The Magic Wand: 5 Steps to Improve Your Marriage

A Guest Post by Marlene Anderson

Magic Wand Marriage

If you could wave a magic wand and make your marriage more of what you want it to be, what would you see?  How would you and your spouse be interacting, communicating and relating? Our focus is so often on what is not working, we fail to consider what is working and how to accomplish more of that.

We come into marriage with hopes of living happily ever after. We want to love and be loved and feel safe and free to be ourselves. Unfortunately, we bring with us into our marriages unfulfilled needs and old messages from our past that become triggered and transferred to our spouses.

Some of the reasons why marriages get into trouble are poor communication skills, a lack of commitment, inability to resolve conflict and feeling unhappy and unloved. When our communication with each other is reduced to criticism and attack/defend, we have turned our marriage into a battle field.  When we constantly blame, rigidly refuse to listen, we will become disdainful and contemptuous of our partner.

So is there any hope for us? And if so, where do we start?

First, do you want your marriage to survive? Without resolve our attempts for healing will be sabotaged. Are you committed to doing everything you can to make your marriage work?  Remember, whatever problems you are having now that is not resolved will be taken with you to any other relationship.

Second, if you are committed, then ask God to help you become aware of your own unspoken needs from your past that you are bringing to your marriage. Ask Him for clarity, courage and strength to be honest with yourself.  Sometimes it is a desire to be nurtured, loved and respected.  Sometimes it is a strong belief that I have to do everything right to be okay.

Third, learn the skill of listening and mirroring back what you have heard without judgment or interpretation.  “If I understand correctly, this is what you are feeling…” Understand that each of us wants to be heard and validated.  We want to know that we are loveable and loved by God.

Fourth, be willing to be vulnerable.  We are fearful of being honest and genuine because we fear we will become less acceptable, less loveable. It is easier to blame instead of accepting we aren’t perfect, don’t have to be perfect, and we can accept both our strengths and our weaknesses.

And fifth, accept yourself for who you are.  Develop your core beliefs and inner strength.  You can be loving without becoming a doormat.  You can listen respectfully without having to agree with everything.  You can accept responsibility for your emotional responses without attacking. You can put up appropriate boundaries for what you will accept and will not accept.  This is especially important if there is emotional, psychological or physical abuse.  You cannot fix another person.  If you are in an abusive relationship, I strongly suggest you see a good licensed marriage counselor.

How do we build an open, sharing dialogue with our spouse?  How do we build a safe environment where each of us can share with the other? 

You can’t change anyone.  But we can change ourselves.  We can make choices that are healthy for both us and our marriages.  We can be loving and respectful but put appropriate boundaries in place.  Establish some communication guidelines agreeable with both of you.  You will not have a relationship is there is no way to communicate your needs and wishes.

Relationships that have mutual respect, acceptance and commitment require work.  But it is a work that is joyful because of the benefits that you will receive. It’s worth all the effort you can bring.

Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC

 

My thanks to my friend, Marlene Anderson, for her excellent marriage advice. If you’re interested in learning more, visit Marlene’s website: http://focuswithmarlene.com/ 

 

 

Learning to Embrace Change

change-is-goodChange is something I’ve always resisted. From the time I was 13- years old and my dad announced we were moving from my small Midwestern hometown to a quaint “village” in Pennsylvania, to all the current changes, including retiring from my day job. Change is hard no matter what the circumstances. Even a positive change, such as retirement, can be challenging.

Twenty-one years ago, Randy and I decided to move from the Seattle area to the tiny town of Winthrop, Washington. I remember the combination of excitement and stark fear as we took on this new adventure. I also recall how hard it was to put the “for sale” sign outside our familiar home, the one where our sons had grown up. It was tough loading up all our belongings into that Ryder truck on a late November day. Then we drove across the mountains to an unfamiliar place where the only person we knew was a real estate agent. It wasn’t easy, but I’ve never regretted that decision. I had to let go of what was familiar in order to embrace what was new and ultimately best for us.

The perspective of hindsight is so interesting–and encourages me to welcome future changes. What I see as I look back through many years, is that most changes I’ve faced have impacted my life in a positive way.

It’s often hard to see at the time, though. At 13, I thought my world had come to an end when I left my dearest childhood friends. My dad had tried to point out the positive aspects of this move which I stubbornly refused to consider. In retrospect, Dad was right. Even though I loved Iowa, moving across the country gave me more vision for what might be out there in this big world.

When I married Randy and we began moving around the country–and the world–with the Air Force, Dad never lamented that he’d miss us and his grandchildren. He was always a cheerleader, saying how great it would be for us to explore the Far East and the other stateside places where we were stationed. “Now we have another new place to come visit,” he’d say with so much optimism I almost believed him.

