- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
"My Lover Should Make Some Changes"
You might be wondering, as you open a book on marriage, why it would begin by telling you that it's dumb to expect your lover to change. Isn't that why you bought this book-so you could get your lover to make some changes? But as we will see, the key to improving your marriage is changing yourself first.
That may seem a little unnatural, given that you are interested in improving your relationship, not yourself. But there is a key here: growing marriages are made up of growing people. A relationship is only as good as the two individuals who make it up. And nothing helps the relationship more than when you shine a spotlight on yourself and see your own issues, baggage, hurts, weaknesses, and faults. As you understand what makes you tick and begin to resolve your personal issues, your capacity to love, to give grace, to improve communication, to be honest, and to solve problems is greatly enhanced. So starting with yourself is the best way for you to get what you want.
What if your mate doesn't want to deal with himself? That can and does happen. Even so, you will be surprised as you read this section to discover how much your own example and way of relating can profoundly affect the relationship-and your mate-for good and for love. And it is surprising how that can free your mate to begin to rescue himself also.
In this section, we will give you several proven principles that will help you to look at yourself and your contributions to the relationship. And we will give you guidelines to assist you in applying change and growth to yourself and to your love life.
Change Yourself, Not Your Lover
"OK, guys," I (John) said to Dennis and Kathleen. "You have to tell us the whole story." My wife, Barbi, and I were having dinner with them for the first time. During our conversation, they had dropped a couple of hints about their marriage going through some trouble, though it was apparent that it was now in really good shape.
Dennis responded, "We probably wouldn't be where we are now if Kathleen hadn't stepped up to the plate." He turned to his wife. "Why don't you tell them?"
"Well," began Kathleen, "we never really had a major crisis in our marriage like a lot of our friends have had. It was more that, about a year ago, I felt like we were in a rut. Dennis was into his work, and I was into the kids. Life was OK. We were getting along pretty well, but we weren't connecting with each other like we did in the early days."
"Like how?" I asked.
"We only talked about things we were doing: work, kids, money, church, vacation. We needed to talk about those things, but we never really connected with each other on an emotional, real level. I finally told Dennis that I wanted more and needed a better connection to him."
"How did that go?"
Dennis smiled sheepishly. "I responded with the usual guy thing. I told her I thought things were pretty much OK the way they were. We weren't fighting, and the family was getting along, so I figured why rock the boat?"
"What happened then?"
"I nagged Dennis about it for a while," Kathleen responded, "and then I gave up. I was a little angry with him, but I thought maybe I wasn't grateful enough for what we did have, so I tried to be happy and resigned myself to life as it was. Like I said, life was OK, so I stayed with OK."
"But that didn't work?"
"Not at all. I kept feeling more and more distant from him. And Dennis could tell. He tried to be nice and asked me about my day, and he took me on date nights. But I just didn't feel connected to him in the way I wanted."
"So what did you do then?"
"Well, I didn't really know what to do. It's more like some things happened, rather than me planning anything. I made other attempts at getting him to understand what I needed, and I even started crying, which I don't do often. Dennis was concerned, but he still didn't commit to working on our relationship." She put her hand on his to let him know she wasn't trying to sound critical.
"So I told him that I wasn't mad or blaming him for anything. But I needed a deeper relationship. Apparently he was choosing not to go that way, for whatever reason. So I started meeting with a small group at my church that had a focus on connection and intimacy. If I couldn't connect better with him, at least I would have a connection of some kind."
"Dennis, how did that affect you?"
"I liked it. I thought maybe that would make her feel better about her life."
Kathleen continued, "I started meeting with some really cool people, and we got pretty close. I got my focus off the marriage and started feeling connected to the group. That began a change in me toward Dennis, but not one I expected. I realized I was asking him to do something he had no clue how to do. When I said I wanted more intimacy, he didn't know what I meant. So I started being more intimate and vulnerable with him, taking risks about my feelings and fears and dreams. I poured out my feelings, but without insisting that he do the same. I gradually began to ask him how he felt about things, encouraging him to talk about his feelings."
