Parenting and Emotional Intelligence

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As you look back on your childhood, how did your family of origin approach feelings? How has that shaped you and the way you interact with others? If you are a parent, how does that play itself out in the way you interact with your children?

This is what researchers call “meta-emotions”; your underlying narrative that interprets how you think and feel about feelings. There are significant implications for parenting. In his book, Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child, John Gottman says this:

They (parents) want to teach their kids to handle problems effectively and to form strong, healthy relationships. But there’s a big difference between wanting to do right by your kids and actually having the wherewithal to carry it off. That’s because good parenting requires more than intellect. It touches a dimension of the personality that’s been ignored in much of the advice dispensed to parents over the past thirty years. Good parenting involves emotion.

Positive and Negative Emotions

There are basic families of emotions. Some have categorized them into positive and negative. Examples of positive emotions are happiness, excitement, empathy, pleasure and interest. Examples of negative emotions are sadness, anger, contempt, embarrassment and fear. Labeling some emotions as positive and others as negative might imply that you should encourage the good ones and suppress the bad ones. But that would be the furthest thing from the truth. The goal is to understand and express positive and negative emotions appropriately.

The Psalms are a good representation of how to express both kinds of emotions. They show us that positive and negative emotions can either be expressed in godly or ungodly ways. So sadness, anger, fear and embarrassment can be expressed in godly ways and positive emotions can potentially be expressed in ungodly ways. For example, I can be sad over the loss of a loved one and express that in a way that is appropriate and godly. On the other hand, I can be happy and excited due to a misuse of an intoxicant and that would be ungodly.

Parenting and Emotions

John Gottman identifies four parenting styles as they relate to emotions. The first three are unhelpful and the fourth is helpful.

Parenting Style #1: The Dismissing Style

This style of parenting is the “just get over it” style. In an effort to avoid negative emotions, the parent will say something like, “You don’t need to be sad. It’s not that bad. Put a smile on your face. There’s no reason to be unhappy.” Gottman says that while the parent may be well-intentioned, the child is taught that certain emotions aren’t to be experienced and should be avoided.

Parenting Style #2: The Disapproving Style

This style actually punishes negative emotions. Disapproving parents view negative emotions as unacceptable and controllable, so instead of trying to understand the child’s emotions, they discipline or punish them for the way they feel. This rarely enables to child to calm down and it places a great deal of guilt on the child. They may grow up thinking that something is wrong with them.

Parenting Style #3: The Laissez-Faire Style

If the first two styles are not helpful, it may be tempting to think that you should just let children feel and express their emotions any way they want to. It sounds like, “That’s it, just let the feelings out. Whatever you feel like doing is okay.” This style makes the child feel safe with their emotions, but it places no limits on their behavior and there is little guidance on how to deal with their emotions.

Parenting Style #4: The Emotion Coaching Style

This style of parenting engages with the child and their emotions and seeks to understand them while also helping the child express their emotions in appropriate ways. “Tell me how you feel. I’ve felt that way, too. And you can’t hit someone when you are angry. Let’s think together about other things you can do when you feel this way.” There are five basic steps for this style of parenting your children:

  1. Be aware of your child’s emotions.
  2. Recognize emotions as an opportunity to connect.
  3. Listen with empathy.
  4. Help the child name emotions.
  5. Set limits and find good solutions.

Ephesians 4:26: Be angry but do not sin

While Paul may not have had the language of emotional intelligence, he does understand that a so called “negative” emotion like anger can be godly and it can be expressed appropriately. Not only that, he makes a case for emotional intelligence in the latter part of the same verse where he says, do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity for the devil.

What is Paul saying here? Does he mean that you need to make sure you go to a person and deal rightly with your anger before the literal sun actually sets over the literal horizon? I think not. Paul is encouraging us to deal with our anger, and the first thing we need to do is slow down and deal with our own hearts before we go to someone else. It is quite likely that Paul has Psalm 4:4 in view:

Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the Lord.

