MARRIAGE Take charge of your atmosphere

Atmosphere is palpable. When your spouse is happy, you know it – the dinner is sumptuous; fresh sunflowers are in the vase; there’s singing in the kitchen.  It is safe to be home.  But when your spouse is not happy, you can feel the deafening silence or hear the banging and clanging at the sink.  You need to wait for the storm to blow over before you ask if you could your dream motorcycle jacket.

Atmosphere is also dynamic – it can change so easily.  All it takes it is a small action or a careless word.  “Why do your chicken look so miserable?” is enough to take all the joy of cooking away. Or coming home expecting to be served and complaining that your shirts are not ironed well will certainly not promise you a good restful evening.

The study by Olson and Olson 2000 showed that when couples take charge of their atmosphere and resolve conflict better, they are happier and better adjusted.

Image result for couple who resolve conflicts

How do we take charge of the atmosphere?

  1. Decrease PUSH communication

You are pushy if you use a lot of push communication. You will push away your partner if you continue to use this style of asserting yourself and making your partner feel unimportant.

Your spouse came home with the news that she was given a new role in the office.  She was enthusiastic about it as the new role is an indication that the company was happy with her performance.  She would expect to be praised and encouraged.

But if she hears remarks like “There’s no money to it” or “let me know only when there is a real promotion”, she will feel hurt and unsupported. Rather than sharing more about the new role and the possibility of a strong career path in the company, she would take that push away comments as the end of the communication.

The atmosphere is fragile with push communication.  Wrong buttons can be pushed and the atmosphere will become hostile and unconducive for meaningful family time.

Image result for couple who resolve conflicts

Avoid pushing away your partner using statements that are:

  • Threatening

“If you are so smart, why don’t you walk out now?

  • Vague

“You’re so lazy!  You are horrible, awful, ugly, useless…”

  • Overly demanding and unsympathetic

“I don’t care if you’re tired.  You should know that you are supposed to get that job done today.”

  • Bottled in anger

“I have had enough of you.  You’ve not moved an inch since I asked you to vacuum the floor 6 hours ago.”

It is easy to be destructive in the way you communicate. Criticism, blame, unfair requests or rejection can kill the strength of your marriage.  Dave Willis, a pastor in Augusta says,  “A strong marriage requires 2 people who choose to love each other even on days when they struggle to like each other.”  Loving each other requires you to be respectful even though you may be upset. Rather than spitting out sarcasm and insults, you can use PULL communication to confront the issue and to engage your spouse.

  1. Increase PULL communication

Image result for chinese couple talking

You are a more appealing communicator when you strive to learn and understand the situation and your spouse as much as possible before offering an opinion.  Peter Scazzero, author of Emotional Spirituality,  has this to offer – use the phrase ‘I notice … and I prefer’ to get a complaint across and to get a solution.

I notice you have been keeping late hours to do your assignment and it’s hard for you to be on time for work the next morning.  I prefer you to be on time so that I won’t go to work late. I don’t want to set a bad example to my subordinates.”

  • Express

You say clearly the behaviour that needs to be changed.  You want your spouse to go to work earlier in the morning. The changing is not within your control but you can lead the change by your request.  Your request sounds more reasonable if you put up a good case and you express it in an even and peaceful tone.

  • Empathise

You understand that the reason for not being on time the next morning is because of the assignment.  You acknowledge that your spouse is working hard the night before.  Your empathy will cause your spouse to listen up.

  • Explain

You point out the consequences of the behaviour. Providing a reason is always more convincing. An experiment was conducted to see how important giving a reason is.

Image result for reason

A man asked if he could get a photocopy of his document done.   He approached the first man and asked, ‘I need to get a photocopy. Can  I go before you?’

With the second man, he said, ‘I need to get a photocopy because I need to get a photocopy. Can I go before you?’

He said to the third man, “I need to get a photocopy because I need it for my next class. Can I go before you?”

The largest group that allowed him to get a photocopy is the third group.  This is obvious because he has a valid reason.

