The Case of the Missing ‘E’

Jack and Janie have been married for years.

Many of them, happily.

They both loved the Lord.  And they both thought they were doing what was best for their marriage.

hiding woman

But lately, it just hasn’t been working.

This is Jack’s take…

I believe communication in marriage is important, so I try to communicate with her.  I share with her what I’m feeling and thinking.  I want to talk about the tough issues and work through them.

But she doesn’t.  She just leaves the room whenever I try to work through the hard things with her.  She doesn’t treat my perspective as if its valid.  And she’s not willing to own the things she does wrong.  She’s so mean sometimes, but then she won’t talk about it.

And it’s not just that she won’t talk about it.  She gives me the silent treatment.  I mean, we’re grown adults.  But she gives me the silent treatment.  Sometimes for days.   And sometimes, it feels like she won’t even look at me.

Communication is important in marriage, and she’s not communicating.  We’ve got to communicate more if we’re going to save this marriage.

It sure sounds like Janie is doing it all wrong, huh?  But there are always at least two perspectives to every story.

Here’s Janie’s take…

I’ve loved being married to Jack.  Our first years were great.  But the last several years, I just can’t seem to do anything right.  It doesn’t matter what I say or what I do, he’s upset.  If I pick up extra hours at work to help pay the bills while he’s looking for a job, then he gets mad and claims I don’t want to be around him.  But if I don’t pick up the extra hours, then he says I don’t care about our marriage and our future.  If I make a lunch for him, he says that I think he’s incapable.  If I don’t make a lunch for him, he says I don’t care about him. It doesn’t matter what I do, it isn’t right.

Sometimes I don’t even do anything!  I just live, and he says I don’t love him or don’t care about him.  He gets so upset and goes on and on.  I don’t know where he comes up with the things that he does.

Sometimes I just try to pretend like I don’t exist.  It seems like existing makes him upset no matter what I do.  So I try to tip-toe around and act like I’m not there.  It seems to work ok.  It doesn’t seem to rouse the grizzly in him.

But sometimes it doesn’t.  And he just unloads with all these hurtful, hateful, unfounded things.  My counselor told me when he gets illogical and so upset, to simply excuse myself and let him know I can’t be around him right then.

I don’t know where he comes up with the things he communicates, why he thinks them, or how to change it.  We have got to quit this communication if we’re going to save our marriage.

Now whose right?

As we mentioned, there are always *at least* two perspectives to every story.  Here is a third!

It sounds like Jack is doing his darndest to save his marriage as best he knows how.  And he’s right – communication is essential to a healthy marriage.  But more communication only helps if it is healthy communication.  If it is destructive communication, it just causes more damage.

It sounds like Janie is doing as best as she currently knows to protect herself from destructive communication.  Though Jack is not intending to be, his communication sounds abusive.  When Janie feels that abuse, she removes herself from the situation.  Though she is not intending to, Janie’s protection of herself comes across to him like the silent treatment – which, ironically enough, is a form of abuse.

Neither are intending to abuse the other, yet both feel abused.  Both are seeking as best they know how to protect the marriage, yet instead, their actions are hurtful to the other.  Both feel like they are fighting for their marriage, yet to the other, it just feels like they are fighting.

Now I know one little tweak can’t solve everything, but it is a start.  And I think E is a valuable place to start.

It seems that the root of the issue – or of their ability to solve their issues – is abusive communication.  If Jack learned how to communicate nonabusively, Janie would not feel a need to retreat and protect herself.  Yet if Janie retreated more effectively, Jack would better understand that he was doing something hurtful, and he would have the opportunity to understand that she was not pulling back from their marriage – simply from the abusive communication.

All she needs to retreat more effectively is E.

As Janie throws her PIES, she Prays, then she politely Interrupts Jack,

“I need to interrupt.”

Her next step is E: Explain briefly.

“Presuming to know my thoughts and motives and negatively characterizing them is verbal abuse, and I will not be abused.”

It is not a long explanation. It’s not a lecture.  It’s not a defense nor an attack.  It’s a sentence or two brief explanation that states her position.

The value of this is manifold.

