Gary's blog for couples and parents plus resources for individuals, leaders and churches.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Time For Two: Part of the Glue of A Great Marriage

A little child was once trying to get the attention of his daddy. So he walked up to his father who was reading the paper and said, "Daddy?" And dad responded without even looking up, "What son?" To which the little guy tried again and said, "Daddy?" To which the father said once again with a little more energy, "What son?"

After several times trying to get through to dad, the little boy climbed up into his dad's lap between him and the newspaper, put his hands on his father's cheeks and said, "Daddy, listen to me with your face!"

Sadly, a lot of couples rarely, if ever, listen to one another with their faces. That's why for most of our marriage, we've taken a day or part of a day that's just for us. Even before we had kids and now after our children are grown and living on their own we still have a day that is ours to be together. It's not that we're not together other times or never talk on other days, but we've learned that those other moments tend to be different than our day off by ourselves.

And when we did have children, we worked hard to keep that time as much as we could. For example, when the kids were little, and even though we didn't have a lot of money, we found someone who we could swap babysitting with us every other Saturday morning. They would take our kids for a few hours one week and we would take theirs the next.

It is doable but we have to make time together a priority. You might say, "Well, what's the big deal about putting aside special time?" First of all, special time gets interrupted less. If you know the time is for you, then you'll guard it better from interruptions, tendencies to do work and getting distracted.

Second, when you make the time special you do more special things. We're big on the outdoors so here in Texas we spend a lot of Mondays hiking in the hill country and trying out new parks or trails that we haven't seen. We go back to some we've especially enjoyed, too. When the weather is too hot (or too cold where you live) you can find indoor things that are enjoyable like movies, museums, aquariums or whatever.

Now granted we also use some of that time just to do errands if need be. We are more likely to do some of our projects together just because we both got involved in the planning stage. Sometimes we take a day off at home, too, and just rent a movie, read books, swim in the pool or take a nap. Whatever the case, we know that time will be more special and we'll be more intentional about making time to talk, think ahead and just get to know each other better.

Some of you might be thinking, "Well, we just can't afford to do that right now with our kids' schedules, our job demands and other commitments." Let me say it this way - you can't afford NOT to find the time. Your marriage needs the glue of time together, of meaningful conversation and developing continuing intimacy of body, soul and spirit. If you've been finding together time, keep on! If it's been slipping away, start small, but start again.

Once you start my hunch is that you'll likely wonder how you lived without it.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

Gary is currently a consultant, teacher, speaker and chaplain providing resources for families, leaders and churches.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Are Men Most At Fault In Many Marriages?

We've all seen the commercials haven't we? They're everywhere. Whatever the man is doing - trying to handle the finances, drinking beer, watching football with the guys or just doing a project around the house - he's portrayed as an idiot. And some of us are idiots at times! However, I'm confident that a lot more of us, while flawed, are not the dolts that Madison Avenue likes to think we are.

In the same way, marriage books, seminars and other resources can also intentionally or unintentionally make it sound like perhaps us men really do have a lot more going wrong in us than our mates. I received a question in this regard recently and it's a fair one. Are men really more at fault in most marriages or not? My unscientific and personal experience would suggest as a general rule they are not. Marriages falter and splinter for many reasons and the issues typically involve both spouses.

It didn't used to be true fifteen years ago, but I now see as many men by themselves as I do women regarding a struggling marriage. Women can be abusive to men just like men can be towards women. No, it doesn't happen as often, but it still happens. Problems are never just the fault of one person even though sometimes more fault can be placed on one or the other.

If there's an area, however, where we men do tend to struggle and lag behind our wives it's in the area of communication. Women were wired to be more verbal as a rule and using words is often how they process their emotions. We men tend to want to avoid ever telling our real feelings to anyone, especially our spouses, though sometimes we will disguise them behind other words or expressions.