Dennis interrupted. "That's when things started opening up for me. I think it was the combination of Kathleen's trying to reach me on a deeper level, showing me how, and helping make it safe. This sort of thing has never been easy for me. Like I said, I'm a guy. What did I know about the world of feelings? I was pretty clueless. She started being nicer to me, but she was still direct at the same time.
"And gradually, I started opening up to her. I started trying to think and talk in emotional terms. I found I had feelings I never knew I had. And we really finally started to connect. It was weird for me at first, like a foreign language or something. But now I can't imagine not relating to Kathleen at this level. It's like we're getting another chance at marriage."
"Wow!" I said, captivated by their story. "Kathleen, was it difficult for you to do all that work?"
"At first it was," she replied. "I thought I was carrying most of the weight of the relationship. But things changed once I realized that whether or not Dennis responded, the steps I was taking were good for both of us. I wasn't as resentful after that. Now that I look back, it was totally worth it. I have appreciated his willingness to do some risk-taking. He's shown me parts of his feelings that have been hard, but it has made us much closer. I feel like we're both carrying the weight now."
Start with the Right Focus
Sure, Dennis was dumb for not responding to Kathleen's requests for connection. But it would have been seriously dumb for Kathleen to keep trying to change him. Instead, she went the higher route and looked at her own contributions to the marriage. She changed herself, not her lover.
Your marriage may be like Dennis and Kathleen's: it's OK, but it lacks the closeness you want. Or your marriage may be in trouble-or even in crisis. Perhaps you have become resigned to not having the intimacy you want in your marriage. Whatever your situation, the best thing you can do right now to rescue your love life is to focus on yourself, not on your lover. As Kathleen discovered, good things can happen to the relationship when you start working on yourself.
You might think, This is depressing. I'm supposed to settle for the way things are, adapt to them, and try to be happy anyway. That's what Kathleen thought at first. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Changing your own attitudes can do great things for you and your marriage.
Health Breeds Health
For years, I (John) had chronic lower back pain due to a sports injury. The traditional treatments of rest, stretches, massage, and cold and heat didn't help. But one day, at a backyard barbecue, an engineer told me, "Your back is like a suspension bridge. To strengthen it, you have to strengthen the supportive structures around it-the muscles that hold it together." He suggested a regimen of daily sit-ups. I followed his advice, and within a few months, my pain was gone.
I don't really understand the engineering behind it, but I do know that when I concentrated on improving one part of my body, the other part improved too. In the same way, your marriage is like that body system. Things you do individually matter to the relationship. And generally speaking, you can do more to improve your relationship than you think.
The Bible explains this in terms of being a person of light-that is, one who follows God's light of love, relationship, and growth. "In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:16). Light tends to cause a response in other people, including your spouse. Let's look at the three key things you can do yourself and bring good light to your connection.
You can add healthy ingredients to the marriage. Notice how Kathleen made herself vulnerable to Dennis instead of resenting and nagging him. She was introducing some good ingredients of growth into her marriage. By working on herself, Kathleen was making openness, trust, and safety easier for Dennis. She was also getting rid of negative ingredients such as distance, stonewalling, and blame. And her involvement in a small group gave her connection, meaning, and support, which flowed into her marriage.
When you shine the light on your own life and attitudes, you add growth and health not only to yourself, but also to your marriage. You may not see instant results, and that's OK. Taking antibiotics doesn't produce instant results either; but over time, you see improvement. Start making healthy and growing choices in your life. Get to know yourself, others, and God in a deeper way.
You can influence your mate. Not only does changing yourself bring good things to your marriage, but it also helps you influence your mate to change and grow. For instance, Kathleen modeled personal vulnerability and then directly encouraged Dennis to open up with his own feelings. He responded to her example and her direct influence.
Sometimes we try to control our spouse and force him to change. But the reality is that you cannot make anyone change; your mate always has a choice. And on a deeper level, you don't want someone to love you because he has to. You want him to love you because he wants you. So give up control. Influence is much more helpful. You model, give information, make requests, and be vulnerable and safe-and you always respect your spouse's choice.
