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Thursday, August 22, 2013

A Sample Chapter From My New Book

Chapter Fifteen
Clean Fights

            “If you had more ambition, we’d be further along by now!” Emma angrily said to Mason. “I’ve told you to send out resumes but you’d rather stay right where you are no matter what the best thing for us might be!”
            “There you go again! Blame me when we come up short because you don’t understand how to live within a budget. You never give one thought to whether or not we have the money for something. If it’s in the bank, you assume it must be there to spend. Well, Emma, we have monthly bills that have to be paid out of that money!”
            “You’re the one who didn’t pay last month’s power bill! Now we owe two months instead of one. It’s not like I’ve spent the money on something we don’t need. If you’d acted with just a little responsibility we wouldn’t be having this conversation!” Emma responded.
            “Yeah, blame it on me,” Mason continued. “That’s a lot easier than admitting that you don’t seem to be able to understand that no matter how much money a family makes, there has to be a limit on what is being spent every month!”
            Without another word, Emily turned and walked out of the room and into the kitchen. Mason stormed into his home office, slamming the door hard enough to make sure Emma heard it.
            The kind of exchange takes place in homes all over the world every day. Arguing. I’m not talking about physical conflict. Most couples don’t reach that stage in their disagreements, but many don’t realize that wrong words spoken may have irrevocable consequences.
            Disagreements in a marriage are a universal. In fact, show me a marriage where the couple never disagrees and I’ll show you a situation where one person is has become so passive that the marriage is on dangerous ground for altogether different reasons than what this chapter will discuss. Verbal disagreements are not only normal but can be healthy if they are expressed in the appropriate way. You can’t live with a person and not have differences of opinion. It’s how you handle those differences that are of utmost importance.
            Looking at the brief glimpse into the argument between Emma and Mason, several things surface that are immediate red flags about the health of their communication skills and thus, the health of their marriage. Read the description of their conversation again and note each of the mistakes you can identify in their disagreement. There are at least four or five things they did wrong. Can you see them?

Address Behavior, Not Character
            Some things that can be said in an argument have more weight than others. When we feel angry, the temptation may be there to go for the harshest statement we can make but doing that can cause long-term damage to a relationship that is very, very hard to reverse. Angry words are one thing. Words that belittle the very essence of somebody’s character are a more serious issue.
Emma’s criticism that Mason had no ambition crossed the line. Married partners usually know the vulnerabilities and insecurities of their spouse. To verbally strike in an area that diminishes your mate as a person is not only wrong, but may do lasting damage. Think of the areas in your own life where you feel most insecure. When anybody gouges you in those areas of sensitivity, the effect is exaggerated and the resulting damage isn’t overcome easily. You don’t want to do that to the man you love.
            One wife said to me, “Well, he knows how I am and that I don’t really mean it,” to which I replied, “No, he doesn’t know you don’t really mean it because he has a phantom voice inside him that already tells him it’s true. When you affirm what that voice says, it is next to impossible for him to readily believe you don’t mean it. He may know that you do love him but your love won’t soon overcome the damage done by words that fuel an insecurity that is already inside him.”
            Be careful what you say. Words can be like a shotgun blast. Once the loud noise subsides, the blast itself may be over but the damage is done. The Bible says, “Reckless words pierce like a sword” (Proverbs 12:18, NIV).
Tell him what you don’t like. Say it clearly and even firmly if you want, but make sure that what you talk about is his behavior. Wrong actions can be changed in no time but when a person is made to feel that he is inherently bad on the inside, that isn’t easy to move past.
            What are you to do if your husband speaks to you in the wrong way discussed here? First, don’t react to such a thing. Instead, respond to his words. If your husband makes it a habit to say things to you when he is angry that diminishes you as a person, it’s likely that his words “push your buttons” in a way that your reaction may not be the most helpful way to answer. In fact, your reaction may almost seem involuntary when you feel provoked.
            Instead of reacting, decide now how you will respond when he says something to you that is out of bounds because of the nature of the remark. It may be something as simple as, “I will not continue this conversation now because you have crossed the line by trying to reduce me as a person instead of talking about what I’ve done that you don’t like.” Then, every time your husband commits this infraction, say the same words to him. If you will be consistent in this, he will learn that attacking your character will do nothing toward allowing him to make his point but will only cause the conversation to end abruptly. To talk about bad behavior is acceptable, but to put somebody down crosses the line.
            When you’ve ended a conversation in this way, wait until your emotions have stabilized and then, when the time is right, approach him about agreeing on certain guidelines for how you will disagree with each other. Obviously, a big one will be that you don’t belittle each other’s character. Agree together to address actions and not go afoul by diminishing each other. Once you have agreed on the boundary lines for arguing, if your husband crosses a line in the future, stop at that moment and remind him that you’ve agreed not to go there. If he continues, end the conversation immediately and later, when you’ve both settled down, come back to the discussion about your agreement on how to disagree in a nondestructive way.
            The idea of agreeing upon established guidelines for how to disagree may seem simple but it works. You both have control over your words. In fact, one translation of James 1:26 says, “And if a man thinks that he serves God, and does not hold his tongue, but deceives his heart, this person's service is worthless” (Aramaic Bible in Plain English). Neither of you have to react. You can learn to hold your tongue and properly respond.