  • It lets Jack know exactly why she is retreating.  It is not because she is unwilling to work through the tough things.  It is not because she wants to give him the silent treatment.  It is not because she does not care about their marriage.  It is because she expects to be treated nonabusively.
  • It gives Jack a path.  Though he may not agree, at least now he has an opportunity to know that better understanding verbal abuse could open the door to better communication with Janie.
  • It affirms Janie.  It does not attack Jack.  Importantly, it is not trying to convince or teach Jack.  It simply states her position.  As she opens her mouth to speak, she affirms that she can influence being treated as a beloved child of God.
  • It brings things into the light. Satan thrives in shoving things under the carpet.  While it can take so much courage for Janie to clearly state her ‘E,’ it is so worth it.  The Lord is a God of clarity.  He thrives in the light.

This clarity is critical, yet it is often the hardest.  Janie may think,

“Of course he knows what he’s doing is hurtful.  Who would talk to another person that way?”

The key is what we call ‘the last 10%.’  It is that last 10% of clarity that makes all the difference.  It can feel like stating the obvious.  It can feel like confirming what seems evident, yet often, it’s where the critical pieces of clarity lie.

Janie’s E gives the last 10% of her retreat.  Her brief, clear explanation gives the key Jack was missing in understanding what was going on.  It names the problem.  It calls it out.  And so much of a solution is accurately identifying the problem.

Stating that last 10% is hard.  Stating it clearly and directly takes determination.  It takes courage.  Yet don’t all problems worth solving?

photo purchased from 123rf.com

NOTE:  Janie of course is not responsible for Jack’s verbal abuse.  Even though it stinks to be put in an abusive situation, we are responsible for how we respond.  As in any situation, though we may not at all be responsible for the situation, we are responsible for how we respond to the situation.  As Janie comes to understand that the attacks she feels are caused by verbal abuse, she articulates that.  This gives Jack clarity and offers the possibility of direction towards solution.

the value of feelings

I was lying in bed crying.  My husband was sound asleep next to me.  And all I could think about was how unloved I felt.

My pillow was getting wet from my tears… and that just added to my frustration.  Not only do I feel unloved, but now I am sleeping on a slimy pillow!  Gross.

As I lay there glumly, the Lord was gracious to nudge me.  Yes, I’m feeling unloved… but does that mean that my husband doesn’t love me?

My feeling is important – feeling unloved is a big deal.  Yet I’ve got to remember that it’s a feeling – a trigger that something is wrong.  It is not a foundation of truth.  It is a warning light.  It is not always accurate, but it is such an important indicator.  Its value lies in its ability to draw my attention to something that needs to be looked in to.

So I asked the Lord to look under the hood : )

Since feelings can be caused by my sin… or by Satan… or they can be prompting from the Lord, where was all this feeling of being unloved from?

Since my goal is the last option – that my feeling be of the Lord, I want to be sure to get any uckiness out of me that fits the first two.  For me, when I feel a bit discombobulated, I find it helpful to distill my thoughts and feelings by running them through God’s Word.  Philippians 4:8 is especially powerful for me:

Finally, brothers, 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.

In all honesty, I rarely make it past the first two.  And that’s exactly what happened that night…

The Lord brought to mind a bunch of things that were true.  My love language – by a landslide! – is physical touch.  My absolute favorite time of day is climbing into bed with my husband and cuddling.  That’s how I fell asleep every night for years – cuddling with my amazing husband.  I loved it.  It was the happiest, best place on earth for me.  We teased that we have a king sized bed but could sleep on a twin…

…or I did, anyway!

After years of falling asleep this way, my husband finally told me that he has trouble sleeping every night because of back pain.  Before I knew him, he had two major back surgeries.  He permanently has a huge metal plate and six metal bolts in his back.  And they’re not very comfy.  Especially with your wife curled up next to you causing the mattress to lean at an angle… or with your wife’s leg or arm on top of you pressing down on all that metal.  He asked if we could sleep on separate sides of the bed so he wouldn’t be in as much pain and could sleep better.  Of course!  Well, that was my rational answer, anyway.  But when implementation time came, my feelings took over.

