Category Archives: communication

A Mediation Model for Christians

Jesus was fully immersed in the identity, experiences and perspective of both God and man as mediator between the two. So for mediation to be successful, each has to identify with the experience and perspective of the other, overcome strong emotional states, and consider all options to bridge the gap. “Each of you look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:4).

Remember, neither side is without fault. “For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). God repeatedly commands his people to seek and pursue peace (Psalms 34:14; Jer. 29:7; Rom. 14:19; 1 Cor. 7:15; 2 Cor. 13:11; Col. 3:15; 1 Thes.5:13; Heb. 12:14. He also promises to bless those who do so (Psalms 37:37; Prov. 12:20; Mat. 5:9; James 3:18).

God’s sovereignty is so complete that he exercises ultimate control even over painful and unjust events (Ex. 4:10-12; Job 1:6-12; 42:11; Psalms 71:20-22; Isaiah 45:5-7; Lam. 3:37-38; Amos 3:6; 1 Peter 3:17). The biblical examples of Joseph resisting the same temptation David failed to resist resulted in suffering for both, but God used both greatly. God will remain present in our suffering and accomplish good through our trust in Him (Isaiah 43:2-3).

Resources

What Does the Bible Say About Divorce?

Divorce and Remarriage: A Redemptive Theology by Rubel Shelly

The Peacemaker by Ken Sande

Hope in the Face of Conflict by Ken C. Newberger

 

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Making Marriage Work

By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.

Conflict between man and woman standing on either side of a door

As a marriage and family therapist I have learned techniques to help marriages and family relationships work. The one that works best by far is the unconditional love of Christ. How that works out in the marriage is my next question.

One thing I’ve noticed is that when I would have an argument with my wife, we would have spirited discussions about the same old topics. Often for us, it was about the use of time. We have lots of kids and a lot of work falls on her. We also have lots of bills and that weight falls on me. For you, you might argue about something that happened that you are having a hard time forgiving.

So what does unconditional love do? I turn to Paul’s description of marital love in Ephesians 5:21-33:

21Out of respect for Christ, be courteously reverent to one another.

22-24 Wives, understand and support your husbands in ways that show your support for Christ. The husband provides leadership to his wife the way Christ does to his church, not by domineering but by cherishing. So just as the church submits to Christ as he exercises such leadership, wives should likewise submit to their husbands.

25-28 Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church—a love marked by giving, not getting. Christ’s love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness. And that is how husbands ought to love their wives. They’re really doing themselves a favor—since they’re already “one” in marriage.

29-33 No one abuses his own body, does he? No, he feeds and pampers it. That’s how Christ treats us, the church, since we are part of his body. And this is why a man leaves father and mother and cherishes his wife. No longer two, they become “one flesh.” This is a huge mystery, and I don’t pretend to understand it all. What is clearest to me is the way Christ treats the church. And this provides a good picture of how each husband is to treat his wife, loving himself in loving her, and how each wife is to honor her husband.

This approach would be consistent with the humility Jesus called being “poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3). Philippians 2:13 says, “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.” My relationship with my wife started by being selfish, thinking about how the qualities of my wife would benefit me. Then I gained my wife’s love by impressing her. However, this is not unconditional love. I cannot depend on a love that depends on my ability to impress. Certainly, it is not the kind of love that can last.

Turning toward our own ability to humbly and unconditionally love someone, have you felt, as I have, that there are moments where you just do not feel like you have love to give? Often when I feel this way I criticize my wife and defend myself, or I act like a victim and run away. Then I dwell on what is right and wrong in order to think of a way to get my needs met. Then I present my argument to my wife, but it seems to have the same impact as if I am saying to her, “I don’t love you.” I am not saying that, but I wonder how if this is what she feels when I argue with her.

I remember the time my wife was telling me about the frustrations of her day and I was tired but attempting to be empathetic. I recall an instant turn in my emotions when she unexpectedly added, “And if you were around, this would not have happened.” It ignited an anger in me, so I retorted, “Do you really want this to blow up?” Luckily I came to my senses enough to walk away. “Empty” is the word that came to mind as I retreated. “I’ve got nothing more to give.”

Greg Baer in his book Real Love compares arguments to feeling attacked while drowning. When someone is drowning they lash out. In fear, someone drowning may hit you or grab onto you and pull you under, resulting in two victims. When we are arguing, we are drowning and lashing out. Research shows that similar events are occurring in our brain when we argue as when we are drowning.

