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5 Steps to Becoming a Better Listener in Marriage

As a marriage counselor, I teach couples many skills. One of those skills is how to listen better. Many of us have been taught how to communicate or express our thoughts better to others in classes or through our jobs, but may have never had the proper training to learn how to listen to others. I like teaching listening skills. When I help couples learn how to listen to each other, I actually get to see connections being formed right in front of me. It’s beautiful and very real. So, I think it would be great for everyone to learn some simple steps to listening to their spouse.

First, why is listening important?

Listening well helps build our understanding of others thoughts, feelings, perspectives and beliefs. Listening to our spouse opens up the opportunity to be able to provide input to a spouse’s concerns. Listening also can be a way of showing care and concern. Listening is one way to build connection.

After listing all of these benefits of listening, I am reminded of how much I want to be a better listener, but, be warned, listening takes practice, discipline and effort. Now let’s get to those steps to help YOU and ME become the listener WE desire to be.

  1. To be a good listener you first have to be willing to: “Hear it!” What does that mean? That means you need to know the exact words that were said. Yes! This is the easy part. For example, when I am with my wife, I can repeat back to you exactly what my she says, verbatim. Unfortunately, that does not always mean I actually understood her. However, some people truly do not pay attention to what their partner says and need to a better job of absorbing the actual words so they can take the next step to becoming a better listener.
  2. The second step I call: “Find the meaning.” What I mean by “find the meaning” is to try to analyze and figure out what is underneath the actual words that were stated. How many times do you say something and your partner interprets it one way and you say, “But that’s not what I meant.” Finding the meaning is not always easy, but is helpful to building a better “understanding” of what the real message is that was being transmitted to you.
  3. Thirdly, if you can’t find the meaning, ask “clarifying questions.” If you can clarify some of the information (actual words) you have already received by adding new and meaningful information through asking pointed questions, you will be one step further in “understanding” the message you received. It might be helpful to ask questions such as: What are you experiencing? Why are you experiencing that? What do you need or desire from me? Why is that need or desire important to you?
  4. Fourthly, summarize and repeat to your spouse your new “understanding” of what your spouse has said to you. By expressing to your spouse what you “understand” about their message, you are checking with them to make sure you have an accurate understanding.
  5. Finally, ask your partner, “Do I understand what you are saying?” By asking this question, you give your spouse the opportunity to tell you if you received the correct meaning of their message.

These steps have served many of my clients well. The key is practice. Remember, your spouse deserves your respect and your willingness to hear them out. They need YOU to hear their perspective, no matter how irrational it may sound. Also, remember that their thoughts, beliefs, feelings and perspectives are very real to them and when you don’t LISTEN to them, you are sending a nonverbal message that you don’t care about their thoughts or feelings and you don’t respect them enough to understand them.

PLEASE! Learn to listen to your spouse and practice these steps daily. I may not be right, but I bet you will be happier and have a more loving relationship. To learn more about listening, visit my page about communication. Be blessed!

Also, check out my other posts and pages on communication:

5 Ways to be Intentional in your Marriage

It’s 2019 already? Where does the time go? It seems like yesterday I was just getting excited about the leaves changing color and the cooler breezes that would make being outside much more bearable. Since a new year has started, I know I am a little late writing this article, I wanted to write about new goals, not resolutions! Have I mentioned I don’t like the word resolution. It seems when I want to make resolutions, nothing gets resolved. So, I am sticking with goals.

My goal for this year is to be more intentional in my daily life, especially my marriage. So, I thought it would be a good idea to write down some simple thoughts about how to be intentional in my relationship so that ya’ll could remind me what to do when I stop moving towards my goals.

A first simple way to be intentional in marriage is to pick one thing you will be intentional about. You did read “one thing” right? My one thing right now is reading. I know that doesn’t sound like a relationship topic, but I am specifically going to be intentional about reading the best books and articles I can find about relationships. I know what you are wondering, “Why does a marriage therapist needs to do this?” Well, it never hurts to increase your knowledge and understanding of how relationships work. And, have I mentioned even marriage therapist don’t know everything about relationships. My goal is to read about relationships to help me with the next simple way of being intentional.

A second way to be intentional is to remind yourself to be intentional. Have you ever had the best intentions, but didn’t follow through? Sometimes we need a cue to remind us to follow through. So, create a cue to help you be intentional. My cue is not only reading about relationships to help me think about and remember to improve myself in my relationship, but also to set reminders to read. Whatever that is for you, keep your cue SIMPLE. Set a reminder on your phone. Make sticky notes to post on your bathroom mirror or refrigerator. Just make sure that your cue works for you.