So that’s why I was laying in bed crying.  I felt so unloved.  And in that intense emotion, as much as I wanted to turn it into, “Therefore, my husband doesn’t love me,” the Lord was gracious to stop me.  What was true?  Cuddling makes me feel loved.  I was in a situation where I normally was cuddling and thus normally felt loved, but that was different tonight.  What was different was whether or not we were cuddling – not whether or not I was loved!  What is noble?  Um, my crazy husband lay in pain every night for years letting me cuddle with him!  That’s insanely loving of him.  How much more noble of a man could I ask for?!

And, like most times of conviction, that’s about as far through the {dhs} sifter as I made it.  So I lay in bed blown away by how much my husband loves me – how much he has sacrificed for me every night for years.  Yet I also acknowledged that cuddling is important to me.  So the next day, I asked since we weren’t cuddling falling asleep anymore if there was some other time we could.

That conversation went over much better than “You don’t love me” would have!

Because it was of the Lord.  It was realigned with His desires – that we think things that are true and noble.  That feelings are a trigger that something is wrong… but not a foundation of truth.  I am so grateful for the damage and destruction in relationships that is averted when we align our hearts and minds with the Lord’s before acting on our feelings.  And I am grateful for the peace, clarity – and love! – the Lord brought to me that night.

Just because I feel unloved doesn’t mean my husband doesn’t love me.

He does.  Madly.  Sacrificially.  And for that, I am blessed.

A big charade

I just lost my voice.  AGAIN!  It’s crazy.  About once or twice a year, I lose my voice for about a week.  This year it was on my birthday!  Whether it’s allergies or being sick, my voice just takes a little vacation every now and then.

And really, it’s often a fascinating sociology lesson.  Laryngitis has been such a gift.

The first time I lost my voice when we were married, I thought we’d be ok since Dave and I both took a little bit of sign language in college.  Turns out we each remember different words, so it is comically unhelpful!

So I end up kind of doing charades for the week.  I actually highly recommend it.  Even if you have your voice – pretend like you don’t for a few days.  It’s fascinatingly revealing.

Like one night, we were getting ready for dinner.  Dave asked if he could help – love that! : )  I nodded yes and pointed to the dinner table.  This is what it looked like:

He said, “Oh good!  So the table’s all set.”  I shook my head ‘no.’  He said, “It’s not?”  I again shook ‘no.’  He looked at the table and looked at me confused.  So I busted out the charades. I put my hand in front of me like I was grasping something cylindrical and then raised it to my mouth.

He guessed, “Oh – a ‘C’?  A ‘C’ on your mouth?”

I shook my head ‘no.’

“A ‘C’ on your nose?”

Ummm… no.

“A seal balancing a ball on his nose?”

How did we get to seal tricks? : )  So I pointed to the dinner table again.  He guessed, “A seal on a table with a ball on his nose?”

He really thought he was getting warmer.  So I started making what I thought was a pouring motion, but he thought I was giving a baby seal a bottle.  Huh? : )  So then I started acting like I was milking a cow, and he thinks I’m playing that game where you bop the hedgehogs on the head.  “Arcade games?  Seal tricks.  You want to go to Sea World?  You want us to talk at dinner about planning a vacation to Sea World?”

Hmmph.

So clearly I’m horrible at charades!  But this was so crazy valuable for our marriage!!

To me it seemed so obvious.  Look at the dinner table.  What is the obvious thing that is missing?  I didn’t really think I’d have to make any motions about it.  Then when I had to make motions, I thought surely they would jog his mind to the thing that seems so obviously missing… and to me, what was obviously missing wasn’t a trip to Sea World!
So I poured two glasses of milk and laughed.

Sometimes we get frustrated when another person isn’t doing what seems so obvious to us that they should be doing.  Look at the dinner table – it’s so obvious that the glasses are missing!  To me, that is.  But the thought never crossed his mind.

