27 June 2016

Spouse vs. Parents: Who Wins in the Priorities War?

Steven sighs as he hears his wife, Lisa, on the phone with her mom. Lisa's mom is trying to guilt them into flying out to Arizona again for Christmas. Although their finances are tight and it will put a strain on the family, he knows Lisa won't say no to her mom. In fact, Lisa would probably be fine spending all holidays with her family if it were up to her. He dreams of the day they can start their own Christmas traditions in their home with their two kids.

Courtney and Tyler finally arrive home from the hospital with their newborn baby. Exhausted, they open the door to their house, only to find Tyler's parents already inside, cooking and cleaning. This would normally be a welcome sight except for the fact that they are always over there, never giving them any space. In fact, a year ago they had demanded to have their own key to their house, and Tyler  gave them one, not wanting to rock the boat. Courtney cringed as they immediately started chastising her for not bundling the baby properly and grabbed the baby without even asking. She is on the verge of tears, wishing for quiet time alone to bond with her new baby. If only her husband would stand up to them and say something, but he doesn't want to hurt their feelings.

These situations are all too familiar. I absolutely love counseling newly engaged couples alongside my pastor-husband. We cover the usual topics - communication, conflict resolution, sex, finances, etc. But we also spend an abnormal amount of time discussing one topic in particular, leaving and cleaving, because we've seen many marriages struggle in this area. It may seem like a harmless issue, but it can create a huge rift between spouses if left unchecked. 

What exactly is "leaving and cleaving?"
If you haven't heard of this phrase before, it is referenced from the Bible. After God created man and woman and the first marriage was formed, God said: "Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh" (Gen. 2:24, ESV). Thus, the concept of leaving one's family of origin and cleaving to the new spouse, forming a completely new family unit. 

In most weddings, the father walks his daughter down the aisle and gives her away to her husband. This is not only symbolic, but needs to happen in reality in order for a marriage to survive and thrive. There needs to be an immediate shift in loyalty as soon as those vows are spoken.

While counseling premarital couples, we explain what it means when you take those vows. You are saying you vow to love your spouse and put their needs above any other human being on this earth, including yourself. Your primary focus and allegiance shifts from your parents, siblings, friends, or whatever it may be before marriage, to your spouse.

But aren't we commanded to obey our parents?
Yes and no. It's actually children who are commanded to obey their parents (Col. 3:20, Eph. 6:1, Prov. 1:8, Prov. 6:20). Although we can, and should, continue to honor and respect our parents (Ex. 20:12, Deut. 5:16), the instruction to obey is for children still living in their parents' home, not a married adult. Just as you can obey without honoring (a kid throwing a fit and then grumbling the whole time while having to load the dishwasher), we can also honor without obeying our parents. We can be thoughtful and respectful to our parents, while not needing to follow their every directive, especially if it negatively affects our marriage.

Okay, so what does "cleaving" look like and how do I do it?
Just over five years ago, my now-husband and my dad sat in IHOP. Over pancakes, my dad's blessing was given for him to propose. My husband later told me the profound advice my dad gave him. My dad said (and I quote very loosely since I wasn't there): "Once married, the two of you will be your own family unit. When making decisions for your family, you have to decide what is best for you and your wife. Not what is best for anyone else. You can tell others that, while you appreciate their input, you, and only you are responsible for your family. That is who you will give account for and be responsible for. Not me, not your own parents, and not your friends." 

I cannot tell you how thankful I am for a father that understands the importance of leaving and cleaving. But that does not mean that Lane and I have never had to set boundaries for others to protect our family unit and marriage. Lane was a seemingly natural at this. However, I am a complete people-pleaser at heart, so I had problems doing this at first. A few years ago, I read Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend which helped me out immensely. It is a book that I will most likely need to read and re-read for the rest of my life in order to help me work towards perfecting those principles. Especially when dealing with parents and that delicate relationship, it is so useful to read through how to respond in a loving, but firm way, and feeling empowered and freed to set necessary boundaries.

Another important aspect of this issue that we tell our premarital couples is this: if it is your parents causing the issue in the marriage, it is your responsibility to be the one to stand up to them and enforce the boundary. They can be mad at their daughter or son for a bit and get over it (usually), but if your spouse is the one to stand up to your parents, they may go into protective mode of their child, and the rift may never be forgiven.

