Saturday, December 10, 2016

Week 13: Transitions in Marriage, In-Law Relations

In-Laws or Out-laws?

It’s a fair question. In-laws sometimes get a bad rap for being more like serial killers. The movie Meet the Parents comes to mind. When was the last time a husband told his buddies at work “Dude, I’m so stoked – my mother-in-law is coming to stay with us for a whole month!” And have you ever heard a woman say “Sure, I can go out for girls’ night – my mother-in-law is coming to town but I don’t need to clean the house because she’s really understanding and nonjudgmental.”

We just don’t hear that. Usually it’s the opposite. I know that personally, my house is never cleaner than when my in-laws are inbound. However, this is an expectation that I place on myself, imagining that my mother-in-law is going to be going over every surface with a white glove. I struck out big time in this area. My mother-in-law knows how busy I am and how chaotic our life is. Having raised four kids herself, she understands that children are actually more like mini-tornadoes, reeking destruction and making any effort expended on housework superfluous at times. At the same time, I feel that pressure to have my house in tip-top shape when she walks in the door. And the funny part is, I don’t feel the need to keep the house clean with my in-laws there, just to have it pristine when they walk in.

My husband has told me time again that his house was not perfectly clean growing up, that he had hot dogs and macaroni and cheese for many a dinner, and that his saintly mother wielded the wooden spoon once or twice and even swore. Yet I still find myself up against my perception of her: an angelic woman who always serves well-rounded meals and never raised her voice to her children, whom she spent their entire lives cherishing. When comparing myself to this unrealistic ideal, I will always be found wanting.

So, how do we get around this in-law problem? In Creating Healthy Ties with In-Laws and Extended Families, we are given a few pointers for developing a healthy mother/daughter-in-law relationships.

Daughters-in-Law SHOULD: 

  • Communicate openly
  • Accept differences
  • Use empathy
  • Push for relational connection
  • Disclose information about themselves

Mothers-in-Law SHOULD NOT:

  • Give advice (unsolicited)
  • Criticize
  • Pin-down children-in-law as to specific reasons they are missing a family event
  • Take over discipline of grandchildren
  • Try to control everyone and everything including children’s beliefs
  • Communicate unclearly or indirectly

The Mother-in-Law list was actually more of a no-no list for in-laws in general, but I feel that it works specifically for the mother/daughters-in-law relationship. So, how is your relationship with your Mother-in-law? If it is strained, have a candid conversation. If you have a skewed ideal of her as a mom, try calling her up when you're about to lose it with your kids and see what she says. You may just find out she's human!

Monday, December 5, 2016

Week 12: Transitions in Marriage

The Dread Pirate Roberts Had All the Answers

I found a lot of good quotes from this week’s reading. My favorite was when President Gordon  B. Hinckley, speaking of his relationship with Sister Hinckley, said: “[I] get out of her way, and marvel at what she does.” I love this so much!

Another idea that I really liked had more to do with parenting than marriage: “Give your children regular, daily doses of Vitamin N. This vital nutrient consists simply of the most character-building two-letter word in the English language––‘No’ . . . Unfortunately, many, if not most, of today’s children suffer from Vitamin N deficiency. They have been over-indulged by well-meaning parents who have given them far too much of what they want and far too little of what they truly need” (John Rosemond, Six-Point Plan for Raising Happy, Healthy Children).

I believe that many of our society’s problems come from a lack of parenting. It’s much easier in the moment to give into our kids, just to get them off of our backs. But we pay the consequences in the long run. And it’s so much worse now than it used to be, when both children and adults alike are used to having everything at the click of a mouse. If we have to wait longer than ten seconds for an internet page to load, more than five minutes for our McDonald’s order, or more than the promised 2-day shipping courtesy of Amazon Prime, we have a complete meltdown!

Along with impatience-itis, many suffer from the deluded thinking that everything has to be fair—not just kids! I’ve heard many grown-ups complaining of things their adult siblings were given by the parents, and how ‘unfair’ it was. Worse than that, the parents of these adult children sometimes go to great lengths to ‘make it up to’ their supposedly slighted kids. Most of the time, life isn’t fair and that’s just the way it is. I’ve worked hard to disabuse my kids of the notion that everything always has to be equal among them. In fact, when confronted with “but that’s not fair!” I often quote age-old wisdom to my little beasties: “Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something” (Westley as the Dread Pirate Roberts, The Princess Bride).

Monday, November 28, 2016

Week 11: Fidelity and Physical Intimacy

Can you imagine standing before God at the judgement bar? He will ask us if we've fulfilled our stewardships in mortality. I have to admit, I've never pictured Him saying, "So, Misty? How was your sex life on earth? Did you fulfill your sexual stewardship with your husband?"