So when someone isn’t doing something that to me seems so obvious they should be doing (did you follow that? : )), I have a choice.  I can get mad at them for not doing the thing that seems so glaringly obvious that they should be doing.  I can storm and brew and feel like I want to bop them like a hedgehog.  I can assume they are intentionally *not* doing this obvious thing.  I can start to think that they are bad or mean or unhelpful or selfish – or whatever motive I choose for them – for not doing this obvious thing.  I can make a big charade out of the whole deal.

Or I can consider that they may simply not see what I see.  And they’re not a bad person for not seeing what I see how I see it.  Maybe they’re not intentionally avoiding or omitting whatever it is I think should be done.  Maybe the fault is actually with me – that I haven’t communicated clearly – or at all.  So the solution isn’t anger or blaming or frustration; it’s communication.

It’s simply bringing into the verbal realm what seems so obvious in the mental realm.  It’s gently and lovingly articulating what I desire.  It’s inviting them into what I’m doing – because maybe they’re willing, but maybe right now, they’re simply off in another (Sea) world. : )

Team Name – a great marriage tip!

Have a team name.

That’s it.

One of the best pieces of advice we got when we got married:  Have a team name.

It simply helps us remember an important key – we are on the same team.  We’re teammates, not opponents.  And when things start to feel like we’re opponents… well, it’s totally what we talked about last time: the Enemy just loves that.  If he can get us to take each other down – oh how easy his job becomes!  If he can get us to be destructive towards each other … nit-pick at each other … say critical, inaccurate things about each others motives … have a negative, hurtful perception of the other… if he can get us to help him with his job, he is a happy camper.  If he can get us to act more like we’re on his team than our spouse’s – yikes.

But the truth is this:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.  ~ Ephesians 6:12

Our enemy is not our spouse.  Our enemy is sin and Satan.

And the truth is this:

A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.  ~ Ecclesiastes 4:12

There is such strength in a united husband, wife, and the Lord!  Those three strands united as a team have such alliance, solidarity, and strength!

So we commit to

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  ~ 1 Peter 5:8

As we stay alert – committed to our unity as a team and focused on trying to figure out how as a team we can move forward, we move through situations with unity and strength.  With courage and fortitude, we defeat inklings of accusation or blame, and we keep the devil from a foothold!

Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate. ~ Mark 10:9

Amen!!  In the strength and solidity of the Lord, commitment to a team mindset enables wonderful victory!

Thanks to Kate McElwee for the very fun bride and groom shot!  www.katemcelweephotography.com

One of my favorite things about our marriage

Today my husband and I celebrate 9 years of marriage!  The Lord has been so gracious.

There are certainly other areas of our lives that have been filled with challenges, but He has been so gracious in our marriage.  And I am so grateful.  What more could a girl ask for?

Dave did a little impromptu dance in the middle of our wedding ceremony. It was hilarious :)

So we’ve only been doing this marriage thing for 9 years so far.  We clearly have a ways to go.  And for as prepared as I was for this whole ‘oneness’ thing to reveal more deeply the good – and the bad – in my mate, I’m still waiting for the latter.  So I clearly can only speak from so much of a vantage point.

But one of the things I love about our marriage – and one of the things that I think has been such a blessing – is a paradigm the Lord has been gracious to lay on our hearts.

Where the Bible is clear, we will be adamant.
Where the Bible doesn’t speak, we allow freedom.

Now this is actually part of our church’s position on doctrine… but we find the practical application in marriage and relationships super helpful ~ and freeing!!

Has the Lord said it?  Then we do our best to be adamant about it in our relationship and in our lives.  But if the Lord hasn’t spoken about it, then there is freedom.  If the Lord doesn’t find it important enough to speak on, why would we be crazy enough to allow it a foothold in our marriage?  Marriage is important to the Lord (Matthew 19:6; Ephesians 5:22-31).  Oneness is important to the Lord (John 17).  So why allow something that isn’t important to the Lord interfere with something that is?