Avoid The Words “Never” and “Always”
            Mason made a terrible choice by what he said to Emma: “You never give one thought to whether or not we have the money for something.” When he made that statement, the discussion could no longer be about what was going on at the moment the argument began. Now it was much more than that. Mason had unwisely turned the conversation into something much bigger by using the word “never.” His decision to use that word would automatically and understandably put Emma on the defense. After all, now he wasn’t just talking about one incident but about an alleged habitual way of behaving.
            When arguments occur there are certain words that usually do nothing except increase the emotional intensity of an already charged atmosphere. To say, “you never” or “you always” is to throw gasoline on an already burning fire.  If the goal is to resolve the problem, that should be avoided at all costs.
            Other things to avoid are statements that question our mate’s intelligence.  Somebody might say, “What were you thinking?” or “That’s insane!” but what the other person may likely hear is, ‘You are stupid!” Questions and remarks like these don’t serve a useful purpose. Saying anything that is a veiled insult should be avoided.
            Making generalized accusations when arguing is harmful too. What we are feeling at this moment may seem like feelings we have all the time, but that often is not the case. It is easy to project the negative emotions of one intense situation into all of life. For example, just because your husband didn’t do the yard work he said he would do today doesn’t warrant calling him lazy. The problem with volatile emotions during an argument is that our minds tend to quickly scan the history of the other person’s behavior in an attempt to build a case that it’s always like this. That is not helpful, even it were true.
            It’s important to avoid enlarging the issue that sparked the argument by saying things that move away from the matter at hand and turn it into something much bigger. Stay focused on the details of this particular incident and speak in a rational and calm way about this. Don’t let it get out of hand and turn into something else.

