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How to Build a Grace Filled Marriage

Lately, I have been discouraged. I cannot bring myself to watch the news anymore. It is infested with negativity, hurt and pain. I find that I focus so much on the negative that I struggle with seeing the positive aspects of life or hope in the future. Sometimes it is hard to see the forest through the trees as the old saying goes. We need a change. Sometimes that change must come from within each one of us. We need intense focus on demonstrating grace to each other to help  see the big picture instead of the small details.

Intense focus on the details may lead to less grace?

Sometimes in marriage, spouses tend to focus on the details that drive their emotions skyward. They focus on how they can fix one issue or another issue. How many times have you experienced your partner saying something that should not make you blow your lid, but it does?  You fly off the handle. You say something you don’t mean to say. You yell although you know that will just make things worse. Then you rack your brain about ways to “fix the problem.” I believe many relationships experience this kind of overblown reaction. Men, especially, tend to react this way because they are “doers” and “fixers.” They comb through the details with a fine tooth comb to analyze the problems so they can create the perfect plan to solve the problem.

Unfortunately, without knowing it, focusing on the details sometimes leads to a lack of grace towards others. People tend to get hurt or upset easily when too much focus is on details, to the point of finding fault in another person and blaming them for not solving the problem themselves. Think about how much you hear negative comments about other people. Have you ever heard a coworker gossip? Gossip is a form of blame or finding fault in another person. If we find fault in another person are we showing them grace?

What is grace?

Grace in its simplest form is “undeserved kindness.” Another way of saying this is kindness towards someone who does not deserve it. I like the phrase, “Loving the unlovable.” We can easily say, “I don’t deserve to be treated this way,” “I deserve better than this,” or “who do they think they are?” However, when have you ever thought those phrases and reacted with grace and kindness? Did it result in a positive outcome? Most likely not.

Marriages thrive on gracious reactivity. Grace is not saying the other person is right. Grace is not letting the other person off the hook. Grace is loving someone unconditionally and giving them the benefit of the doubt. Grace is “choosing” to be loving even though you know the other person wronged you. Everyone struggles with grace. The only person who fully perfected grace was Jesus.

What can one do to fill their marriage with grace?

  1. Remember who you are – You are a human being. This reality literally means you make mistakes. You aren’t always right. You probably have made similar if not the same mistake. In Biblical terms, you are a sinner, as am I. The Bible says to “take the plank out of your own eye” because we all have faults and need to take responsibility for ourselves first.
  2. Humble yourself – Humbleness is remembering that you are no better than anyone else. It’s the ability to not be prideful or arrogant. Its the ability to look at everything around you and see how truly insignificant you are as compared to the vastness of the universe. By humbling ourselves, we react less intensively because we realize, it’s not about me.
  3. It’s not about you, so don’t make it about you! – As mentioned above, it’s not about you because a person is not so important that “everything” is about them. I have a tendency to think that everything someone around me says must be about me. When I take a step back, I realize how irrational and silly that sounds. That might be what some psychologist call paranoia, but all of us wonder what others think about us. When your spouse says something negative, it’s not about you! It’s probably more about her needs or desires for relationship and for connection. Choose to see each situation in a broader vision. There is more to this life than little me.  You will react in more grace instead of negativity by seeing outside your own world.
  4. Attempt to be understanding and listen  – Understanding and listening are the two corner stones to great communication. If you understand and listen to your spouse, you will be able to determine better the meaning to his/her words and actions, resulting in less emotion and increased grace when your partner messes up. You will be able to empathize with them and understand how they feel.
  5. Be merciful – Mercy is simply not punishing someone even though they deserve it. As apposed to grace (giving kindness or favor to someone who does not deserve it), mercy tends to allow someone to be gracious. Mercy is withholding and grace is giving. By withholding attacking or yelling at because of faults against you, a path is cleared for kindness and love to be imparted.
  6. Know and be known – Knowing your spouse deeply is very important for growing a marriage.  It is also important in grace. If you know your spouse, you will understand them and know the reasons they do what they do.  You will be less likely to blame and become negative around them. You will be more positive and connected with them. This creates a gracious atmosphere. See Step 4 (Attempt to be understanding and listen). Also, check out John Gottman’s exercises in his book The 7 Principles for How to Make Marriage Work.
  7. Be realistic – Things don’t have to be perfect. Assess your thoughts and your motives. Assess the environment and the situation. If you have intense emotions, stop! Don’t act or react until you have thoroughly assessed each element of that situation. When you are realistic, you are better able to make the right decision, which could possibly be a gracious reaction. Also, study this irrational thoughts to help improve your thought process.
  8. Find humor – How many times does laughter lighten the mood? Find humor in the moment so as to disperse any negativity. Negativity clouds judgement and thinking. Grace is easier to extend when negativity is not ruling the moment. I love the moments when my wife and I may be having an intense argument or discussion and something makes one of us laugh and then we both start laughing and smile at each other.
  9. Serve your partner – Having a mindset of serving opens a person up to thinking about others and not oneself. As we stated before, putting others first and humbling oneself allows for increased ability to react in grace.
  10. Remember, it’s okay to be different – Being different is okay right? Our partners are different from us. Do you know that? Do you realize that in tense, negative moments? How can you remember this in the moment? Make it a habit to remind yourself that your spouse is different with different thoughts, feelings, desires and goals. That’s why you fell in love with them. Understanding this concept opens a person to less reactivity when their spouse opposes them. Grace is easier when you are able to allow your spouse to be different and who they desire to be.
  11. Stop talking and pray – This is about listening and humbling oneself. If my intent is to listen, then my intent is not to react or act. If I am not intending to act, then I am less likely to punish, blame or condemn. If my intent is to listen and pray to God, then I am seeking to be better and to love others. My mind will be more ready to extend grace. Grace is easier when listening and praying, especially when we are seeking to do the will of God.