If you are not sure if you side with your parents and put them first, ask your spouse for their honest opinion. Discuss what would help put your marriage back as first priority. It may be hard to confront your parents. For decades, you (rightly) followed their lead, but now a shift needs to take place. It may even take talking to a professional counselor to help you create a strategy and formulate what to say. It also might be a sibling, aunt, uncle, friend, or even a boss that is creating out of alignment priorities. Again, I highly recommend reading the Boundaries book. I'd love to discuss it with you!

Whatever it takes, your marriage deserves to be first priority. You stood before your family and friends and pledged your love and loyalty to your spouse, not your mom, not your dad, and certainly not your friends.

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13 June 2016

Elevate Your Marriage - with Kathi Lipp

As I invite you along in my journey to learn more about marriage, there will be times that I will share amazing insights and wisdom from others that I stumble across. Since I'm constantly reading tons of articles, posts, research studies, etc, you get the added bonus of letting me do the heavy work of filtering through it all and sharing only the good stuff! And of course, please feel free to share what you are learning with me as well. Let's continue to help each other out, share information, and encourage one another in our marriages!

Earlier today I read an article from Proverbs 31 Ministries by Kathi Lipp that really impacted me. In "Looking for the Good in Your Man" Kathi asks, "Why is it so easy to hear criticism when love is intended?" I think this happens so easily and is more common than we realize. Once I am hurt, I filter any following statements or actions through that lens. Kathi lists three ways we can be intentional about looking for love from our husbands. Read more here and then come back to join the discussion!

One of my favorite quotes from that article is:
"Be a noticer of good things and call them out in your husband. A husband who feels respected and appreciated, just for being who he is, walks differently in the world." 
That is so true! I want my husband to feel respected and appreciated. One of the ways I intentionally look for love from my husband and acknowledge it out loud to him is through our weekly Marriage Monday talks. We both take turns answering the question, "How did you feel loved this past week?" It forces me to stop, reflect, and celebrate the good.

What are some ways that you can intentionally notice good things in your husband? How will you communicate it to him?

06 June 2016

And They Lived Happily Ever After... or did they?

I'm about to admit something pretty embarrassing, so please don't judge. I love watching reality shows. There. I said it. I know there is absolutely no intellectual value being added to my life by watching them, but that's kind of the point. After a long hard day with the kiddos, I just want to veg out and not have to think about anything of importance. A side perk is I always end up feeling amazing about my own life after watching. My favorite at the moment is ABC's The Bachelorette. After watching each episode, you will often find me telling my husband, "I'm SO GLAD I don't have to deal with the mess of dating anymore! And you are so much better than any of the bachelorette's dating options!" So again, don't be so quick to judge - it actually helps improve my personal marital happiness.

As much as I try to watch without any quality expectations and often roll my eyes during some scenes, occasionally I hear something that really makes me cringe. One statement on this season's first episode almost alarmed me. See if you can guess what is wrong with her statement:
"I’m so ready for love. I hope on that final day that there’s someone that I love more than anyone down on one knee proposing to me... I’m so excited. I cannot wait to find the person I’m supposed to spend the rest of my life with! And be done. And be happy.” - JoJo Fletcher, The Bachelorette
Little girls grow up reading fairy tales where their prince sweeps them off their feet and they live happily ever after. Some guys think once they find the wife of their dreams, all their problems will be solved and life will be easier. Other singles may dream of never again having to feel lonely, if only they could find their soulmate. If you are married, you obviously know none of this is true. Life doesn't get instantly easier once you say, "I do." The fairy tale doesn't start the moment you walk down the aisle - that's when the real hard work begins. And I probably know more married people who are lonely even within their marriages than my lonely single friends.

This idea of "happily ever after" is a grossly incorrect expectation that sets us up for failure. Spouses aren't meant to make us happy or complete us. To place all of your needs and happiness on the imperfect person you married will always leave you lacking. Thank goodness we have a perfect God who can fulfill all of our needs and give us a joy that is not dependent on our circumstances. We need to understand that our spouses are flawed and will inevitably let us down, possibly even on a daily basis. This acknowledgment actually frees us up to have an even better marriage. 

Take a moment to think about your own marriage. What unreasonable expectations are you putting on your spouse that you instead need to look to God to take care of?

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