The Talk Table-When Critical Things Need to Be Discussed

James 1:19 My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.

During a stressful time in my marriage (raising young kids while taking care of aging parents with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s) my husband and I had a series of less than ideal date nights. I knew date night was still important but I had so many logistical things to discuss with my husband in order to keep the family unit running on all pistons. When we were on a date I felt as if it was the only time no one else was requiring my attention. One day a lovely friend of mine heard my tales of woe about our horrible dates and she pointed out to me that my date nights sounded more like board meetings. I tried hard to self-correct and to keep date nights as a time for fun, recreation, relaxation, and reconnection.

However, I realized that in order to run a successful and Godly family, there had to be that occasional board meeting. The two problems I faced the most often were that when we talked at the couch, one of us would be distracted by the TV and when we talked at dinner, the subject matter (lack of finances, little arguments, scheduling the kids activities and such) could be a real downer at what should be a relaxing and enjoyable family time.

My brilliant plan? The talk table. What is a talk table? For us it is a small, wooden TV tray that can be put up and taken down to be stored away in a moment. When I drag out the TV tray and place 2 chairs opposite of each other, Jimmie knows it is time to talk. I chose this tiny table with a purpose. When you are facing each other at a tiny table, you are forced to have a face to face, heart to heart and soul to soul communication.

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As I am the talker in the family, (shocker, right?) I will usually lead with what is a concern for me. It may be something simple like wanting to go over the weekly schedule and see who is picking up which kid from which activity, or it could be deep like I was cleaning and I found an inappropriate magazine, or the property tax bill came and we were a bit short. No matter what the subject, the talk table is sacred for open communication and for finding solutions.

That being said, do not always expect the communication to be equal. Men and women are wired differently and often marriage counselors and therapists go out of their way to get the couples to communicate on a 50-50% basis. That will never happen. That’s ok. Women will tend to communicate more but never assume the man is not listening and taking it all in. Men hear more than we give them credit for, and most men really do want to make their wife happy.

When subjects are sensitive (like finances, health or sex) be tactful when sharing your feelings. Telling your husband that you don’t like a particular way he makes love to you or telling your wife that her weight gain has you concerned for her health are paramount to a healthy relationship, but blurted out in a callous way can cause more harm than good. Always check yourself to see if you sound judgemental or preachy. That simply will not go over well.

Do you pray before taking a test or giving a speech? Do you pray when your paycheck did not stretch far enough? I sure do. Consider praying before going to the talk table. It is just as important. A quick prayer may sound something like this: “Lord, give me the right words to discuss this sensitive issue with my man, with no anger or judgment. Let the words and the solutions we come up with be a blessing to our marriage.” If your mate is a believer too, hold hands and pray together before presenting your concerns. Always finish with a kiss and an understanding that marriages are worth the effort. Don’t forget to put the table away. Putting the table away is a physical symbol that we are done with “business” and can move onto playtime!

Ephesians 4:15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will all grow up into him who is the Head, that is Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

Baby Steps in Ministry in the Home

In an ideal world a marriage would consist of a saved husband and wife, happily going to church each Sunday and sharing a love of God by also ministering outside of the church. More common, however, is a couple with all sorts of baggage that they bring into the relationship and often only one of the two is a saved Christian. In my case, I was a very new Christian when I fell in love with my husband. I had not yet grown up in my salvation (1 Peter 2:2). I had not read enough of the Bible to understand how difficult it would be to be unequally yoked. Now, as a woman a bit older in my faith, I see several verses about not committing to an unbeliever. Check out 2 Corinthians 6:14, Amos 3:3, 1 Thessalonians 5:21, Ephesians 5:7 or Isaiah 52:11.

As I truly do love my husband, I am relieved to read that Paul told the church in Corinth (1 Corinthians 7:12-14) that if you are married to non-believer to stay with that person unless the non-believer wants out of the marriage. If you stay and can be a Godly example to them, you may have an opportunity to bring them to their faith. Now here is where it can get sticky. What if you are active in your church and outside of the church as your ministry pulls your time and attention away from your spouse? Your husband or wife may feel resentful and neglected.