Humorist Dave Barry put it this way: "Open up. Don't assume that she knows what you're thinking. This will be difficult for guys at first, so it would help if you women would try to 'read between the lines' in determining what the guy is trying to communicate.

Guy statement: "Do we have any peanut butter?"
Inner guy meaning: "I hate my job."
Guy statement: "Is this all we have? Crunchy?"
Inner guy meaning: "I'm not sure I want to stay married."

So men, there is a challenge out there for us to do better when it comes to interacting with the most important person in our world other than God. We're not dorks and we're not idiots. In fact, God has designed US to be the initiators of the things that make marriages healthy including communicating. We need to lead the way even if leading means finding help from someone else in learning how to communicate more effectively.

However, ideally it's when both spouses, while understanding the differences between men and women, make time to communicate, take interest in what the other person feels and needs, and speak with words of life (Proverbs 18:21). It will take practice to get good at this. It will require patience and understanding from both spouses. But the result will be worth it and you will enhance your intimacy of soul when you talk more freely, honestly and safely.

So start with listening to the other person and identifying their feelings. Don't blame or defend, just listen. See if you can say back to them what they are really going through. And if you're the one sharing your heart then make sure the person really gets it before you move on.

Then ask the person what they need from you that would help them feel less that way. What do you need right now from me, honey, that would help you feel less overwhelmed about handling the kids? Or what do you need from me that would help you feel less hurt next time?

Start somewhere and start soon. Maybe then Madison avenue will treat us guys a bit more fairly in those commercials. And then, maybe not.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

Gary is currently a consultant, teacher, speaker and chaplain providing resources for families, leaders and churches.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Marriage Message Available Free

I had the opportunity to speak this weekend at my church on Troubled Marriages. There's actually a lot in the message even for those who are single, single parents or who are doing pretty well in their marriage. If you'd like to hear it or think it might be helpful for someone you know, you can listen free in two ways: one, go to iTunes, and do a search for Austin Christian Fellowship Messages. You can listen to or download the podcast.

Or you can go to our website: and click on "messages." And if the message raises some other questions in your mind feel free to enter your question in the comments section at the end of this or any other post.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

Gary is currently a consultant, teacher, speaker and chaplain providing resources for families, leaders and churches.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Marital Communication: Understanding Our Differences

It's not fair. Women just naturally say more than us men. They so easily share their feelings while we men can't imagine being that vulnerable with someone we only live with every day. Our wives will openly talk and even cry about their deepest hurts most any time of the day while the extent of our emotional angst, at least on Sundays, is often, "I can't believe he didn't throw on third down!"

And while our significant communication styles and habits may be different, that's the way it is at least much of the time. Sure there are exceptions, but we men aren't nearly as verbal as we need to be and we certainly don't listen with the intensity that our wives do.

I remember as a kid being in the car with my mom after she had picked me up from school. We had also offered my friend Paul a ride home. But on the way to his house we stopped at a store of some kind and my mom had me go in to get whatever the items were we needed. However, after we had dropped Paul off at his house my mom began to tell me all the things she now knew about him, things I hadn't discovered in knowing and hanging around him for years!

So, it's important that both husbands and wives develop some techniques, plans and forums in which they can both talk and listen to each other, understanding that they won't always start the conversation on level ground.

First of all, learn to listen well. Proverbs chapter 18 says that it is pure folly if we speak before we try to listen to another person. So often we're listening to one another while we're rehearsing in our minds what we're going to say to them when they are finished. Instead, we need to make our goal to merely hear what our spouse has to say and to try to say back to them what we heard.

In fact, some of our poor listening skills kick in the moment we hear something negative said about us and our defense lawyer mode goes into overdrive. We believe that we must explain why we have NOT messed up, been insensitive or done anything wrong. And during our defensive moments women will more likely (though not always) want to be more verbal in their defense while men have a tendency (though not always) to become silent.