Strive For Understanding, Not A Personal Victory
            Have you been married long enough to discover that even if you win an argument, you haven’t necessarily won anything? Maturity causes us to realize that in personal relationships resolving differences isn’t about being proven right. The goal is to understand and be understood. Most arguments stem from a lack of understanding by one or both partners involved.
            Your husband may see things in a way that makes no sense to you whatsoever. Rather than immediately trying to prove that his way of seeing the matter is wrong, what might happen if you tried to understand why he sees it that way? Chances are that once you understood why he saw it the way he does, it would be much easier to move toward a mutually agreeable solution to the issue.
            Rather than immediately making assertions, determine to ask questions. Not the kind of questions that are thinly veiled points that support your view, but questions asked with the sincere intent of understanding. If your husband isn’t normally a highly irrational person who has no acquaintance with common sense and ordinary logic, why not take the time to try to understand how he has reached the opinion he has come to on the matter than has caused the disagreement?
            Begin by seeking to understand before you take the offense in an effort to be understood. Having first shown your husband the courtesy of actively listening to his perspective you will find yourself in a place where you can ask that he extend the same courtesy toward you as you share your opinion. Gaining a personal victory by proving your point isn’t the aim. Understanding is the bedrock of conflict resolution in any situation, including marriage.
            Once you have demonstrated an understanding of your husband’s viewpoint to his satisfaction, you will be in a better position to present your viewpoint. People tend to not listen if they don’t fell they have themselves been heard. That’s why it is important to demonstrate that you do understand his view. Understanding doesn’t necessitate that you agree, but only that you have understood.
            Before you begin to present your reasoning that supports your position on the controversy at hand, ask him, “Are you satisfied that I’ve heard and understand you?” If he isn’t, then ask him to say more about what he believes you haven’t gotten yet. Calmly talk it through until he acknowledges that he does feel heard and understood.
            When it is your time to speak, make the conscious choice to speak calmly, without your words carrying an emotional charge. If he interrupts, stop him and ask him if he will show you the courtesy of allowing you to complete your thoughts before interjecting his response. Remind him that you did the same for him. These guidelines for arguing could be applicable in any situation where people disagree with each other.
Dealing With Bickering
            Some couples seem to bicker with each other constantly. Sometimes the arguments are over the silliest things. Marriage is not supposed to be that way. If you find yourself repeatedly bickering with your husband over insignificant things, chances are that it’s not those things that are the real source of the problem. When it seems there’s always a short fuse between you, it’s important to discover what is causing you both to live in such an emotionally volatile relationship.
            Sometimes stress may be the cause. When couples face trying circumstances in life, it’s easier to be impatient with each other than with anybody else. After keeping emotions in check all day, it isn’t uncommon to let one’s guard down at home and release the negative feelings that may have been kept pent up all day. When we snap at each other and know that it’s because we’re inappropriately handling stress, the easiest and most direct route to resolution is a simply apology. “I’m sorry. I’m feeling uptight right now and I don’t want to take it out on you. Will you forgive me?” Those words toward each other can diffuse a potentially bleak evening for you both.
            Sometimes the reason for constant bickering is that we have fallen into a rut of misbehavior. One repeatedly does the same thing that irritates the other. The other person reacts in the same way as always. The reaction of the offender to the offended is what it always is. The ensuing results are always the same.
            As the old saying goes, “Insanity is repeatedly doing things the same way and expecting different results.” Again, the answer here is communication. Talk about it together. Change what is within your power to change. Find a way to compromise. Agree together that whatever the behavior that triggers the incident isn’t worth the fallout from it and seek out a new approach.
            Another cause for constant bickering is pride. There may be an inclination to see the fault in our mate while being blind to our own responsibility in the situation. The fact that your husband may indeed behave poorly doesn’t erase the possibility that you may be contributing to the problem.
            My wife, Melanie, and I married when we were nineteen and eighteen, respectively. Two years later we had our first child and within seven years we had four children. Needless to say, stress levels were high for such a young couple.
            As is often the case in such scenarios, we found ourselves bickering often. No matter how determined we both were to avoid it, arguments would break out over the silliest things. It was not pleasant.
            In my own blindness, I did have enough understanding from my Christian upbringing to know that praying about the problem was wise. That much wisdom I had. However, I didn’t have enough wisdom to know what to pray. So, my private prayer every day was that God would open Melanie’s eyes to her wrong thinking and actions. “You have to change her, Lord!” I would pray.
            We laugh about it now, but I was serious at the time. After praying this way for some time, I sensed my Father speaking to me one night. I will never forget it. His words arose in my consciousness so clearly that they couldn’t have been clearer if they had been audible. The words were, “Steve, I want to change you.
            I was stunned. In my pride, it hadn’t occurred to me that I might need to be changed. That simply wasn’t on my radar, but I heard Him. I knew it was His voice. So I began to pray about my attitude and my actions. I still didn’t think Melanie was without any fault, but I didn’t focus on her need for change. I focused on allowing God’s Spirit to transform me, and He did.
            I began to treat my wife in a loving way. My actions and reactions to her began to be aligned with what a husband who is following Christ will act like. I changed and she saw it and when she saw it, something amazing happened. She changed too.
            Your husband may be the one in the wrong. You may be justified in feeling the way you do, but has it helped the situation? What might happen if you were to take the initiative in bringing about change? What could take place if you laid down your pride, setting aside the issue of who is right and who is wrong and simply responded to your husband in grace – underserved grace?
            Your husband may need to learn appropriate behavior but it may be that the way your Father intends to teach him is through your actions. The Bible teaches that the behavior of a wife can have a profound effect in changing her husband. (See 1 Corinthians 7:14, 1Peter 3:1-2) While you’ve been waiting for him to change, your Father may be waiting to first change you.
            Arguing is normal in any marriage relationship. The question at hand revolves around how it will look in your marriage. Allow the Holy Spirit to teach you how to “be angry and do not sin” (Ephesians 4:26). Wives who walk in grace sometimes argue but they have learned how to do it properly.

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