Do you see what the Psalmist does? He acknowledges that anger can be expressed without sin, but one must slow down and deal with their own hearts before the Lord before moving forward. This is a call to self-awareness. But the self-awareness that Scripture calls for is one that has the kindness and mercy of God in view. What is an acceptable sacrifice that the Psalmist has in view in verse 4? King David says this in Psalm 51:16-17:

For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

The next time you experience any emotion or encounter an emotion in your child, you would do well to slow down and ponder God’s mercy for you in Christ. Allow that experience to move you to engage with your child so that you can help them process their emotions and find helpful ways to express them. You might even have the opportunity to disciple them by letting them know just how the mercy and grace of Jesus is helping you to do this.

This blog borrows from two books by John Gottman. I would highly encourage you to read them both:

What Am I Feeling?
By John Gottman PhD
 
Copyright © 2017 Timothy S. Lane
Comment

Tim Lane

Dr. Timothy S. Lane is the President of the Institute for Pastoral Care and has a counseling practice in Fayetteville, GA. He is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), having been ordained in 1991 and a member of Metro-Atlanta Presbytery. Tim has authored Living Without Worry: How to Replace Anxiety with Peace, and co-authored How People Change and Relationships: A Mess Worth Making. He has written several mini-books including PTSD, Forgiving Others, Sex Before Marriage, Family Feuds, Conflict, and Freedom From Guilt.

He has experience in both campus ministry (University of Georgia, 1984-1987) and pastoral ministry where he served as a pastor in Clemson, SC from 1991 until 2001. Beginning in 2001 until 2013, he served as a counselor and faculty at a counseling organization  in Philadelphia, PA. Beginning in 2007, he served as its Executive Director until 2013.

In 2014, Tim and his family re-located to his home state, Georgia, where he formed the non profit ministry the Institute for Pastoral Care. His primary desire and commitment is to help pastors and leaders create or improve their ability to care for the people who attend their churches. For more information about this aspect of Tim's work, please visit the section of this site for the Institute for Pastoral Care. He continues to write, speak and travel both nationally and internationally. Tim is adjunct professor of practical theology at several seminaries where he teaches about pastoral care in the local church.

Marriage and Emotional Intelligence

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How are you doing with emotional intelligence in your marriage? If you want to find out, keep reading to see if you can identify with the following examples.

Example 1

Emotional Intelligence Fail!

Andy is upset because his life is a roller coaster of workplace politics. When he comes home at the end of the day, he likes to debrief with his wife, Melissa, who is also arriving home from work. Here is how the conversation typically goes:

Andy: You wouldn’t believe what happened today! Jeremy went behind my back and thwarted a change that I had put in place to increase our department’s efficiency. It drives me crazy the way he does this. It feels disrespectful. He reports to me.

Melissa: Well, Andy, you should know by now that he is going to do that. Can’t you just confront him? I mean, it is really that simple. I think you should send an email to him saying that you need to talk to him. Don’t put it off. I know you are tired, but you have to nip this kind of behavior in the bud. Let him know who is in charge. If you don’t do it now, it will just get worse…(blah...blah...blah).

Andy: (Dead silence…..)

Emotional Intelligence Pass with Flying Colors!

Andy: You wouldn’t believe what happened today! Jeremy went behind my back and thwarted a change that I had put in place to increase our department’s efficiency. It drives me crazy the way he does this. It feels disrespectful. He reports to me.

Melissa: Oh no, this happened again? I am so sorry you had to experience that. Jeremy is a real thorn in your side, isn’t he? You must really be upset…..

Andy: Thank you so much for understanding. Sometimes I just need to share my frustrations, and it helps me to know that you are there for me. I may want to talk with you later tonight once we get the kids to bed. I could use your insight.

Example 2

Emotional Intelligence Fail!

Sara has been home all day taking care of her 5 year old son and 2 year old daughter. When her husband, Dan, comes home, she shares some of her struggles that she has encountered throughout the day.

Sara: Dan, you wouldn’t believe what kind of day it has been. First, Johnny vomited about 3 times from a stomach virus that came out of nowhere. And Jessica has been at it again with her strong-willed nature, pushing all of my buttons. I am exhausted!