The second largest group is the second group.  Though the reason sounded ridiculous, it is still a reason.

Your spouse needs to know how his/her action affects you, in this case causing you to be late and therefore not setting a good example. That is the reason for him/her to make decisions to solve the problem or to change the behaviour – get another form of transport, sleep earlier, be more disciplined in doing assignments etc.

You can take charge of the atmosphere of your marriage. The Bible in Proverbs 12:18 writes, “Some people make cutting remarks, but the words of the wise bring healing.” You can either be the one who makes cutting remarks or the one that uses healing words.  Words and actions that push your spouse to a corner will fracture the relationship and cause wounding. But strategies that pull your spouse towards you will build a conducive atmosphere for growth and love.

Indeed you can build the atmosphere of your marriage or you can bring it down.  The choice is yours!  Your marriage depends on it!

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MARRIAGE – READ MY SIGNALS

   

Do you know how to read your spouse’s body language?  By looking at his face or her eyes, can you tell whether you should crack a joke or leave the room for a while?

Are you sending the right signals?  Sending the right signals can make your spouse tick.  It can improve and enrich everyday communication. Sending the wrong ones can repulse and create a hostile and unhappy atmosphere in the home.

Your body language tells you a lot about how you are feeling inside.  Knowing how to respond to the emotions expressed by your spouse’s body language can impact your marriage. According to Dr. John Gottman and colleagues, marriages are more prone to fail when one spouse responds to the other’s happy face with an expression of contempt.  Therefore it is great to learn how to reflect body language accurately.

Image result for body language

How do we become better non-verbal communicators?

  1. Read signals
  2. Respond to signals
  3. Recalibrate
  4. Re-establish communication

You succeed in reading signals when what you think your spouse feels is how he/she actually feels. The accuracy in reading signals will contribute to the well-being of the relationship.  Your spouse will feel being understood and that will cause him/her to want to reciprocate that feeling.  Couples that feel more understood are relatively happier and more well-adjusted.

When spouses keep making errors in reading signals, it will create misunderstanding.   This will cause unhappiness in the relationship.  Whatever the reasons for this inability to read signals accurately, improving it will help you and your spouse towards better health and harmony.

Signals are most commonly expressed in

  • the face
  • the eyes
  • gestures
  • tone of voice

Let’s apply the four processes mentioned earlier (read, respond, recalibrate, re-establish) to these four signals.

Image result for a red face

The face

Read: A red face could mean a few things – your spouse is in a hurry, or in a fury, or the  weather is just too hot. All indicate that your spouse is highly aroused.

Respond: Doing something or saying something to calm her/him down will be a step to    better communication. “Can I get you a glass of water?” “I am concerned that                you are stressing yourself out with this hurry. Tell me what I can do.”

Recalibrate: Your spouse would have said or done something to what you are                    suggesting. “Yes, please get me a glass of very cold water.  This heat is                               unbearable.”  It’s time to recalibrate and to gather your thoughts for the                                 next move.

Re-establish: “Sure will get you a glass of very cold water.”  The words and the gesture   of getting that glass of water will change the atmosphere at that moment                               to one that’s supportive and caring.

The eyes

Eyes that look away give the woman the message that the husband is not interested.  Women generally like to maintain regular eye contact.  Men are less able to look eye to eye. They don’t like talking about feelings and eye contact tends to increase such conversation.  Perhaps that’s the reason why men can read the newspapers and watch TV and still carry on conversation. That can frustrate women if they interprete no eye contact as a lack of interest in the conversation.

Read:  (husband is watching the news on TV with newspapers  in his hands) So you are not interested in me?

Respond: (silence)

Communication is at a standstill if it all stopped here.  The wife is wanting the husband to pay attention to her and the husband is insensitive to the wife’s request and did not respond to her constructively.  The wife is reading the signal wrongly.  She associates preoccupation of her husband to his neglect of her.  The husband is wrong in his response – by being silent, he hopes to shut her off but he is not meeting her need emotionally.

