Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Do you and Shaun fight?

“Do you and Shaun fight?”

People ask me all the time if Shaun and I fight and honestly I struggle to answer because the question itself is a vulnerable one and I feel pressure not to say the wrong thing. I can’t help but try to guess why they are asking. Maybe they are in a relationship of their own that involves a lot of fighting and they are trying to determine whether or not fighting is okay. Maybe their parents fought a lot growing up and so now they would rather stifle their relationship issues than end up yelling about them. Maybe they strongly value fighting as an important part of relating and if I say that I don’t fight then I am revealing an apparent flaw in my marriage. I also wonder if they use the word “fight” to mean “disagree” or “argue”, because to me those terms are very different, but to others they can often be one in the same. When I imagine fighting I picture yelling, screaming, name-calling, storming out of rooms, the “silent treatment”, ignoring each other, and saying hurtful or malicious things. So to answer the question of whether Shaun and I fight. No. We don’t. We haven’t “fought” yet in our almost 7 years of dating, engagement, and marriage. We have disagreed plenty of times, and we have hurt each other’s feelings plenty more, but we have not fought. 
Shaun and I are naturally pretty laid back people, so exploding isn’t really our style anyway, but the main reason why we don’t fight is because we decided long ago that we wanted a healthy loving marriage and so fighting just doesn't fit our vision.  This understanding has motivated us to be intentional about the way we go about our communicating, and it has helped us to navigate our way through times of conflict. 
There are a few practical things that have helped Shaun and I maintain a healthy, loving, explosion-free marriage and I thought it could be fun to share them with you. I am not writing as a professional wife or a professional counselor. I just share this stuff the same way somebody shares a yummy recipe, knowing that in a couple years the recipe will be modified a little upon discovering newer better ways, but for now what we have here is something great and it is my delight to pass it on just as it is. I am speaking in the context of marriage but feel free to pull this stuff apart and apply it to your friendships, dating relationships, and even the way you relate to family members or coworkers. 
Always Assume Love.
A few days before we got married in 2009, Shaun’s older brother Jason gave us the advice to, “Always assume love,” and that little piece of wisdom has proven to be incredibly valuable to us. Assuming love is significant because it goes against our natural tendency. When our spouse says or does something hurtful, our initial reaction is to assume the worst, we immediately conclude they meant to hurt us or that the reason behind their action was something negative like selfishness or laziness or a lack of love for us. But when we are committed to “assuming love” then instead of jumping to conclusions we are able to respond to our spouse’s action with grace and calmly communicate what hurt us. Assuming love gives our spouse the space to explain themselves and even to make mistakes, as opposed to assuming the worst which puts them on the defensive and causes the situation to escalate quickly. This principle allows for conflicts to be resolved promptly and it also diffuses potential fights before they happen. I try to live by this principle in all of my relationships, not just marriage, because I am convinced it makes everything way better.

Let God be God.
This part might be the most important advice I can give you, but I’m putting it on here second because I learned it second. Obviously if you know me at all then you know I’m a believer in God and more specifically a follower of Christ. I strongly believe that God is the One in whom we are to place our trust
Well before getting married I knew that it was my responsibility to trust God with meeting my needs, but something tricky happened after Shaun and I tied the knot, it became extra tempting to look to Shaun, instead of God, to be my source of fulfillment. When I felt insecure I wanted Shaun to make me feel beautiful, when I felt unhappy, I wanted Shaun to make me feel better, when I was scared or upset or struggling with anything, my initial response was to look to Shaun to provide relief. This is a problem because Shaun, like me, is just a person. He has issues like I do, and even on his best day, he can’t be everything I need. As much as Shaun’s encouragement and support is vital in our marriage, if I revolve my feelings around his words or actions then our relationship quickly becomes imbalanced and unhealthy. The other problem with me acting like this is that I start to assume that Shaun should just know what I need or what I feel, and since he doesn’t (because he isn’t a telepathic mind-reader) then I end up offended most of the time because he keeps failing to meet my expectations. That’s no good. 
God knows what I need. God knows my thoughts. God desires to be my source and His design is that both Shaun and I look to Him to satisfy the longings of our hearts. As His love permeates our individual lives, then we will both find strength to love each other in the best way possible. When we aren’t relying on each other for peace or security then we can enjoy each other and really support each other when one of us is struggling. If my peace and joy come from Christ then when Shaun is stressed I can encourage him, pray with him and even help him to get organized, because I am not relying on him to make me feel good. But if I am looking to Shaun for my joy then when he is stressed I end up stressed too, simply because I am reacting to his attitude. 
Letting God be God means that we live in response to who God is and we love in response to how God loves. “We love each other because he loved us first.” (1 John 4:19)