Dan: Sara, it is so hard to come in the front door everyday after I have been at work and listen to you complain about the kids. You need to have a firmer handle on caring for our kids. I have a job, too, but I don’t come home complaining about everything that is on my plate…..(blah, blah, blah).

Sara: (Silence…….crying)

Emotional Intelligence Pass with Flying Colors!

Sara: Dan you wouldn’t believe what kind of day it has been. First, Johnny vomited about 3 times from a stomach virus that came out of nowhere. And Jessica has been at it again with her strong-willed nature, pushing all of my buttons. I am exhausted!

Dan: Wow! What a day it has been for you! What a bummer about Johnny. Is he okay? And I’m sorry you had to have Jessica pushing your buttons all day while that was going on. How can I help?

Sara: I am so glad you are home. I really could use some help. Thanks!

What’s the Difference?

Three simple words: Listening, Understanding and Empathy. This is very different from trying to fix the problem or change your spouse’s emotions. The bottom line is being able to stay connected and identify with them in the moment, especially when they are expressing so called "negative emotions".

What Does the Research Say?

Emotional intelligence (self-awareness and other-awareness) is not only important for the workplace, it is highly important for marriage and family. While both husbands and wives need to grow in emotional intelligence, it seems that men are often in more need than their wives. Statistics say that about 35% of men are emotionally intelligent, and that has risen some over the past several decades. The research is not certain as to why there is a difference. Is it nature or nurture? Probably some of both. In his classic work, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, John Gottman says this about emotional intelligence and men:

I believe the emotionally intelligent husband is the next step in social evolution. This doesn’t mean that he is superior to other men in personality, upbringing or moral fiber. He has simply figured out something very important about being married that the others haven’t---yet. And that is how to honor his wife and convey his respect for her. It is really that elementary…..The other kind of husband and father is a very sad story. He responds to the loss of male entitlement with righteous indignation or a sense of victimization. He may become more authoritarian or withdraw into a lonely shell, protecting what little he has left. He does not give others very much honor and respect because he is engaged in a search for the honor and respect he thinks is his due (pages 124-125).

What Does Scripture Say?

Maybe the Apostle Peter understood something that modern research has confirmed when he says this to husbands in I Peter 3:7:

Husbands, live considerately with your wives, and treat them with respect…

While Peter didn’t have the vocabulary of emotional intelligence, he certainly captured the meaning in his encouragement to husbands. What he says is particularly amazing when you think about how patriarchal the cultural and religious milieu was in his day. Here is how one commentator puts it:

Live considerately with your wives is literally, ‘living together according to knowledge’. The ‘knowledge’ Peter intends here may include any knowledge that would be beneficial to the husband-wife relationship: knowledge of God’s purposes and principles for marriage; knowledge of the wife’s desires, goals, and frustrations; knowledge of her strengths and weaknesses in the physical, emotional and spiritual realms. A husband who lives according to such knowledge will greatly enrich his marriage relationship…(Wayne Grudem, I Peter, Tyndale, p. 142-143).

While this sounds simple and easy, it’s not. Believe me, I need a daily reminder myself. I would love to hear your thoughts.

Copyright © 2017 Timothy S. Lane
1 Comment

Tim Lane

Dr. Timothy S. Lane is the President of the Institute for Pastoral Care and has a counseling practice in Fayetteville, GA. He is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), having been ordained in 1991 and a member of Metro-Atlanta Presbytery. Tim has authored Living Without Worry: How to Replace Anxiety with Peace, and co-authored How People Change and Relationships: A Mess Worth Making. He has written several mini-books including PTSD, Forgiving Others, Sex Before Marriage, Family Feuds, Conflict, and Freedom From Guilt.

He has experience in both campus ministry (University of Georgia, 1984-1987) and pastoral ministry where he served as a pastor in Clemson, SC from 1991 until 2001. Beginning in 2001 until 2013, he served as a counselor and faculty at a counseling organization  in Philadelphia, PA. Beginning in 2007, he served as its Executive Director until 2013.