Early in my faith and my marriage I had a serious conflict. As Christians, we are commanded to tithe (Malachi 3:10) but also commanded to be submissive to your husband so that if they do not believe the word, they can believe by your example (1 Peter 3:1-6). I asked my pastor “Do I tithe or listen to my husband who thinks that 10% is too much?” He told me to listen to my husband. I felt like I was cheating the church and robbing God. I felt like I would never get the big blessings that the book of Malachi talks about. I am thankful that I trusted my pastor and continued to do my fool headed best at being a good wife. Years later, I am tithing with my husband’s knowledge and no guilt.

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My husband never stepped foot in the church to see our firstborn child get Baptized. For our second child, he came to the church and sat in the very back row. For our third child, he sat closer to the front. Baby steps. Eventually, he went to a concert where a Christian artist performed. More baby steps. He also began to come to church on Christmas and Easter. Later he attended more regularly if I would ask him to. Baby steps. Now, 30 years into our marriage, he attends without being asked, seems to enjoy the sermon and even stays afterward for coffee in the fellowship hall. He volunteered once or twice to serve breakfast for a mission group I am involved in and just this past Christmas he began to sing instead of staring blankly at the church screen that shows the readings and the Hymn lyrics. Baby steps. Perhaps, one day, he will come to the Lord as I have. I must always remember that his salvation is in God’s time, not mine.

So I ask you, is your ministry taking time away from your husband or your wife? Remember that although God should be first in your heart, your spouse should be the most important person you minister to. Make sure it is in a way that he or she feels comfortable with. Your ministry to your mate should be subtle and loving, not badgering or placing blame or guilt. If you ever find yourself saying things like “Why are you watching that show?”, or “When was the last time you went to church with me?” then you will fail epically. I know. I was always pushing self-help and religious books on my husband, and playing the guilt card. It never worked. When I understood that he was curious but skeptical, I took the pressure not only off of him, but also off of myself. I began praying that I would continue to be a good example, but also that some Godly man would come into his life and show him that it is not nerdy or weird to love God. Several years ago we met a lovely couple on our camping vacation. Although we live in different states, we became friends. The two men get together often for weekend kayak trips and I cannot help but to wonder if the time we all met was about the time Jimmy started attending church more often. As the old saying goes……..God works in mysterious ways. Allow your ministry to shine at home as well as outside of the church.

Rivers Cannot Wash Away Love

Check out the passion in which King Solomon writes in the Bible. Song of Songs 8:6-7 Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; for love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like a blazing fire, like a mighty flame. Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away.

Every time I read that I get goosebumps. The Song of Songs, also called Song of Solomon is filled with rich imagery of the love between a man and a woman. Some pastors also describe it as a relationship between Christ and His bride, the church. I find benefit from both theories, as I truly believe that God wanted us to have rich sex lives within our marriage as well as a rich relationship with Him.

Don’t you wish your handsome man would come home from work, sweep you into his arms and spout off beautiful poetry? Don’t you wish your wife would meet you at the door with a fresh smile and a soft kiss? Well, the real world often looks a bit more harried. You are late picking up your son from soccer practice and he sure lets you know it. Your wife is working an extra shift. Whose turn was it to get take out? Ugh! Burger King again? Who is going to fold that laundry? It has been sitting on top of the dryer for days! Sound familiar?

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Now, if you have been married for any length of time, I am sure you have already seen a facebook feed, or blog with suggestions on keeping the spark in the marriage. Perhaps you have mentored with another couple and you have heard things like keep date night sacred, go bowling, walk the dog together, and the list goes on. But often those lists have no relevance to your situation. Maybe having a specific date night set aside stresses you out because of the pay cut your job just made you take. You hate bowling and you don’t have a dog to walk.

