In response to last week’s blog about Leaving Well, a reader asked me to expand on what “honorably” meant when leaving or staying well.
Initially I was going to answer her question directly, but thought it might be more meaningful to answer it here because the answer affects us all who are trying to live a God-centered life. Dawn, who wrote about leaving well, said her one focus was to leave her marriage honorably and conduct herself throughout the stages of ending her marriage in a way she didn’t regret. She also was honest enough to admit she didn’t succeed at this all of the time, but it gave her something to aspire toward.
The other women who wrote blogs about choosing to stay well also aspire to that same goal. Therefore let’s look at what it means practically.
The third principle in building our CORE is R- I will be responsible for myself and respectful towards others without dishonoring myself.
So let’s start there. When you dishonor yourself you behave in a way that is contrary to the person you want to be. We all do it sometimes. We explode in anger, we tell a lie, we cower in passivity, or we ignore something we should pay more attention to and it ends up biting us later with negative consequences or regret.
This morning I talked with a woman who was behaving dishonorably towards her spouse. She said, “I’m surprised you’d be willing to work with me because I’m such an awful person.”
I reminded her that her thoughts about herself were not true. The fact that she hates how she is behaving says she’s not an awful person. If she were an awful person she wouldn’t be grieving about her behaviors nor would she be calling me for help. Instead she’d be telling herself she was justified because her husband deserved it. Isn’t that exactly what abusers tell themselves when they abuse?
Therefore, behaving honorably means you act with integrity, congruency, and alignment with the person you are or say you want to be, not how you feel in the moment. You behave honorably because that’s who you are, not because the other person deserves it.
Whether or not you stay married, or leave a destructive person, you always have to live with yourself. When you make decisions or behave in ways that are contrary to the person you say you are or want to be negative consequences will result.
One, you will be miserable and racked with guilt and shame because you are behaving contrary to your own values. Or, the other negative consequence will be that the person you are or have been will begin to change. Your dark side will take over your personality and the person you used to be will no longer be there. Neither place is a good spot to be. That’s why it’s important that you practice living from your CORE if you want to walk through a destructive relationship or even a difficult life circumstance in a healthy way.
If you need more help in understanding CORE STRENGTH, we are having two sessions of an introduction to building CORE strength August 12 and 19. For more information click here.
This week we are going to hear from a man (H) who is working hard to be a better man. H was a high energy business owner with 165 employees and four offices, he sold his company and retired after 30 years of marriage, his wife W was a stay at home mom who raised three kids. All three kids married and moved within 2 years of H retiring.
H & W Separated after 32 years of marriage, and just celebrated their 34th wedding anniversary and are working hard to rebuild their marriage in a healthy way.
H has graciously outlined the steps that have helped him see his hurtful behaviors, to stop them and what it took to change way he thinks and feels and how he now tries to relate with his wife.
Next week we will also hear from his wife (W) who has had her own journey to stay well, rebuild trust and change behaviors that enabled some of H behavior.
H wrote: Leslie these are 10 items I have and am working on in myself that have helped to improve our relationship and communication:
Getting my attention – God used a lot of circumstances to get my attention. I read a lot of books, including yours, on emotionally destructive relationships, unhealthy families, marriage books, and books on shame. We pursued counseling together and separately, listened to a lot of Tim Keller sermons, read thru the Bible yearly, kept a journal, met with a mentor biweekly, and my pastor monthly. I have a men's accountability group that meets weekly, (four men that are very close and keep in touch with each other throughout the week with texts and calls).
Every bit of it has been helpful; I wouldn't leave anything out. It feels to me like the Holy Spirit has been guiding the process. The main thing for me is to maintain a willing attitude and to be “all in” and keep focused on myself, not on my wife.
Entitlement attitude – A distorted view of the world that I got from my childhood has made a shift over the last several years. I learned from my family, especially my mother, that you could make other people responsible for the way you feel. By “entitlement attitude” I mean the belief that you are entitled to have the people that love you do and say the things necessary to make you happy. This attitude made it very hard for me to move forward until I faced the fact that this belief system is not only distorted– but also kept me dependent on others for my own happiness.
This belief system created the craziness in my childhood family and has perpetuated itself in my current family.The truth is, there is nothing outside of myself that can fix me, and as long as I wait for circumstances to change to be happy, I'm living in an illusion and am going to be disappointed and frustrated. What I need to fix myself is inside myself. I believe the Holy Spirit lives inside of me and one of his functions is to serve as my comforter and guide. The catch is I have to listen and follow his guidance.
