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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.

Connection or Communication: 5 easy ways to improve communication in marriage

Have you ever said thought that you and your spouse need to learn to communicate better? Are you arguing all the time and feel that you don’t seem to understand or hear each other? How many couples are seeking better methods to communicate with their spouse? Communication is on everybody’s mind. If you search “communication in marriage” in Google’s search engine you will find “about 81,000,000” results. That’s million for those reading that number and trying to wrap their mind around it. Obviously, communication is important, but are communication skills the only thing we need to have good communication? Do we even need communication skills?

Dr. Steven Stosny believes that what we traditionally define as communication skills can sometimes make a marriage worse.
I had a couple in my office a while back who starting talking about their problems and the wife promptly piped up and said, “Our problem is communication. We don’t know how to communicate. We don’t understand each other.” After she said this, the couple sat and stared at me, silent. I too sat silently. What was I to say?

They were there for me to help them with their marriage. My job was to help provide them the tools to communicate better. I knew the traditional skills to teach them to communicate better, but something was different about this moment. I did not want to start teaching them communication skills. Something in my gut told me to stay silent. As I stayed silent, the couple seemed to become impatient. I continued to sit quietly. The room seemed smaller in that moment.

The couple had been arguing right in front of me and as they argued they tended to attempt to get as far away from each other as possible without getting out of their chairs. I could feel the frustration, anger, hopelessness, fear and resentment. Eventually the wife’s face softened and she asked, “What can we do?” I could tell she was desperate. What seemed a few moments earlier like hopelessness, turned into hope just by her asking that question. She showed she was willing to try. The husband had been fighting off flaming arrows and putting up defenses during their argument. He looked exhausted.

My question to myself was, “Is communication skills going to help this couple?” I had my doubts. It would be wonderful if they could learn “I” statements and not yell and learn to listen, but this couple may not have the capacity to use those techniques. I had the feeling that neither spouse could hold it together long enough to avoid attacking or defending. My heart sank. I felt like I did not know enough to help this couple.

Finally, I plucked the age old technique of asking the “miracle question” to the couple. The miracle question asks someone to envision and describe in detail how the future will be different when the problem is no longer present or how they would like the future to be different if it were the way they desired it to be. I asked this question for one reason, to let the couple solve their problem for themselves since I did not feel I had the answer for them.

To my surprise, I learned something new about communication that day that I already understood, but had not been aware of. I learned that communication is not necessary about techniques or right methods to communication. However, as Dr. Stosny implied in his article, I realized that communication with a spouse may be more about the connection and feelings about the other spouse, than about how good a person is at using communication techniques. The miracle question allowed me to see that this couple longed for connection to each other, not just communication.

My question now was, “Is communication needed to build a great connection with others?” or vice versa. I believe both are necessary, but, truly, without positive connection, positive communication is going to be minimal at best.

Connection is important as can be seen throughout the multitude of resources about communication. Dr. Gary Chapman’s book, The 5 Love Languages, is more about how to connect on an emotional level with a spouse through action oriented behavior instead of words. Focus on the Family writes about ways to show love to your spouse in their article Love and communication: 11 expert tips for a better marriage. Focus on the Family also proposes that couples stop communicating well because they “they spend their limited time together talking about work, the budget, children, chores and so on”  instead of spending time making memories or doing things together that are fun. They also propose couples should learn to know each other better which happens when one attempts to make better connections with the other.

Making connections, or meaning making, is important to make communication better. It may be so effective, that learning communication skills may not be necessary. So, I encourage you to attempt to improve your connection with your spouse, starting today with some easy methods you can try today.

5 easy ways to improve connection

1. Learn about your spouse

Ask your spouse open-ended questions about themselves. Look up a list of “fun questions”  to ask your spouse. Or, use John Gottman’s Love Maps exercise to improve your knowledge of your spouse. Also, this list may help too.

2. Do something fun with your spouse

When you were dating, what was time like with your spouse? Did you sit around and do nothing…probably not! You probably were proactive and finding activities that were fun. Check out this list of activities that are fun to do with your spouse. This list is a compilation of things you can do at home. Also try this 101 things to do with your spouse.

3. Talk about the good times

Memories are important, especially positive memories that make us feel good. They remind us that life is not hopeless or completely bad. Talk with your spouse about 1 memory that you have that you both enjoyed and can laugh about.

4. Walk and hold hands

Touch is very important in relationships. Touch allows for the release of Oxytocin. Oxytocin is a hormone that promotes bonding. So when you hold your spouse’s hand, kiss them, or hug, your body releases this hormone which make you feel closer and more connected to your spouse. Oxytocin may also have negative effects in negative situations.

5. Listen to your spouse talking about something they enjoy and get excited about it

If you get excited about something that your spouse loves, they will more likely feel connected with you. They will feel like you care about them. By showing a genuine interest in what your spouse doing and something that is a big part of their life, they may in turn become more interested in you, thus connection.

Can you become a better communicator with your spouse today? Yes, you can! It’s more about connection and emotion than actually saying the right things. If you are genuinely connected to your spouse, what you say will be interpreted more positively than if you are not. Be more positive, be more intentional, be more interested.

To learn more see Communication in Relationships.