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

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Talking About Your Roles in A Marriage

The five-year-old of some friends of ours recently said to the father, "Dad, why are you doing the dishes? Dads only do dishes when their wives are dead!" Pretty telling isn't it? And funny! Yes, sometimes we send messages that we never intend to send. I talked about that in an earlier post.

But the little girl's candid comments also are an important reminder that couples may not ever talk about their expectations of one another especially when it comes to the roles they are willing to play or not play in a marriage. Thankfully, our friends had obviously talked and decided it was OK for dad to take on something like dishwashing but in some households that would be a no-no.

I remember early in our marriage I would help with the dishes and then wipe off the stove and counter. I didn't do that because I was some kind of knight in shining armor. No, it was because that's what my mom expected us kids to do when we were growing up. I thought (and still do think) it was a part of doing dishes. However, Jackie took it to mean that I didn't think she was doing a good enough job.

That led to some important discussions about our roles!

While there are few right and wrong or clearly obvious roles per se in marriage, many people think there are. How they were brought up and the models they had or didn't have determined what they now think is appropriate in a marriage. Somewhere along the line (ideally before marriage) those things need to be talked about and agreed upon.

One or both partners may need to accept the fact that their marriage doesn't need to play out the way their family's did when they were young. But role problems don't have to go on and on. They can be fixed.

However, two things will inhibit our addressing the problem. One is not talking about it. When spouses continue to do something that they hate or resent doing or feel they're not the best equipped to do, bitterness can occur. That doesn't mean that we don't need to sacrifice and do hard things that may not be enjoyable. But to not talk about what's best and who can do a role most effectively or how to share the load more fairly will only lead to more problems.

The second harmful pattern is assuming. Don't assume that just because your spouse has been doing something all along that they enjoy it. Take inventory together now and then of your roles and ask each other if you both need to consider some other options for getting certain things done. Does one of you need to step up and help more? Is it time for a break? Is there a way to give you more time together by putting a responsibility on someone else? Do the kids need to help more?

You'll have to work out the details and how things will best work in your marriage and home. But start by taking time to communicate about the roles you play or will play. For example, if you have your first baby on the way, talk now about what will be expected in terms of childcare, getting up in the night and curbing some activities for awhile.

If mom is going to start work at some point, how will things need to change around the house? What difference will it make if one spouse is going to get home an hour later every night? Remember, intention is one thing, perception is everything. Head off some problems at the pass now and you'll walk through the challenging valleys that come later much more effectively and happily.

Well, I gotta run. I think it's time for me to get to sewing those buttons back on my shirt.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Teaching Kids To Talk To And Respect Adults

A number of years ago now I remember going to a wedding where I ran into some of my son's friends from high school who were then in college. While I didn't know them as well as some of his other buddies I was interested to see them nonetheless and they certainly knew who I was.

So I simply greeted them and asked about college and how things were going for them. Their answers were something like, "Uh . . .", "OK," and "Hey, good." There was no response of even, "How are you, Mr. Sinclair," or even any details about college, their life or interest in our son who they had known well.

Now granted, I wouldn't expect any college student to want to engage with an old guy who they didn't know that well and maybe I surprised them. I'll give them the benefit of the doubt.

But I know this. Our son, Tim, at that same age wouldn't have had any trouble engaging any other adult in at least a little, polite conversation, whether they were 30 or 90. In fact, he talked on and on to adults when he was three! Is it any surprise he's in radio and can talk with ease to tens of thousands of listeners?

Kids are certainly different and have unique personalities. Some are more talkative and others tend towards being shy. However, I think parents can and must help their children to learn to talk readily and politely to adults in their world.

Now of course I'm assuming that parents will also warn their kids about just talking to any adult, particularly strangers. That's a different situation. But let me make a couple of suggestions that can help our kids to speak with adults in appropriate settings.

First of all, give your kids opportunities to speak casually with adults in your home. I've gone to numerous family visits where as soon as the adults walk into the house the kids are shuffled off to their rooms to play. Why not give the children a chance to interact with the adults first for awhile and then split up when it would be more appropriate?