In 2014, Tim and his family re-located to his home state, Georgia, where he formed the non profit ministry the Institute for Pastoral Care. His primary desire and commitment is to help pastors and leaders create or improve their ability to care for the people who attend their churches. For more information about this aspect of Tim's work, please visit the section of this site for the Institute for Pastoral Care. He continues to write, speak and travel both nationally and internationally. Tim is adjunct professor of practical theology at several seminaries where he teaches about pastoral care in the local church.

Four Pillars for a Lasting Marriage

How do you keep the song in your relationship? It seems as if most couples drift apart over time. They get married, build careers, raise the children and then wake up one morning and wonder who the other is. While each person in a marriage is an individual, once you are married you become a team. How you keep the team together is everything. Marriage expert, John Gottman puts it this way:

Marriage isn’t just about raising kids, splitting chores, and making love. It can also have a spiritual dimension that has to do with creating an inner life together--a culture rich with symbols and rituals, and an appreciation for your roles and goals that link you and that lead you to understand who you are as a family (p. 261)

This is Gottman’s seventh principle. He calls it Create Shared Meaning. Before we look at the last of the seven principles, let’s remember the first six with a brief paraphrase in parentheses:

  1. Enhance Your Love Maps (never stop getting to know each other)
  2. Nurture Your Fondness and Admiration (stay positive)
  3. Turn Toward Each Other Instead of Away (seek re-connection)
  4. Let Your Partner Influence You (appreciate one another’s strengths)
  5. Solve Your Solvable Problems (fix what you can fix)
  6. Overcome Gridlock (learn to live with lifelong differences)

Create Shared Meaning

In this seventh principle, Gottman is moving in the direction of a deeper spiritual foundation that all marriages need to thrive. Marriage can’t just be limited to two human beings forming a deep friendship. As important as that is, there must be something transcendent. Something bigger than the marriage that gives it meaning outside of the relationship. He calls this the “Four Pillars of Shared Meaning.”

Pillar One: Rituals of Connection

Gottman says that “creating rituals in your marriage (and with your children) can be a powerful antidote to the tendency to disconnect” (p. 263). What does he mean by ritual?

A ritual is a structured event or routine that you each enjoy and depend on and that both reflects and reinforces your sense of togetherness. Most of us are familiar with rituals from childhood, whether going to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, lighting Kwanzaa candles or the menorah, sharing pumpkin pie at Grandma’s Thanksgiving, attending family reunions, etc. However, it’s common for people not to discuss what these traditions symbolize to them. In his book The Intentional Family, sociologist William Doherty highlighted the importance of couples creating rituals that are intentional and meaningful. By recognizing the ongoing value and significance of the rituals you each bring to your relationship, and the new ones you create together, you further your identity as a family. (p. 264)

Pillar Two: Support For Each Other’s Roles

The more a couple shares a similar vision of the role they play in the marriage, the deeper the connection. This is not only connected to how husband and wife view their roles with each other, it also is connected to what they value in terms of parenting and what they want to pass along to their children. Gottman is clear to say that this does not mean complete agreement on every matter. Instead, he emphasizes that there should be enough cohesion between husband and wife that they work alongside one another as a team.

Pillar Three: Shared Goals

A common vision for accomplishing deep and meaningful goals creates a deep bond between husband and wife. Raising children with specific beliefs and convictions, giving generously of time and money to special projects that serve the community, or caring for extended family as they age are all examples of significant shared goals.

Pillar Four: Shared Values and Symbols

These values and symbols are often associated with fundamental beliefs that arise out of one’s religious beliefs and commitments.

Values and beliefs form the final pillar of shared meaning in a marriage. These are philosophical tenets that guide how you wish to conduct your lives. For some people, values are deeply rooted in religious conviction. (p. 270)

In his book, Gottman provides helpful questions for a couple to determine where they need to grow according to each of these four pillars. What is most helpful is how practical the questions and exercises are. Most couples can grasp the big concepts, it's knowing how to specifically implement them that is the challenge.

