Settling

While watching the 2010 remake of Ice Castles, a reporter asked the main character (an up-and-coming figure skater) about how she coped with the pressure of competing.

“I don’t think of it as pressure. I think of it as excitement,” the girl replied.

With those thirteen words, the Olympic hopeful demonstrated a communication technique known as reframing.

Reframing is a tool that coaches use to help clients see a situation differently and with new understanding. This change in perspective is particularly useful when helping someone view a liability as an asset or a limitation as an opportunity—Like the other day when a friend asked me if I believed in settling.

‘What do you mean?”

“Do you believe that a person has to settle in order to stay married?”

The question took me by surprise because never, in the 18 years that Bill and I have been married, did I ever feel like I was settling. A relationship is not something that you sit down to watch, like a television series (or the remake of an old movie). It’s a live improvisation where both people have a starring role and how it plays out is dependent upon—not one—but two.

My friend must have known this because , when I asked for clarification, it became clear that we were both on the same marital page.

“By settling, do you mean compromising?”

After nodding in agreement, my friend replied: “I can’t tell you how many times a guy has told me that his wife no longer wants to do what he likes to do and the guy has to settle if he wants to stay married.”

The idea that anyone would enter into a marriage thinking that there would be no give and take is hard to imagine, yet it happens every time one partner repeatedly sacrifices their sense of self in an effort to please the other. I often say that there are no victims, only volunteers. And if you lay down for long enough, no one will recognize you when you try to stand up.

Both parties are to blame when a relationship becomes less than ideal and both are responsible for fixing it. One of the best tools for the job is reframing because even tension is a good thing if it leads to self-awareness or change. And sometimes all we need is a new perspective to see that a marriage is never about one person … and settling is not okay.

Bad Ingredients

“I’m on the train,” Bill said when I answered the phone. “I should be home by 7:30.”

“Sure beats getting home at 1:30 a.m. like you did last night,” I replied.

My husband puts in some crazy hours during his busy season; and every year, there’s a two-week window when I wonder how long he can keep up the pace. During this stressful time, I try to be like the woman from Proverbs 31 where her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value because she brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.

Part of the good that I bring—literally—to the table during busy season is a freshly made dessert in case Bill wants a late night snack before going to bed. Although my family might tell you otherwise, I’m not a terrible baker. As long as I follow the directions on the box or bag, nothing gets burned and nobody usually gets hurt by eating it.

Still, I known for my kitchen mishaps. Probably because the ones that I do have overshadow even my best laid plans. Like when Bill came home to find a pan of rice crispy bars waiting for him. I made them after noticing a forgotten box of cereal in the back of a cupboard earlier that day. Although the contents didn’t expire for several months, the holiday packaging should have been my clue that the outcome would not be worth my effort. What it was worth was a laugh when Bill took a bite out of one and said: “Call the Blackhawks to see if they want their hockey pucks back.”

“They’re not that bad,” I protested.

“I’m lucky I didn’t break a tooth,” he exclaimed before good-naturedly adding, “It’s good to be home.”

This type of banter is common in our household. As a firm believer in the saying “If you want to fight, keep it light”, I rarely take jabs seriously, whether poked in fun or out of frustration. According to John Gottman, this is a good thing because defensiveness is one of what he calls the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse because “defensiveness is really a way of blaming your partner.” (The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work, p. 31)

Hearing that this trait—when mixed with unhealthy doses of criticism, contempt, and stonewalling—can push even the strongest marriage toward an undesirable end makes me even more determined to admit my weaknesses before anybody else does.

Why?

Because awareness paves the way for acceptance and the knowledge that, whether my family has something to laugh about or something to eat, it will nourish them either way. In the case of my rice crispy bars it was the former when Bill went upstairs and, before turning in, made a reservation to take me out to dinner that Friday night.

As soon as I received the invitation in my inbox, I replied: “Should we order dessert at the restaurant or have some when we get home?

“I have a dentist appointment on Saturday morning so I guess either is fine,” he said before shutting down his computer.

Unlike my treats (which I threw in the trash before heading upstairs), my evening couldn’t have turned out better. Bad ingredients don’t make for a good dessert, but they do strengthen a relationship if you don’t take yourself—or your cooking—too seriously and trust that with a  little humor, even the worst mistake will turn out fine.

If you want to fight, keep it light and all will be well at the end of the night.