Our children have to learn that the world is filled with people of all ages. And if we never give them a chance to connect with adults and learn to interact with them, when will they learn? How will they address and communicate with their teachers, neighbors, professors, pastors and bosses someday?

Second, don't let them only live in their technological hiding places. Too many kids are allowed to let their cell phones, video games and iPods become their whole world when they're out in public. Now don't get me wrong - I love technology. I use an iPhone, iPod and yes, have even sent text messages.

But challenge your kids (and that may mean saying they can't use their cell phone while you're at a certain event) to make the effort to talk to people, not just stay in the comfort of their virtual or electronic world. And it will help if you model the same behavior. Our messages and emails will wait, too.

And yes, our children should be free to have some fun time with other kids their age at a wedding, picnic or church gathering. However, make sure they get some practice and experience meeting and talking to other adults somewhere during the day or evening. Your kids may balk, but remember you're the parent and trying to teach them an important skill and lesson.

Third, talk to them yourself. And not just about everyday things. Do you spend time conversing about life, their likes/dislikes, about world issues and people in need? Some parents say, "Well, my daughter just never talks about anything." And that's true - the longer we let our kids not talk the less comfortable they'll be.

But if some serious talking between us is the norm early on then they'll be more likely to interact as they get older, especially during the challenging adolescent years. You might even be a bit afraid to talk to your kids about deeper things, but trust me they want to engage you even if they don't like to admit it.

Finally, teach them how to be respectful in their conversations. You may not feel compelled to require they say "yes sir" and "no sir," but you can require respect in other ways. For example, they can learn to stand up and greet people they're meeting, to say "It's nice to meet you," or to shake hands when it's appropriate. They can learn to speak in sentences and not be afraid to talk about their interests and ideas with those older than themselves.

The benefits of working now to help our kids relate to adults will be huge someday. Don't put it off. Start now or keep going if you're already at it. It will be SO worth it. And just maybe one or more of your kids will actually be influencing others through their words in ways that make a difference. You never know.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Big FOUR Mistakes in Communication

There are lots of mistakes that we spouses make over the years, some of which are pretty hard to swallow or come back from afterward: forgetting anniversaries, talking about old flames, not offering a compliment and the like.

But psychologist and author John Gottman has identified four of the biggies that we would be wise to know about and seek to avoid if our marriages are going to continue to grow and thrive. I share these with every couple in pre-marital counseling and I think they're worth mentioning to anyone in a marriage these days. In fact, the cautions are worth considering in our parenting or general relationships as well.

The first one is criticism. Ever been around someone who is always critical of you or others? No, I'm not talking about times here and there where we honestly and in love tell another something negative that we believe would truly be helpful. Rather, I'm thinking of persons who have to criticize everything. Your cooking, your looks, your clothing, your opinions are never enough or always in question. Sometimes the criticism is couched in humor but it's very real and hurtful nonetheless.

We all need to be encouraged now and then and no one is always wrong but many people send that message to others all the time. Chances are they feel nervous about their own worth and value but that doesn't help. Don't be your spouse's or child's biggest critic.

Second is defensiveness. Many people respond themselves to every comment by defending themselves rather than hearing the other person out. "Honey, did you get milk on the way home?" "Get milk? I worked until 6:30 and you wanted me to remember milk? What did you do all day?"

Or "You know, last night when you responded the way you did I felt hurt and blamed for everything." "Well, you WERE at fault. You're the one who's supposed to be dealing with the kids when I'm not here. Why are you always trying to get me to take on your responsibilities?"

Do you relate? Are you this way or do you know someone like that? Makes you want to just stay quiet the next time, right? So many people think their value is on the line when someone else is displeased with them. The good news is that it is not. Our worth is found in God who made us. If we're His child then our worth is forever secure. Our spouses, children or friends could never be enough for us anyway. Don't defend - listen and engage. You'll survive.

Third, silence. I used to use this one a lot. Jackie and I would disagree about something early in the day and then I'd leave for work. I'd get home later and would come in, turn on the TV and read the paper. I figured, "Why upset her? Let's just forget about it." I finally figured out that she saw my silence and not dealing with it as a reflection on her, that I must have believed she couldn't handle it. And she was right. I wasn't treating her with respect by being silent. I was protecting myself.