A third way to be intentional is to practice managing your impulsiveness. SLOW YOURSELF DOWN! Take deep breaths. Monitor you emotions. Examine your thoughts. This does not sound easy or simple does it? That’s why I use the word PRACTICE. You may have to use the second intentional idea to help you with the third. Use a cue to help you be intentional about managing yourself. Sometimes I teach people to use STOPP (Stop, take a deep breath, observe, find other perspectives, and plan). Just say “Stop!” to yourself and then follow the order of the acronym. By doing this you can manage your emotions and behavior better, but you have to be intentional about managing yourself. If that method does not work for you, there are all sorts of methods out there, maybe being intentional for you is to actually take the step to find one that works for you.

A fourth way to be intentional is with your words. Be intentional to say positive things to your partner or spouse. In John Gottman’s research on healthy marriages, he found that for every one negative interaction a healthy couple has they have five positive interactions. What does that mean for you? I think it means you have to create positivity in your relationship and be intentional about being positive, even when you don’t feel like it. I tell my clients, “Say nothing negative AT ALL.”

A fifth way to to be intentional in your marriage is to touch more. A simple hug, kiss, or light touch on the back or arm can be very healthy in a relationship. When a couple touches it increases the release of Oxycontin (the bonding hormone). You will feel closer the more you touch. It’s also very hard to be mean to someone while holding their hands. So, maybe you can try to hold hands while talking about hard subjects. Snuggling on the couch or giving back rubs can be healthy too. Kissing for 5 to 10 seconds can do wonders for a relationship.

So there they are. My top 5, simple, intentional, relationship builders for the year. Maybe they aren’t so simple because you have to actually do them for them to work. I somehow think the hardest part is to choose to do them, take some action, then be consistent. I hope this helps you to be more intentional and proactive in your marriage and relationship this year!

If you enjoyed the post and would like to work more on your relationship please call me to set up an appointment today: 706-955-0230.

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.

Positive Attention: Can it save your marriage?

Do you ever find yourself going through your day just to get to the next?

I do.

I get to work some days thinking about what I am going to eat for dinner.

I wake up some mornings dreaming about vacation, although it’s almost 2 months away.

I even catch myself some days wondering what it feels like to be someone else right at that moment.

The phrase that comes to mind is, “Wishing your life away.”

I believe sometimes people are so busy and looking so much for the next big thing in their life, they lack the ability to notice the small things. This concept is true in marriages too.

I want you to sit for a minute and ponder these next few questions. Really try to visualize your response.

When you come home from work, what do you do?

What do you see?

What do you say?

How do you feel? Do you just want to be alone?

What do you notice?

Now, when you ponder those questions, what type of feeling do you get? Do you have a negative feeling (ie, anxiety, frustration, anger, sadness, annoyance, disappointment) or a positive feeling (ie, happy, joy, comfort, warmth)?

Also, what is the first thing you say or do? What is the first reaction or action you have towards your spouse or kids?

If you notice that your reaction is more negative, then maybe the idea of “positive attention” will help. Positive attention is basically noticing the positive things and making it known to your spouse that you notice them. Another way to express this idea is that you pay attention to the positive things and let your spouse know that you notice them. Simple, right?

You might be asking why I am writing about this topic. Well, I decided to write this post due to a Facebook post my father wrote about noticing the positive things my mother did one weekend when my whole family came down with the flu…for the second time. I was intrigued by his idea of attempting to notice more often than usual the good things she does. I thought, “How simple an idea.”  What if this simple idea could be revolutionary to marriages?

I read a lot about marriage and study what makes marriages work. I already know most of the technical methods to help couples get their marriage back in order. Traditionally, this idea of noticing positive things in our marriage and lives is very important. It can help to improve our mood and our marriage. Think about it. How many times a day do you miss something that would have helped you to make life easier that day? Everyone has copious opportunities a day to see the good and bad in the world. I know that I have been told many times that I am being “negative.” It is also well know that negativity can be like a cancer and spread quickly.  Have you ever been around someone who said something negative about another person and then you joined in on the conversation? Negativity destroys. But we don’t think about its destructive nature when we are being negative.