Each couple will have different issues and different experiences that they can draw from to put a little spark back into their lives. For my husband and me, there were some silly things we enjoyed in the past and we resurrected them when things started getting old. We both enjoyed the movie Pleasantville with Reese Witherspoon and Tobey Maguire. It is a fiction movie about getting stuck in a 1950’s TV show where everything is perfect….or is it? Anyway, one of the most significant lines in the movie is when William Macy comes home and announces “Honey, I’m home”. As simple and silly as this sounds, which ever one of us comes through the door first, we announce in that same voice “Honey, I’m home!” and that signals that the other spouse momentarily stops everything for a nice hug and kiss. It sets the tone for the rest of the evening, and the children see that we care enough to connect with love, even if only for a moment.

My favorite thing to do with my husband may seem absurd, but it really works. Now, as background, understand that he is serious, does not always enjoy eye contact, does not enjoy his job and often comes home exhausted. When he finally has a chance to sit and watch a show, I mute the commercials and straddle him and just stare into his eyes. We have a contest to see who can stare the longest before the other one just cracks up laughing. You see, eyes are the gateway to the soul. Matthew 6:22 The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. When I am looking straight at him, and smiling just because we are finally both finished with our crazy day, I know he can see that in that moment in time, the job he doesn’t like, the pile of bills on the desk and the laundry piled on top of the dryer just doesn’t matter.

The final nugget for keeping the marriage alive is to remember the difference between date night and a board meeting. When our children were little and always under our feet, we never had time to discuss issues like upcoming recitals, money problems, where the kids would be attending school and so on. I stupidly used our date night to go over all of the mundane things that sounded more like a board meeting than a date. I knew it was the only time I had Jimmy to myself, but now I know that we can pick a time like a Sunday evening, to go over our expectations for the week, and leave date night as a time to gaze into each other’s eyes, have a nice meal, see a band, go for a romantic walk, hold hands or any of the other things we enjoy doing.

Proverbs 16:24 Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones. Think about how you would like to heal your mate and be healed by your mate. Give and give and give and I swear you will receive.

Do You Hear Him?

0722171625I’m a talker. Always have been. It’s a curse, for the most part, you know, the cross I must bear. Sometimes when I am vomiting at the mouth, I am completely unaware that someone else is interjecting a comment or forming an opinion about what I am saying.

Last month I had a friend comment to me that when she and her husband double date with us, she feels that my husband disrespects me in conversation. I had no idea what she meant until she gave specific examples of comments he would interject when I was telling my story or relating a goal or dream. Comments like “Oh, right! And I’m going to win the lottery” or “Like that will ever happen” were quotes that I must have learned to ignore when the floor was all mine. I spoke to my husband privately about what my friend had observed and hoped that he took what I said to heart, but honestly, it made me wonder if I too interrupt, interject and ignore the feelings of others when they are speaking.

Learning to listen more than I speak is a skill and an art that I am still struggling with. I love the fact that God gave us two ears but only one mouth. I guess I should learn to use them accordingly.

If you read the Bible, you may remember Ecclesiastes 3:7 – “A time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak.” If you are not a Bible reader, maybe you heard a similar sentiment in the song written by Pete Seeger in the late 50’s, then released in 1962 by the folk group the Limeliters but not becoming a big hit until 1965 when the Byrd’s sang Turn! Turn! Turn! Either way, there are definitely times to just shut up and listen.

I vaguely remember other Bible verses where Jesus talks about listening. In Matthew 11:15 he is speaking about John the Baptist, and says “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Also in Proverbs 1:5 we are instructed to “Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance.”

Do I listen before I speak, or while someone is talking am I already thinking of my retort? When someone is relating a story am I thinking of a similar story to one-up the one being told?

Not listening to your husband or others is not indicative of a hearing problem. It is more likely symptomatic of a problem of the heart. What makes my story or life experience more important? Nothing! The person speaking deserves my undivided attention.

When I dismiss the rare times my husband opens up to me, I am disregarding his desire to share. I am not loving him in a way that will allow him to open up to me more in the future. If I am more concerned with my answer or solution than just allowing him to confide then I may have missed the point of him sharing with me in the first place.

Who says that New Years Day is the only day we can make resolutions? From this day forward, I resolve to listen more than I speak. To hear what people have to say. To stop jumping in and trying to fix the problem. To simply allow. Perhaps this will allow even God’s voice to be more clear to me.