Neither posture encourages more listening and understanding. And yet that's what we want and need the most - to be understood. So as James in the New Testament says, "Be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger." You won't die even if you hear something about you that isn't as positive as you would like. Listen to understand and to be able to respond more effectively, honestly and compassionately.

Second, limit the distractions. Yes, I know when there are children around it's pretty hard to have a deep discussion. That means you'll have to make time to be alone and talk or let the kids stay outside all night. Of course, I'm kidding. I would suggest that they come in by 3am.

Men, don't try to talk to your wives with the television on. And wives don't jump in to a deep conversation while your husband has five other plates spinning that day or evening. If deep and significant communication is going to happen we'll have to work at making the setting right. Find out something that accommodates you and your spouse and keep doing it. How many spouses are missing each other by a mile every day because of poor habits and settling for the same old, same old one more day?

I'm sure I will sound really old to some of you, but here goes . . . the years really do go by quickly. Don't allow yourself to look back someday and be sad for the time you gave away to things that don't matter. More next time.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

Gary is currently a consultant, teacher, speaker and chaplain providing resources for families, leaders and churches.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Avoiding Communication Extremes in Your Marriage

There aren't many couples struggling with their marriage who don't have communication problems. I have 25-30 years of anecdotal counseling evidence to prove it. Unfortunately most couples haven't been taught to communicate well or have simply lost what they already knew.

Others have allowed their lives to get so filled with everyday life stuff that they have no time to look at each other face to face and talk about what really matters. In the next post or two I want to talk about how to enhance your ability to communicate more effectively and meaningfully in your marriage.

Communication is key to connecting our souls intimately.

But today let me talk about two extremes to avoid. The first one is when one or both spouses resort to a shouting match to get their point across. I've often said, don't yell at your spouse or children unless they are in extreme danger. Raising our voices accomplishes little to enhance what we say. In fact there are many dangers that accompany our angry tirades.

First of all, we tend to say words that we really don't mean and that injure the other person. We're likely to make comments that attack the other's character, "you're so stupid," or "you never listen to anyone, do you?" The book of Proverbs says in 18:21, Death and life are in the power of the tongue. We can hurt one another, deeply, and some of our words will be hard to take back.

Second, we don't invite the other person into the conversation when we're yelling at our spouse. We make winning the argument more important than resolving the conflict.

However, there's another extreme to avoid - silence. This is one that I used a lot early on in our marriage. I didn't want to hurt my wife more so I figured I would just keep things to myself and not worry about them. I was wrong. Instead I sent the message that I didn't trust her to handle my comments and concerns.

Silence has it's place but not when it's merely to avoid conflict. Silence may look better than yelling but it's not any more effective. The better way is to learn how to communicate effectively and in a timely way. Proverbs again tells us several time how impacting our words can be when spoken at an appropriate time. We're also reminded that we must listen before we speak (18:13)

Some suggest, however, that they are just "that way" and really can't help it. "Jon just blows his gasket every now and then and later he cools down. I just deal with it." Or "Allison is the quiet type. I've learned how to eventually get things out of her but it takes some time."

Wouldn't you rather avoid all that and just get to the issues without risking the hurt of rejection by words that hurt and silent rejection? There are better ways and I'll talk about them in the next couple of posts.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

Gary is currently a consultant, teacher, speaker and chaplain providing resources for families, leaders and churches.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Parenting "Adult" Children

It was the best and worst of times. No, not when the kids were babies but when they became old enough to start acting like adults. All their lives we try to help them mature into independent, healthy beings capable of living on their own but when the time comes it's pretty scary.

Our kids don't just arrive at adulthood either nor do all kids get there at the same time in life. Some are still not very adult at twenty while others seem like they could handle life by themselves at sixteen. Yes, every teenager and young adult will need to be considered individually for graduation into the next phase of life.

