It is the 9th of July 2018, and here I am getting back to our blog for the first time in six months. Whoa! I do enjoy sharing in writing, but find myself easily distracted and not budgeting time for it. Now is the time to get the ball rolling again, rekindle some weekly discipline in writing, as there is much stored up in my heart and mind to share here for the health of marriages.
I recently read this great article on the Focus on the Family website which shares a great idea to improve communication. It is not a new idea, in fact, this type of communication goes back to the first century and is displayed over and over again in the parables of Jesus. Here is the opening to the article:
"We don't talk anymore!" shouted my wife, Cindy.
"That's ridiculous," I said. "We talk all the time!"
"But not about what we need to talk about. What's important to me. What's important for us!"
"Then drive with me to my softball game. If it's that big of a deal, you can talk to me on the way to the game about anything you want."
But Cindy wouldn't go to that game. Soon after, she wouldn't go to any of my games.
I was convinced she was just emotional or intentionally not explaining what she meant. She seemed convinced that I simply didn't care about her or anything she had to say.
That was the level of communication in our first year of marriage. We talked about how we needed to communicate with each other — all the time. But we never connected. Cindy became more and more hurt and lonely. And I grew more and more angry and lonely.
And then the day came when things blew up — but in an amazing way. On that day, Cindy used a powerful communication tool, a word picture, to change my life ... and our marriage.
Emotional word pictures can really transform your communication. The use of word pictures has really increased understanding and empathy in our marriage. To explore more about emotional word pictures, you can read more from this great article here.
In the last post we talked about "unresolved sin" and how it robs from us the gift of love that all of us so desperately long for in marriage; in all relationships. We mentioned there is Good News and the "good news" can be found in trust. Our friends at Trueface say it like this:
To resolve our sin issues we must begin trusting who God says we are. We cannot mature without the healing gifts of grace.
What are the "healing gifts of grace"? The first one is love. 1 Peter 4:8, Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Receiving the love of God will start the healing process; knowing and trusting His love for us.
Packaged in His gift of love is repentance. Repentance is simply saying to ourselves and to Him, "I can't handle this act of selfishness (sin) done against me" and turning to the loving arms and face of God. He is big enough to handle it.
The other ultra powerful gift of love He has for us is forgiveness. First forgiving the "thief" our offender for our sake. This frees us from the harmful effects of the sin done against me (us). Nothing is required of the offender (thief). This is just between me (us) and God.
In these gifts beautiful gifts, we find the key to freedom and our loving God gets the glory. The cross of Jesus Christ is just that powerful. The power of love not found anywhere else or in anyone else.
In an earlier blog post in this series, regarding "hardening of our hearts", we shared this from our friends at Trueface...
"To resolve our sin issues we must begin trusting who God says we are. We cannot mature without the healing gifts of grace. "
Unresolved sin is like a thief who works in stealth mode. In Behind the Mask we read this truth.
"The three-phase chain reaction caused by unresolved sin takes away our ability to have intimate relationships. It makes us feel ashamed and lonely and robs us of the joy of showing our true face to the world. "
Our response to sin (selfishness) happens without thought; we experience the emotions connected with guilt or hurt. Left undone (unresolved) our shame (sense of inadequacy, not measuring up) will be ignited.
Here are the results of unresolved sin if ignored or dismissed;
▪ We become highly sensitized to our sin and judge the sin of others.
▪ We lose our objectivity in a crisis and we become the issue.
▪ We hide our sinful behavior and become vul- nerable to more sin.
There are other toxic byproducts that can come from allowing shame to cause us to hide or ignore unresolved sin. They can also produce three other debilitating results:
▪ We are unable to be loved or to love.
▪ We become vulnerable to wrong life choices.
▪ We attempt to control others.
Ultimately, our spouses, our friends, even our children can sense our inability to move toward them with love. How pitifully tragic!
taken from Behind the Mask
So here in lies the soil for a hardened heart. The tragic thing is that a hardened heart is not able to receive or give love. In this condition, love dies which leads to divorce. It does not have to be this way. There is good news! We can resolve our sin (selfishness issues). We can choose the way of love and the One who first loved us. Let's talk about this next time.
What does this loving safety net look like?
How do you create this space in your marriage?
You have to trust that God loves you in this way (He is our safety net) and you are not defined by the struggle, your performance, your failures or successes, whatever they are.
