Or as Tim prefers to call it…Our Rules of Engagement.
When you do things, do not let ·selfishness [rivalry; selfish ambition] or pride be your guide. Instead, be humble and give more ·honor [regard; value] to others than to yourselves. Philippians 2:3 (EXB)
After Tim and i had finished writing our thoughts on fighting i went for a run, as i strolled our yard cooling down i came upon many examples of our God’s amazing plan to teach us patience, hard work and commitment.
Talk, discuss,fight, argue,disagree or communicate… Whatever you call it, you have to commit to engaging one another continually, both with your joy and with your heartache. The alternative is stuffing it and piling up dirty laundry…none of it is good and all of it will destroy.
When couples get engaged and start preparing for marriage they often start to plan and envision what their married lives will look like. They frame out timelines for careers, moves, and children. The wise ones discuss financial goals; who will pay the bills, how they will prioritize their free cash, what percentages will be saved for retirement. If they don’t have a hard and fast plan at least they have some general ideas and try at a minimum to get on the same page.
Few, very few, plan for conflict. It may be touched on in their pre-marital counseling, but it’s awkwardly glossed over like the fast talking at the end of a pharmaceutical commercial. Rarely is any couple fluent in healthy fight. Maybe it would seem counter intuitive and planning for conflict somehow would seem as odd as a lifeboat drill would have seemed at the departure of the Titanic’s first trans-Atlantic crossing. A little more crisis planning prior to that fateful April night may have saved hundreds of lives. Likewise in marriage if we have a “plan” for conflict before it happens, it can be handled in a healthy, pre-orchestrated way and it makes that conflict feel like a normal, healthy part of the relationship.
Kaye and I didn’t necessarily have a plan, but through hard work and a little luck, we have developed some guidelines that have helped us through conflict. As with most things in our lives I will build the framework and Kaye can decorate it with feelings and emotions.
First, there needs to be a foundation of trust. During the emotions of heated conflict things can be said and insinuations made that smolder long after the skirmish is over. If there is not a solid foundation of trust it doesn’t take much of a breeze to re-ignite that ember.
I laid that foundation early on in our marriage by telling Kaye that “Divorce is not an option for us. I said I was committed to this marriage and we had no other options than to work through our issues or live miserably. By removing that doubt in her mind we poured a solid foundation on which to build. From that starting point we have developed our “Rules of Engagement”.
Kaye-When Tim says he laid a foundation, he spoke to me in a tone of gentle love and commitment. He was not laying down the law or demanding something from me that i did not want. It was an pledge of commitment to me not a demand put on me. Having said that, in this case i do believe Tim had the right and responsibility to set this standard for our home and i was called to be his helpmate in remaining faithful to the vows we had taken together before our Lord.
1. Forgive your spouse’s transgressions for that day before you get out of bed in the morning – whatever that may turn out to be. This attitude alone diffuses most conflict before it can ignite.
Kaye-This has taken me a while to refine. It is not so much that I wished to trudge through our Happily Ever After resentful or hating on My Man, i entered our marriage with a trunk of baggage which left me always expecting to be wounded or disappointed. i woke each morning ready to defend my position and stand my ground for the sake of survival. It is tough to have a soft, forgiving, trusting heart when you come out with your dukes up and believe with all of your heart that your happiness is dependent on your own ability to get “this” right.
2. Deal with things early. The longer you let them build up the more intense they will become.
Kaye-i have had to drag Tim into this skill. Tim is: 1. An extreme introvert, any relational engagement or communication is not natural or easy for him. 2.Tim is a shallow coper (see Larry Crab’s book, Inside out), meaning he would rather smooth a sweet fudgy glaze over the discomfort than deal with the issue if it will require us entering a combat zone for any amount of time.
3. Getting started is always the hard part – I can feel it coming – Kaye withdraws. As soon as I see it coming, I need to find out what is going on in her mind. She has to be willing to “come out with it” rather than “heaping coals on my head” by hours of the cold shoulder. Likewise I must be willing to be honest and not “stuff it”. That ends up just making me irritable and she knows that there is something there no matter how hard I try to hide it.
Kaye-This has come with nitty gritty commitment and elbow grease for us. Who knew saying the words “i am having a hard time.” could take more effort than a two year kitchen remodel? We learned the hard way, once i went “on strike” for about 2 weeks, silent cold side by side survival in the same bed, parenting 4 children together, neither wise nor productive.
4. We are not allowed to use the terms “Never” or “Always” in these conversations. (You NEVER help me around the house. You ALWAYS leave your cloths lying around.) First, it’s probably not true, and secondly it only takes you down rabbit holes, lengthening or side tracking the real issues.
Kaye-don’t use “you” phrasing; e.g., “you make me angry because you leave all your dirty dishes in the living room.” Rather use i and i feel, “it feels to me like you typically choose to leave your dirty dishes sitting around for me to clean-up, i feel unappreciated when you do this.”
5. (The hardest one for me) Do not be defensive as your spouse begins the discussion. Whatever they are feeling at the moment will have some element of truth. Whether 5% of the time or 95% of the time – allow them to state how the situation feels to them.
Rules 6-10 coming next Monday. Tim has already written them, they are good!! Part 2 here.
And finally, familiarize yourself with “Love Languages”. Find out what your spouses is as well as your own. Giving love to them in their own language will communicate your love and commitment to them with far greater impact than random acts of affections that are not in their native tongue. The 5 Love Languages are Words Of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Receiving Gifts, Quality Time, Physical Touch, this so very helpful.
You can find out what your languages are here: http://www.5lovelanguages.com/
There is a library of Love Language books available here: http://www.5lovelanguages.com/resources/books/
Really great resource for learning Marriage Communication: http://www.focusonthefamily.com/marriage/communication_and_conflict.aspx