Alternative way of communication:

Read: (husband is watching the news on TV with newspapers  in his hands) I have got something to discuss with you.  Can we talk after you finished the news?

Respond: (looking at the wife’s eagerness to talk) OK.

Recalibrate: You have a space after the news to discuss the matter with him.  It’s a win- win situation – he gets to watch the news still and you get to have that talk.

Re-establish:  When that time arrives to discuss that matter, focus on that matter and don’t use that time to talk about his TV and newspaper habits. Give- and- take is a good skill to cultivate.  A marriage that is involved in meeting the other person’s needs will yield positive outcomes.

Gestures and tone of voice

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You can practise reading, responding, recalibrating and re-establishing with gestures and tone of voice.

Non verbals are windows to the emotional world of your spouse.  Sometimes these windows are blurry and there’s a need to clarify verbally so that you can best understand what is happening and take steps to re-establish the relationship.

Peter Scazzero in his emotional thermometer suggested using words like , ‘I am worried that…” “I am puzzled that …”  to indicate your unclear position and to ask for clarity.

If your spouse is using an angry tone and you read it as an angry signal, you can clarify by saying, “I am puzzled that you came home very happy and then, after 1 hour, you are angry.”  This is an invitation for your spouse to express himself/herself.

When your spouse is in the garden/shed for a long time, and you read it as a signal of withdrawal and you are feeling insecure, you can find an opportunity to clarify, “I am worried that you are spending a lot of time alone in the garden/shed, is everything ok?”  Hopefully your inquisitiveness and care will lead to you to recalibrate and re-establish the relationship.

Couples are given the most precious ability to read each other. I have heard comments like “I can even tell what she/he is thinking before she/he says it,”  “That was exactly how I felt” “How did you know?  Are you psychic?” etc. The Bible in Proverbs 27:19 writes,

                  “As water reflects the face, so one’s life reflects the heart.”

The eyes, the face, the gestures and the tone of voice reflect the heart. Couples have the keys to each other’s hearts.  Be sure to use the keys to unlock each other to better express yourselves and communicate well.

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MARRIAGE – Communicate Constructively

Marriage is to be lifelong. This will already spark off all kinds of wisecracks:

                     “‘I am’ is reportedly the shortest sentence in the English Language.                                   Could it be that ‘I do’ is the longest sentence?”

                      “Marriage is not a word. It is a sentence–a life sentence.”

                      “By all means marry; if you get a good wife, you’ll be happy.  If you get a                          bad one, you’ll become a philosopher.” Socrates

But marriage can be lifelong and lively.

                        “A first-rate marriage is like a first-rate hotel:  expensive, but worth                                 it.” Mignon McLaughlin

A first- rate marriage is enjoyed by a couple who make daily choices to communicate constructively. A communicative culture is a great gift in a marriage. No one walks on eggshells; both feel relaxed and speak respectfully to each other. “Culture has longevity,” Ps Benny Ho, Senior Pastor of FCC Perth, said.  Once that communicative culture is created, your children will follow suit.

What kind of communicative culture do we want to create?

GIVE -AND -TAKE

An article in PREPARE (pre-marital program) writes that GIVE- AND -TAKE relationships make enriched marriages. If you have an encouraging word, say it; if you are the receiver of that encouraging word, return the word with an encouraging word.  That way, life flows like the waves that roll back and forth in the sea.

This ebb and flow is the result of mirror neurons in your brain. A mirror neuron is a brain cell that fires when one person acts and the other follows. Couples mirror each other frequently.  It’s God’s way of helping couples to enjoy mutual harmony and involvement. When adequately mirrored, you develop well in your self image and social image.  You discover yourself through the eyes of your spouse.

Be the proactive one in constructive communication:

                    “The report you wrote for the company was great!  So glad you got your                          promotion because of that.  What did your boss say?”

You target your compliment to a specific act (eg the report); you express your feeling of happiness (eg so glad) and you ask an open question for the other person to respond.  You are the GIVER.  As the TAKER, you encourage the communication by responding to the compliment and to the open question.