What does not demonstrating grace do to a marriage?

It creates a root of bitterness. When a husband or wife messes up and their spouse does not extend grace to them, they will begin to feel bitter and resentful because they will feel like they cannot make up for their wrongs and that nothing they do will be good enough. The relationship at that point will spiral out of control and into further disconnection, until one or the other chooses to make a change.

Grace in marriage is not:

  1. Niceness – When you extend grace, you are not necessarily being nice. You are choosing to extend kindness because it is a better method of loving than niceness or anger. Sometimes simply being nice tells the other person that what they did was okay. Niceness can be permissive. Grace is not saying what the other person did was okay.
  2. Apologizing – Extending grace is not apologizing. The person extending grace should not be apologizing because they are the ones who had a wrong done to them. If you find yourself apologizing after someone legitimately wronged you, then it is important to reevaluate your motives.
  3. Intense negative emotions – Extending grace does not involve intense negative emotions. It is very hard to be gracious when angry. A time-out or some distance may be helpful prior to being gracious.
  4. Grace is not aloof – Grace should be intentional and a thought out choice. Extending grace blindly can backfire. It can feel like a way to just make the problem go away, but that is not the point of grace.
  5. Grace is not settling for less or lowering the bar on standards – When a person extends grace, they are not saying that what happened was okay. They are not saying that the person has the right to violate standards or rules that are set. Grace is not allowing others to trample on your rights.
  6. Grace is not permission to sin – Again, the extension of grace is not saying what the other person did was okay. If something hurt you, it probably was not okay, unless you have unrealistic expectations. However, if you have assessed your boundaries, rights, expectations and emotions, and everything checks out as rational, then you have every right to hold someone accountable to not sin.
  7. Dallas Willard once said, “Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning.”Change is hard, but grace is not allowing someone to not grow and change. Expect the person who hurt you to make an effort, but don’t make them earn your love. God is not asking us to do more to earn salvation. He is only asking us to be the best we can through effort, knowing that we can never be perfect. Basically, extending grace is a free gift that cannot be earned, but it is not an excuse for the receiver to not try to be the best they can be.
  8. Pride gets in the way of grace. Arrogance gets in the way of grace, Entitlement gets in the way of grace. Humbleness allows grace. Remember, you aren’t perfect either.

Extending grace can change your marriage for the better. Grace is not easy, but if you desire to IMPROVE and GROW your marriage or yourself call me (706-955-0230) or email me so I can help TODAY!

5 Step Activity to try as adapted from John Eggerich’s book Love and Respect:
  1. Be friendly to your spouse.
  2. Be Friendly to your spouse.
  3. Be FRIENDLY to your spouse.
  4. Did I not say, BE FRIENDLY TO YOUR SPOUSE.
  5. Finally, BE FRIENDLY TO YOUR SPOUSE!

If you want more information or material to grow your knowledge on how to be a better spouse visit our blog or resources page.

What has happened to men?: 7 challenges to get back to being a real man

Over the past 100 years, a man’s role and way of being has changed dramatically. More men are coming to the understanding that they have an emotional side to them. Men are now less effective as the leader of their families. Men are now not always the sole bread winner. Men also do not date or court women as they once did. Many changes in lifestyle and generational beliefs have been left by the wayside to make room for new norms.

But with all this change, which I believe is not all bad, I ask you, men, “Have we lost some vital parts of being a man that we could still use to improve our families, our own self-esteem, our marriages, our careers, our parenting and our communities as a whole. It pains me to think that every day in the news I hear of people not treating each other decently. I continue to wonder if we have lost our way.

Men, does it start and end with us? I believe that we could at least help to improve this mess that we are in, by going back to some of what we once were. So here are 7 ways men have changed and a description of how that affects the world you live in.