In Fulfilling the Sexual Stewardship in Marriage, Sean Brotherson compares intimacy between a husband and wife with the temple:

“In our spiritual lives, we are counseled to return to the temple often after we have received our personal temple blessings to give of ourselves in service to others and be reminded of the great and powerful meanings of the standards that we have committed ourselves to live. Likewise, in our marital lives, a frequent return as a couple to the union of sexual intimacy makes it possible to give of ourselves in service to each other and be reminded of the commitment we have made to unity and fidelity and love to our marital companion.”

What a different perspective it provides, viewing our physical relationship with our spouse as something pure as the temple. As I read the above quote, a few parallels between the temple and intimacy popped out at me. First, the temple is a holy and sacred place, and we have to have a recommend to be admitted. Likewise, the sexual relationship between legally wedded husband and wife is also holy and sacred – and the marriage ceremony is the recommend to enter. We also have to come away from the world to participate in both (hopefully). Going to the temple brings us closer to our Father in Heaven, and though I can’t say I’ve believed this before now, that physical relationship brings us closer together as husband and wife, which hopefully brings us closer to God as well.

It’s really tough viewing sex this way, something akin to the purity of the temple, because the world has made such a mess out of it. Even the word ‘sex’ feels dirty because of how it’s been twisted by the adversary. It saddens me that most of the world doesn’t see that relationship as something sacred and special. I personally don’t understand how anyone could make themselves that vulnerable with someone they didn’t absolutely know and trust.

On the other hand, I feel that perhaps we only assume that majority of the world devalues this relationship. We base our opinion of the world’s views mostly on what we see and hear through the media. This is erroneous, because we all know that what is presented in the media has nothing to do with reality! But by flooding us with depictions of immodest and immoral behavior, and presenting those behaviors as generally acceptable, Satan creates a mirage of reality, preventing us from seeing things as they really are. I would bet that if asked, a good portion of people in the world would say that they personally regard the sexual relationship as something important and perhaps even special.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Week 10: Seeking to Understand

No Ifs, Ands, or BUTTS!

This week, we learned about Gridlock - which is what happens in the blessed marriage state when we can't resolve our perpetual problems. In The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, Gottman says that couples are in Gridlock when "neither can make any headway in getting the other to understand and respect their perspective, much less agree with it. As a result, they eventually view the partner as just plain selfish. Each becomes more deeply entrenched in his or her position, making compromise impossible."

All marriages struggle with perpetual problems, and mine is no different! I think all couples have one or two big ones that just won't go away. Like many other marriages, one of ours is our difference in need for physical affection. For the last 16+ years of our marriage, I have reacted the exact same way when my hubby gets touchy, specifically when he pats my butt. After reading Gottman's book, I know that this action is one of my husband's 'bids for attention', but I still can't help but roll my eyes and feel like a piece of meat every single time. I have expressed this to my husband countless times and he assures me that his fondness for my rear is no indication of disrespect to me. In fact, to him it is just the opposite!

When my husband's dad got home from work every day, the first thing he would do was set his briefcase down, walk over to his wife, bestow a kiss, and give her butt an affectionate little pat. I've known this for years, but it didn't click until this week's reading. For my husband, the butt pat is a symbol of being secure in a relationship. Seeing this affection between his parents made him feel safe as a kid.

My childhood was dramatically different. My mother was in and out of insecure, dysfunctional relationships. I was surrounded by pornography. My mother often spoke about sex in front of me, using vulgar language and way too many details. She joked about it all the time, and eventually I began to despise the way that made me feel. I never had any control over my environment and I often felt trapped and scared. For some reason, I associate anything sexual with this feeling of insecurity.
So, when I feel that hand on my butt, the first thing that comes to mind is, 'Ugh, he's making another sexual advance. Is that all he wants from me?' When, in reality, this habit of his has nothing to do with sex, and everything to do with his dream of having a secure relationship like his parents. My dream is to feel safe and in control of my environment, just the opposite of how I grew up. So we find our lines getting crossed all over the place. Once again, I find that my partner is perfect for me in every way - the good and the bad. Indeed, our Father in Heaven "has hooked us up with partners and life experiences that are perfectly suited to grow us toward Godhood" (Goddard, Drawing Heaven into Your Marriage).

I am so grateful for my knowledge of the Gospel, that if we yield to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, we will be able to put off the natural man (or spouse). We can be perfected in Christ. What a glorious message!

Monday, November 14, 2016

Week 9: Managing Conflict; Consecrating Ourselves

Houseguests from Hell!

Have you ever had an unwelcome houseguest? Perhaps someone you weren’t thrilled to have staying with you in the first place? After a couple of days you think to yourself, ‘At least they’re leaving tomorrow!’ But when the sun rises, disappointment comes right along with it. You discover that your house guest is enjoying their visit so much, they have no intention of leaving anytime soon!

Sometimes our marital challenges can feel this way. According to The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, there are two main types of marital conflict: solvable problems and perpetual problems. Solvable problems tend to be situational, more like annoying dinner guests. Perpetual problems are those issues that keep coming up, day in and day out, year after year—the house guest from hell!