Make time for this sort of give- and- take communication.  For some couples, mealtimes are good opportunities; for others, car rides are great conversation openers.  There is no hard and fast rules. Make it easy for each other to be involved in such conversation – be inquisitive and be genuinely interested to add to the conversation.

Conversation topics may vary.  You can even turn a gloomy statement into a possibly encouraging one:

                  “  I am so tired today after that long meeting with the boss.  I may need to                          rest for an hour.  Could you fetch the kids from school?”

                  “ Yes, don’t worry about it.  I will fetch the kids and you rest well.  You had                       a long day.”

This is a request for help and when met with an encouraging response, it will bring comfort and a willingness to do something in return in the future. 

An enriching conversation can also be one that you air your hopes and dreams.  Not everything we talk about needs a resolution as not everything is a problem.  In Peter Scazzero’s emotional thermometer, you can  share your world of imagination by talking about your hopes and wishes.

Image result for thermometer    Hopes and wishes (“I hope that.. I wish that…)

“ When I was younger, I hope that I could own a  …..”

“I wish I am an eagle and I could …..”

“ I wish I can turn you into Spiderman and you could then …..”

Play is  important in a marriage.  Don’t forget to play. Loosen up and enjoy each other’s company.

GIVE- AND -GIVE

The same article in PREPARE (pre-marital program) also wrote that a GIVE-AND-GIVE relationship, where one gives without expecting to receive immediately, enhances the marriage.

There are times when such  communication is needed for eg in illnesses, in crisis, in challenging stages of the marriage etc.  The giver needs to dig deep into internal resources built up for these moments and to “talk only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Eph 4:29, the Bible). In the month of MAY, I will blog on SELF CARE which will help you  harness inner strength to cope with the challenges of life.

Woman pushing a stroller passes mural that reads "The best gift is you"

The hope of give-and-give communication is that there will be a turnaround on the part of your spouse and you will be rewarded for your fine effort of giving without expecting instant results.

Peter Scazzero’s emotional thermometer again is a great help in increasing constructive communication.

   Image result for thermometer     New information (My new information is …)

Make it a habit to share NEW INFORMATION. The good thing about it is there’s no need for an exchange if your spouse doesn’t want to contribute at that time.  You can narrate and describe your new information as long as you see that your spouse is interested in your sharing. 

I was once in a car with a friend and her husband.  She read the news of the day aloud to him while he was driving.  That’s great communication! Another man I know  would gather all kinds of new information when he was overseas.  He would then return home to his wife with new stories to tell.  I must say that through my 36 years of marriage, I got a lot of local and international news through my husband who is an avid reader and listener of news. 

Be generous in your communication.  Sometimes you give and take; at other times you give and give.

“Give, but give until it hurts.” Mother Teresa

“The most truly generous persons are those who give silently without hope of praise or reward.” Carol Ryrie Brink

Of course communication is not just verbal.  It’s non -verbal as well.  Look out for my next blog on constructive non-verbal communication in your marriage.

MARRIAGE – Cultivating Compatibility

A strong marriage is created when couples are more compatible in personality. Together they can ignite enthusiasm and energy more easily.  I have watched such couples at work and the energy is contagious.  Nine of my friends from Singapore travelled to Margaret River in the Easter weekend with us.  Henry, my husband, and I are not natural photographers or posers for shots.  But at the suggestion of a few couples in the trip who are energetic and fun-loving, we found ourselves lightening up and we ended up outbeating one another at the most fancy shot.

 

While compatibility is preferable at the pairing stage of every partner as it gives the relationship a good headstart, not every couple starts off that way.  People marry for all kinds of reasons.   Couples who quarrel a lot and experience much tension probably have compatibility issues to varying degrees.

The good news is that compatibility can be cultivated.  But the question I would ask you is, ‘Are you prepared to make changes?’

According to a PREPARE ( a pre-marital program) article, stronger couples  have healthy personal worth and self esteem.  The better and healthier your personal worth and self esteem, the more compatible you are.

