Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Selfishness & Selflessness - Take 2

Two years ago I wrote a blog post called Selfishness & Selflessness, Marriage & Children. On Christmas Eve this year, I received the following comment:

I found this to be a very interesting and encouraging article. I find one of the tougher things in relationships is finding a good place to call the line. "It's a circle. It's not an exchange. Nobody is keeping track. Sometimes you give a lot and sometimes you need a lot. And as long as the balance doesn't tip too heavily in one direction for too long, it nourishes the relationship to carry on this way."

I am not sure if the author still visits these posts, but what are your thoughts when the balance tips a long way in one direction for a long time and stays there. How can you salvage it without making the relationship an exchange?

Even bringing up the problem is inherently somewhat selfish (though not in my opinion in a bad way) because it is communicating your needs. I can't find a great solution here. If you withhold from your partner until they become giving, it benefits neither of you, but in some cases just asking doesn't do the trick.
I mulled it over, and Mango & I had some long conversation about it, and this is my response...

The first and easiest is answer is the one you gave yourself. You need to talk about it. This is the kind of selfishness I was talking about in a positive way - being willing to say what you want. If you won't say what you want, how can you expect your partner to know what you need? If you asked Vespera or Novio what my number one piece of marriage advice is, I think they both could recite it in their sleep: Don't expect the other person to know what you want. You have to say what you want in order to get it. You grew up in different families with different communication styles, and your hints and non-verbals will not communicate adequately what it is you want. AND, it doesn't make your partners actions any less valuable that you had to ask. In fact, it is an act of true love for someone to do what you've asked, even though it is unfamiliar to them. Have I said it in enough ways yet? You MUST say what you want in order to get it. If you're unwilling to say, your relationship may die without your partner ever knowing WHY.

I must also say that just because you've asked for it before doesn't mean your partner will remember. I am guilty of this myself. Mango really, really needs me to use my words and TELL him how much I love and appreciate him. He soaks up words of affirmation like a sponge. I, myself, am not so good at saying how I really feel OUT LOUD in words. I talk a lot, but it's hard for me to get really personal in my talking. Sometimes I'm brought up short when Mango asks me a simple question about how I feel about something or another, and I realize I haven't even told him how much I appreciate something, though I've thought of it (and perhaps even bragged about him to my friends). I need reminders to express my love and care and appreciation to him in words. I promise you that it doesn't mean I love him less. I love him more than all my words put together could ever say. I just need to be reminded of how to love him best.

So, start by telling your partner what it is you want them to give. They may not know.

Several other things came to mind in response to your comment, though. First, I wonder if you feel like you're giving a lot and not getting a whole lot in return because you're not really speaking your partner's love language. If you're not familiar with the concept of love languages, you can begin reading here. It's possible that you're doing the dishes and making exceptional dinners when what your partner really needs in order to feel loved is a nice backrub. Or, it's possible that you're kissing and hugging when what they really need is practical help. Maybe their love language is words of affirmation, but you're not so good at speaking those words. Maybe you're better at touch or quality time or acts of service. It's entirely possible for two people to be loving each other in ways that don't really fill the other person's needs and desires for love. Have you asked what they want and desire? If you haven't, you may need to begin there. It's so much easier for your partner to give back to you and DESIRE to give back to you when they feel loved by you. I hear you asking about what happens when one person does all the giving, and I would first respond that it's important to make sure that it's the kind of giving your partner really needs. You see, it's natural for us to speak the love language that we, personally, desire the most. In fact, we can't imagine how the things we're doing wouldn't be the right things to make our partners feel loved, but, in fact, it's entirely possible that the language you're speaking is the one you want for you but not the one your partner needs for them.

Next, I'd ask whether the partner who appears to not be doing any giving is, in fact, incapable of giving at the present time. This is a tough one. Sometimes our partners are in a place where they have emotional healing to do, and they aren't capable of loving in the way we want to be loved. The biggest question here is whether or not healing is in process. If it's in process, then you need to let it be. As married people, we promise to love our spouses in sickness and in health. This is a time of sickness, and you've promised to love. It's really that simple...and that difficult.