Gottman and The Gospel

In this final section, Gottman is attempting to tether couples to something transcendent; something bigger than their own marriage. I find this immensely important because this is exactly what Scripture does with much greater clarity. The Apostle Paul connects the covenant of marriage to the bigger covenant relationship that each spouse has with the true and living God. He also says that marriage is a picture of Christ’s relationship with his people. Hear Paul’s familiar words in Ephesians 5:31-33:

“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery--but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

Notice how Paul goes back and forth between the marriage between spouses and God’s relationship to his people. Paul understands the priorities of the vertical and horizontal dimensions in a lasting marriage.

The overall strength of John Gottman’s work is the insight he has gained through hours of observation, research and reflection. He has picked up on the contours for what makes relationships work. The micro-moments of interaction between spouses is critical to the health and well-being of a marriage. This insight alone is worth pondering and acting upon.

This is where we can most learn from Gottman. It may be tempting to casually dismiss his findings and argue that the Bible has already captured what Gottman has observed. But what I have found in my own marriage and in those whom I have helped, is how easy it is to overlook the obvious. We can articulate the grand themes of Scripture and talk about a I Corinthians 13 kind of love, but most of us don’t know what that looks like in our daily interactions.

Any thoughtful Christian can see where the good news of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection intersect and add beautiful and substantive depth to what Gottman observes and offers at the level of attitudes, emotions and behaviors. We can also thank God for John Gottman for his research, insights and commitment to marriage.

Copyright © 2016 Timothy S. Lane

Comment

Tim Lane

Dr. Timothy S. Lane is the President of the Institute for Pastoral Care and has a counseling practice in Fayetteville, GA. He is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), having been ordained in 1991 and a member of Metro-Atlanta Presbytery. Tim has authored Living Without Worry: How to Replace Anxiety with Peace, and co-authored How People Change and Relationships: A Mess Worth Making. He has written several mini-books including PTSD, Forgiving Others, Sex Before Marriage, Family Feuds, Conflict, and Freedom From Guilt.

He has experience in both campus ministry (University of Georgia, 1984-1987) and pastoral ministry where he served as a pastor in Clemson, SC from 1991 until 2001. Beginning in 2001 until 2013, he served as a counselor and faculty at a counseling organization  in Philadelphia, PA. Beginning in 2007, he served as its Executive Director until 2013.

In 2014, Tim and his family re-located to his home state, Georgia, where he formed the non profit ministry the Institute for Pastoral Care. His primary desire and commitment is to help pastors and leaders create or improve their ability to care for the people who attend their churches. For more information about this aspect of Tim's work, please visit the section of this site for the Institute for Pastoral Care. He continues to write, speak and travel both nationally and internationally. Tim is adjunct professor of practical theology at several seminaries where he teaches about pastoral care in the local church.

Four Things to Help Overcome Gridlock in Your Marriage

Have you ever found yourself in a place in your marriage where you and your spouse disagree and it seems like there is no way forward? At some point, in any marriage, this is a possibility. It happens when you can’t learn to live with your perpetual problems. According to John Gottman every couple has two kinds of problems; perpetual (70%) and solvable (30%). How a couple handles the perpetual problems is critical to avoiding gridlock.

Here are some possible issues that can be the source of gridlock:

  • She wants another child, he doesn’t
  • He wants to adopt, she doesn’t
  • She wants to attend this church, he wants to attend another
  • He wants to go out and enjoy friends, she would rather stay at home
  • She doesn’t mind clutter, he can’t stand the site of dust
  • He wants a dog, she wants a cat
  • She wants him to lead family devotions, he wants her to
  • He wants a mini-SUV, she wants a mini-van
  • She wants to decorate the house, he wants to increase their giving to charity
  • He hates being late, she doesn’t mind being late

If you take a good look at the various types of issues that can lead to gridlock, you will notice that it can be anything! It can be something as significant as having children or a spiritual conviction to something as minor as how clean and orderly you prefer your house to be. Gottman says this:

Whether they seem important or petty to outsiders, all gridlocked disagreements share four characteristics. You’ll know you’ve reached gridlock if:
1. You’ve had the same argument again and again with no resolution.
2. Neither of you can address the issue with humor, empathy, or affection.
3. The issue is becoming increasingly polarizing as time goes on.
4. Compromise seems impossible because it would mean selling out–giving up something important and core to your beliefs, values, or sense of self.