When I realize that I feel like I am drowning when I do not feel loved, and I am feeling empty and alone, how can I respond with unconditional love?

First, I remember that my wife may also be drowning, feeling empty and alone. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 2:7-8 that when someone is drowning, we are urged to reaffirm our love. If I view my wife who at times lashes out at me as drowning, my anger at her is reduced. I feel less interested in criticizing her and defending myself, but I still feel like a victim and want to run away. I am drowning and need to get back on solid ground myself.

To get back on solid ground I remember that love as described in 1 Corinthians 13:6 rejoices with the truth. I recall how David was fleeing for his life when he wrote that Psalms 139 asking God to search is own heart so that he can admit his own faults. I also remember that 1 John 4:18 says that love casts out fear. If I speak the truth about myself, my struggle, and my weaknesses, what does unconditional love do? The Bible says that love embraces the truth and is accepting. When we confess, love offers help and hope. Jesus did not confess his sins, but in the garden before the cross he did confess that he was crushed in sorrow.

My wife nor I may be able to unconditionally love at any moment. If someone was overwhelmed and upset, or stressed, or maybe has had a lifetime of not feeling loved, there will be times that person will not be able to love. So it falls on me to search myself and speak the truth about myself to God, and to someone that He provides to love me. I would never recommend that this be a person of the opposite sex.

So I reflected on my own emptiness and thought about ways I can restore my energy for unconditional love. This may involve self-care, for which we are responsible, and seeking care from others. I thought of this acronym, “ACES” to remind me of ways to restore energy for unconditional love.

“A” stands for a sense of accomplishment, which I see as God working in and through me.

“C” stands for the connection I have to God, family, and friends, that I need to seek out to feel loved enough to love my spouse.

“E” stands for God-given enjoyment, the “small” parts of life, often overlooked, that I need to remember in gratitude to God.

“S” stands for self-care, sleep, diet, exercise and other needs for which I am responsible to meet.

Most importantly, I needed to confess to someone my struggle and feel their acceptance. If I am loved for what I do for others, what is that? That is a performance-based love. That is how we got married in the first place. But I need the kind of love the Bible describes as “agape love,” or “grace:” someone who sees me for who I am and then accepts me. I need this kind of love in order to love others.

I may have seek this out on a regular basis. It takes courage. Who wants to talk about their struggles and faults? I would rather talk to someone and they tell me I am in the right. But that is back to performance-based love. So I turned to my “ACES,” and turned to a friend to whom I can admit my faults. He still liked me, and accepted me as I am. With time I was ready to understand and give to my wife.

What are some ways I can unconditionally love my spouse? Here are common needs for men and women, as highlighted in Shaunti and Jeff Feldhahn’s research-based books on relationships, For Men Only and For Women Only.

Women need to be pursued. They are wired for relationship. Women feel it when something is missing here. They write, “Pursuit is likely to make you a great husband in her eyes.” Relationships need energy like anything else of value. A little time can yield big dividends. Perhaps consider “The Five Love Languages” by Gary Chapman.

In the movie, Parent Trap, Nick asks his ex-wife. Elizabeth, how their relationship died. He said, “It ended so fast. So about the day you packed, why’d you do it?” She replied, “Oh, Nick. We were so young. We both had tempers, we said stupid things, and so I packed. Got on my first 747, and . . . you didn’t come after me.” After a period of dead silence, Nick admitted, “I didn’t know that you wanted me to.”

A common need for a man is to feel their spouses’ respect. They are wired for accomplishment. Men feel it when something is missing here. The authors write, “What is at stake isn’t his pride as much as his secret feelings of inadequacy as a man.” Many unmarried men described feeling inadequate as a major barrier to getting married in the first place. They do not want to feel inadequate the rest of their lives.

Let me conclude by asking if love is the goal in marriage, and unconditional love is what makes marriage work, then what is unconditional love look like for you? Everybody may have a different definition. For some, unconditional love may mean that they set boundaries so that sin does not continue. Proverbs 10:10 says to not “wink” at sin. For others, love is characterized as giving without getting. Immediately, when I hear this definition, I think, “But what about me? What about my needs?” I guess the better question is, what is the best way to meet my needs? If I am angry or disappointed in my partner, I am thinking of myself and my needs. I may be feeling empty, overwhelmed or drowning. The Bible offers a lifeline: confession. It is speaking truth to someone who accepts and loves us as we are, faults and all. I think that is better than finding someone who agrees with you that you are in the right. I do not know about you, but being right has not inspired me to be more loving. Feeling loved has inspired me to be more loving. This is how I see the unconditional love of Christ fuel our love for our spouse.