The circumstance that specifically comes to mind for me is when a person has been abused sexually and is finding healing within the marriage relationship. A person needs to be in a relationship where they can say no but don't need to. In other words, a woman who has been sexually abused needs to say "no" sometimes and find that she will still be loved and respected. She needs the reassurance that she will not be forced and, in fact, her partner will still love and cherish, honor and respect her, though she cannot give sexually at this particular time. Once a person feels safe in this, they will be able to heal and to give. It's her partner's position to be steadfast and loving, willing to set aside his own needs to help heal those painful wounds. Walter Wangerin says in his book As For Me and My House, "You are married. Healing is not a profession but a way of life. Your spouse is not your patient but your flesh. Healing, then, is a task for your heart as well as your head and your hand. " Marriage is a beautiful place for healing. It isn't easy, but it is well worth the effort.

Of course, when the balance is tipped in the direction of one person's healing for a long time, a marriage can become unhealthy. The above paragraph assumes a steady trajectory toward healing and a balanced relationship. It also assumes that the partner who needs healing is actively working on it, and, typically, this means that they ARE giving to the relationship in some way. If healing isn't happening, it seems to me that the healthy partner needs some boundaries to protect themselves. They need to say exactly what they are and are not willing to give AND they need to find a support system for themselves...friends, family, churches, counselors, whatever to have a network of social outlets and people who listen and care for them.

What if your partner does not respond to your requests, you are speaking their love language, and they are able to give but are refusing? Well, it's like this: You promised to love this person. You didn't just promise to be nice or to tolerate. You promised to love, and loving means giving of yourself, even when you don't get what you want. Except in cases where there has been abuse or unfaithfulness, I believe it's your job to stick with it. This is radical and counter-cultural. Now, I don't think it's anyone's job to be a doormat, and I DO believe in setting good boundaries, as I've already stated.

I believe that unconditional love is powerful and has a certain irresistible draw. If you keep loving your partner unconditionally, regardless of everything...well, very few people refuse to be drawn into that. It's hard not to be swept away by unconditional love, if it's truly unconditional. I'm talking about a love that gives generously and without resentment, that seeks out what your partner really need and meets them where they need it most. Unfortunately, we humans are not capable of this kind of love. And, yes, I'm about to talk about God. I believe that we need something bigger than ourselves to have the power to really love another human being unconditionally. We humans are finite, fragile, broken, imperfect, and we cannot love perfectly without some help. We must be connected to the source of all love, to the God who is Love, in order to offer any kind of unconditional love to another human being. When we find ourselves drained or angry or overwhelmed or resentful, we can only keep loving by drawing on the one Source of infinite love, by calling out for help, by letting God fill our cup until it runs over once more.

It's hard to write about questions like these without a lot of caveats. It's hard to respond without knowing a particular situation. I want you to know that I really, really don't recommend that anyone hang around and be a doormat for their spouse. I don't advocate for one-way relationships. I think they're unhealthy, unbalanced. At the same time, I think there are times when we really need to hang in there while our partners find their own balance and healing. And I think we were put on this earth to love. So, I believe in loving as long and as much as possible...with good boundaries...in the absence of abuse or unfaithfulness. You see how difficult this is to balance or define? I can speak better to specific situations. I define abuse broadly, and, especially if a couple has children, I think protecting one's emotions is just as important as protecting one's physical body. So, it's difficult.

Above all, I believe honesty is the place to begin...honestly speaking your thoughts and needs to your spouse. This is the very first, most common, place where people stumble. If you find yourself living in unbalance ask your partner if you're really giving what they want and be willing to say what you want. Begin there, and you will most likely find your answer.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Saga of the Double Yolks

Mango told me this evening that when he made breakfast for Vespera & Novio the day before the wedding, there were 2 eggs with double yolks.

If that doesn't seem impressive in any way...read here or here.

Makes total sense to me...

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Speech I Gave at the Wedding

It brings us a great deal of joy to be here today to celebrate the marriage of two very wonderful people, Vespera & Novio. It has been so delightful to watch their relationship grow and change over the last several years. As I sat down to write out something I wanted to say, a whole flood of memories filled my mind.