Of course, there are changes that are anything but positive. Illnesses, job losses, and the loss of loved ones are beyond difficult. In the past decade, Randy and I have lost both his parents and my dad. And we’re all too aware of my mom’s aging–and ours as well!

I’m finally learning to accept that change is inevitable. Since that’s the case, why not embrace change instead of fighting it? I learned a long time ago  in Al-Anon that acceptance is the answer to most of my problems–especially those situations I can’t control.

So what does embracing change look like?

  • Look back, but don’t stare. Instead of wringing our hands about those “coulda/shoulda/woulda” experiences, we can consider what we would do differently, what we can learn from those situations. Sometimes you just have to cut your losses and move forward.
  • Be intentional about treasuring moments with loved ones. Losing someone we love will always be difficult. Instead of fearing what is inevitable with aging parents or other loved ones, by being intentional with our time, we will have an abundance of memories and gratitude for the ways this person has impacted our lives. A beloved physician who practiced in our town for several years, recently passed away from cancer at the age of 62. A friend wrote on her online memorial/tribute page how she had told Cynthia how sad she was to be losing her. Cynthia reassured her, “Yes, but just think of how lucky we were to have had this much time together.”  What an amazing perspective–and one I want to remember!
  • Remind yourself that change can be good! Sometimes when an unexpected change comes and knocks us off our feet, there’s ultimately something positive that can come from this experience. A job loss can lead to an unexpected opportunity, one you wouldn’t have considered before, or an injury that sidelines you for a while can give you perspective on the direction you’re headed with your life.

I’m all too aware as we embark on a new year, change can be expected and even welcomed. I’m telling myself, Don’t be afraid of change. Don’t get so settled into your comfortable routine that you miss new opportunities.

So when the trapeze of change swings in your direction, have courage to grab hold and then let go. It might be the best thing that’s ever happened to you!

What changes are you facing right now that seem scary?  Let me know…it will be a privilege to pray for you!

 

 

 

Forgiven: Accepting God’s Amazing Grace

In 1992, artist Thomas Blackshear II, painted a picture titled Forgiven. It took my breath away the first time I saw it. The image is a contemporary man wearing a T-shirt and dirty jeans, holding a mallet in one hand and a nail in the other. The expression on his face is desperation and exhaustion. Standing behind him and holding him up, is Jesus. His nail-scarred hands appear large and strong. His face is tender as he embraces this man, a picture of God’s love and forgiveness, the real message of Easter.      He-is-Risen-from-StudioJRU

Tears welled up in my eyes. The man in the painting reminded me of my husband Randy. He had tried over and over to stop the deadly spiral of alcoholism that he was caught in. Sometimes he broke down in sobs of desperation and anger. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t stop drinking–even though it was destroying him.

But this painting gave me hope. Though Randy’s addiction seemed hopeless, as a Christian, I had to believe that Jesus was right there loving Randy, and that his arms wrapped around him would never let him go.

One week before Easter in the early 1990s, Randy agreed to have our pastor and others pray for him. Pastor Mark and several others placed their hands on Randy’s head and shoulders and prayed. It was powerful. We all felt the intensity of God’s presence. Pastor Mark turned to me and said, “Deb, here’s your husband back.”

I noticed Randy’s eyes seemed clear and at peace, no longer tormented. He felt free! Sadly, after a week of experiencing this miraculous freedom, the old patterns crept back in. Randy struggled with his addiction until 1998 when he finally came to believe that God loved him and had forgiven him. Grasping that truth made all the difference for him. He has been free in Christ since then!

Today, on Good Friday, my thoughts have turned to this painting and the picture of a defeated and desperate man. Tears come to my eyes as I realize once again, the power of forgiveness. Maybe Randy needed that very real taste of freedom he experienced in order to ultimately be able to accept God’s unconditional love for him.

Really, Randy is no different from any of us. We all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. We all have held the mallet and nail in our hands, demanding our own way, instead of humbly submitting to God. I like to think I would never have been part of the crowd shouting, Crucify him! I know better, though. Without God’s amazing gift of grace and forgiveness, I’d never have submitted my life to Him. Only through the pain and heartache of Randy’s struggle with alcoholism, was I finally able to surrender.

I can’t do this.

God can.

I will let Him.

Whatever challenges you may be facing today, the promise and hope of Easter always follow the desperate darkness of Good Friday.

God can do anything, you know–far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.