However, there are a few basic principles that seem to apply uniquely to our kids during this challenging time along with a couple ideas worth keeping in your parenting notebook. Principle one: gradually give your kids more and more opportunities to experiment with adulthood. As I alluded to a moment ago, becoming an adult is a process not an event. It starts with their first few steps of trying out independence. It may begin with adding a new freedom to stay out a little later or to go somewhere different with a friend. (For what it's worth, we let our kids totally pick their own times for coming in and going to bed their senior year. Up to that time we gave them more and more freedom.)

Their training can advance a notch when they learn to drive and begin to take the responsibility to look out for the safety of others. Some parents, however, are unwilling to give in to those experiments and as a result their kids don't get much chance to experience adult behaviors and responding.

This is where different parents with unique children will all likely use varying options and ages in which to implement this process but the results can be similar.

Principle two: Being an adult means accepting responsibility for your choices so we as parents must be willing to parent accordingly. Many young people merely want the privileges of adulthood without the consequences and challenges. But we must show them that's not how life works. For example, if we suggest to our young person that they must now pay for the gas they use in the car (assuming they work), then we must not jump in and just buy them more gas when they've chosen to use their money for something else. That's what adults have to do.

Or, for an older adult child, if we require them to pay "rent," whatever the amount, then we must give them a rent due date and expect them to pay on time. There can be a grace period just like an apartment might offer, but we should also consider adding a penalty similar to what they'll face in the real world.

Principle three: We will need to treat TRUE adults differently than maturing ones. That means that a child who is eighteen or older will have different rules than a younger one. Students home from college, for example, should be allowed to set their own rules about when to be in, what they do with their time and the like. However, they can still be respectful to the fact that they are living in someone else's home. If they want to have dinner with you they need to let you know when they'll be there and when they won't. You're teaching them courtesy in the process.

If you're paying for their tuition, you then have a right to expect them to do well in school or quit paying for it.

The fun part about adult children is that your relationship with them can change for the better. Instead of being a parent as much (though we'll always be and should be parents in some way) you'll connect on more of an adult level, more like friends who are also family.

It's a great time of life. Just don't forget to prepare them for it.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

Gary is currently a consultant, teacher, speaker and chaplain providing resources for families, leaders and churches.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Parents: Guard Your Relationship

Several new grandsons have been born into our family the past few years. Yes, little Liam David is one of the cutest babies in the world (pictured here) and was born to our daughter Amy and her husband David over four years ago now. I experienced all the usual grandpa feelings and wonder that most grandparents feel. I glowed as I watched my wife Jackie cradle that little bundle in her arms while my daughter and her husband beamed in pride and awe knowing they had begun the venture known as parenthood.

However, a couple of weeks prior Amy mentioned to us that she was also realizing that the birth of Liam would bring a whole new era in their relationship. After five years of marriage, their world would never quite be the same. They would lose the freedom to simply leave the house whenever they want to just go have dinner or get an ice cream cone. Liam would become, as he should, a special priority who would take an incredible amount of time, effort and commitment.

Amy and David were of course excited about having entered this new phase of their marriage but they were wise to realize that, yes, things will change and they would need to adjust accordingly to keep their marriage fresh and invigorated along the way. Now they have three, all boys.

Unfortunately, many parents do not understand the impact a child or children will have on them as a couple. Instead, their communication and intimacy in general take an unfortunate hit that doesn't need to happen if we'll just become a bit more intentional about our time together as well.

Now, of course, there will be periods when you can't sustain your marriage relationship with the same time and intensity as you have in the past or will later. And a newborn in the home generally fosters one of those times. Parents tend to become pretty exhausted and if mom's breastfeeding it's even more challenging to just get away for even an hour or two. We have to accept those unique settings and be especially sensitive to one another's everyday needs at that point.

However, new parents need to also continue to think about and nourish their marriage relationship as much as possible. First of all, get rest whenever you can get it. That will give you energy to both care for the new baby and to have at least a little interaction with one another in those few moments you have time.

Talk when you can about both the joys you're experiencing and the challenges of being a new parent. Your attempts to be understanding especially during these new pressure-filled days and weeks will pay great dividends. Even if you only have a moment or two, pray for and with one another.