I know that in my almost 17-year-long marriage, I have found myself thinking, ‘Why are we still talking about this? Shouldn’t we have worked it out by now?’ But these unsolvable issues are about more than the issue itself. Much of the time there are deeper tendencies, attitudes, or beliefs underlying them. As these pesky perpetual problems make up 69% of marital conflict, even happily married couples must find a way to co-exist with them. The alternative is to allow their relationship to become flooded with negativity until it drowns. Speaking of successful relationships, Gottman says “. . . these couples remain very satisfied with their marriages because they have hit upon a way to deal with their unmovable problems . . . they’ve learned to keep them in their place and approach them with a sense of humor . . . because they keep acknowledging the problem and talking about it, they prevent it from overwhelming their relationship.”

So, if you have found yourself dreading yet another conversation over the way the bills are paid, or how often you and your partner are intimate, or seemingly insurmountable differences in parenting styles, the best thing you and your partner can do is admit that you have yourselves a perpetual problem. Then you laugh about it together. Keep the nasty little thing out in the open so that it doesn’t creep up and overwhelm you.

In Drawing Heaven into Your Marriage, Goddard has a chapter on consecration, which I feel ties in nicely with marital conflict. Most of us think about the law of consecration as being a financial thing. But Goddard insists that “Our marriages are ideal places to practice the law of consecration.” Our problems, both solvable and perpetual, give us just such an opportunity. If we agreed on everything, how would we learn to sacrifice and compromise? How would we put off the natural man if we wanted the same things all the time? Joseph Smith said that “A religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation.” I would tweak this phrase: A RELATIONSHIP that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has the power sufficient to produce the JOY unto life and salvation. Are we not all more careful with something we have worked for? Do we not jealously guard those things we have sacrificed and saved for? I have to believe that if we consecrate ourselves in marriage and hold nothing back, we will be rewarded with the deepest, sweetest joy imaginable.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Week 8: Beware of Pride

How many of us would willingly approach a house with a vicious-looking dog snarling at us through the fence? As a kid I had to walk past a dog like this on my way to and from school, and it was the worst part of my day. But after completing this week’s reading, and completing a self-inventory of manifestations of pride, I sort of feel like I should hang this sign around my neck.

This week’s reading was amazing. I have always loved President Benson’s talk on pride, but as I listened to it in the car I felt like this beloved prophet was speaking directly to me. The road rage that so often rears its ugly head is actually a manifestation of pride—that my time is more valuable than the car in front of me. The place I need to be is more important, perhaps even dire, than theirs. I find myself looking around at all the yards and homes that I pass while I am driving. “I sure wish I had a pond and willow tree like that,” I’ll sigh wistfully. “Wouldn’t it be nice to have more land?” “I bet that cute little house has a much smaller payment than ours.” The truth is that less than two years ago we were crammed into what my family lovingly refers to as ‘the shoebox’ on a military base. I’m not sure I was ever happier than when our house was finally finished and we were able to move in and enjoy things we hadn’t had in three years: carpet, a couch big enough to fit our whole family, a kitchen more than two people could fit in, etc. You get the idea. And now I find myself still looking around, envying and coveting everything I don’t have. Pride!

In John Gottman’s book, Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, the fourth principle is Letting Your Partner Influence You. He even has a section entitled Learning to Yield, which immediately put me in mind of Mosiah 3:19: “For the natural man is an enemy to God . . . unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord . . .”

H. Wallace Goddard also uses this doctrine. In Drawing Heaven into Your Marriage he says, “The natural mind is an enemy to truth” (pg. 71). He also says that “any time we feel irritated with our spouses, that irritation is not an invitation to call our spouses to repentance, but an invitation to call ourselves to repent” (pg. 77). Goddard insists that irritation is actually a blessing to all marriages!

Monday, October 31, 2016

Week 7: Staying Emotionally Connected


The thing that impacted me the most from this week's reading was a concept from Drawing Heaven Into Your Marriage. Author H. Wallace Goddard introduces a mind-blowing idea that I've never even considered, but now seems so obvious to me. Goddard says that ". . . anytime we feel irritated with each other it is an opportunity to grow. Irritation is an invitation to better thinking and acting. Since, in most cases, we are perfectly designed for each other, staying engaged with each other is vital . . . God . . . has hooked us up with partners and life experiences that are perfectly suited to grow us toward Godhood."

We always hear about how perfectly suited marriage partners are for each other because of their strengths, but we rarely hear that their weaknesses make them just as well-matched - possibly even more so!  Think about what this means! My husband's extroversion is completely matched with my introversion, especially when I am socially exhausted one hour into the ward party, and he is just getting started. His need for physical affection is the missing piece to my need for personal space, because conflicts over getting our own needs met versus meeting each other's needs force us to compromise and sacrifice to make our relationship work.

What a wonderful way to view our weaknesses! Without a doubt, I know that we are in God's hands. He has tailored our lives with the challenges that will make us into who He wants us to become. Now it appears that He has done the same with both the good and not-so-good, in both our partners and ourselves!