It takes awareness to be positive. It takes boldness to be positive. It takes effort to be positive. What if you chose every day to try to notice as many positive things about your partner. Would that not be hard? Would that not be different? Would that not go against our culture? Let’s say that was the only change you made in your marriage. What would happen? I envision a healthier and happier marriage. That does not mean your marriage would be perfect, but genuinely noticing the positive things and expressing them to your spouse and not talking about the negative things would dramatically change the tone of everyday conversation, right? Here are some reasons why the tone would change if you noticed more positive things:

First, the more positive interaction a person sees, the more positive their attitude will be about life, the world, and people.

Second, if a person has a more positive attitude towards the above things, then they will have more positive communication (ie, verbal, nonverbal, etc).

Third, positive communication becomes more routine the more one practices positive attention.

Fourth, your spouse will notice a change in your communication and your language towards her or him.

Fight, feelings in a marriage may become more positive between both partners.

Sixth, focus shifts due to constant attempts to find new positive things to notice (after a while it might get harder to find new positive ideas).

Seventh, the one who began to notice and appreciate their spouse’s efforts starts to see the marriage and the relationship differently, in a positive way.

Eight, a positive cycle starts because the spouse begins to have different and more positive feelings about the relationship and notices more positive things too.

Logically, one simple action can cause a reaction. So, what happens if over time, many instances of positive attention are created? One would assume many instances of positive reaction. In this article about positivity and negativity in marriage, John Gottman expresses that their is a “marriage ratio.” Through his research he has found that their should be 5 positive interactions to 1 negative interaction for a marriage to remain stable. There is truth to the idea that positive attention is better than negative attention. However, Gottman also expresses that getting rid of negative interaction altogether is not necessarily beneficial. He believes in a balance.

For this blog post though, due to what seems to be greater levels of negative interaction than positive in relationships, I want to just focus on how to increase the positive attention towards your spouse. I don’t believe it is probable that most couples can eliminate negative attention, although, if there is no negative attention, then it’s likely your relationship is on the rocks also.  So, I want to encourage each couple out there, if there is one skill you practice this week, let it be positive attention. At least try it once.

Here are some other articles that may be helpful that relate to positive interaction in marriage:

Marriage and Paying Attention

7 Small and Simple Habits for a Happy Marriage

Positive Communication in Marriage

26 Ways to Become Irresistible to Your Husband

 

Forgiving and Forgetting? A better way to heal relationships!

Have you ever been told by your spouse, “You need to forgive and forget.” I have lots of couples come in where one partner reports that the other partner broke their trust and they are not sure how to deal with it. They also say that when they are told they just need to forgive and forget, it does not help. If you have ever tried to forgive and forget, you know it’s hard, if not, impossible.

Trust can be broken in many different ways. A little white lie or major infidelity can destroy trust. The intensity of the hurt depends solely on the individual who is on the receiving end of that broken trust. So, can a person really “forgive and forget?” I believe that people can’t forget most hurtful events. The human brain is made to be able to retain information, especially information that has an impact on the person. Yes there are times where information is not retained, such as, when the brain is damaged through physical drama or may when the impacting event is so devastating that the brain cannot process the information produced by the event. Also, there can be other times when a person may not remember something. Also, different types of brain memory play a part in remembering information. Lets discuss this further.

Types of Memory

To better help understand how memory works lets look at what types of memory a human brain has. First, the human brain has what is called declarative memory (explicit memory). Declarative memory is simply when one is trying to remember something (ie, a name, a list of items, a phone number, etc). Also, the human brain has what is called non-declarative memory (implicit memory). Non-declarative memory involves an involuntary response to something because of what happened in the past. This type of memory happens without your awareness. For example, lets say when you were a child lighting struck your house and now as an adult you shake for no reason when a thunder storm comes. Your brain remembers that lightning strike even though you may have experience many thunder storms without lightning hitting your house since.

Declarative memory brakes down  into working memory (short term memory) and episodic memory (long term memory). Short term memory is reactionary memory where we remember something that just happened within 2 to 18 seconds after the event. Episodic memory helps a person to remember important events throughout ones life that forms beliefs and thoughts about the world. Also, there is Semantic memory that helps to remember details when something is memorized, such as, math or vocabulary.

Non-declarative memory brakes down into primal memory, procedural memory and classical conditioning. Primal memory is helps to remember how to respond to different past events and can make response quicker. Procedural memory is used to helping to learn to drive and do task well. For example, driving a car is tough at first, but after lots of practice, automatic memory takes over and the mechanics to driving help a person to do many of the things required for driving without thinking about it. Classical conditioning is memory that comes about as a person makes associations to other things, whether good or bad, so as to be able to make better choices.