Ephesians 3:20,21 (MSG)

 

New Hope for Marriage Retreat

If you or someone you know is struggling in her marriage, I’d like to invite you to consider New Hope for Marriage, a small group retreat to help wives find hope for their hurting and conflicted marriages.

We’re now taking reservations for the Spring Retreat which will be held at Cedar Springs Christian Retreat Center, just outside of Bellingham, Washington, April 29-May 1, 2016.

Christie Miller, my co-facilitator, and I are passionate about helping other women come to the Lord for a transformation and healing of their marriages. We know–we’ve been there!

For more information, visit: www.nwspeakers.com

 

Terrorism: Overcoming Fear with Faith

This past week, the topic of conversation nearly everywhere I went, was the tragic terrorist attacks in Paris. The horror of what happened there and in other places–Lebanon, Nigeria, and now Mali, is beyond belief. How can this happen? How can a Do not be afraidgroup of people have consciences seared to the extent that they believe what they’re doing is heroic? They believe killing “infidels” and then killing themselves brings ultimate glory to themselves and their god.

In contrast to those horrific events, Randy and I, our two sons, Chris and Jeremy, and granddaughter Lucy traveled to Ohio a couple of weeks ago to celebrate my mother-in-law’s life. Lucy, who is 3-years old, has the innocent, carefree outlook on life that children her age enjoy–and they should! I loved hearing her giggle when we played hide & seek in the hotel room. Where could Lucy be? She tried her best not to wiggle and give away her hiding place under the comforter of the king-size bed. Of course, we knew right away where to look. That lump under the covers was a give away–but we searched in the closet, behind the curtains, and even in the bath tub. When we finally “found” her, she shrieked with delight. Observing life through a child’s eyes is so refreshing–especially when life is heartbreaking.

Lucy experienced some panic, though, when we went through airport security. Her favorite stuffed animal, a giraffe named “Safari”, also had to go through security. This was Lucy’s worst nightmare. We had to pry Safari out of her arms so the giraffe could be inspected by the security agents. We promised Lucy that Safari would come through on the conveyor belt. She was inconsolable until she saw her stuffed animal. Then came the series of 3-year old questions…Daddy, why did they have to take Safari? He explained that we have these security procedures for safety. Sometimes there are bad people who try to bring things on the plane that could hurt others. After many more whys, Lucy seemed to accept her dad’s explanation. On our return flight, she placed Safari in the tub along with our other belongings to be checked by security. No problem this time.

I’m a lot like Lucy. I want to ask my Heavenly Father why? Why are there bad people who hurt others? There aren’t easy answers. We live in a broken world where evil is a reality. As much as I’d like to pretend it isn’t so, it’s impossible to ignore the facts. Flawed people follow flawed teaching. They become blinded to humanity–innocent people who are husbands, wives, parents, brothers, sisters, friends–all enjoying life–a meal at a restaurant, a soccer game, a concert in Paris, only to be shot at, wounded, or murdered. Our world has become an increasingly dangerous and violent place.

How do we cope with the uncertainties and dangers posed by terrorists? I continually look to the Bible for comfort and hope. The phrase “do not fear” appears at least 365 times in scripture. That’s significant! Psalm 46 offers this encouragement:

God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.

The God of the Bible, who I choose to believe, promises never to leave us or forsake us. He is our refuge and strength, the One who never changes, no matter what happens around us. The pastor at my mom-in-law’s service said there are no free passes through the valley of the shadow of death. None of us escapes walking through difficult, even heart-wrenching times. But this promise assures us we will not walk alone. Your rod and your staff they comfort me, says a familiar passage from Psalm 23. We don’t have control over terrorism, but we do have control over where we will focus our thoughts. When fear threatens to wrap its icy fingers around my heart, I will remember the verses that emphatically say: Do not be afraid!

How are you coping with the escalation of terrorism?

 

 

 

 

You Are Enough: Overcoming Negativity

Wanted-Gods-Heart-for-You-By-Holley-GerthI recently enjoyed some coffee time with a few girl friends at the delightful 3 Bears Cafe and Quilts in our small town. It’s the kind of place where you feel good just being there, surrounded by bolts of bright-colored fabrics and a warm, welcoming atmosphere.

Our conversation focused on what was happening in our lives. As I came away from our time together, I thought about how each of us has struggled  with a negative opinion of ourselves. The “voices” that tell you you’ll never be good enough to attract a caring, kind man, you’re too stupid to ever amount to much, you’ll never be able to change in a positive way. One friend told how her 8-yr. old grandson already considers himself a loser! How sad that he’s decided this so early life.

