do it. Not because the words weren’t there, but because my words weren’t backed up with my actions.

What’s the point of me writing “You do such a great job at x,y,z…”, when just the day before, everything I did screamed “You’re doing it wrong, my way is better…”

John 8:17 says “In your Law it is written that the testimony of two people is true.” Why the testimony of two? Well, I can write or say whatever I want, but unless S. bears witness to my words through my actions, that testimony is worthless. Until it is worked out and seen, it is purely words.

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.

– James 2:18

James is writing here about faith – but I believe this applies to love as well – our written or spoken expressions of love must be backed up by our actions. In fact, if our actions speak loud enough, we sometimes don’t even have to use words!

So here is the question I’m beginning to ask myself: How does she know? and the answer can’t be ‘because I say so’

  • How does she know that she’s valued?
  • How does she know that she is more important than my work?
  • How does she know that I respect her words?
  • How does she know that she is appreciated?
  • How does she know that I trust her words/actions/judgement?
  • How does she know that we’re on the same side?
  • How does she know that she is loved?

And the list could go on… Food for thought? I certainly have plenty of chewing to do…

 

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You did what?!

So this post goes first in my soon-to-be-growing public catalogue of marital fails…

And what a way to start!!

Let’s set the scene first… Mid-January, I realise how many mistakes I’ve been making as a husband and start writing this blog as an outlet for processing and as a reminder to keep at the simple things…

After a good few weeks of progress I go away for 10 weeks on business, and do quite well on the whole, good contact, good communication, presents for all… Job done!

What a great guy I am.

Plane home. Great. Feeling pretty awesome about myself.

First day with the family. Pretty good. Presents a success. Oh yeah – got this husband/dad thing nailed…

Day 2. Have a few days off planned, to ‘reconnect with family’, but what do I do? 8am. Start decorating my home office… Wait a minute… What’s was that I hear you screaming?
I’ll repeat myself. Day 2. Started decorating my home office…

Yes, I really did embark on a work-based home project within 36 hours of landing home after 10 days away, during the time that I had booked to ‘reconnect with family’.

And yes, even my boss would be disappointed with my priority choice here.

And yes, I realise how high a percentage of readers are banging their hands against their heads in disbelief…

I thought I was doing so well up until then…

Yes, I know, this is one of those fails Homer Simpson would have been proud of.

Now, I had my reasons, and some really good ones too: I have some meetings in a few days that I needed to sort out the room for… Plus we had sick kids so we couldn’t really do much else out of the house… Also I prefer to get this kind of thing done quicker so it’s not hanging over, and it was a full moon on the second Sunday of the month, which everyone knows is the best time to start decorating… You see, really solid case I have here…

But what I realise now is that it makes a difference what I do first.
That is to say:

I need to make my first thing the first thing!

When I’ve been out of the country for the best part of two weeks, the balance needs to be reset: S. has to be shown that I value her over the work that has occupied my life 100% for the last 10 days.

The best way I can do that is to give her the time of day, to hear from her, to actually ask how her time has been, to let her debrief and unload before I launch into my projects, my stories, my my my…

Whatever I do first is going to be understood as my priority, even if it is not and I have perfectly ‘valid’ reasons!

Now, part of me feels that this particular mistake was a one off with extraneous circumstances, but I’d be foolish not to learn from the principle here, otherwise you’ll likely see me writing another sheepish piece in a few months time!

I will get a second chance at doing a ‘re-entry’ well before long (not that I want to go away again!), but I did well and truly blow this one.

Actually, this principle doesn’t just apply to long trips – what do I do after a day out at work? Straight to phone to pick up more emails? What about straight into my world and my hobbies? Or offloading from my day without sparing a thought for hers?

Reminds me of this:

Philippians 2:3-4

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

In short. I need to make sure she knows the value she holds in my eyes. I need to show it with my words, my time and my priorities…

And if you screw up? Don’t forget to say sorry. And sorry I am, because it’s me who starts work tomorrow without having been blessed with much-needed quality time with my other half.

But as for the last few days, other than a lesson learned, I leave you with the wise words of our great modern day sage, Homer (Simpson):

Doh!

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)

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.

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…