  1. Are we still leaders of the family? Let me preface this. I am not talking about men being the iron fist of the past. However, I am talking about the fathers and husbands that were gentle, loving, compassionate, decisive, God-fearing and strong. Being a leader of the family means to model appropriate behavior, choices and emotions so that others in the house can learn from your example. Good leaders always “lead by example.” I believe some men in this world still do this, but many struggle to keep up and lead in the way that a family needs them to.
  2. Are we gentlemen? Where have all the gentlemen gone? When was the last time you opened the door for your wife? Or pulled her chair out so she could sit down? Again, I am not talking about stiff authority. I am trying to point out that many men today have lost the self-less attitude and compassion for doing things right and treating their wife with “gentleness.” I try to tell my wife regularly she is my princess. How does a person treat a princess? Probably by doing everything they feasibly can for her. I believe in a love relationship, women still long to have a man who knows how to be gentle, soft-spoken and to treat her as a lady should be treated.
  3. Have men lost the ability to strong? I believe we have an epidemic of weak men in this country. If another country attacked our nation today, would we have men who spring into action to protect and fight back? I believe in times of crisis men will stand up, but I also believe this should be true for little things. I don’t believe men are as strong today as they were in the past. Life is hard, but more men are caving to the enormity of the pressures surrounding them. I am not talking about muscles guys. I am talking about inner strength. I am talking about will-power, heart and soul. So many movies have been created by Hollywood that demonstrate these characteristics (i.e., Rudy, Rocky, The Pursuit of Happiness, Remember the Titans). Where are the men that have the will to overcome? To be more direct, where are the men who will strive to get a job, even when the world is against them? Where are the men who will stay in a child’s life even when their marriage is on the ropes? Finally, where are the men that will fight for their marriage and not use divorce as a way out? Again, I am not talking about all men, but I believe there is a major decline in men with these types of characteristics to overcome.
  4. Have we lost our ability to be moral and ethical? Maybe a greater question is, “What is right and wrong as defined in our country at this place and time?” Our country is split in our beliefs, but right and wrong have always been defined and specific. Every man and woman in our nation has a least a few central connected beliefs (i.e., the right to live, the right to have their basic needs met, the right to be safe, etc.). I believe that some of these beliefs are been lost. Men, how are you affecting this outcome? Men need to remember what’s right and what’s wrong and live and die by those beliefs in order to help our country get back to that standard of living. Also, ethics plays a big role. Should you not do what you say you are going to do? Please, if you want to be trusted, especially by your spouse, be who you say you are and do what you say you are going to do. Remember the paragraph about strength? Does it not take a certain amount of strength to live with ethics and morality, especially when no one else is living or working that way?
  5. Back in the medieval ages when kings and knights were ruling and castles were the estates of the mighty, chivalry was abundant, at least that’s what we are led to believe. Remember Robin Hood? Remember tales of the black and white knights? Chivalry was a characteristic that knights were expected to uphold. The definition of Chivalry is the system of values (such as loyalty and honor) that knights in the Middle Ages were expected to follow. This system included respect and politeness, especially toward women. Some might use the term graciousness or courteous. Today, men can portray these characteristics by being thoughtful and respectful of others, not just women. The Bible say honor your mother and father. Honoring others is an important part of being chivalrous. How often do you see men being chivalrous towards others?
  6. Values seem to have changed dramatically in this country. I believe that some people don’t even know, or care what they value. People live on autopilot every day. Men, we cannot live on autopilot and be effective in our families, jobs, or communities. What are your values? Know them! Keep them on a piece of paper on your bathroom mirror. Traditional values were God/Spirituality, family, and hard work. What other values can you name to help you be a better man?
  7. I remember a statistic from my home state, Georgia, about a family having a father who was involved and the effects on academic success. Apparently, higher academic success was seen in families in and around rural, middle Georgia where many families have 2 parent homes. Alternatively, lower academic success was seen in and around a much more populated area of Georgia where single parent homes were more the norm. Other statistics and information can be found on fatherless statistics and achievement in two parent homes.  These statistics demonstrate the need for a strong, involved and loving father figure to be in a child’s life, especially to help with the success of a child’s future. Where else is a child going to learn the things they need to know that only a father can teach them. Disclaimer: Mother’s, I in no way discount your hard work and the value that a loving, nurturing mother has in a child’s life. I believe mother’s probably have greater impact that father’s, but both are critically important. Also, men, if you want to study more about the Biblical reasons behind this, it is very enlightening. God provided children with his whole self through the husband-wife-Holy Spirit triad.
  8. Are you a man of God? Do you fear God? Do you read your Bible? Do you pray regularly? Do you even believe God exists? I believe men have lost their faith in the one who got us here. Remember our founding fathers? They believed in God. They believed him so much they started a new country, in a new land, and fought a war against a powerful king to try to worship the way they knew they needed to. If you have any faith, please allow this fact to strengthen it. Our country most likely would not exist as it is and with the blessings we have been give if it were not for God-fearing mean, holding onto faith that God would free them and allow them to worship him freely. We have lost this faith. Look at the people trying to remove the phrase, “In God we trust,” as a slogan our country has kept for a long time. What about people trying to remove the ten commandments from court houses or state building? Are not our laws centered around some of these commandments? Men, if we are going to be who we truly need to be, we have to center our lives around the One who created the male gender.

I have said so much, but so little in this article. I hope that men in this country are inspired by these words to be the men of integrity, chivalry, and God that they were designed to be. It will help us individually. It will help our families. I will help our communities. It will help our careers. And ultimately, it will help our country and world. If only all the men of our country would turn back to what got us where we are, without turning back to the evil of the past (i.e., slavery, racism, and oppression of the rights and abilities of others). We can lead the charge in helping others be better. I call all men to change for the better and don’t give up on yourself as a vessel for hope.