At one time or another, we’ve all heard about the power of words–how they can have a positive or negative impact–especially when we’re vulnerable as children. Even though we can’t control the words that others may hurl at us, we can learn to deflect them. We can sidestep them–evaluate whether what is being said has any truth. Then we can focus on God’s truth of who He says we are instead of being influenced by others’ opinions. We can believe we are enough.

When I was a third-grader, I had an emotionally unstable teacher. As I child, I didn’t have the maturity to evaluate her comments, to temper them, and be OK with myself. Instead, I spent that year in her classroom terrified of her anger. We students didn’t know who the unsuspecting victim of her wrath would be on any particular day. On at least one occasion, it was me. One June day, I sat at my desk long after all my classmates had finished their math tests. My clammy hands felt sticky on the desk. The blank test paper told the story. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing.

Mrs. Miller (name changed to protect the not-so-innocent) glared at me with her hands planted on her hips. What don’t you understand? Student struggling

Uh-I don’t know, I stammered.

What don’t you understand? Mrs. Miller screamed at me. She picked me up out of my desk and shook me, trying to force out an answer.

By this time, I was hyperventilating. I don’t remember how I got free from her grasp. All I know is I ran out of the classroom without looking back. I pedaled home on my bike at lightspeed. I refused to go back to school that afternoon. In between sobs, I tried to explain to my mom what had happened. I had bought the lie: I was stupid. School was no  fun. I had to be on high alert because of a teacher’s emotional outbursts. Math was difficult through most of my school career.

The following year, I had a patient and compassionate teacher. She was surprised by how shaken I was when asked to go to the blackboard to solve a math problem–a story problem–the worst! She wrapped her arm around me and assured me I could do the math. With encouragement, I found the classroom to be a safe place where I could learn and grow.

It isn’t easy to move beyond the negative, critical voices we’ve all experienced. To believe we are enough, that God designed us to be unique, beautiful creations. I really like the graphic by Holly Gerth inserted above. Yes, we are imperfect and flawed. Some of us can’t do math. But we’re loved through it all if we can only dare to believe. And the best part is that we don’t have to apply to be selected as a recipient of God’s love. He has already chosen us.

Here’s what the Creator of the Universe says about you:

You are fearfully and wonderfully made. Psalm 139:14

I have loved you with an everlasting love. Jeremiah 31:3

I will strengthen you and help you. Isaiah 41:10

I have called you by name. You are mine. Isaiah 43:1

I have engraved you on the palms of my hands. Isaiah 49:16

I rejoice over you with singing. Zephaniah 3:17

You are worth more than many sparrows. Matthew 10:31

I will be with you always. Matthew 28:20

I have called you friend. John 15:15

I chose you. John 15:16

Today’s Assignment: Begin to believe YOU ARE ENOUGH!

 

 

 

 

 

 

A father is neither an anchor to hold us back nor a sail to take us there, but always a guiding light whose love shows us the way. – G.W. Douglas

G.W. Douglas

God’s Extravagant Love

Before Christmas, my boss and his wife treated my co-workers and me  to an afternoonExtravagant_0 of extravagance. Each of us was pampered with a massage, facial and manicure. As I lay on the massage table having the yummiest-smelling creams applied to my face, I suddenly felt overcome with emotion. This is pure extravagance, I thought. Something we as women don’t often treat ourselves to–especially all in one afternoon! Tears welled up and one escaped down my cheek. I hoped the aesthetician hadn’t noticed. It wasn’t just the spa treatments that got me teary, but  reflecting on God’s extravagant love.

What I’ve Learned through a Lifetime of Marriage

My husband Randy and I recently celebrated 44 years of marriage.

Our anniversary celebration at Steak ‘N Shake

Wow–how can that be possible when we’re only 30+ years old? Well… we haven’t been that age for a long time, but it’s still hard to imagine we’ve spent most of a lifetime together.

When we first got married, I had this naive notion that all we needed was love. All together now: All you need is love. Da…da…da…da… da…When I hear those words, I automatically want to burst into song. Never mind about the misunderstandings and the immaturity of two 19 year-olds who are going to become parents before their first anniversary. As long as we have love, we will stay together. Wasn’t that also a song? Love will keep us together. If only it were that simple.

We do need love, but not the kind Hollywood portrays or most of us envision. I remember seeing the movie Love Story with Randy when we were dating. Ryan O’Neal and Ali MacGraw (can you believe she’s 75?) looked deeply into each other’s eyes and proclaimed, Love means never having to say you’re sorry.

How sweet (and unrealistic) is that? But that’s the love I was looking for…where romantic feelings never fade and you sail off together as best friends and lovers without a disagreement or ever raising your voice or crying yourself to sleep.