Does that sound familiar? Do you and your spouse or another couple you know describe an issue in their marriage in this way? If so, what can you do? Here are four things, according to John Gottman:

1. Become a Dream Detective

According to Gottman, gridlock reveals that there are core values and beliefs underneath gridlock. So while the issue may look simple on the surface, there is much more going on underneath.

To navigate your way out of gridlock, you have to first understand that no matter how seemingly insignificant the issue, gridlock is a sign that you each have dreams for your life that the other isn’t aware of, hasn’t acknowledged, or doesn’t respect. By dreams I mean the hopes, aspirations, and wishes that are part of your identity and give purpose and meaning to your life (p.238).

In order to avoid gridlock, you must become aware of the dreams that are underneath the conflict, begin to respect your spouse’s dreams and learn to incorporate their dreams into the relationship. When you have reached an impasse, there is a loss of respect, fondness and admiration. You must reclaim that. The way you do that is by asking your spouse what the area of gridlock means to them. What dream is it attached to?

As you listen, you may begin to see the deeper logic and start to reconnect with your spouse. This may seem simplistic, but it isn’t. It is never simplistic to make attempts to understand your spouse and listen to them as they share their deeper dreams and aspirations.

2. Remain Calm

Discussing issues that involve gridlock can be very emotional because it has become a source of tension that has remained in the marriage for a long time. To bring it up again will require wisdom. Gottman suggests that if either spouse begins to feel overwhelmed, it is important to stop the discussion and take a 20 minute break. During that 20 minute break, do something that is calming (read, go for a walk, listen to some music, pray).

3. Reach a Temporary Compromise

Gottman says that this next step will allow you to continue to discuss the issue. It will likely never go away but you are seeking to “defang” the issue that is causing gridlock. You do this by separating the issue in two ways and drawing two circles:

“Nonnegotiable areas” circle: These are the aspects of the conflict that you absolutely cannot give on without violating your basic needs or core values.

“Areas of flexibility” circle: This category includes all parts of the issue where you can be flexible, because they are not so “hot” for you.

Gottman encourages the couple to make the nonnegotiable circle as small as they can and the flexibility circle as big as possible. The couple should make an attempt over the next two months and then come back to the table and evaluate how they are doing. This will not solve the problem but it will help a couple live more peacefully with one another.

Here is an example of reaching a temporary compromise from Gottman’s book:

Kyle and Nicole

Gridlocked problem: Very different comfort levels with expressing emotions.

1. Detect and Discuss the Dreams Within the Conflict
Nicole’s Dream: Being emotional is part of her self-identity and part of what gives meaning to her life.
Kyle’s Dream: He sees being emotional as a weakness.

2. Remain Calm
They both agree that if either starts to feel overwhelmed in the discussing that it is okay to take a break and come back to discuss more.

3. Reach Temporary Compromise (Two-Circled Method)

Nonnegotiable areas:
Nicole’s: She cannot stop reacting with great passion to life.
Kyle’s: He cannot become a highly emotional person just to please her.

Areas of flexibility: They both accept that their spouse cannot change a basic personality trait.

Temporary Compromise: They will be respectful of their differences in this area. He will be receptive to her need to talk about and share feelings. She will accept when he cannot do this.

Ongoing Conflict: They will continue to have very different approaches to expressing emotion. (p.257)

4. Say “Thank You”

Dealing with gridlock is never easy. That is why it is so important to end the discussion on a positive note. This will be a process that won’t be “fixed” quickly. You will know that progress is being made when the issue feels less loaded and scary.

Gottman and the Gospel

What are we to make of this approach to gridlock? First, Gottman will tell you that he has seen this work for many couples. That, by itself, ought to get our attention. Why would we not want to utilize some basic skills to help couples who are in the midst of gridlock? But can we offer couples something more than helpful skills? Better, can we offer them something that strengthens their ability to face gridlock in their marriages? I think so.