Finally, contempt. This is the worst of the four. It's where one person starts to call the other names, speak in a degrading tone of voice, use profanities and other mean terms and basically devalue the other person through their speech and actions. I worked with a couple once where the man had called his wife a "whore" the week before. That's probably the worst I've ever heard but contempt is often used as a weapon as a final blow to win the battle again their spouse or someone else. It's also pretty lethal to most relationships. Remember, there's no battle to be won. We're to be a team. Remove the destructive words from your speech.

So take inventory and ask yourself whether any or all of these Four Horsemen are evident in your relationships. If so, pray that God will help you change and give you some new terms and ways of relating. If you've made the mistakes, ask forgiveness and start communicating more effectively. If you need help, get it. As I've said often in these posts our words are powerful. Use that power to be loving, truthful and impacting. It will pay huge dividends in the end.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Being There When You Communicate

We were walking through a mall not long ago and saw a dad and his young son making their way to do some shopping. Unfortunately, the dad was talking on his cell phone the whole time. Now to be fair, the dad may have gotten an important call that he had to take at that moment and could have felt guilty about having to do even that.

But I've seen others doing similar kinds of multi-tasking during opportunities for deeper communications. I've done it, too! I'll be reading the paper, watching a game or most recently counting in Russian the toes of our little grandbaby Liam. And all of a sudden I realize that Jackie is trying to talk to me and while I started out listening to her I am no longer there.

Usually she can jolt me out of my coma by ending her comments with, "And I'm getting a divorce tomorrow." The problem was that I had let myself be distracted instead of looking her in the eye and listening.

How many special moments are we going to get when we have the attention and presence of someone we love and then we miss out on the full experience of talking to them and enjoying them completely? Without being morbid, I still have to ask, "What if those moments were over tomorrow?" Wouldn't we be wishing for must one more chance? In fact, those moments won't necessarily end because someone dies. They can be dramatically reduced when our kids go off to college or a loved one moves away.

Well, the good news is that we currently have that one more day with those we love. Don't waste it by letting disruptions, calls that could wait until later and games whose outcomes really don't matter that much get in the way. Take every opportunitiy to enjoy your kid, spouse and others as much as possible every time you're with them. Do something unique, talk about things you've not discussed lately, find out more about what they love to do and then enjoy it with them.

What's more important in the restaurant with your son or daughter? Checking your email or finding out what their favorites are or hearing about their day. Can you live without reading the newspaper to take time to hear your spouse's special or challenging moments of the day?

Now, is there a place for games, grandbabies and reading the paper or checking the latest on our smart phone? Of course. Sometimes we have to give one another a little space and be sensitive to the circumstances under which we try to communicate more deeply. Hey, if the Patriots are playing is there anything else to talk about? Not really.

Seriously, we need to keep communication, interaction and even intimacy with those we love safe and protected from the tyranny of the urgent. In an earlier post I talked about a little boy trying to get his dad's attention but unfortunately dad was reading the paper. When the boy realized his dad wasn't listening he finally crawled up on his lap and said, "Daddy, listen to me with your face." I have a hunch more of us need to add some face time to our interactions. Make the most of every moment now.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Being a TEAM In Your Marriage

The other night in the National League playoffs the left fielder dropped a line drive that ultimately cost them the game. While I'm sure his fellow players were disappointed and perhaps one or two of them saw him as the goat, most of them encouraged him as he came off the field. I think they realized a couple of things: first, they could have had the same thing happen to them; and second, they are all a team. They win together and they lose together.

I've counseled with lots of married couples over the years. And there's one thing (among several) that I notice seems to be common among those who are seriously struggling. They've lost the sense that they are still on the same team. Instead of seeking the other's success, of working together to overcome their challenges and celebrating both their victories and agonizing over their losses, they have become enemies of sorts.

Discussions or arguments become wars over who's the smartest, who made the best decision or who is going to get their way. There's little encouragement when someone does something well and every mistake is highlighted to make the other person look bad. Even their children start hearing things like, "We can't bother daddy because he doesn't handle pressure very well," or "Let's not do anything to upset mommy - you know how she is."