After 44 years and weathering many marital ups and downs, I’ve learned a lot about real-life relationships:

  • There’s no such thing as 50/50 in marriage. Many times you’ll be the one giving more than you bargained for. It would be nice if everything were split neatly in half. The reality is that each of you will be called on at different times to give more than your share. It’s also good not to keep score.
  • Recognize the myth of the greener grass. It’s possible there is “greener grass,” but many of us see the grass and want to vault over the fence without considering the costs. The repercussions of an affair are devastating for everyone. Two families are directly affected, as well as extended family and friends. Life is never the same after trust in a marriage has been broken. God can heal and bring reconciliation, but the price paid is excruciatingly high.
  • Love the one you’re with. What would happen if you intentionally treated your spouse as if you really loved him/her? Not the Love Story type of love, but love that’s patient, kind, steadfast in sickness and in health, in good times and bad times. God’s kind of love that never fails.

Randy and I have been blessed to experience this love in our marriage. It didn’t come naturally, though. It took a lot of pain and struggle and heartache. We both realized the ability to love well was only possible if we were willing to get beyond our selfishness. As we experienced God’s grace, we were then able to begin to love each other unconditionally. Not perfectly, but in a way that says I want the best for you. I’m willing to do whatever I can to encourage you, to build you up, to help you become the person God created you to be.

And guess what? I found out I married the right guy– the one who has been God’s gift to me for almost a lifetime. And yes, we’ve learned that saying you’re sorry is at the top of the list!

If you’re struggling to love your spouse, there is hope! Small acts of kindness can be a good starting place. I would love to pray with you and encourage you to believe that God’s love never fails. 

Interested in reading more about marriage? Check out these similar posts:

Marriage Advice for Wives: 5 Things I Wish I’d Known When I Got Married

Why You Shouldn’t Give Up on Your Marriage

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Raise the White Flag!

I called my homeless brother yesterday. I only wanted to say that I love him. He couldn’t hear that. He thought I was trying to intervene, judging him. He told me his life is miserable, the party’s over–not that there ever was a party, I thought. I tried to interject hope into his hopeless comments.

You don’t have to do this alone, I said. But he couldn’t hear me in his deafness to allow anyone to help him. I’m going to recover on my own, he insisted. I don’t need anyone to help me.

My heart aches for him. I’ve walked this road before with my husband, Randy, as he struggled to find freedom from his addiction to alcohol. And as I struggled to let go, to finally admit there wasn’t anything I could do to fix or change him. 

It’s funny how we think we have the power to help someone else choose life over an addiction or other destructive behaviors. Fear got in the way of my ability to surrender my husband. I believed I had the power to decide for him. I thought if I let go of Randy, he would die. That’s a scary place to put ourselves in–and rather presumptuous. Do I really think I have that kind of power? Hm…I don’t think so. I am thankful there is One who has all power–and that one isn’t me!

Surrender!

There comes a time when we need to raise the white flag. We not only surrender our loved ones, but we also surrender ourselves to the Lord. We let go so God can work in our lives and theirs. We let go so we can be free from the anxiety that is destroying us. By surrendering, we choose a way that brings life to us–and possibly to our loved ones as well.

There are no pretenses or illusions about any noble efforts to save someone you love. This is rock-bottom where the rubber sole meets the road. You admit that what you’ve been doing isn’t working. You don’t have what it takes to motivate another person  to change their behavior. Only God can do that. Finally you give your impossible situation to God.

In Alcoholics Anonymous, they describe surrender in three steps:

  1. I can’t do it.
  2. God can.
  3. I will let Him.

There’s something powerful about recognizing we can’t do what needs to be done in our own strength. This might sound depressing. If we can’t do anything…who can? Ah…that’s the very place God wants us to be. He doesn’t need us, really. He has access to infinite resources. Sometimes the most we can do is simply get out of the way. We intentionally let go of our loved ones. This doesn’t mean we abandon them or stop loving them. Instead, we lovingly entrust them to Jesus. He loves them more than we can imagine. What better place for them to be! The Lord knows every detail about them. He even knows every hair on their heads. He loves them with an everlasting love. Our love pales in comparison.

Author Jan Johnson says it well: 

Letting go is both too simple and too difficult. It looks like weakness instead of strength, like losing instead of gaining, and it is. As we relinquish control and admit weaknesses, we remember who we are and why we’re here…This need to control is rooted in fear, but I need to do the thing that is rooted in faith–surrender.  

Once again, I find myself in a place of letting go. This time I know it’s the very best for me and for the brother I love so dearly. 

Is there a situation in your life where you need to surrender?