“We, though, are going to love—love and be loved. First we were loved, now we love. He loved us first” (1 John 4:19).

Real Love in Marriage by Greg Baer explains the principles that will make dramatic changes in your marriage.

In their groundbreaking classic, For Men Only, Jeff and Shaunti Feldhahn reveal the eye-opening truths and simple acts that will radically improve your relationship with the woman you love.

The man in your life carries important feelings so deep inside he barely knows they’re there, much less how to talk about them. Yet your man genuinely wants you to “get” him—to understand his inner life, to know his fears and needs, to hear what he wishes he could tell you. In her landmark bestseller, For Women Only, Shaunti Feldhahn reveals what every woman—single or married—needs to know.

Falling in love is easy, but maintaining healthy relationships is a lifelong pursuit. Once you understand “love languages,” you’ll be able to nurture not only a romantic relationship, but also casual, business, and familial relationships effectually. With more 8 million copies sold, Dr. Gary Chapman’s The 5 Love Languages will help you succeed in having joyful, enduring relationships.

How Can Christians Stay Married

By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.

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At times people think about how problems would be solved if they were married to someone else. Some problems may be solved this way, but it also is true that we carry our response to problems from relationship to relationship. John Gottman, a leading marital researcher, gives this example:

  • Paul married Alice and Alice gets loud at parties and Paul, who is shy, hates that. But if Paul had married Susan, he and Susan would have gotten into a fight before they even got to the party. That’s because Paul is always late and Susan hates to be kept waiting. She would feel taken for granted, which she is very sensitive about. Paul would see her complaining about this as her attempt to dominate him, which he is very sensitive about. If Paul had married Gail, they wouldn’t have even gone to the party because they would still be upset about an argument they had the day before about Paul’s not helping with the housework. To Gail when Paul does not help she feels abandoned, which she is sensitive about, and to Paul Gail’s complaining is an attempt at domination, which he is sensitive about. The same is true about Alice. If she had married Steve, she would have the opposite problem, because Steve gets drunk at parties and she would get so angry at his drinking that they would get into a fight about it. If she had married Lou, she and Lou would have enjoyed the party but when they got home the trouble would begin when Lou wanted sex because he always wanted sex when he wants to feel closer, but sex is something Alice only wants when she already feels close.

 

Even rock-solid marriages have sensitivities like the ones described above. All marriages “fall short of the glory of God.” So what is God’s purpose for marriage?

Genesis 1:26-28 tells us, “Then God said, ‘Let us (the triune God) make man in our image, in our likeness…’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” In the Old and New Testament we can see four purposes for marriage: to reflect the image and unity of the triune God, to experience of Christ’s love for His church, along with procreation and management of creation.

This is where it can hurt. It is common to think of marriage as something that is difficult, discouraging, and even hurtful. Many think of personal failure. It is difficult to respond well in an intimate relationship when we are not treated well. We all can think of examples where we are not treated well. Maybe you can think of a time you were betrayed by a childhood friend. Or, you ask your teenage daughter how her evening went, and she nearly bites off your head. Possibly you are caring for aging parents and in spite of all your efforts, they are still unhappy. Or, you are unhappily married but stay together for a number of reasons. Others do not. Every 45 seconds a marriage ends in divorce (Dr. Greg Smalley).

An incredible statistic is the one that predicts divorce. Marriage is one of the most researched topics over the last 40 years and this prediction is well-documented. John Gottman and other researchers underscore that your response, when you are treated poorly in your marriage, is predictive of eventual divorce with 91 percent accuracy.

It is not exactly what is said, or what is done, that is so predictive. It is the feeling that one spouse is above or below the other. It results in defensiveness. It can come from dwelling on the injustices in your relationship, or from ruminating on the weaknesses of the other. It leaks out in one’s tone, facial expressions, and non-verbal body language. It is contempt. We often do not mean to be contemptuous. Maybe you just want to bring up an issue, or just talk about it, and your spouse interprets it as criticism and wants to defend, attack back, and finally withdraw. Dan Allender, in his book with Tremper Longman III, Intimate Allies says that “many couples live with an underlying contempt for each other.” Later they write, “Spouses degrade each other when they show a contemptuous, shaming, judgmental spirit.”