What story of yourself circles in your head everyday?

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For some of you, the stories are almost always negative – “ I am sloppy”; “I am lazy”;  “I am always late”; “I can’t do anything”…  Some of these stories are told to you by significant others in your lives and they are hard to shake off. The brain is wired to remember the bad  and the ugly quicker than the good.  These negative stories you tell yourself come automatically  and they erode your self-confidence and your energy.

I invite you to make some changes in the stories in your head so that you can enjoy more enthusiasm and energy in yourself and in your relationship.   The Bible in Song of Songs 2:15  says, “Catch the little foxes that are spoiling the vine.”  Negative stories in your head can change the state of your marriage.  If you constantly think “you can’t do anything,” you produce an atmosphere of inertia, insecurity, inferiority.   This is not a healthy atmosphere to raise a strong family.

Tell yourself it’s not 100% true that “you can’t do anything.”  List down 10 things you can do and have been doing well.  By the end of this activity, I hope that you have a better story about yourself.

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Others of you may have more positive scripts.  People think positively of you and you think positively of yourself.  You are the emotionally well-endowed one!  Perhaps in your marriage, you can act the part of the encourager so that your partner feels nourished and empowered to make changes that would bring about a stronger self and marriage.  Do not assume the superior position to blame or criticise.  They can kill the strength of the marriage and the confidence of your partner.

View marriage positively.  Marriage can be seen as a greenhouse where you are both being nurtured to deal with the issues in life.  You don’t always have everything together.  That’s why you are a pair so that you can complement each other – your strength offsets the other’s weaknesses; your strength is combined with the other to become a stronger team.

CHANGE  for a stronger YOU.  CHANGE for a stronger marriage! Continue to cultivate compatibility all throughout your marriage.

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BUILDING A STRONG MARRIAGE

I just gave a talk on ‘Building Strong Marriages’ and am inspired to blog on MARRIAGE for the month of April.

Image result for Winnie the Pooh + if you live to be a hundredI like to be able to say the same as Winnie the Pooh in my marriage – to have a long and strong marriage with my husband to the very last day of our lives.

How do we have a strong marriage?

Olson and Olson did a survey of 21,501 married couples in the year 2000 and found that happy couples have BETTER

  • compatibility in personality
  • communication
  • conflict resolution skills

To have a strong marriage, get better at cultivating compatibility, communicating positively and constructively solving problems.

Cultivating compatibility

Enthusiasm 

Energy

A strong marriage has enthusiasm and energy, an article in PREPARE (a premarital program)  wrote.

To Norman Vincent Peale, enthusiasm “makes the difference between success and failure, is the spice of life, is the mental ventilation, it  cancels fear and worry and tension, builds power under your difficulties…. Enthusiasm makes all the difference.”

To be enthusiastic is to be full of God, to be energised and inspired by God.  Enthusiasm is attractive and it exudes energy.  People love to be around enthusiastic people as their moods are altered when they are in a highly charged positive atmosphere.

You can use Peter Scazzero’s emotional thermometer to practise being enthusiastic .  Enthusiasm is heightened when there is appreciation and excitement .

Image result for thermometer Appreciation or excitement (I am excited that… I appreciate)

Practise a broad range of phrases that will bring about enthusiasm and  energy

  • I like this about you (whatever ‘this’  may be)
  • I love it when you come home with a happy face
  • I appreciate it when you helped me to buy the groceries this week
  • I am excited that you have planned a movie day for the family
  • I am so looking forward to our new sofa etc

The greatest joy of connecting with our significant other is to be ENCOURAGED in the attachment.  Paul the Apostle wrote in Col 2:2 that the main goal in relationships, including marriage, is to be knit together by strong ties of love and to be encouraged in heart and united in love.

When we are encouraging, we will increase compatibility.  Don’t depreciate marriage life by counting things that are wrong. Don’t be a fault finder and have stinking thinking.  You will create a negative atmosphere and no one likes being at home.   Get better at positive talk and your compatibility level will rise.