Proverbs 19:27 “Cease to hear instruction, my son, and you will stray from the words of knowledge.”

Do Not Say This (to a friend who has been cheated on)

So you just found out that your bestie’s husband has been cheating on her. She is devastated, hurt, confused, angry, and feels like she is the only one in the world who this has happened to. Of all of her friends, she chose you to confide in, so watch your words very carefully. This is a very vulnerable time in her life and she really needs a friend to listen. Did you catch that? Yes, to listen.

Most of the time, we love our best friend and step right into the fix it mode with all sorts of chatter. We may say things that really hurt, all the while thinking we are helping the situation. Here are a couple of things not to say. “Did you see it coming?”  Sometimes we hear the old cliche “a wife always knows”.  Perhaps I am as dumb as a box of rocks, but I did not know when my husband was cheating on me. We had just renewed our vows after 25 years of marriage and our sex life was still active and fulfilling. Our children were thriving in middle school, high school and college. We were paying all of our bills on time and were getting along well. So you accidentally say this very insensitive thing to your friend and now she is beginning to lose what little self-esteem she may be hanging onto. Her thoughts are “Why didn’t I see this coming if my friend assumed I knew on some level? Did my friend know and not tell me?” There went that last shred of dignity she may have had.

Another classic no-no is to say  “Kick him to the curb! He doesn’t deserve you.” Although this is meant to show your friend solidarity, she may still genuinely love her spouse. She may have every intention of getting to the bottom of the difficulty and moving through it. If she moves gracefully through the infidelity, she may always question if your well-meaning comment was meant to show support or if when you see your friend with her husband you will always be thinking about what a schmuck he was.

A better thing to say to a friend who just found out that his wife had been cheating or her husband had been cheating would be “Oh, I am so sorry. Do you want to talk about it?” Then you simply shut up and listen. Do not interject, and do not offer advice at first. The shock of finding out what this contemptible person did will take some time to sink in.

Your friend needs to vent and work through it in her own way. Remember that God gave you two ears but only one mouth! If she does ask for advice, please don’t offer it unless you too have gone through the pain, humiliation, doubt and trauma of an affair. The best thing you as a friend can say is “Do you have a pastor (or rabbi or priest) that you can talk to?”

If your friend is still pushing you for advice, offer it only by asking questions. When you ask a question, you are directing your friend to come up with her own conclusions. Questions that would be ok to ask are “Do you still love him?” or “Do you think you could find a place of forgiveness if he wants to work through this?” Allow your friend to process and vent. Just be a friend and listen.You won’t regret being there for her.

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Shhhh, just listen

Continue reading Do Not Say This (to a friend who has been cheated on)

Sleeping With Your Spouse

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Do you remember the first time you slept in the same bed as the woman or man you married? Did you cuddle or stay up all night talking? Did you have crazy, hot sex or did you spoon each other and think romantic thoughts?

My husband and I slept together for years. Cuddle time, spooning, pillow talk and great sex were all part of marital bliss. Then the kids started coming. The eternal earth mother that I am convinced my husband that the family bed was the best way for baby’s night time feedings and parent-child bonding. I never regret that decision, as our lovely, grown children are smart, independent and healthy. The time that they were needy and dependent was fleeting in the grand scheme of things. However, at one point I realized my husbands need to get a good night sleep was not happening with all of us crowded into his space.  In order for him to be functional at work,  I started going into the kid’s room for one more story or one more feeding for the baby and just ended up sleeping the night there.

Years later when everyone was weaned and sleeping through the night, I crept back into my own room with my husband. He announced that he had gotten used to sleeping alone and I was relegated to the downstairs futon for anything other than the conjugal visits. In all honesty, I can sleep standing up, lying down, on a couch, in a chair, when a storm is knocking the house down or basically anywhere. I did not understand his sleep issues but saw what a grump he was when not well rested. No need to watch him take out his crappy nights sleep on the rest of us.