Take Care of Yourself.
I won’t take long on this point because it’s obvious and because this is a blog post, not a novel. So my point here is simply that we love better when we are healthy - physically, spiritually and emotionally. This means that we do our spouses a huge favor when we take care of ourselves and communicate our needs. Sometimes Shaun needs to skate because he has spent all day working on a computer or sitting in meetings and by the time we are having dinner he feels like he might go crazy. Sometimes I need to read and write because I feel emotional and need time to process what I feel. Sometimes we need a nap, or an extended break from hanging out with lots of people. Sometimes we need to read the Bible and get real perspective on our current circumstance. Sometimes we need a date or time to have sex, other times we desperately need to be around family. Whatever the needs are it is important to recognize them, talk about them, and help each other get them met. 

Friendship. Romance. Sex. 
These three elements are extremely important in marriage and if one of them is lacking it is highly likely that one or both of you will feel it. If there is a romance deficit in the marriage then it is usually the wife who feels it first, if there is a lack of relating sexually it is typically the husband who will notice, however it’s not always like that and really my point is not who feels it first but the fact that all three are needed to sustain a healthy loving marriage. 

Communicate Clearly.
I’ll close with this one because I really hope you don’t forget it. Remember earlier when I said that Shaun is NOT a telepathic mind-reader? Well it will serve us all very well to realize that none of us are able to read each other’s minds. Did you get that? You do NOT know what the people around you are thinking and they do NOT know what you are thinking either. You may be able to guess some of what they feel, you may even be able to discern a bit of what they are thinking, but mostly you do not know anything unless they have communicated it. Assuming that someone else knows what you think is a dangerous and unfair expectation. It is also an immature way of relating. Mature relationships require that both people involved openly talk about what they feel, need, and desire. If one of you has been hurt then it is not okay to assume the other person should know what they did wrong, because again, that reflects a lack of maturity. The hurt person is responsible to share specifically about what happened and allow space for the other person to explain themselves. Communicating clearly does not mean communicating loudly, yelling is not necessary in telling someone how you feel, even if you feel angry or hurt. Passive aggression is also not the same as clear communication. For instance if you continue to make plans to hang out with someone and they continue to cancel last minute, it is not clear communication to post a vague Facebook status about how much you hate being stood up. That is passive aggressive and it is not helpful in resolving your issue. Clear communication would look like calling your friend and letting them know directly that it feels hurtful or disrespectful when they cancel plans with you. 
I should also note that texting is not the best method to use when attempting to resolve conflicts. In fact I think its a really poor way to go about it. The same could be said about emails and facebook messages, any form of communication that keeps you from looking into each other’s eyes or hearing the sound of someone’s voice will be largely incomplete and leaves a lot of room for misunderstanding.
Clear communication in my marriage looks something like this- if I am feeling neglected because Shaun is out with skaters all weekend rather than hanging out with me, then instead of ignoring him or being irritable with him when he comes home, I can help us both by letting him know how I am feeling. Also if I “assume love” then I can assume he doesn’t know he is hurting me and then I can speak more gently to him when I am expressing why I feel badly. If I am really on top of my feelings I can actually tell him before the weekend that I desire to spend time with him. At that point he can tell me directly that he desires to do some skating. By sharing our desires we can make weekend plans that meet both of our needs and by Sunday night we can be snuggling each other and celebrating what an awesome weekend we just had. Sounds good right? I know. I think so too. 

Well that about wraps up “Relationship Advice 101 with Jess Hover.” I hope you are having a great week and if you have any further relationship questions feel free to holler at me by leaving a comment or emailing me at beautyarise@ywamla.org. Also for those of you on Instagram I hope to see photos of how you are choosing to #makedecemberbeautiful with @beautyarise! It’s only Day 2 and we are already having so much fun! Don’t miss out! 

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