Marriage is a lot of things: the joining of two spirits and souls, a commitment before God to love and respect one another and the joining into one flesh. But marriage also implies that we are teammates. Teammates accept that each brings different talents to the organization, encourage one another to develop their skills and applaud the successes of the other. Teammates watch each other's backs and pick each other up when they fall.

In fact let me use TEAM as an acrostic for four things teammates in marriage need to do or embrace in their thinking. T stands for together. Teammates in a marriage think together about everything. Everything you own, succeed in and decide to do must be a together decision. That doesn't mean you can't have individual activities and passions or have time to yourself or with others. But in the big picture your relationship is a together thing before it's an individual one.

For example, we've never had Gary's money and Jackie's money. All that we have, no matter who makes it, is ours, not his or hers. When we've made a move it was first a together decision, not the rest of the family simply following dad or mom. When we were thinking about how to discipline our children, we accepted that we must work together and be on the same page in how to do it.

The E stands for expect the best. So often marriages have had trust broken and yes that trust may need to be re-gained when there's been a major breach in it. However, some marriages simply devolve to the point where one or both partners now assume the worst about any action the other takes.

Last year my wife accidentally locked me out on the balcony of our condo for four hours in the rising heat of a Texas morning. It was tempting to be furious at her (and I admit I had some challenging moments while waiting to get back in when she returned) but I have learned to know and expect better. I knew that she would be devastated, not gleeful, and I was right. We can laugh about it now and she even let me use it later as a message illustration. But it would have been a mistake to add that to some sort of list to hold against her.

A stands for admit your own mistakes. True teammates know that others will goof up somewhere along the line. But when that happens they do what they can to pick each other up not beat each other down. Now granted there are many times when in marriage we need to work through differences of opinions, hurt feelings and actions that need to be changed. But we have to do all that with humility, not arrogance. We must remember that we, too, are capable of locking the other on the porch or whatever.

And the M stands for make the most of every moment. It's easy to spend a lot of our time and energy wishing things were different than they are only to miss out on the joys and blessings that are available to us right now. Teammates find every opportunity they can to celebrate what's currently happening while looking forward to the possibilities that are ahead. Can you imagine if professional baseball players never had fun or celebrated each other's accomplishments until the playoffs?

If your marriage has hit some rough spots or if you'd like to give it a boost, ask yourself what you're doing to help be a teammate instead of an opponent to your spouse. Take some time to talk together about what being a team might be like for the two of you. If you do, you'll have a better chance of being a winner in the challenge of being married and you'll stay that way for a long time!
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Simple May Be Better

Jackie and I were flying back and forth to the Midwest last week. We usually bring things to read on the plane and I was reading a book that discussed how if churches were to intentionally become simpler they would perhaps actually accomplish more. However, at one point in the flight I looked up to also see a man near me reading a book called The 36 Hour Day.

I thought, "What a contrast!" A simpler life vs adding even more hours to our day so to speak. Hmm. . . I decided right then that I really don't want to have a 36 hour day. My twenty-four hour one is quite long enough thank you.

I wonder how many families wish they could pack just a little more into each day. And would it help? I'm not sure it would. Have we simply added more activity to our lives but less meaning and significance? Will we say ten to fifteen years from now, "Gee, I wish we would have been busier!" I doubt it.

My hunch is that many of us will be lamenting that there was too much time spent in the car going from place to place and not enough time looking each other in the eye, playing together or simply talking about life. I have a feeling we'll wonder where the time went and then wish we had stopped and just done nothing a little bit more, which would actually be doing something important.

We need time to connect again. No, I'm not suggesting we go back to the 1800's. We can't. And we shouldn't. We live today and must try to live life to the fullest in that context. However, what if all of our activity isn't really where true life can be found? What if simpler were better in some ways?

Of course there is no one template on time that will fit every home and family. We have different numbers of children, unique interests and varying job and school demands. However, have we ever compared our goals and real dreams for our marriages and children with the actual time we give towards their fulfillment?

For example, if you as a married couple want your marriage to become more intimate in body, soul and spirit, where you don't just live together but grow together, then ask yourself, "How much time in a week do we give to that goal?" When do you seriously talk, do you have time to enjoy one another physically, do you have fun together, do you think about spiritual things?