As time allows and the baby matures, try to find someone who can watch the baby even for an hour or two so you can go get coffee or that ice cream now and then. Hey, that's what grandparents are for, right?

My point is this: no matter what age your children are, you must continue to build life into your marriage. As we sat in the hospital drooling over little Liam, I was again hit with how one little life can change everything. And it's wonderful - don't get me wrong! Amy and David are going to have some of the greatest joys they've ever known having little Liam and likely others around. Grandma and grandpa are already enjoying every time we get to see him as we have with our other grandsons in IL.

But let's not ever make the mistake of allowing our marriage to slowly lose its vibrancy because we put one another on the back burner for the next eighteen years. Let's not become parents-only and miss out on becoming the loving man and woman we promised to be at an altar years before.

And, by the way, if you can't get in touch with me these days, I'm probably over playing with Liam. Do you think he can catch a ball yet?
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

Gary is currently a consultant, teacher, speaker and chaplain providing resources for families, leaders and churches.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Marriage Insurance - Guard Your Heart.

The wisdom-filled book of Proverbs in chapter 4, verse 23 suggests a profound and vital guideline for life in general and certainly for our marriages: Above all else, guard your heart. We must remember that while we may be totally committed to our spouse and have the best of intentions in every situation, our hearts can be swayed by another.

This can be especially true during times when our normal communication and interactions with one another are strained or limited. This can happen during extended times of separation, one of us having an illness, our children being new or very young and when our marriage hits other rocky spots.

If we're not on guard, another person's attention, interest, listening ear and even spiritual maturity towards us can become very attractive, filling a need that isn't being met at home. There may be absolutely no desire to be involved with one another but we can start to connect on a soul level that can fill an empty place in us that feels wonderful at the time. We can start to want to be with them even more because their attention feels like a cup of cold water in the desert.

This is often how affairs start. A physical connection comes but only after the soul and spirit were joined. And let's not be naive here. Inappropriate relationships between two married people or a married person and another often take place in Christian settings including the church. Christians often spend large amounts of times as leaders, church staff and the like getting close to one another through ministry, prayer, meetings and activities.

Picture the worship team, for example, who regularly practice, encourage one another and pray together. They're doing things that matter for God's glory and have wonderfully fulfilling times being with one another.

Those kinds of situations are usually a good thing but only we guard our hearts! Keep male and female relationships appropriate. You may think our approach is too strong but I'll share it with you any way. Jackie and I never have coffee or a meal alone with someone else of the opposite sex who isn't a relative. I never counsel with a woman alone when there isn't someone else in another office nearby. In addition my assistant always knows she's there.

We are committed to guarding our hearts. Neither of us have opposite sex friends who aren't also the friend of our spouse. Once a number of years ago I was counseling a female college student at my church and she locked her keys in her car. She asked if I would be willing to take her the short fifteen minutes into her apartment on campus to get her keys.

My response was that I'd be happy to do that but I needed to see if my wife could go along. Sure enough Jackie was able to join me and we took her to get her extra set of keys. You know, that was an important decision for me to make for me, but it sent a strong message to Jackie as well that I'm not going to take risks with our relationship. Was a college student interested in an old guy like me? Hardly. But guarding my heart was just as important as protecting her whether that mattered to her or not.

We've all seen relationships implode because of immorality or an affair, haven't we? And I know I've rarely seen that happen without drastic consequences. No one's ever said to me, "You know, Gary, I'm kind of glad that affair happened. It really has worked out for the best for me and my family." Instead, there is deep heartache, hurt and pain that stays for years. Even if healing and restoration occur (and they can), the process is long and involved.

Save your marriage from all that. Put up some appropriate, but wise barriers now and let God help you guard your heart!
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

Gary is currently a consultant, teacher, speaker and chaplain providing resources for families, leaders and churches.