What does this safety net look like in the reality of marriage? Monique's love for me continues to catch me in my fall towards letting food be my go-to for comfort from worry and stress. My life-long pattern has been to turn to food to quiet my anxiousness. I can unconsciously snack on chips, cookies, crackers and nuts for hours.
When I would share my struggles, she used to try and 'fix" me. I would make many personal declarations to get on a healthy track "starting tomorrow”, which were often met with criticism.
It has been a journey for me in discovering that I can't conquer this struggle by mustering up more will power. We have realized that; Criticism and trying to "fix" one another doesn't work.
Grace changes how we see each other and our sin issues.
Grace produces the "safety net". We began to see ourselves as God sees us. Currently I've stopped making the "declarations" and I feel freedom to share the ongoing struggle with Monique. I'm on a journey with her and Jesus, walking towards wholeness one day at a time.
The "solvent", love, is applied when we take the risk and be vulnerable enough to receive it. Brene Brown in her wonderful book titled: Daring Greatly, says this; “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.”
Isn't that what we see one of Jesus' cornerstone parables; The Prodigal Son? (Read the story here - Luke 15:11-32) The lost son is in a place far away, awakening to his reality, in vulnerability (shame) he returns to the father. (See photo above) The son, not expecting to be greeted in love, is humbled and receives the love of the father. It is a powerful story of the love of God for all of us, a love that melts masks and gives us grace to be who we were created to be in our original story. The quote below is another way of expressing what we see in the Prodigal Son story, from our friends at Trueface.
Love acts as a safety net when we admit the truth about ourselves.
In the Prodigal Son story and in our story, we see that the father doesn't define the son by the sins he committed. He accepted the son just as he was and moved toward him in love. The same is true for us in marriage. When we live in a grace-filled marriage, an environment of grace, "one of the greatest gifts we can offer our spouse is a safe place to fail." The Cure, authors John Lynch, Bill Thrall and Bruce McNichol.
Grace lets God handle sin.
The above statements come from the heart of The Father through our friends at Trueface. Let's dive into to these practical life giving truths next time. A wonderful dive via film that will stir your soul is The Heart of Man, a gift to humanity in these times. See the trailer below and then go see the movie.
In this post we will look at the behaviors which are symptoms of the unresolved sin that ultimately hardens the heart in marriages and other relationships. My friends at Trueface say it like this:
"When we trust our own ideas about how to handle our guilt or hurt, we allow something much worse to be released in us. Suddenly guilt and hurt ignite our shame, with its many ugly children, including manipulation, lies, blame, fear, denial, anger, control and many more." from Behind The Mask
Guilt and hurt open the door to our shame, a place of hiddenness where manipulation, control, lies, blame, fear, denial, anger, and many more behaviors emerge, which will harden hearts. If we are on the receiving end of these attitudes and actions we definitely don't feel loved. Unfortunately, we don't know what to do with it, so as suggested above, "we trust our own ideas about how to handle it." Bad plan, because we can't handle it. Our ideas usually result in defensiveness and self-protection patterns learned in our childhood., YIKES!, can you feel your heart harden?
Mask wearing (false identity) becomes our way of coping with guilt and hurt. it is a way of hiddenness. It is driven by our shame (an inner sense that we are not enough, not good enough). There is a way out, but it is counterintuitive. The answer is in this quote from my friends at Trueface.
Love, the first gift of grace, acts as a solvent to lift our masks.
We will talk more about this incredible "solvent" next time.
In the last blogpost, I suggested that a "hardened heart", which Meg Marie Wallace mentions in her blogpost, "One thing that is guaranteed to end of all marriages", is the result of unresolved sin and it is this sin that is the root cause the hardening of hearts. Thus, the relational disconnect couples experience, comes primarily from unresolved sin that is buried alive, never dealt with, just tucked away in one's heart.
If unresolved sin could be dealt with in a healthy way, hardening of the heart would not happen at all. First, let's define and unresolved sin. This is sin done to us or it can be sin we commit against another. We know something has gone wrong, as we experience the feeling of being hurt, in the first case, or we experience guilt in the latter.