If you can't come up with many ways to answer those questions you probably need to re-arrange some things in your schedule, quit some others and figure out how you're going to become more intimate.

Or if as parents, you want your kids to enjoy time as a family, learn about spiritual things, remember some special moments you enjoyed together and the like, ask yourself, "Does our schedule encourage those things or take away from them?" Do our kids need to be in all the activities they're in, do we need to work as much as we do, are we ever intentional about reaching these goals or do we just expect them to happen?

When our son Tim was in the 8th grade, we were given an opportunity to spend a week in Colorado. It was around that time that I suddenly realized that he was only going to be actively in our home for another five years or so. And while we'd done some good things, I think, as parents and certainly spent time together I decided that I needed to consider doing something with him that he would never forget.

So that summer in Colorado we climbed our first 14er (a mountain over 14,000' of which there are fifty -two in Colorado). It was challenging, dangerous at times, but a blast. I'll never forget it and neither will he. I committed to doing three mountains like that before he graduated from high school. And you know what? We did four and at least one since then, including our last with him, his wife and my daughter. I'm so glad we decided to be intentional rather than just hoping it would happen.

To do that however, we had to simplify in some other areas. We had to decide to give up some other activities that the kids could have done, some other personal pursuits and work commitments that we could have taken on so that we could reach that intentional goal to do something special together.

I challenge you as married couples or parents to do the same. Your goals and ways of reaching them don't need to be the same as ours or anyone else's but you'll be glad you slowed down and focused on what really matters.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Speaking in the Here and Now: A Communicating Basic

"I can't believe it! You just never listen, do you?" "You always leave your clothes laying around. Can't you put things in the hamper just once?" "You're just like your father. You both think the world revolves around you."

Have you ever heard a statement like one of these? Have you said one recently? Most of us have done one or the other or both. We or someone we know gets mad and out come words that are horribly unfair, not ever totally true and which stymie any meaningful discussion after that.

Why? Because statements like the ones above are not spoken in the here and now. Comments that use the words always or never or that compare or call people names are not about the present. Instead they imply things about the other person's character by calling up the past or predicting the future. They say, this is the way you are and you will never change. They imply things about the other's personhood that will probably not change.

Who wants to continue a discussion like that? If we hear enough put downs, insinuations about who we are and implications that we'll never be any different, we'll eventually quit trying to have intimate discussions. We'll get busy with other things, stay silent, change the subject or simply try to keep things nice. And while relationships can go on that way for awhile, they eventually implode or become shallow at best.

There's a better way!

Learn to speak in the here and now. Here's an example. Carrie is mad at Ryan about his changing of their plans last minute and not letting her know. He put her on the spot in trying to rearrange babysitting, making last phone calls and having her hopes dashed because they weren't going to do what they had planned on together.

She could say and might feel like saying, "I can't believe you would pull this stunt on me again! You never think about me. It's all about you, isn't it? You can't even make a stinking phone call and ask me what I think. Can't you just once follow through on something and keep your word?"

However, she can say the same thing but keep her comments in the hear and now: "Ryan, I have to tell you I'm really confused and pretty angry right now because last minute you're changing the very plans we made this morning and you didn't let me know. I have to tell you that I'm really disappointed that we can't go out and it's really made for a lot of hassle to not know about this sooner."

Do you see the difference? The first one focuses on the other person's character more than the issue. The second response aims at only the present situation including Carrie's feelings about it. Both ways of communicating express the emotion but it's not directed at the person as much as the circumstances. The second response is more likely than the first to end in understanding and resolution even though the situation is still a challenging one.

Don't hamstring your conversations by even unintentionally attacking your mate, friend or child's character. Take a look today at your responses, especially when you're upset. Do you speak in the here and now or do you imply things about their character. If you need to, step back, slow down and measure your response first before you get mad.

These same concepts apply to our conversations with our kids. Instead of, "Morgan, you're just never going to listen to me are you?" why not try, "Morgan, I'm very irritated that you're not listening to me right now." A small difference in words with huge implications.

As I've said before our words have power. The old names will never hurt me maxim is simply untrue. Name-calling or implications about character do hurt! As Ephesians 4:15 says, speak the truth, but speak it in love!
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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