So much more can be said about memory to help us understand that remembering or forgetting something may be very complex. Based on what we know so far about memory, many things can interrupt the declarative memory, but non-declarative memory is not well controlled. Is broken trust associated with non-declarative or declarative memory? Broken trust involves cognitive and emotional reactions. It can almost be traumatic, if only minimally. When an emotional reaction is part of the memory process, working memory last longer and episodic memory is triggered the more intense the emotional reaction. Non-declarative memory is not associated with memories of history, except to the point of how one might react the next time the same type of event happens.

Therefore, declarative memory, and even more, episodic memory takes over when trust is involved. So now we need to consider how or if a person can forget something.

Forgetfulness

There are several ways that people possibly forget things.  Short term memory, decay, displacement and interference can all three be ways someone can forget something. Decay is when a person does not go over information enough to retain it. Displacement is when new memories replace old memories which can be a very positive form of forgetting in hopes of replacing negative memories with positive memories. Interference happens when a person attempts to remember things that are very similar and because they are so similar they can become mixed up.

Long term memory appears to have no limit and possibly stores all information. Some theories believe that information lost, may still be stored in the brain, but may be inaccessible. It is still unclear how much someone can actually forget. It does seem clear that a person can forget information by decay and interference that comes from similar memories.

Forget or Move Forward?

As a marriage counselor I have found a better way to understand that “forgive and forget” debate. I am one to believe and it is confirmed by the information I have shared in the rest of this blog post, memories moments that have a major impact in our lives tend to stick with us. I believe they are hard to get rid of and triggers can bring back up that memory any time that trigger is presented. So, forgetting is not a very useful word when it comes to resolving issues of trust.

I have started telling couples to use the phrase, “Forgive and Move Forward.” Why? Well, forgetting is hard, if not impossible, as we have discussed. In the very least, it could take days, weeks, months and sometimes years to heal from a break of trust. Also, when told to “forgive and forget,” it can deepen the hurt of the victim because a tone of “not caring” is displayed in the betrayer, which further affirms that the betrayer broke trust.  Many of my clients have enjoyed using the phrase “moving forward.” It appears to give them empowerment to be able to make changes and heal. If you are moving forward, then the person is making progress and being pro-active. Moving forward can involve being intentional, but also helps to dispel the fact that the person will not just “get over” something. It is not and will never be that easy.

So, next time you think about telling your spouse to forgive and forget, please stop yourself. Instead, ask how you can help and what can you do as a couple to move forward to heal the relationship.

Happy Mind, Happy Relationship

How can a relationship be improved by just improving your mind? People talk about improving your mind to stay smart and move up in your career or create a new invention or get invited on Jeopardy. Who thinks about improving the mind to improve a relationship? Improving the mind is not usually connected to relationships, and yet, it has been said to be one of the easiest ways to improve a relationship.

You’ve heard of the power of positive thinking, but have you considered that this concept may help with a relationship.  You might be saying, “Well that is common sense.” I would tell you, “You’re right! So why don’t you practice it daily?” I don’t think about positive thinking daily. I have clients come in my office who I teach this concept and ask them to practice it over the next week. Guess what they say when they come back. They say, “I didn’t really think about it.”  My first thought is, “What?!!  I  work hard to provide the reasoning and the whole package of information and you don’t even think about it?” I am truly stunned when people say that to me. It is common sense right?

What I have learned is that this concept may be common sense, but we truly don’t take the time to remember or think about how our thinking affects us.  If we remembered moment to moment to check our thinking for positivity, then many aspects of our life would be much easier (ie, relationships, jobs, standing in line, etc). I want to focus on relationships though.

Think about your work place. Who do you hang around? Who would you like to hang around? Are they mostly positive or negative throughout the day? Have you ever been around someone who was very positive? Are they not more enjoyable to be around? Were you more positive when you were around them? Positivity not only feels good, it rubs off on us! Unfortunately, negativity rubs off on us too.

So, positivity proves to draw people together in ways that make people feel good. Common sense says that this concept would help us in our marriages and relationships. If positivity draws people together in ways that make them feel good, then positivity would draw couples together and help them feel good. When I feel good around my wife, I feel closer to her. Simple right? If I am positive towards her, she seems to react more positively towards me. Yay!

