[Guest Post Series] Relationship Tips: #1 – Define your relationship (with Christ).

Mr. and Mrs. Fisher!

Define The Relationship.

A DTR is the conversation in which you and your date ask the tough questions. Do we want to make this official? Where is this relationship heading? It’s a time to communicate.

It’s the same with God. Before Jesus ascended to heaven, He said that God would “give [us] another Advocate who will never leave [us]. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth” (John 14:16-17). We can communicate with the Spirit, telling God our hopes, dreams, fears, expectations, concerns, confusion, and doubts. We can speak in absolute honesty, trusting that nothing we say could ever separate us from Him or make Him love us any less.

Read John 14:15-17. Do you feel like you can speak openly with God? Do you feel anything in your past could separate you from His love?

{Excerpt taken from Not Another Dating Book}

About the blogger: Renee Johnson Fisher is a spirited speaker to the 20-somethings and author of Faithbook of Jesus and Not Another Dating Book. She loves her engineering husband and together they rescued a pit bull. She blogs at devotionaldiva.com.

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Relationship Tips is a series of guest posts. Click here to read all the posts in the series.

Breaking up and making up.

In a substance abuse counseling class I took in the spring semester, I learned a lot about withdrawals.

“Withdrawal” is what happens to a person’s body and/or mind after he or she stops using certain drugs. Withdrawals could include the sweats and the shakes, nausea and diarrhea, insomnia and anxiety, depression and restlessness, a rapid heart rate, hallucinations, delirium tremens (DTs).

It sucks, in other words.

But the return to homeostasis (equilibrium) requires allostasis (the process by which the body achieves it).

And allostasis isn’t always easy.

This is (one of several reasons) why some people who are mid-withdrawal relapse before it’s over.

The discomfort starts as soon as the person calls it quits. And if the sudden absence of the drug is what triggered the discomfort, it is understandable that some people will go back to the drug. Going back to the drug alleviates the discomfort (but doesn’t give the user time to stop craving it).

This is not unlike what I sometimes watch happen when certain relationships end. And that is not to say people are addicted to each other (although sometimes that’s debatable).

But upon breaking up, a guy or a girl – especially the rejected, but often also the reject-er – grieves the loss of the relationship. There’s crying, and coming up with all the things you wish you’d said (or hadn’t). There’s emotional eating, or emotional not-eating, and heartache.

It sucks, in other words.

And I think this is (one of several reasons) why people do a lot of breaking up and making up (and breaking up and making up again, and again, and again). If the sudden absence of [insert applicable person’s name here] is what triggered the discomfort, it is understandable that some people will go back to him or her.

But is your response to rejection necessarily a good gauge for whether the relationship should have ended?

I’d say that it’s as good a gauge as withdrawals are for whether a user should have stopped using a drug.* Because the truth is, withdrawal symptoms are not signs that walking away from the drug was a bad idea. Withdrawal symptoms are natural, and necessary.

Grief over the end of a relationship, then,  is not necessarily a sign that walking away from it was a bad idea.

Grief is natural and necessary.

Give yourself time (to stop craving).

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*This is not to say that no couple that breaks up should ever ‘make up’. Many couples who break up can and do get back together for good reasons. This, however, is to say that the existence of post-break-up grief is not as sufficient a reason to resume a relationship as some people interpret it to be.

Books in 2012: Are You Waiting for ‘The One’?

I’d kind of like to invite Margaret and Dwight Peterson to dinner at my house. We’ll have chicken parm, play a little Jenga and when the opp arises, I’ll thank them sincerely for their book.

Are You Waiting for “The One”? Cultivating Realistic, Positive Expectations for Christian Marriage is the ninth book I’ve read in full in 2012. It is a refreshingly realistic exploration of friendship, love, sex, marriage and family that challenges the status quo set by the world (which, as the Petersons point out, is often unwittingly perpetuated by Christians).

In many Christian books as in many Christian churches, important stuff like sex and gender and dating is broached only superficially. What those Christian books and those Christian churches don’t get is that it does serious damage to consider topics taboo that ought to — nay, must — be discussed deeply. The Petersons get it. And that is rare, and therefore, delightful.