Listen carefully to the Apostle Paul in Philippians 2:

If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, in any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Pondering the self-sacrificial work of Christ in our behalf and praying to Father, Son and Spirit for grace will certainly enable a couple to move forward with humility, thinking more carefully about their spouse. This does not mean that it will not be a process or that it will be easy. It does mean that there is something unique about tapping into a power and resource outside of ourselves.

Remember, listening to another person’s dreams, remaining calm, seeking compromise and expressing appreciation do not come naturally. Thankfully, we have Someone who has redeemed us and is “purifying for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good” (Titus 2:14).

Copyright © 2016 Timothy S. Lane

Comment

Tim Lane

Dr. Timothy S. Lane is the President of the Institute for Pastoral Care and has a counseling practice in Fayetteville, GA. He is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), having been ordained in 1991 and a member of Metro-Atlanta Presbytery. Tim has authored Living Without Worry: How to Replace Anxiety with Peace, and co-authored How People Change and Relationships: A Mess Worth Making. He has written several mini-books including PTSD, Forgiving Others, Sex Before Marriage, Family Feuds, Conflict, and Freedom From Guilt.

He has experience in both campus ministry (University of Georgia, 1984-1987) and pastoral ministry where he served as a pastor in Clemson, SC from 1991 until 2001. Beginning in 2001 until 2013, he served as a counselor and faculty at a counseling organization  in Philadelphia, PA. Beginning in 2007, he served as its Executive Director until 2013.

In 2014, Tim and his family re-located to his home state, Georgia, where he formed the non profit ministry the Institute for Pastoral Care. His primary desire and commitment is to help pastors and leaders create or improve their ability to care for the people who attend their churches. For more information about this aspect of Tim's work, please visit the section of this site for the Institute for Pastoral Care. He continues to write, speak and travel both nationally and internationally. Tim is adjunct professor of practical theology at several seminaries where he teaches about pastoral care in the local church.

Two Things You Need When You Disagree With Your Spouse

Do you and your spouse seem to argue about the same issues that never get resolved? You are not alone. Even good marriages have these kinds of disagreements. In reality, all marriages have challenges. You can’t live in close proximity with another human being and not struggle to love them; and it’s the same with them as they relate to you.

John Gottman has spent a lifetime helping couples grow in their ability to love one another. In his most popular book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, he focuses on very practical ways we can love our spouses and enjoy our marriages through what he calls Positive Sentiment Override, or PSO. The first three aspects of PSO are:

  • Enhance Your Love Maps: never stop learning who your spouse is.
  • Nurture Your Fondness and Admiration: make sure you focus on the positive more than the negative.
  • Turn Toward Each Other Instead of Away: always try to tune into your spouse.

These first three enable a couple to build a solid friendship. Gottman has found that couples who have more positive than negative interactions and thoughts about their spouses are better able to deal with conflicts when they emerge.

Our research confirms the central role that bids play in a relationship. In our six-year follow-up of newlyweds, we found that couples who remained married had turned toward their partner’s bids an average of 86 percent of the time in the Love Lab, while those who ended up divorced had averaged only 33 percent (p.88)

With that foundation, Gottman says that you will more likely be able to navigate the challenges of marriage. He then proposes four things that are necessary for doing just that. Here are the first two:

Let Your Partner Influence You

In every relationship, there are power issues that must be acknowledged. In Genesis, immediately after the Fall, Adam and Eve entered into what some have described as the battle of the sexes. Genesis 3:16 says, “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” This is describing sinful power plays between husband and wife as a result of the fall.

Gottman has observed and sees the importance of each partner sharing strengths and allowing each to influence the other:

In our long-term study of 130 newlywed couples, whom we followed for nine years, we found that, even in the first few months of marriage, men who allowed their wives to influence them had happier relationships and were less likely to eventually divorce than men who resisted their wives’ influence. Statistically speaking, when a man is not willing to share power with his partner there is an 81 percent chance that his marriage will self-destruct (p. 116).

