Sunday, November 15, 2015

10 Lessons About Relationships, Marriage, & Parenting (from my life)

 
Just over a year ago, I went from a 30 year old traveled single pastor to a married husband (of a wife who lost her first husband 2 years earlier) father of their two kids in a rather overlooked part of the world in Canada (outside of my home country in the middle of adjusting to my second year of teaching as a professor).  I was recently asked to write about my journey, so here's a few thoughts (or pretty much a book) about relationships, marriage, & parenting for those who would enjoy to know the lessons I’m learning so far:

1.     Turning Towards
a.     Most recently I’ve been challenged by the concept of continually “Turning towards” you’re spouse instead of away.  It’s the difference between growing closer or feeling more distant (and despite my overwhelmed feelings at times of “not having the emotional energy or time” when I’m stressed), I’m realizing how much it makes a difference to keep turning towards my spouse instead of away.
2.     The Last 10%
a.     Bill Hybels from Willowcreek encourages the idea of saying “the last 10%” of what you're thinking that we so often hold back in conversations to really build trust and be at our best working together.  This truly is key to intimacy, despite it feeling so scary.  Most recently while my wife and I were talking on a Sunday afternoon drive, she was unpacking and exposing a ministry difference her and I have regarding our preference in church styles and I didn't want to respond because I knew she was at least partially right and it felt dangerous.  I knew I could potentially be walking into one of those unsolvable perpetual problems that only gets worse, taken personally, or creates more distance if we disagree and can’t figure it out, so I tried to keep my mouth shut.  But instead, there was an unresolved tension in the dead space until I decided to treat and trust this conversation like my other solid friendships where I talk out my opinion and we work through it together rather than trying to avoid a crucial conversation.  It was good to discuss the obvious unresolved issue below the surface (I turned towards my wife instead of away).  I had a knot in my stomach at first but we both felt heard and better understood after we talked through the last 10%... and trust had been built through our first year of marriage to have this conversation.  In fact, "Honesty" was the obvious winner out of seven qualities in one secular Valentines survey asking "which attribute humans look for and appreciate most in their significant other."
http://divorcehelp360.com/what-keeps-a-relationship-going/
b.     I heard Joseph Grenny who wrote Crucial Conversations, say there are two things necessary for a person to be ready to receive hard words from you when entering a difficult but necessary crucial conversation:
                                      i.     One, they must know you truly love/accept them.
                                    ii.     Two, they must know you truly want what’s best for them.
The more this trust is established and known or felt (the more readily the last 10% conversations can happen).
3.     A Good Distinction To Make: You Can Fully Love Someone without Fully Having to Trust Them… (while both together is the ultimate goal)
a.     Love can remain intact while trust is broken or being built.  You can fully love your child or friend but not trust them with feeding your fish (if you know it’s not their strong point to be responsible). It doesn’t mean you don’t fully love them, yet you just don’t fully trust them with that task.  I know Natasha and we truly love each other and committed our lives to each other on the wedding altar, but I also knew that meeting and getting married so quickly (without a lot of previous life experience together), meant I would still be partially building trust into the marriage post wedding rather than priorWe built trust as we built life experiences together after the loving marriage and full lifelong commitment was made.  I was still earning or proving my wife’s trust to be true and right (which can feel or sound weird, but makes sense in my head).  I’m answering, affirming, and proving that I love her and want what’s best for her as I build trust).
4.     The First Year Marriage Investment
a.     I’ve taught in my marriage counseling (as a single pastor in the past ironically but more normal than you’d think) that marriage is like a money investment that will pay more dividends long-term the earlier you invest, especially during the first year of marriage.  My Old Testament professor Wilbur Williams from university said, “You keep your wife the way you caught her.”  I’m a firm believer and advocate for being intentional to do more investing together in each other during that first year.  For Natasha and I doing some crazy adjusting in our schedules and family structures, this meant spending more time and money on road trips, marriage counseling, books, and couple getaways together earlier on which I believe will be worth every invested dollar spent.
5.     Getting Married Early Means More Time Alone Early On After The Wedding
a.     Getting married quicker means, that after your honeymoon (if you have one), you will probably spend less time with your friends as you have to intentionally “date” your spouse the first year after marriage while still getting to know them and build your life experiences together.  In my head I had this assumption that we would get married and just  run off side by side to make friendships and tackle the world.  I knew we would grow face to face, but I somehow missed that where we lacked life experiences and face to face moments in our past, we would have to intentionally catch up and intentionally “log in” extra hours with each other to know each other deeply and live together well for the rest of our lives (so we invested early… which built trust… which has allowed us to have the last 10% conversations… so we turn towards each other more… you get how it works.)