Some of my favorite excerpts:

On hooking up:

“It is difficult to believe, however, that the hookup culture is anything but bad for anyone, male or female. The more casual sexual behavior becomes, the less it serves to deepen existing intimacy and the more it becomes a substitute for and even an impediment to intimacy.” -page 14

On real love: 

“Real love grows through use. You do not have to worry that if you spread it around, you will run out. Nor do you have to worry that if you enter into an intimate friendship with someone whom you do not end up marrying, that person will abscond with part of your heart and there will be less of you than there was before. If you hope to marry someone and do not, of course you will be disappointed. But a great deal of the pain of heartbreak comes not from disappointment in love, but because partners have not, in fact, treated one another lovingly. If you and your friend really do love each other, and really do treat each other well, you will grow in and through the relationship, whether or not it moves toward marriage.” -page 27-28

Real love develops into deep, meaningful intensity. It does not start with it. The time to look for sparks to fly is after you know one another well enough actually to mean something to one another.” -page 27

On conflict, mutual submission and gender:

“Conflict avoidance is not conflict resolution, however much we might like it to be.” -page 81

“Mutuality takes time. It takes effort. It takes a willingness to talk with one another and listen to one another, for long enough that it can become clear what the issues are, what the feelings and desires of both spouses are, and what some possible plans of action might be. Headship as decision making, by contrast, can seem quick and easy and far less personally demanding. Husband and wife don’t really even have to work together: he just does his job and decides, she does her job and goes along, and they’re done. And that is exactly the problem. They haven’t actually dealt with their differences; they’ve just done an end run around them. They are no more united when they are done than they were when they began. There has got to be a better way.” -pages 94-95

“But before we talk about what a better way might be, we have to tell one more unpleasant truth about the control-and-acquiescence model of male-female relationships. Defining male headship as control and female submission as acquiescence is not just misguided; it is dangerous. By idealizing rigidly defined gender roles, assigning power in relationships disproportionately to men, and encouraging both men and women to see this as spiritually appropriate and desirable, a theological ideology for abuse in intimate relationships is set in place.” -page 95

On communicating via social media:

“Self-revelatory statements are made in isolation, and often to the world in general rather than to anyone in particular. They in turn are read by recipients who are busy with many other things or who may simply happen to be trolling the web for status updates. The result is less an electronic equivalent of conversation, and more a combination of exhibitionism and voyeurism.” -page 114

On sex:

“One of the first things to be said about sex is that it is okay not to know everything. Our culture glorifies sexual prowess—many people simply assume that sexual experience and personal maturity go together, and that anyone who is virginal or otherwise inexperienced is for that reason a mere child. … In reality, experience and maturity are not the same thing. It is possible to have a great deal of sexual experience and to be a thoroughly immature person, and possible likewise to have little or no experience of sexual relationship and yet to be secure and well grounded in one’s own masculinity or femininity.” -page 137

The foundations for a positive marital sexual relationship begin to be built long before the wedding night. If you and your partner are cultivating an intimate friendship in which you can enjoy one another playfully, talk with one another openly, work on shared projects cooperatively, problem-solve constructively, and relax together trustingly, you are well on your way to building a relationship in which sex can play a positive and intimate part.” -page 144

On contraception:

“On its invention fifty years ago, the birth-control pill was hailed as a great advance over barrier methods, precisely because a woman did not have to negotiate its use with a sexual partner. Now the sense is that a once-a-day pill is too much trouble; people need ‘fool-proof contraceptives that require almost no thought or action.’ The obvious problem with this is that where contraception is foolproof and thoughtless, sex will be too. Is that really what any of us wants? Is that really compatible with Christian notions of what sex and marriage and human life itself are really all about?” -page 164

 

[callout]Click here for more information about (or to order) Are You Waiting For “The One?”. [/callout]

The 5 Love Languages

There are a lot of impassioned speeches I’d shout to the general public, given an opportunity and a megaphone.