Gottman goes on to say that no matter what your religious views are, mutual respect and learning from each other are necessary for a strong marriage. This is consistent with the appropriately understood meaning of Ephesians 5:22-33, which emphasizes serving one another within the context of marriage. The bottom line is mutual respect and a willingness to learn from one another is critical for a couple to enjoy their relationship.

Tim and Kathy Keller put it this way in their book, The Meaning of Marriage,

Whether we are husband or wife, we are not to live for ourselves but for the other. And that is the hardest yet single most important function of being a husband or a wife in marriage (p.50).

Solve Your Solvable Problems

At this point, he begins to address conflict. This comes on the heels of the first four principles. He isn’t avoiding the issue, he is saying that a couple’s ability to navigate conflict is equal to their friendship. But once he gets here, he spends four chapters providing some of the most practical advice and counsel I have read.

He first distinguishes between two types of conflict in a marriage,

Although you may feel your situation is unique, we have found that all marital conflicts, ranging from mundane annoyances to all-out wars, really fall into one of two categories: either they can be resolved, or they are perpetual, which means they will be a part of your lives forever in some form or another. Once you are able to identify and define your various disagreements, you’ll be able to customize your coping strategies, depending on which of these two types of conflict you’re having (p. 137).

Perpetual problems: make up about 69% of happy couples’ conflict (having kids, sex, money, housework, raising and disciplining kids to name a few). What happy couples are able to do is live with these differences and approach it with a sense of humor. In unstable marriages, these same problems eventually kill the relationship. Gottman calls this “gridlock.”

Solvable problems: make up the remaining 31% of conflict in a marriage. If not addressed in helpful ways, they can have a negative impact on the relationship, creating space for the four horsemen of the apocalypse (criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling). Here are the basic skills all couples need to deal with their solvable problems:

  • Distinguishing between perpetual and solvable problems
  • Soften your start-up
  • Learn to make and receive repair attempts
  • Soothe yourself and each other
  • Compromise
  • Process any grievances so that they don’t linger

In each of these items, you will find some practical skills that are easy to learn. He covers typical problems such as relations with in-laws, money, chores around the house, sex and becoming new parents.

I can’t stress enough how helpful these three chapters are!

Gottman and the Gospel

John Gottman’s research will serve you and your spouse well. If you are a helper/counselor, his material will serve well those you seek to help. I continue to find that true in my own marriage and those I minister to. Scripture confirms Gottman’s research and his astute observations. But the Christian has an additional perspective that is truly humbling, comforting and liberating. We have deeper themes of grace, mercy and forgiveness that are available to us in Christ. While skills are important, building skillful living on the foundation of the Gospel is transformational. While happy marriages are good, happy marriages where each spouse is being conformed into the likeness of Christ is much better.

Copyright © 2016 Timothy S. Lane

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Tim Lane

Dr. Timothy S. Lane is the President of the Institute for Pastoral Care and has a counseling practice in Fayetteville, GA. He is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), having been ordained in 1991 and a member of Metro-Atlanta Presbytery. Tim has authored Living Without Worry: How to Replace Anxiety with Peace, and co-authored How People Change and Relationships: A Mess Worth Making. He has written several mini-books including PTSD, Forgiving Others, Sex Before Marriage, Family Feuds, Conflict, and Freedom From Guilt.

He has experience in both campus ministry (University of Georgia, 1984-1987) and pastoral ministry where he served as a pastor in Clemson, SC from 1991 until 2001. Beginning in 2001 until 2013, he served as a counselor and faculty at a counseling organization  in Philadelphia, PA. Beginning in 2007, he served as its Executive Director until 2013.

In 2014, Tim and his family re-located to his home state, Georgia, where he formed the non profit ministry the Institute for Pastoral Care. His primary desire and commitment is to help pastors and leaders create or improve their ability to care for the people who attend their churches. For more information about this aspect of Tim's work, please visit the section of this site for the Institute for Pastoral Care. He continues to write, speak and travel both nationally and internationally. Tim is adjunct professor of practical theology at several seminaries where he teaches about pastoral care in the local church.