Price: Building blocks for happy relationships
I serve on a committee that meets in Denver every other month. At the September meeting, I met Sam Miller, lead chaplain at Porter Adventist Hospital. During a break, Sam and I visited about various topics. It probably won’t surprise those of you who read this column that the topic of marriage came into the conversation. I asked Sam to share his thoughts with you, and he graciously agreed to do so. Please heed his counsel about the need to be clear in what you expect from each other in your marriage and for the need to keep those expectations fresh and up-to-date.
Learning to forgive
American culture seems to have brainwashed most of us into believing that the three most important words to make a marriage last are “I love you.” However, experience has taught me to understand that the three most important words to make a marriage last are knowing the right time to say “I am sorry” or “I was wrong.” While it takes two to make a marriage, it only takes one to get a divorce.
A key part of “I am sorry” or “I was wrong” is realizing that forgiveness is a double blessing. It never goes just one way. We also tend to treat forgiveness as though it is a wimpy thing. It does not mean you should become a “doormat.” True forgiveness is a divine thing. It is what God does. He is the source of all forgiveness.
I like to define forgiveness this way:
Forgiveness is giving up my right to hurt you because you hurt me. But the harder part of forgiveness is being able to forgive yourself. Forgiving yourself is giving up all hope of having a better past. All relationships, including marriage, are built with the same basic parts or building blocks:
- Mature love
All relationships — husband and wife, parent and child, siblings — begin with expectations. From time to time, they need to be renegotiated. That is when you realize that this is not about what you get from the relationship, but instead it is what you are willing to give up to make the relationship work.
The next step is making commitments to the expectations. It is doing what you promised to do for the other person.
Mature, loving relationships in families, at work and even with strangers depend on always giving and expecting the best from yourself and from others. However, whether there are two people or 200 people, one of the first things that happens is that your expectations are not met in a small way. This is what I call a pinch. When the pinches come, we do one of two things. We can stack it and stuff it, but the healthy thing to do is renegotiate the expectations. When we simply stack and stuff it, the emotional pain does not decompose. It stays there and festers until one more thing happens, and then there is a blow up.
However, when we renegotiate the expectations, everyone involved is clear about what they are willing to give up to make the relationship work. If this cannot be accomplished, then there is a friendly separation, and each person is allowed to go his or her own way.
Disruption is the next phase that occurs when we have chosen to consistently stack and stuff our emotional pain. It does not always include yelling and screaming. Sometimes, people live in the same house, sleep in the same bed and eat at the same table, but there is a clear emotional disconnection, a distinct coldness and distance in the relationship. Simple things, like a smile, eye contact and conversation, cease to exist. When a relationship reaches the disruption stage, it becomes the most difficult time to renegotiate or change how the relationship is. It tends to stay status quo.
Often at the disruption stage, expectations are not met in a big way. It may mean that in a marriage one or both of the people have been involved in an extramarital affair. When this happens, the guilty party often asks for re-commitment by saying, “I am sorry. This will not happen again.” The truth is that if it happened once, there is a good chance it will happen again. Also, re-commitment will never work unless there is an honest renegotiation of the Expectations.
Finally, I would mention how important it is to fight fair. That means owning your own part in why the relationship is not working well and never blaming anyone. The fair way to fight is to simply say, “When you said this or did this, this is how it made me feel.” And you can leave it at that. You can attack the other’s actions or behavior, but not his or her character or personhood.
Hear more from Sam
Some good thoughts indeed. I especially like the idea of marriage being based on clear and reasonable expectations. So many couples grow apart due to one or both parties feeling their expectations are not being met. Is it possible the fact that they never stated their expectations might have something to do with it? Marriage is many things, but joint venture should be near the top of anyone’s list.
I’m looking forward to interviewing Sam for this week’s “TWOgether as ONE,” which will air at 6 p.m. Monday on KLJH 1071.FM. I hope you can listen in for more helpful thoughts on marriage.
By the way, I’m looking to write a column and host a radio program based on the experiences of local couples who have been married 50 years or more and who would be willing to answer basic questions about their marriage. My hope is that while none of these couples will show us how to have a perfect marriage, we will learn valuable lessons from their success. If you are such a couple, or you know someone who is, please let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll make it happen.
Ron Price is the co-founder and executive director of the Four Corners Coalition for Marriage & Family, a nonprofit organization dedicated to strengthening and equipping marriages and families in the Four Corners area. He can be reached at 505-327-7870.