How are we missing this simple change in thoughts that will change our lives? In my experience, we don’t think about it. This means, we have to remind ourselves to think positively every minute of the day. What are some ways that you can think of to remind yourself to think positive thoughts?  David Carnes writes in an article about positive thinking, “The first step in positive thinking is to make a habit of asking yourself “What am I thinking right now?” at various points during the day until your “meta-awareness” of your own thinking becomes second nature to you.” Find what works for you today and start NOW! Why wait!?

Intentional Love: Loving like never before during the season of love.

Do you ever feel like you say, “I love you” all the time? Does it ever feel like you use it like a security blanket? Almost like, if you didn’t say it, maybe the love would stop or your spouse or significant other would stop loving you, be angry with you, or leave you? Love is a common word in our world. It is said everyday by, well, probably almost everyone. I tell my children, my wife, my parents and my siblings I love them every chance I get.

Using the term so much may seem like the word gets overused and maybe abused. Yet, as we get closer to Valentine’s Day,  just like what happens around Christmas and Thanksgiving, I am feeling the urge to think more about this nostalgic topic. Why? Well, just like celebrating Jesus’ birth at Christmas and giving thanks at Thanksgiving, love should be practiced all year round, not just on Valentine’s Day. Unfortunately, we don’t always understand love and would like to know more about it. So, I hope to inspire intentional love as we approach this upcoming holiday by helping you understand love a little better.

Remember who created love.? That big guy in the sky whose name is, God! God even calls himself love in the Bible. So, understand this phenomenon of love then we need to consult God.  What does the Bible say about love?  Here are a few verses that tell us what God says love is:

Romans 13:10   “Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law.”

1 Corinthians 13:4-8    “4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.”

1 Corinthians 13:13  “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

1 John 4:7 “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.”

1John 4:18-19   “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not make perfect in love. We love because he first loved us.”

John 15:13   “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

Ephesians 5:25  “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”

Ephesians 5:33  “However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.”

Colossians 3:14 “And over all these things put on love, which binds them together in perfect unity.”

Proverbs 10:12  “Hatred stirs up conflict, but love covers over all wrongs.”

And on, and on, and on… I could be typing a while if I list all the verses that talk about love, but these are a good start. As you read these verses, how do you feel? As I typed, something stirred in me. I felt encouraged. I thought, “I want to be more loving!” Just reading God’s word made me feel that way! But what does that mean and how do we become more loving?

So what is love? Here are 4 themes:

  1. Sacrifice: In the verses above God directly talks about Jesus’ sacrifice as loving. Not only the loving, but greater love and the greatest out of faith hope and love.
  2. Qualities: Love is patient, kind, does not envy, is not proud or haughty, does not talk about itself, its respectful, it does not seek after self, but looks after others, its trusting, its calm, it doesn’t get angry with you, it doesn’t get outdone, it rejoices in truth and hates evil, and protects, hopes, trusts and perseveres.
  3. Instructions on how to be loving: God’s words tell you what to do. He says to love like Christ and like you love yourself. It says to put on love.
  4. And details of what love does not look like: Its not boastful, it’s not hateful, it’s not evil, it’s not divided, it’s not arguing, it’s not conflict, it’s not hitting, it’s not lying, it’s not fearful…

The above 4 themes provide a clearer view of what love looks like from God’s view. How do these translate into action and loving others better? Here are some examples.

  • If you see someone downcast and not looking happy at work, stop and chat with them.
  • If your child is acting up, give her a little hug and grace.
  • If your wife is in a hormone enraged mood, smile and hold her or just listen if she won’t let you touch her.
  • When your wife is shopping and you want to go home and watch the game, let her shop and even help her pick out some outfits.
  • When your buddy makes more than you and you want his lifestyle, don’t envy. Embrace him and let him know he is blessed and take joy that your friend is doing so well.
  • Above all, listen to God and ask him to help you learn how to love better.

Love is very complex. To love better, we need to be aware of what it is and how to express it . As we get closer to Valentine’s Day, let’s consider sacrifice as our number one way to love because that’s how Christ showed us to love. Make it a habit to think about others needs and put them before you, even if it makes you tired or sore.  Think about what other people need and how you can help them. Let’s share God’s love today and everyday to help make this world a safer and more healthy place. As you move through your day, be intentional about loving and live to love. Your life will be better and more fulfilling if you pursue love as a goal.