I don't think I'll ever forget the first time I met Novio when he came home with Vespera from Village Park. He shyly leaned over the fence and made polite small talk with us before heading back to his own house. As the weeks passed, this became the Tuesday evening ritual, and by the next spring Vespera (also shyly) told me they we dating.

I will not forget the day Novio brought Vespera a goldfish when she was sick and feeling sad, nor the way he and his best friend showed up early in the morning on her 17th birthday to wake her with a serenade.

I will not forget the summer you spent biking and rollerblading everywhere, nor the winter you both learned to snowboard.

I will not forget Novio sitting in my living room telling me that he loved you, Vespera.

I will not forget the nights the two of you sat together playing guitar in the living room or seeing you paint together on the banks of the Whitewater River.

We have watched you plan parties together, work on homework, cook food, dance, laugh, cry, and tell stories. We saw you both graduate from high school with high honors, and we watched as you both began college this fall, pursuing your goals with determination and courage. You are two very talented and accomplished people. You sharpen each other, and together you have an energy that is more than either of you would be on their own. It is clear to me that God has plans for you, and we pray continually that you will always find yourselves right in the middle of those plans.

Vespera & Novio, you have generously shared your thoughts and your plans, your hopes and joys with us, and we have been honored and privileged to witness the journey that brought you to this day. Now it is our honor to walk beside you as a couple. Of all the beautiful gifts that God has given us, one of the most precious is knowing that our daughter has married someone who loves her deeply and completely, who respects and honors her, and knowing that we would not choose anyone else for her, even if we could. Novio, welcome to our family. We are so happy for you both! Be blessed!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

How many times have I traveled this road?

How many times have I traveled this road?

To church, to school, to work, to my friend's house...home. I know I've traveled it to weddings and birthdays and funerals and baby showers. Alone. With friends.

In the rain.

Crying or laughing or praying or all three.

And like tonight, in the snow, in the wind, with my headlights turning the world into a snow globe. In the snow and the wind while my future husband drove, with my head in his lap. I know I was dreaming and sleeping and my thoughts were of the future and our life together.

Yet never, ever once did I dream of this day. It isn't something I could ever have imagined...in those days when I drove this road every day.

I didn't dream about you in the back seat with your bridesmaids, making a wedding, planning a future, growing our family by yet one more person.

This life is so vast, so outside the lines....like trying to get your mind to go outside your mind.

Though I didn't dream it or plan it or imagine it, you are here, and this reality is so much better than anything I would or could have imagined. It is bigger, more alive, more daring, and so much deeper and more beautiful. A life of heightened contrast.

How many times have I traveled this road?

Many. More than I can count.

And none. None at all.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Why Co-Housing?

The author of Little House on a Small Planet, Shay Salomen, writes,

"How is it that we have a housing crisis? Maybe a homing crisis, or a sharing crisis, but this isn't a housing crisis."

This was written in a time when the U.S. was considered to be having a housing crisis. Now I think we have, perhaps, a different type of housing crisis, one in which there are too many large expensive homes, and everyone is trying to downsize when downsized houses barely exist. I love how she refers to this as a sharing crisis, though, because it exactly fits how I feel about co-housing/multi-generational housing/intentional community, or whatever else you want to call it. For the purpose of simplicity, it means sharing your house with other adults. Our co-housing adventure begins next week when Vespera & Novio get married (or, perhaps, 2 weeks from now, when they're home from their honeymoon). They'll be living with us.

Why share? Well, to be honest, it makes sense to me as a family therapist, as an environmentalist, and as a Christian. Maybe I'll take those points in backwards order. As Christians we are called to be the church. I spent some time in graduate school really working out what that means and came to the conclusion that my professor, LeRon Schultz, says it best. He spoke of how the church of the Bible was a group of people who were called to live together in community, loving and serving each other, in a way that calls or draws other people to God. In other words, the early church was supposed to share.