As time progressed I learned to stop missing the intimacy of sleeping next to a warm, delicious, loving body. I was busy taking care of the kids, the house and working part time. When I went into the bedroom one night and caught my husband throwing his cell phone under the sheets, I began to rethink our entire relationship. Yes, he was cheating on me and texting another woman before bed time. No, it was not entirely because we did not cuddle at night, but it did not help matters that we had become roommates with benefits instead of partners.

Sleeping with your spouse is an integral part of marriage. I get that one of you likes a firm mattress while the other likes it soft. He has to get up early for work while she gets to sleep in. She has to fall asleep to music while he needs it quiet. She falls asleep during a storm while he hears the neighbor’s dog barking 4 houses down. She loves the sheets tucked while he has to have one toe dangling out of the side of the bed. He tosses and turns while she sleeps like a rock. Sound familiar?

No matter what issues you think you have about sleeping in the same bed as your mate, think again.  Sleeping in separate beds is a great way to kill a marriage. I doubt that my husband would be texting another woman if this woman would have been there, every night, to hear his banter or cuddle, or let him open up in a safe space. I often wonder what my children thought when they saw me bringing a change of clothing into the family room and setting up an alarm clock by the futon night after night. Was this the example of a happy marriage?

Sleep with your husband or wife!  That 5 minutes you talk before dozing off is special. That 2 minutes of spooning before rolling over is precious. That argument you had at dinner softens as you melt into the warm sheets together. I know when I can’t get to sleep, nothing calms me down or relaxes me better than a “quickie”.  Get the special bed that has adjustments for soft and hard firmness.  Throw out the scratchy sheets. Get the sleep mask if he wakes you with the morning light as he is going to work.  Learn to sleep to her music playing and for goodness sake, keep the TV out of the bedroom. Keep your bedroom as a sacred, safe space where there are no distractions. Allow your alone time to be a time of relaxation, peace , joy and……………

If you don’t believe me, check out other blogs. Here are a couple that I like www.lifezette.com/momzette/why-sleeping-in-separate-beds-will-kill-your-marriage/, www.psychologytoday.com/blog/emotional-fitness/201308/the-importance-sharing-bed-your-lover, and http://romanticreminders.com/blog/uncategorized/happiest-couples-go-bed-time/1461

New Year Self Care

 

In the new year, most of us set some sort of specific goal or resolution like “lose 10 pounds” or “go to the gym three times a week”. Half the time we never keep the resolution. All of the countless self-help, leadership, and personal development books seem to say to set specific goals and what steps you will take to achieve them. Despite my best intentions, often I still fall short. So, this year my resolution will be general, not specific. It will be meaningful but perhaps not as tangible as the number on a scale or the bill from the gym. My goal will be to fill myself up before I can serve others. I love the saying that you cannot serve anyone with an empty cup.

Now, what my self-care may look like can be transient and change from day to day. Today it includes putting down my phone and reading an entire book while relaxing on the couch. “No, I am sorry I won’t walk the dog right now, honey. I am in the middle of a good part of this novel”. Tomorrow it may be “Yes, darling. I’m going to do the laundry right after my run.” Selfish? No. Self-care? Yes.

Remember that self-care in a relationship is paramount. You must be filled with your own good health, happy thoughts, and mental clarity before you can, in fact, be of any value in a relationship. When we first got married, I assumed that I would be so busy taking care of Jimmy and he would be so busy taking care of me that it would all work out. Now, after 30 years of being with a man who has so many more complexities than I ever imagined, I realize that I need to take care of me first, with no guilt. If I have to put aside an errand that he wants me to do because it conflicts with my self-care, I assure him that it is simply not on the agenda for the day. I offer to delegate it out to someone else, do it another time, or simply say “I just can’t fit it in”. He understands and likewise, I don’t expect him to immediately jump to a task I would like him to do around the house.

Enjoy your day, your week and your new year with the goal of happiness and not a number on a scale. Go for peace in the home and not a number, chart or measurement you may fall short of. Try self-care followed by serving and you will have a new appreciation for the “serving” portion of the relationship.1015162352a_burst02