Category Archives: unconditional love

Gottman’s Sound Relationship House

Depression, anxiety, and divorce are continuing to rise. The fallout on marriages and parenting is immense. It may be time to get back to core values of marriage and family. One question to ask yourself: “Is my home a place to get support and reduce stress?”

Luke 14:28-30 says that strong families don’t just happen on accident – it takes intentionality. Proverbs 24:3-4 adds that our goal is to build our house on wisdom.

One of the best resources for relational tools is Dr. John Gottman. He is the leading researcher on marriage and family relationships. He’s “the guy that can predict divorce and family break up with 94% accuracy.” He has provided the blueprints for what he calls a “Sound Relationship House.” A sound relationship house is made possible by two support beams: trust and commitment. Based on his research, Gottman outlines seven levels that predict healthy family relationships, which are highlighted below.

1. Build love maps.

There’s an advantage to knowing the best ways to love each individual in our family. Here are five tools.

Gottman love maps for couples and kids
List of favorite things or ways to feel loved
Love Languages
Our Moments card game (or similar game based on personal questions for each other)

What if once a day you did something for each family member that made them feel loved?

2. Share fondness and admiration.

This is known as the care and feeding of the relationship. What if once a day you shared fondness or admiration with each family member?Remembering your partner or family member’s positive qualities strengthens bonds. Keeping the positive in a conversation is key. To maintain respect amongst each other, avoid what Gottman calls The Four Horsemen: contempt, criticism, defensiveness stonewalling.

3. Turn towards instead of away.

Now what does that mean? Family members often make bids for connection, looking for a response. Examples of bids are making a statement, asking a question, expressing affection, or even doing work around the home. People wanting a connection are looking for a response. Will it be a positive response or a negative response? Turning towards the other means a positive response at a minimum of a 5 to 1 ratio. For every time that a bid for connection is missed or criticized, there needs to be five or more positive responses to maintain a healthy balance. Healthy relationships respond well 86% of the time while relationships breaking down respond positively only 33% of the time. Ask yourself what are some ways that your spouse or kids bid for connection?

4. The positive perspective.

94% of the time, couples who put a positive spin on their relationship’s history are likely to have a happy future. When disagreeing with a family member, taking an understanding approach from the other person’s perspective is better than taking it personally. This is challenging and may be impossible if feeling defensive. Seek to understand without judgement. It’s possible one has to take the first step towards looking into a positive way to connect.

5. Manage conflict

First signs of tension are arguments or trying to fix another person. Warning signs that the conversations about to get worse are criticism and defense. Danger signs for any relationship are the presence of high resentment or putting up a wall.

Instead, before you resolve anything, take turns using the acronym ACE. Ask questions, Clarify what the other person is feeling and thinking, and Empathize. If you notice you’re getting defensive when you disagree, it is likely time to disengage (and re-engage later).

Just make sure each side feels understood, then focus on making future agreements while allowing for your differences. The best agreements are based on good disagreements. 69% of conflict is due to personality differences that will not change, but good agreements and understanding can overcome this challenge.

I have found that the more I am able to disagree with someone comfortably, the more I’m able to empathize and appreciate them. Just because we may disagree does not mean that we don’t care. The hardest part is usually being able to let go of one’s ego and one’s need to be right.

6. Make life dreams come true.

What is important to our spouse and kids and how can we help? Can you identify what each family member is passionate about and contribute to it in some way? Sharing dreams together gives strength and connection to the relationship. “It takes a lot of courage to show your dreams to someone else” (Erma Bombeck).

7. Create shared meaning

Over time families develop their own ways of doing things. For example: What is your family morning routine? How do you spend your evenings and weekends? What do we do for holidays or celebrations?

Maybe pick one step to practice at a time. No need to rush, and each step is meaningful in its own way.

For Christians, this is like a triangle, in which as two different people slowly become one as they each move toward God.

Marriage is the foundation of family and is symbolic of God’s love for the church. To quote author Russell Moore, “Let’s talk about marriage the way Jesus and the apostles taught us to — as bound up with the gospel itself, a picture of the union of Christ and his church.”

The gospel answers three questions.

Romans 3:19-20 says that the point of old testament law is to realize that you can’t fulfill it.

Galatians 2:21 says that we can’t add to what Christ did on the cross.

Romans 7:14 through 8:1 reveal that I should not be surprised when I sin. In light of our sin, there is no condemnation.

God’s love is freely given and unconditional. This is the model we’re given for marriages in Ephesians 5. Here’s a couple of verses from Proverbs and a couple of verses from Paul that are great reminders for family relationships.

Proverbs 12:18 says, “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”

Proverbs 19:11: “Sensible people control their temper; they earn respect by overlooking wrongs”.

Paul says in Philippians 2:14, “Do everything without complaining or arguing.”

Paul puts it this way in Ephesians 4:29. “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.

More support for marriages.

 

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.