I have everything inside myself I need to be at peace with everything that is outside myself. (Tweet that)
For me, it can't be overstated how fundamental this shift is to everything else, because you don't have a grid to start really making progress, until you stop blaming other people and circumstances for the way you feel.
Nine-month separation – I don't think it would've worked for me without separating and living apart from my wife. This was incredibly painful for me, but was really needed to get away from the blame game we were playing and give each other time to work on our own stuff without arguing and degenerating. I'm not saying this would be what everyone needs; it's just what I needed for the Holy Spirit to really work on my core stuff. I didn't even know a lot of the stuff that was going on in my heart and sub-conscience, and getting quiet, slowing down, and living apart facilitated having a chance to grieve. This was also helpful in getting over my fear of being alone.
Admitting I was wrong – I took a trip to see my dad and really confess to him the way I felt I had failed in my marriage. This was very painful and set the stage to make a lot of progress. I also confessed directly to my wife and still do.
Create a safe environment – Some of the things that trigger my wife are when I am being harsh and interruptive, trying to talk over her, and not giving space between her expressing her feelings and my interjecting my feelings. When I get upset and trigger I will typically get harsh, and for me the only option is to get away until I regain my perspective. It usually takes about 20 minutes. Honoring each other’s request for timeout is essential; if we stay engaged when we are upset we will escalate and argue.
Enduring flat and discouraging times –
I have more influence on myself than anyone else, because I talk to myself more than anyone else.
A lot of people write about this concept but it has been incredibly helpful. Here’s a few of the labels: “talk to your head, don't let your head talk to you”, “the power of one”, “the power of positive thinking”, “praise and adoration” etc.Here's how it works for me. When I get really frustrated at my wife, I can sit down with a pad of paper or just in my mind and begin to make a list about everything I am thankful for and qualities about her that I appreciate. After a few minutes whatever mood I was in is significantly better (on a scale of 1 to 10, usually 2 points better).
This seems like a minor thing, but when you're down and discouraged, it's incredibly helpful to know that you have the power to change the way you feel because you have the power to choose what you think about.
Stay in community – I have gotten really close to some men whom I can share anything with, and they with me. When we get really frustrated, we text or call each other. It seems like God usually provides a divine appointment at the perfect time. After talking it usually dissipates my frustration. In the past, I took this energy to my wife, and it almost always ended poorly.
Lean into the emptiness – I call this judo instead of boxing. When I try to fight against the loneliness and frustration I feel it just gets worse. If I can get quiet and take this frustration and emptiness to the Lord, and not try to run to something else, I find that my negative emotions have a bigger bark than bite. In other words, the feelings won't kill me, it just feels like they will. Processing my frustration with God, and not apart from him, is the key.
Tyranny of the urgent – Probably the best correlation between my daily effectiveness and ineffectiveness is whether or not I get quiet that day. What I mean by quiet is setting aside all the noise of that day (all the externals) and quieting myself in order to find out what’s going on inside of me. As I get in touch with what’s going on, I take that emotion to the Lord, rather than withholding it from him. I find he usually will give guidance (often from the Scriptures). It’s a quiet awareness that I will miss if I don’t get quiet. I have to choose to listen and respond, and it's pretty easy when I get busy to stop listening and preoccupy myself with the urgent issue of the day. I end up accomplishing nothing important.
Miscellaneous – Here's some odds and ends that have been helpful for us:
Maintain separate outside interests. We’re both retired and having work to do that is bigger than us (Ephesians 2:10) is essential.Do things together. We go to exercise class together, travel together; have coffee in the mornings on the back deck together, and date with and without other couples regularly. On date nights we have “high 5 time” meaning we can't bring up anything controversial. The purpose of the date is just to enjoy each other. We try to pray together regularly, especially for the children. We struggle to make this a habit. We do “daily appreciations”, where we make eye contact and affirm each other.
There has been a shift in the way I communicate (this is especially helpful to men because it's counterintuitive). It’s very important that I listen, listen, and listen some more and don't try to fix the problem! When I don't know what my wife needs, I need to ask her and not assume I know what she needs. Let my wife be different from me. It’s God's blessing to learn to see the room from a perspective other than my own.
The biggest thing of all- preach the Gospel to yourself every day, and live the Gospel in your marriage every day – in other words don't try to earn your relationship with God or your wife, and give and rest in unconditional love. Forgive and don’t let the resentment build up. Release it every day and grant each other daily forgiveness.
Last thought, relationships and emotions swing, remember it's never as good as you think it is when it's really good, and it's never as bad as you think it is when it's really bad.
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