One of them is about relationships.
“Love,” I’d say, “if we love like Jesus loves, is unconditional. It is patient,” I’d say, “and kind.” And I’d quote the rest of 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. “And in our culture,” I’d add, “we suck at it.
Because we are egocentric.
We are egotistical.
We don’t think (or pray) before we act or speak.
Our attitudes imply “I’ll love you if…” and we are unaware (or unwilling to admit) that our love is conditional (and therefore, that it isn’t love).
In an ideal world, if a man or a woman saw some of this in him or herself, the awareness of it would compel him or her to change his or her thoughts and modify his or her behaviors until he or she becomes a better love-er. Only we aren’t in an ideal world, so rarely does a guy or girl see it. And if one sees it, rare is it that he or she sees that something is wrong with it. And the result is dysfunction. 
Dysfunction, however, is not an experience saved solely for the people who have tied the knot for the wrong reasons. Dysfunction is also a result of human nature (and it is multiplied when humans interact). It is a reality that can (and will) encroach on any relationship — even the ones rooted in real love — because even when we really do love, we are still human.
Still egocentric.
Still egotistical.
You catch my drift.
But in his book The 5 Love Languages, Gary Chapman — a pastor, therapist and author — says that despite our human nature, we can love for real, and if we already do love, we can love better. You know what I love?
His book! I read it last weekend.
Chapman’s theory goes a little like this: There are five love languages: words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service and physical touch. A love language is what a person uses to express love. A person also feels loved when somebody else uses his or her love language. So let’s say Joe’s primary love language is receiving gifts (and let’s also say he has never read any of Chapman’s books). Whenever his wife gives Joe a gift, he feels loved by her. And Joe most often expresses his love for his wife by giving her gifts.
Which is awesome — except, because Joe (like all humans) is egocentric, what may not dawn on him is that his wife’s love language might not also be receiving gifts. And so while he implies “I love you!” with a gift, she does not infer “He loves me!” when she gets a gift. She certainly will appreciate receiving gifts from her husband, but her need to feel love coming from him probably won’t be fulfilled. In order for that need to be fulfilled, she needs for Joe to speak her love language.
“The important thing,” Chapman wrote on page 15 of the book, “is to speak the love language of your spouse.” And “Seldom,” he says, “do a husband and wife have the same love language.” 
I think at the core of Chapman’s theory (these will be my words, not his) is the idea that love requires communication. It’s typical, for instance, for someone to expect his or her significant other to do XYZ without ever telling him or her that XYZ is what he or she needs (and it is typical, therefore, for him or her to take it personally when his or her significant other doesn’t deliver it). My hunch is that the desire to get what we need (or want) from a spouse, if and only if we can get it without asking, is directly related to how valued instant gratification is in our culture. 
In a culture that values instant gratification, we don’t want to work. We believe a relationship should flourish independent of work. We believe a relationship is most worth our time when it is with someone for whom doing what we would like to see them doing is always… instinctual (which never actually happens). 
But back to the book.
On page 32, Chapman points out that when a couple “falls out of love” (that is, the warm and fuzzies aren’t so constant), either “they withdraw, separate, divorce and set off in search of a new in-love experience, or they begin the hard work of learning to love each other without the euphoria of the in-love obsession.” 
He goes on to prove that learning to love without the euphoria is not only possible, but worth it. Click here to learn more about the book and click here to learn your love language. Read on for some of my favorite quotes:
“Some couples believe that the end of the in-love experience means they have only two options: resign themselves to a life of misery with their spouse, or jump ship and try again. Our generation has opted for the latter, whereas an earlier generation often chose the former. Before we automatically conclude that we have made the better choice, perhaps we should examine the data. … Research seems to indicate that there is a third and better alternative: We can recognize the in-love experience for what it was — a temporary emotional high — and now pursue ‘real love’ with our spouse. That kind of love is emotional in nature but not obsessional. … Our most basic emotional need is not to fall in love but to be genuinely loved by another, to know a love that grows out of reason and choice, not instinct.” -pages 32 and 33
“The object of love is not getting something you want but doing something for the well-being of the one you love.” -page 39
“A key ingredient in giving your spouse quality time is giving them focused attention, especially in this era of many distractions … A wife who is texting while her husband tries to talk to her is not giving him quality time, because he does not have her full attention.” -page 59
“Sometimes body language speaks one message while words speak another. Ask for clarification to make sure you know what she is really thinking and feeling.” -page 63
“Each of us must decide daily to love or not to love our spouses. If we choose to love, then expressing it in the way in which our spouse requests will make our love most effective emotionally.” -page 100
“You see, when an action doesn’t come naturally to you, it is a greater expression of love.” -page 139
“Love … creates a climate of security in which we can seek answers to those things that bother us… (A) couple can discuss differences without condemnation. Conflicts can be resolved. Two people who are different can learn to live together in harmony.” -page 144

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

I still stand by what I said during my first semester of grad school:

Everybody should take one good counseling class — something basic, like Foundations of Mental Health Counseling or something practical, like Dynamics of Marriage and Family Therapy.