We are all treated poorly at times. We all have different desires and these can turn into expectations. When these expectations are not met, we get angry, or at least disappointed. We can feel that the other is not living up to their end of the bargain. The contract is not being fulfilled. If you a sign a contract, there are certainly expectations to be met. If you use that mentality in marriage, you are set up for more disappointment and hurt. Tension develops between the idea of marriage being a contract, and marriage being a covenant.

So what do spouses do, who generally get treated well, in their marriage, act at those moments when they are not treated well?

The Bible starts with the heart. Proverbs 4:23 says, “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.” “Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be” (Luke 12:34). The Bible also contrasts open and hardened hearts. On one hand is the verse, “Love each other deeply with all your heart” (1 Peter 1:22b). In contrast, Jesus said that Moses permitted divorce in the Old Testament because of hardened hearts (Matthew 19:8a).

If there is any recourse from a hardened heart to one that is open, safety is key. “The name of the Lord is a strong fortress; the godly run to him and are safe” (Proverbs 18:10). It is hard to open up and admit feelings and failures, if you are afraid of your partner’s response. A covenantal approach, though, invites this kind of vulnerability. If one feels safe, you can be honest about feelings and failures. It creates a joint struggle to expose the beautiful, and the broken. It allows for true love, the grace that provides the elements needed to grow, and it feeds passion. It is a picture of God’s love for us. Accordingly, we are to love our spouse as a reflection of God. Imagine, as Allender and Longman write, “I am to see my spouse as a unique reflection of God. She is a woman like no other.” They return to this theme when they write, “I must learn what it means to draw out my wife’s uniqueness.” They point out that both spouses reflect God’s glory, and as they treat each other with this respect they move closer together. How might you do that? We can glorify or degrade our spouses in our words, in our silence, in how we look at them, and how we treat them. It matters.

Contempt, on the other hand,  is beyond the inevitable frustration with your spouse. It does not just say that I am angry, afraid or sad; it puts the emphasis on that the other is wrong or bad. We are all wrong or bad at times. We all struggle. But people that get treated well do not put down the other resulting in defensiveness. 1 Peter 3:7 sets a foundation with “Treat your wives, then, as equals so your prayers don’t run aground.”

Paul describes the marital relationship in Ephesians 5:21-28:

Out of respect for Christ, be courteously reverent to one another. 

Wives, understand and support your husbands in ways that show your support for Christ. The husband provides leadership to his wife the way Christ does to his church, not by domineering but by cherishing. So just as the church submits to Christ as he exercises such leadership, wives should likewise submit to their husbands.

Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church—a love marked by giving, not getting. Christ’s love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness. And that is how husbands ought to love their wives. They’re really doing themselves a favor—since they’re already “one” in marriage.

Here we see a model representing a divine relationship. Both roles show a heart that is open, a willingness to be responsive and to yield to one another out of love. Marital researchers agree. This approach seeks to make sense of your partner, and understand what he or she is feeling, and to make his or her feelings as important as your own. Marital researchers underscore that this non-judgmental approach happens in the context of equal regard, creating a sense of safety. It does not deny truth or grace. It acknowledges underlying needs on both sides of the equation.

Here are common needs for men and women, as highlighted in Shaunti and Jeff Feldhahn’s research-based books on relationships, For Men Only and For Women Only.

Women need to be pursued. They are wired for relationship. Women feel it when something is missing here. They write, “Pursuit is likely to make you a great husband in her eyes.” Relationships need an infusion of energy like anything else of value. A little time can yield big dividends.

In the movie, Parent Trap, Nick asks his ex-wife. Elizabeth, about what happened between them. He said, “It ended so fast. So about the day you packed, why’d you do it?” She replied, “Oh, Nick. We were so young. We both had tempers, we said stupid things, and so I packed. Got on my first 747, and . . . you didn’t come after me.” After a period of dead silence, Nick admitted, “I didn’t know that you wanted me to.” If Elizabeth felt if she asked him to come after her, she would never know if he would on his own.