Paired Up For A Reason

During the episode of Modern Family that aired on May 11th of this year, Claire Dunphy became so tired of being the disciplinarian in the family that she decided to switch roles with her husband, Phil. It didn’t take long for her to learn that being the fun parent wasn’t as easy as it looked. Phil was also in for a rude awakening when he took the role of bad cop to the extreme after his daughters tried to trick him into thinking that they had cleaned their bathroom. In the end, both parents realized that they were paired up for a reason, and by trying to squeeze into the other parent’s shoes, everyone felt their pain.

Bill is the good cop in our family. It’s not that I never let our girls off easy. It’s just that extending grace comes more naturally to him. So does having fun. While I am known for organizing outings where Katie and Hollie get to play with other kids, Bill takes them to the local go-kart track and other places where they can have fun together.

Sometimes I envy his role and how easy it is for him to fill it, especially when my good intentions go unnoticed. Like the time I arranged to have several families from our neighborhood meet the girls and I at a play center filled with wall-to-wall inflatable slides, jumps, and obstacle courses. When it was time to leave, I realized that Hollie had no idea I planned the get-together when she commented on what a coincidence it was that people she knew kept “showing up.”

Knowing what it’s like to be unappreciated and overlooked makes me wonder if this is how God must feel whenever we curse Him for consequences brought on ourselves or take credit for blessings that He has bestowed. It also makes me empathize with the Modern Family mom who wanted to be known, if only for a while, as the fun parent. Like Claire, I will never be as good in the role as my spouse. That’s okay because God created me to excel in other ones.

Actress Sofia Vergara said it best when she ended the episode with the following words of wisdom: “Maybe we are the way we are because of the people we are with. Or maybe we just pick the people we need. However it works, when you find each other, you should never let go.”

Modern Family May 11th, 2011 Episode



Something Easy

Hosting nine girls for a sleepover requires a lot of bedding.

“What can I do to help?” Bill asked after I called him downstairs to help me clean up.

“There are sleeping bags to roll up, an air mattress to deflate, bedding to take upstairs—”

“Don’t you have something easy?” he interrupted.

I wasn’t surprised by his question. It’s human nature to look for the simplest way out. I know this because, despite all that Jesus has done for us, many of us still complain or try to get out of the work that God is calling us to do.

I could have reminded Bill that I was the one who lugged everything downstairs the night before.  And that I had stayed up until 2 a.m. to make sure the girls were taken care of. I could have said those things … but I didn’t. Instead, I gave my husband of fifteen years an understanding look and said, “Why don’t you carry the black throw up to the living room?”

Bill quickly accepted my offer and retrieved it from the floor. A short while later, as I carried yet another load of blankets upstairs, I heard him vacuuming the bedroom floors. Seeing my spouse motivated by his momentary momentum made me wonder if God works in the same way.

We may act like we want life to move at the speed of light but the reality is: When the opportunity to take a giant leap forward comes along, most of us balk at the challenge. Thankfully, God understands and gives us just enough light for the step we’re on as he reveals, one easy task at a time, that we are capable of so much more.

 

Dishrags

Every morning after returning home from taking the girls to school, I spend a few minutes cleaning up the breakfast mess they left behind. Today my actions were no different as I reached for the dishrag draped over the sink and gave it the smell test to see if it was clean. It seemed okay to me but, just to be safe, I put the rag in the laundry basket and got out a new one to wipe off the counter.

Dishrags are a privilege, not a right, in our kitchen. I learned this the year after Bill and I were married and there never seemed to be a dishrag around when I needed one. Where they could be hiding in our tiny apartment baffled me until one day, when I asked Bill if he had seen the rag that was in the sink the night before.

“I threw it away.” he said matter-of-factly, as if it was the natural thing to do.

“Why wouldn’t you put it in dirty laundry?” I asked, dumbfounded that he would throw something away that could be washed and used another day.

“You let them get so bad that I don’t want them near the rest of our clothes.” he said, showing no remorse.

Looking back on this conversation, I realize that relationships are a lot like those dishrags. How easy it is to discard one when it becomes too unpleasant to deal with. Rather than take the time to restore a relationship to its original condition, we leave it behind and choose instead to make a fresh start.

Relationships, like dishrags, can be salvaged with the proper care and, when we take the time to do so, we find they are never in short supply.