Our friends at TrueFace in their book, The Cure, share this about being hurt; "If you haven't been there yet, you will. You'll be wronged, hurt and then left for dead in an environment promoting just the opposite. It's a dangerous moment, because it causes us to wonder whether a place of safety, authenticity, grace and love is actually possible this side of heaven. It is here many of us make the choice to return to our self-preserving ways."
In marriage, most of us in the beginning, see our relationship as a place of safety. In time, stuff happens, we hurt each other, and we experience guilt and hurt. When we choose to go into self preservation mode to deal with sin, we bury it alive inside and it is unresolved. It is here that the unresolved sin issue, over time, manifest themselves in harmful attitudes and behaviors.
Let's explore this further next time and look at the behaviors which are symptoms of the unresolved sin that ultimately hardens the heart in marriages and other relationships.
In our Marriage Mosaic workshops we learn practical skills that are life giving for marriages and lead couples to living free from unresolved issues. Click here to find out about our workshops and register for one.
In Meg Marie Wallace's thoughtful blogpost, she postulates that the "one thing guaranteed to end all marriages" is a hardened heart. You can read it here.
Her great post has me asking this question; What caused the hardening of heart? Could the causes be worth discovering in the healing of a marriage relationship and/or in the prevention of hardening of the heart, leading to the end of a marriage?
Thanks Meg for prompting me to probe for answers to these questions. That is what a good blog does for me. I'm going to suggest that a hardened heart is a result of unresolved sin issues. What do a I mean by an unresolved sin issue?
Unresolved sin issues are like Tardigrades. Dormant, quiet, ugly, hidden. They can look dead for years. But, they are not dead. All unresolved sin issues are buried alive. Just the perfect circumstance, a sly word, a pesky argument, a trigger of some kind and that unresolved sin issue reconstitutes itself. Where did it come from? Oh, it was there all the time? Latent and ready to be activated. Why am I angrier than I was before? Why do I have blame, shame, denial, manipulation, fear, all mixed up inside me?
Ah...there it is, the root of the hardened heart; "Where did it come from? Let's talk more about where it came from next time and see the behaviors unresolved sin produces to that we can discover an "agent" of healing.
“What if there was a place so safe that the worst of me could be known, and I would discover that I would not be loved less, but more in the telling of it?”
I must confess. I am challenged at times in listening. I can be easily distracted from a conversation with my precious wife and when I do, she does not feel loved. As we have stated in previous blogs; "Love is the process of meeting needs." Our relational reality is, our spouses feel love when they sense that they are being listened to in conversations, because giving undivided attention in listening values and honors our spouse in a unique way.
“Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.”
This quote by David Augsburger sums up this radical way of loving. I wish listening came naturally, but it doesn't. It is a learned skill that must be practiced. At our marriage workshops, we teach couples what is called, Incarnational Listening and we give them time to practice it. This skill and other great skills can be found in the Emotionally Healthy Relationships Course by Pete and Geri Scazzero.
We have seen transformation and love experienced at our workshops as couples learn and practice this listening skill. How well do you listen to each other? You can powerfully change the dynamics of your relationship and experience intimacy through listening. Join us at one of our fall workshops and we will show you how to love well in marriage.
In a recent blogpost from Marriage Today, Jimmy Evans writes;
"Her next need is for soft, nonsexual affection. I once counseled a couple where the woman said, “Outside the bedroom, he’s never touched me. Never held my hand or put his arm around me.” She was frustrated and angry about it.
Early in our marriage, I was like that husband. I just didn’t know how to be affectionate with Karen. I was rough. God had to teach me how important it was for me to hold her, to be gentle and show affection without expecting it to lead somewhere. When I changed, it changed our marriage.
Some men may say, “That’s just not the way I am.” I tell them it doesn’t matter. You need to change and meet your wife’s needs.
I do agree with Jimmy Evans, that husbands need to change to meet our wives needs for nonsexual touch. The cool thing is that the power to change is Christ in us, the God of Love who dwells in each of His kids. Those of us, me included, who didn't come from families who displayed much affection, can depend on Jesus, who is the embodiment of love and compels us to show the many facets of love to our spouse. We can also move in humility, receive the love that comes by way of hugs, hand holding, gentle touches, and learn from our spouses. Appropriate physical touch is so important in affirmation, development and growth for children and adults. If you don't believe me, Google it; the research is there.
Vic and Monique
We are all about helping your marriage thrive.