Marriage Challenge Number One

 In What is Marriage

The most difficult challenge I have in coaching couples into song is this: belief. One word, belief. We all seem hard wired to exaggerate what’s missing in our relationships and to minimize what’s good.

So what do I want couples to believe? What is it that healthy couples carry around with them that struggling couples lack? How is it that some couples go through amazing challenges and grow closer, more vital and experience more intimate connecting while other couples drift apart with lesser challenges and often give up?

Couples don’t really believe something. Individuals do. And the beliefs they bring create something we call vision and they find a way to make that vision into a shared vision. What successful individuals believe is this: it’s possible. They believe that life itself offers all kinds of hope, unthought of solutions, unexpected assistance – the minute you say to yourself ‘it’s possible.’

Shared vision around the possible is a paradigm shift. There are many voices carrying the message of ‘it’s over,’ ‘forget it,’ and ‘why waste your time.’ But alongside the many messages of defeat learned over a lifetime, there is a deeper human force percolating in all of us. Did you know that the root of the word enthusiasm was en theos, god within?

Enthusiasm is a gift given at conception. Watch a baby’s face when their mom or dad is adoring them. Watch them when they take their first difficult steps, watch them show you their first finger painting. Enthusiasm runneth over.

What happens to this positive life force that basically contains the ‘anything is possible’ gene? I’ll share one or two things people have shared with me: “well everytime I cut the lawn it was never good enough for my father.” “my grade school teachers told me I’d never be an artist.” “My mother criticized my choice of clothes because I was always wanting to try something unusual” (a woman who is today a fashion designer).

There are many messages that undermine a child’s essential curiosity and enthusiasm for living. We all experienced them. The trouble is that in listening to them, we slowly formed a belief about life. We began to doubt that who we really were, or what we really wanted to bring to the world – was possible. We were told to focus on getting a good job instead.

Couples who come for coaching who are still stuck in the old beliefs created as survival strategies in a negative environment, have a great deal of trouble believing that their loving can make a difference in their marriage. Instead they’ll focus on diagnostics as if being able to make a really clear case regarding what’s wrong with their partner will somehow get them to intimacy. That path always leads to disaster.

How can someone change their focus from ‘what’s wrong with him/ her? to what’s possible here?’ I’ll tell you but first I’ll warn you. Do not think that this transition is simple or easy. Insight changes little. Action is what counts. So here are my bullet points:

Make a list of the negative things you say to yourself about your partner. Don’t be afraid to list them and don’t show them to anyone.

Next, take each negative observation and rephrase it in the first person singular. Like this: “my wife is cold.” Rephrase: “I don’t know how to find my own warmth and I don’t know how to give my warmth to my wife.” Or, “my husband is a slob.” Rephrase: “I don’t know how to create order in my home and invite him to participate in my vision.”

Create a ‘what’s possible’ vision for your marriage. Like this: “Bob and I love each other but we rarely talk about sensitive matters. I wonder what it would be like if I invited him to spend a small amount of time – say Sunday morning, for 15 minutes – talking about how much I like to touch him.

Invite your partner into an agreement to exclude all negative observations about each other for one week. Be accountable to each other. Admit when you break the deal.

Spend five minutes each day sharing a ‘possibility’ for your marriage. Example: listening to your partner’s fears; telling your partner one thing you cherish about them; fantasize an ‘ideal’ overnight ‘vacation.’

Possibilities are really endless and bringing them into your marriage is a source of food for intimate connecting. Begin it.

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