6.     It’s Weird, But You have to Love Yourself Well to Love Your Wife and Family Well.
I first found this intriguing concept of love from St Bernard of Clairvaux in a book called Smart Stepfamily where he proposes that there’s another level of love beyond what we often see as the pinnacle Christian act of selflessly loving others for their own sake.  St. Bernard taught a fourth level beyond this where you love yourself to love others (see the progression below):
a.     To love myself solely                (love self for self)
b.     To love you for my sake           (love of God for what He gives)
c.     To love you for your sake         (love of God for what He is)
d.    To love myself for your sake    (love of one’s self for God’s sake)
I’m more and more convinced that your greatest gift to others is yourself and what you give out of who you are more than what you "give" in you’re life in Christ  But too often we think our greatest gift comes out of our performance or love acts (incontingent or even in spite of whether our lives are currently healthy or dependent on God.  But those temporary acts will vanish.  Our greatest gift and example can’t come without healthiness since our greatest gift and impact is through our healthiness and abiding relationship in God rather than our loving acts or things apart from Him.)
7.     The Space and Solitude Adjustment That Goes Away When Moving From Single to Married (and especially children).
a.     For example, I didn’t realize how much I valued the free space I had while driving by myself in the car...  I let my thoughts run wild and listen to music really loud and dance or sing along when I want, and then didn't have that for months after the wedding.  My music choices, noise levels, and range of thoughts differed a little when it’s just me in the car for an hour versus having a wife sitting next to me upfront and two younger girls either asleep or ready to be entertained in the back.  I still enjoy the occasional joy ride getaway! :)   This is just one small but major adjustment… which also included at home.
8.     Home Went from Neutral Free Space to a Potential Deficit or Positive Place.
a.     Regarding the space adjustment just mentioned, also affected my Home space.  Where, as a single person, I could always retreat to my home as a Neutral space to do what I needed or wanted without outside pressures, I now came home this first year of marriage from a busy outside life often feeling like there was a deficit or place at home where I was failing to meet a standard by not spending enough time with my wife or the girls.  The positive of my new family meant there was more joy in both my work and home when things were going well, but it also meant home went from a neutral or positive place to another place I could feel like I was failing (my family) with little escape of my shortcoming on the days where both my work and family worlds weren’t going well.
9.     We Must Choose The Intentional Discipline of Hope, Smiling, & Finding the Best Good in Our Bad Scenarios.
a.     One of the biggest lessons I’ve been learning as key to a successful life, family, marriage, etc. is living a life of hope that chooses to look on the good things of God and life.  To be expectant of how God will redeem and use even the worst sins, trials, and obstacles in your life as a part of victory if you remain faithful and trust in Him.  I was told in university that a crying girl often just wants you to give her a hug and tell her “everything is going to be alright.”  Although this is generally true, this really works best when you actually do believe and know that everything is “going to be alright” because of your own expectant belief in the good and best that’s yet to come.  We must choose to ask ourselves how we and God can make the best possible good out of this bad scenario.  The obvious Scriptural base to this is clear with Phil 4:8, Rom 8:28, James 1:2-4,17
b.     This is a deep core truth, I’m sure I’ll be writing more on.
10.  I Humbly Desire a Lifelong Marriage.
a.     I’ve been humbled lately by stories of broken marriages in ministry.  I’ve come home a few times just wanting to hug my wife for a long time to make sure that I treasure our marriage and she knows it.  I don’t know that calling marriage fickle is what I mean, but I’m becoming more aware of how the beginning signs or steps that act as a precursors to a rocky marriage or divorce aren’t far from each one of us without intentionality. 
The The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work says,"80% of Divorcees said their marriage broke up because they gradually grew apart and lost a sense of closeness, or because they did not feel loved and appreciated. only 20-27% said extramarital affairs were even partially to blame."  The ways you can turn away from your marriage or spouse by not growing closer can be so subtle but also dangerous.
 Here are a Range Helpful of helpful Statistics surrounding Marriage & the Dangers/ Effects of Divorce for you and I as we continue towards a Healthy Marriage Mentality:








 





Beginning Book Influences:
a.     Bill Hybels & Crucial Conversations Joseph Grenny
b.     The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work John M. Gottman
c.     Sacred Marriage Gary Thomas
d.     Choosing to Cheat Andy Stanley
e.     Boundaries Henry Cloud & Townsend

3 comments:

Rasela Sosoli said...

This is really cool! I'm not married but these are the kind of things that I think couples should totally read before heading into marriage. Great read, Brent :)

Brent Dongell said...

Sela! So good hearing from you and thanks! I agree there principles I'm learning but love teaching in my class to people going into ministry even before they're married! Miss you, Ben, Cathy, and my NZ family

Jenna Steeves said...

Great post, Brent! I like the advice about turning towards each other, so important. Also, it's interesting that experts feel that it takes 9-14 years for a relationship to be fully formed. The best is yet to come!