As we have seen, this kind of influence can go a long way. So don't be afraid to put the right kinds of pressure on your spouse. Talk to him; let him know that you love him and that your growth as a couple is important to you. Healthy pressure is growth-producing pressure.
You can recruit your mate to help you. The healthiest marriages are those in which both partners are committed to growth and change, working on themselves as Dennis and Kathleen now are. In these contexts, each of you paddles your own side of the boat and contributes to the progress of the marriage.
Recruit your mate to the team concept. Have some conversations about what you both want together: more connection, more safety, more emotional intimacy, more vulnerability, more honesty, more authenticity, a greater sense of being a team, and a more satisfying sexual relationship. Talk about how you affect each other, ways you let each other down, and what you want from each other. Then shoulder the burdens of changing in the right ways. That is how couples rescue their love lives and experience great marriages.
Love Grows When Dependency Goes
"I need you."
"I'm incomplete without you."
"I'm lonely for you."
"I can't make it without you."
Sound like things you've heard before? Like lyrics from a love song? In certain romantic contexts, phrases like these will arouse feelings of closeness and passion in couples, and that can sometimes be a very good thing. That's why songwriters keep using them. Statements like these make couples feel that they belong to each other. They make couples feel dependent on each other, complete, and glad they aren't alone. Dependency and love seem to merge as one.
Once you get past your favorite love song, however, and enter the land of real relationships, it is a different story. Sometimes dependency can be a problem in love. Now, there is certainly a kind of need and dependency that two people in love should have with each other, a dependency that is healthy and satisfying. For example, we all need to know our partner will be there with us and for us when we are down and stressed. That kind of dependency is part of support, empathy, and care. But another kind of dependency can smother romantic love. In this chapter, we will show you the difference and give you ways to overcome the dependencies that might be killing your love life.
Love and Dependency
For many people, love and dependency are synonyms. Yet there is a world of difference between them, and that difference can have an enormous effect on your marriage. Let's define the two terms.
Love. Love concerns itself with reaching out to another person. At its essence, love is taking a stand for the benefit of that person. Our love for another is a product of the love that God generates for us, and it defines how we are to approach each other: "Let us love one another, for love comes from God" (1 John 4:7).
When you try to understand what your spouse goes through and how to help her have a better life, you are demonstrating love to her. You are extending yourself out from your own perspective and attempting to enter hers so that you can be a benefit to her.
Dependency. Dependency is different. Dependency is a state of needing the other person, so that you will become complete and secure. It is about you more than about the other person. It perceives the other as a need-meeting resource rather than as a person in his own right, with his own viewpoint and needs.
Dependency is not a bad thing in an appropriate context. In a technical sense, dependency is the first stage in learning what love is. The dependency of a baby is a wonderful thing to experience, as she takes in and receives the safety, warmth, and nurture of her mother. During that stage of life, the infant's sole task is to learn to depend and need.
Over time, the experiences of love and constancy become internalized in the baby's mind, and she begins to need less, as she is now using the love she has received. As the process continues, children ultimately grow up and become independent of their parents, which is what adulthood is all about.
Yet even in adulthood we are still dependent people. We depend on God for His love and power. We depend on our supportive relationships for grace and encouragement. And our spouse is a part of that supportive system.
However, that dependency is a different type than we had as children. Adults do depend on adults, and partners do depend on their partners. But one adult no longer takes primary responsibility for the other. Rather, they walk together as partners in life and growth. A marriage is comprised of companions who depend on each other as equals, not as a needy person depends on his provider. Each is still responsible for his own life and welfare, which is different from the added responsibility a parent has for a child.
While there are certainly times and situations in life when we are truly dependent on others-such as a crisis, health issue, emotional breakdown, or financial catastrophe-the norm for committed relationships is for each person to be independent in terms of responsibility for one's soul and dependent in terms of being helpful companions in life.
Excerpted from Rescue Your Love Life by Henry Cloud John Townsend Copyright © 2007 by Dr. Henry Cloud Dr. John Townsend. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.