Men need to be proud of. They are wired for accomplishment. Men feel it when something is missing here. The authors write, “What is at stake isn’t his pride as much as his secret feelings of inadequacy as a man.” Many unmarried men described feeling inadequate as a major barrier to getting married in the first place. They do not want to feel inadequate the rest of their lives.

What if I am not open to this kind of covenantal approach? Impulsivity, stress, lack of time and energy, built-up anger, hurt and resentment are all facts of life but get in the way. A formidable obstacle is the belief that one’s partner is more to blame for the relationship problems. An urgent need is for personal support to make personal changes from friends, support groups, Bible study, accountability, and counseling.

What if my partner isn’t open to this kind of covenantal approach? This kind of approach is for the sake of the giver as much as the receiver. It allows the giver to feel settled and in control about their part, even if your partner does not respond well. Researchers underscore that when one partner is not treated well, this is precisely the time that this approach is needed. When it gets tough, take a break and come back allowing both sides time to process to a better conclusion. Or break the discussion and ask your partner for proposals, or make proposals. Living in a fallen world and being self-responsible means that we have to set personal boundaries. The key is to not look down on your partner in the meantime, because looking down on your partner itself pust your relationship at risk. Remember that God is walking this journey with you.

Can we trust God when we see no way out? Can we say like the father in Mark 9:24 who said “I believe. Help me with my doubts!” I know how hard marriage can be. We all have challenges to face in our relationships. God provides a way to look at others through his eyes. God will honor the covenant you made with each other. When our heart is open, when we provide safety, and we are vulnerable ourselves, it opens the door for hope. God has a covenantal love for us, as seen here in Isaiah 43:1-3:

Don’t be afraid, I’ve redeemed you.
    I’ve called your name. You’re mine.
When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you.
    When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down.
When you’re between a rock and a hard place,
    it won’t be a dead end—
Because I am God, your personal God,
    The Holy of Israel, your Savior.
I paid a huge price for you:
    all of Egypt, with rich Cush and Seba thrown in!
That’s how much you mean to me!
    That’s how much I love you!

Effective Listening

By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.

What are some criteria for effective listening in the Bible? Some seek to correct more than connect when “listening” and find the discussion frustrating. Use the following as a checklist to accomplish effective listening:

 

Continue reading Effective Listening

Connection Before Correction

By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.

While doing right leads to healthy relationships, the Bible also promotes the opposite: healthy relationships lead to doing right. Healthy relationships start between human and the divine, and then between humans. Here’s an example of the importance of relationships: “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24).

What are some ways to maintain healthy relationships? These approaches can work when addressing difficult subjects. A positive start, humility, listening and understanding teamed with honesty is summed up by “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15).

Whatever is a good place to start? “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8). Starting on a negative note can automatically trigger resistance and defensiveness – a product of the “fight or flight response”. Paul said, “Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good  and helpful, so that your words will be an encourage­ment to those who hear them” (Eph. 4:29). Avoiding such negativity will mean overlooking some offenses. “Sensible people control their temper; they earn respect by overlooking wrongs” (Proverbs 19:11). “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Proverbs 12:18). Other times a negative cycle must be stopped. “Do everything without complaining or arguing” (Philippians 2:14).

Next, comes the humble part. People are more receptive to hearing about their “human side” if they see a willingness to admit weaknesses. “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. ‘Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:1-5). One who thinks he has done nothing wrong may have trouble accepting the human side. “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). “For in his own eyes he flatters himself too much to detect or hate his sin” (Psalms 36:2).

Listening to others conveys that one understands and cares, regardless of agreement. On that basis of respect, a foundation allows a connection to be built. “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19). “A man of knowledge uses words with restraint, and a man of understanding is even-tempered. A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions” (Proverbs 17:27, 18:2). Once the other feels understood, one has an ability to connect.

Speaking the truth about one’s own interests balanced by another’s forges the relationship. A one-sided relationship is lop-sided. “In humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4). Creatively looking for options breathes life into a relationship as opposed to one side flourishing at the expense of another.

God finds a way to confront us with truth but not without grace. Holding in the truth can result in passivity and resentment. But expressing the truth aggressively can leave you with the same feelings. “Picking your battles,” a positive or understanding start, quick admittance to your own faults, and leaving the other feeling understood, connecting before correcting can bolster any relationship. “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 5:29-32).

Next Steps to Forgiveness