But in case everyone isn’t granted that opportunity, I feel compelled occasionally to share some of what somebody would get out of a good counseling class. Something like the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse — not the ones you read about in the book of Revelation, but the ones that marriage researcher and therapist John Gottman points out as predictors of divorce.

According to my Dynamics of Marriage and Family textbook (1), “it is not the exchange of anger that predicts divorce, but rather four forms of negativity that Gottman calls ‘The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.'”

As a result of Gottman’s study, he can predict with lots of accuracy whether a couple will divorce based on their use of the “four horsemen” in their interactions. What are the horsemen? Criticism, defensiveness, contempt and stonewalling.

Criticism is an attack on a person’s character. The focus is on the spouse instead of on the spouse’s disagreeable behavior. So, let’s say a husband routinely doesn’t warn his wife that he’ll be home late from work. If she responds with criticism, she’ll probably say something like the following: “I cannot believe you didn’t call me again. I am pretty sure there is something seriously wrong with you.” or “You are so frustrating! If you were a responsible adult, you would have told me in advance you’d be home late.”

Defensiveness is “warding off a perceived attack,” according to one great summary of the four horsemen (2). This spouse tends to make excuses for his or her behavior, or to respond to complaints with complaints of his or her own. So after the wife from our scenario says, “I am pretty sure there is something seriously wrong with you,” the defensive husband might say something like, “Yeah? Well, I think there’s something wrong with you because you used all the hot water this morning, again, and I had to take a cold shower.”

Contempt is name calling, eye rolling, insulting, hostility, hurtful sarcasm, harsh tones of voice. It’s ultimately emotional or psychological abuse. Pretty self explanatory.

Stonewalling is emotional withdrawal. It can look like the silent treatment, one word responses or physically leaving the room rather than responding to your spouse. So if after the wife from our scenario criticizes her husband for not telling her he’d be home late from work, he crosses his arms and sits silently or only says, “Yep.” and nothing more, he’s stonewalling.

I’d venture to say that for most humans, not doing these things is easier said than done. But I think we are all ahead when we are a) aware of them and b) aware that their presence plays a big role in a couple’s inability to work through conflict. I also have a hunch that the horsemen show up in an emotions/behaviors cycle that — though seemingly endless — can be broken if a couple commits to breaking it.

So, for instance…

1. Husband works late every night and never calls to warn his wife about it (husband’s behavior). So…

2. Wife feels neglected (wife’s emotion). So…

3. Wife yells at (criticizes) husband when he gets home (wife’s behavior). So…

4. Husband feels attacked, and therefore disrespected by and angry at his wife, and therefore doesn’t much like to be at home (husband’s emotion).

So…

1. Husband works late every night and never calls to warn his wife about it (husband’s behavior).

You see where this is headed.

And where the cycle actually starts is moot. (It doesn’t matter if the chicken or the egg came first.) What’s important is that a couple a) becomes aware that what they always do isn’t working and that b) the awareness of that propels them into doing something different. “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”

So maybe, to start, the husband changes things up by calling his wife mid-day to warn her he’ll be home late again tonight. Or — better yet — he arranges to be home at a decent hour. So rather than feeling neglected, his wife feels informed, or loved, or like she’s important to him. And when they see each other at home for the first time since morning, because of what she feels, she greets him with a kiss instead of with criticism, and maybe tells him she appreciates that he called or came home early. And — naturally — her husband feels respected (or, at least not disrespected) or loved and discovers that being at home isn’t so bad after all.

This, of course, is also always easier said than done. But it is doable. And according to Gottman, the need to do it isn’t necessarily bad.

In a study he did with Krokoff in 1989, he concluded that “while conflict engagement (that is, direct, if angry, expressions of dissatisfaction) between partners might cause marital distress in the short run, such confrontation is likely to lead to long-term improvement in marital satisfaction by forcing couples, together, to examine areas of disagreement. (1)”

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1. From this book.

2. From this summary.