Let’s take Christmas shopping for example.  I personally think August is a great time to get our Christmas shopping done.  My husband would rather do other things in August.  He thinks the week before Christmas is a great time to do our Christmas shopping.  Is it worth fighting over?  Well, is it in Scripture?  Nope.  So is it worth fighting over?  Nope.  Is it worth my calling him a bunch of names and telling him he’s a procrastinator?  Nope.  In fact, buying Christmas presents isn’t even in Scripture.  But encouraging one another daily is.  How am I doing on that?  Respecting your husband is.  How am I doing on that?  For me, personally, there are plenty of things in Scripture to work on – I don’t need to make up additional things!  And while my husband is the most godly man I know, I think he would still say there are things in Scripture for him to work on.  He certainly doesn’t need me to make up additional things for him to do!

Or let’s take the laundry for example.  I am perfectly fine with throwing everything together – whites and colors – on cold.  That works for me.  My husband, however, thinks that makes his white undershirts less bright.  Hmmmm… is it in the Bible?  Nope.  So is it worth fighting over?  Nope.  Is one of us right?  Nope.  It’s just different approaches.  So we do a little maneuvering to figure out how to help our approaches dance together.  It’s not about ‘winning’ or ‘being right’ or ‘I told you so.’  If it’s not in Scripture, we allow freedom.  So we have some options.  One option is that I am glad to do any laundry that he doesn’t mind being all mixed together.  Another option is that I can choose to do his laundry separate to keep his shirts white.  And I’m sure there are other options.   What I chose is that my husband doesn’t ask very much of me, and I love knowing things that make him happy, and this makes him happy, and I’d like to do this for him, so I choose to serve in this way.  So we (honestly, probably like most houses in America) now sort our laundry between lights and darks.

Or let’s take joining a small group.  Ohhhh…. I’m inching closer to spiritual things here.  To things that actually are in Scripture.  When we were first married, I thought we should be in a couples small group.  Dave didn’t.  He thought we were too busy.  He thought we should focus on considering our current priorities and maybe consider a small group down the road.  My professional job was small groups.  As much as I tried not to let my job creep into this, it kind of felt a little personal: I can’t get my own husband to join a small group!  Yep, there were all kinds of possible tensions and potential explosions under the surface.  So I prayed about it.  And I wrestled with the Lord about it.  And I asked Him what to do.  And the Lord was gracious to bring this to mind:  “If I had a list of things for which I was going to bless a marriage, that wouldn’t be on there.”

Weird, huh?

Ok, let me first point out that what I felt like the Lord impressed on me started with ‘if.’  I do *not* believe we serve a legalistic, check-list God.  I believe we serve a loving, passionate, personal God!

So I pondered what I felt like He impressed on me for a while.  I mean, joining a small group sounds spiritual.  It sounds like something the Lord would want us to do.  It sure sounds like something I would be right about. : )  But you know what?  “Join a small group” is not in Scripture.  Even for someone who worked in ministry on a small groups staff, I had to admit this.  Are its principles in Scripture?  Well, sure.  Does the Lord want us to experience the Body?  Absolutely.  Does He want us in His Word?  Absolutely.   But does He mandate that every married couple must be in a small group their first year of marriage?  Nope.

So then I started thinking, “Ok, Lord.  If joining a small group isn’t on your ‘list’ of things for which you would bless a marriage, what is?”

And the Lord brought this to mind, “Respect your husband.  Honor his leadership.”

I love when the Lord is so gracious to steer me in His perfect direction.

So it was settled.  I have an amazing husband who values the Body and values God’s Word.  But he also values sanity and waiting on the Lord’s timing and direction.  And so we did.  And eventually, in God’s perfect timing – and with my husband’s godly leadership – we joined a small group.

And I believe, so the Lord blessed our marriage.

Where the Bible is clear, we will be adamant.
Where the Bible doesn’t speak, we allow freedom.

It’s been one of my favorite things about our marriage so far.  Focusing on the things that are in Scripture – and being free from imposing other things that are not in Scripture – has helped give so much clarity, direction, freedom, life, vitality, and love to our marriage.  It gives a safety, a peace, and a security that I just love.  We know what we’re adamant about, and we know where there is freedom.  And the life and joy that comes from that has been such blessing to me.

Happy 9th Anniversary, Love!!  I am honored to call you my husband.

Question: What is one of your favorite things about your marriage?  You can leave a comment below.