All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:44-47)
They didn't stop having houses or possessions entirely, as evidenced by the fact that they went to each other's houses and ate, but they gladly shared all they had with each other. And, frankly, people were drawn in by that kind of community, by that kind of selflessness and sharing. People became Christians because of the example the early church set. They wanted what that little group of people had. This is our calling...to live in this beautiful relationship with each other in a way that attracts others, that draws them. I have often thought of our house as one of peace and one of healing. It is the deep desire of Mango & I to offer grace and rest to all who enter here. Who better to begin with than our children?

So, secondly, as an environmentalist, shared housing makes so much sense. Why use more natural resources to build more houses when the houses we have are big enough to house more people? Why burn the fuel to heat two houses when we all fit in one? Why use the electricity to light two kitchens and two living rooms? Why buy more dishes and appliances when we can share? It's a matter of environmental stewardship to leave a smaller footprint.

And, finally, as a family therapist, a mother, and a human being, shared housing means we have access to the community we so desperately need. We were not created to spend long hours without the company of others or to take care of all the tasks of daily life alone. Post partum depression is so common for new mothers because they're so isolated. Spending all day with only the company of a small child is exhausting, lonely, and (let's admit it) boring work. I know that I was delighted to learn when Vespera came to us that I was gaining, not simply another daughter, but some thoughtful company and interesting conversation. More people in a house means more opportunities to learn and to grow, to share thoughts, to gather ideas, to be challenged and to challenge others, to be sharpened, to develop into better, more whole and holy people (to throw in some more theology). Not to mention, that shared housing also means dividing responsibilities and multiplying our celebrations!

I cannot say all this without mentioning that I am also an introvert, partial to time alone and a little space to think. I imagine that other introverts reading here are feeling a bit horrified at the suggestion of co-housing. This is why sharing a house requires some healthy people with good boundaries. It can't be done thoughtlessly or without the necessary communication skills. This is, perhaps, another blog post altogether. So, I think I'll leave it at that.

As always, I invite your thoughts, comments, questions, and prayer. Thanks!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Teaching, Timing, Trust

There are so many things I want my children to know before they are grown. So many things I want to tell them. So many things I want them to know. Every so often I must remind myself of two things. First, that I won't stop telling them things just because they're grown. And, second, that there are many lessons they will and need to learn on their own. Often it's only in retrospect that we can look back and say, "I wish someone had told me that." The truth is that maybe we wouldn't have been able to hear it or it wouldn't have made sense or we would have forgotten anyway because it didn't seem relevant. I think that's why premarital counseling often has so little effect. It's not just that it's young love or that it's all so new and romantic, but when a person just isn't ready for a piece of information, it often goes in the waste bin rather than the file cabinet. They won't need the information until they're in the situation. And that's why parenting is a full time job that never ends. We've got to be there when the timing is right and the wisdom is relevant...which is so often different from the timing we expected.

I was musing the other night about how babies seem to just learn things on their own. I remember having some freakish fear that we needed to be doing something to help Mane learn to crawl, and then one day she just crawled...with no help from us. I think that sometimes we think we're doing something by holding those tiny hands and helping the baby walk across the room, but, strangely enough, most babies will learn to walk whether we practice with them or not. We repeat words to them over and over, "Mama, Mama, Mama, Mama," only to have them burst out with "Dada" or "ball" or "cat." Sure, they still learned from us, but not in the way we expected...not by any direct teaching...and certainly in their own way and in their own time. I suppose that's why how we live our lives is more important that what we say. We're being watched even when we're not teaching.

It's such a dance...that knowing when to teach and when to trust. Knowing when you've said or done enough. Even knowing when direct teaching will interfere with the deeper teaching that comes of personal experience. When to say something and when to let the lesson be learned. Holding on. Letting go. Holding back. Pouring forth.

I love it that the verbs "to wait" and "to hope" and "to expect" are the same in Spanish.

Sometimes we must wait.
Hold back.
Keep pace, not running ahead.
And hope, knowing that we have already built the foundation,
And sit on the edge of our seats expectantly,
knowing that something glorious is about to break forth.
All on it's own.
Without our help.