Friday, November 5

Lasting Marriage: Forgiveness

Hi friends! I'm continuing on the theme from my last post - staying together happily in marriage. This post focuses on the next point - which is forgiveness.

The Bible says: "Make allowance for each other's faults, and forgive anyone who offends you." (Colossians 3:13). This is not a suggestion, but a command, the same way the Bible commands us: "Love each other as I have loved you."(John 13:34). Love and forgiveness go hand-in-hand - because without forgiveness, minor offences become grudges; grudges breed resentment, and resentment breeds hate.

How many of us have ended friendships and relationships because we could not forgive an offence committed by the other party? How many of us know how it feels when we offend someone and in spite of our remorse, they choose not to forgive us but instead end our friendship? I'm sure we have all had similar experiences. But for a married couple to stay together, unforgiveness is not an option. In fact forgiveness should be so much a part of your marriage, that it becomes a habit.

(Before I continue, I must stress here that I'm referring to a marriage where both partners are working towards the good of the relationship, and not engaging in destructive habits like infidelity, pornography or alcohol and substance abuse. In those situations, the course of action to take may be slightly different, as constantly forgiving the other party might not lead them to take positive action to change their behaviour. For a marriage to survive deep-rooted issues such as these, a lot of work has to be done by both parties to repair, rebuild and restore the relationship).

It's been said that no normal, reasonable person goes into marriage with the intention to destroy it and divorce shortly afterwards. The vast majority of us get into marriage with joy and hope and expectations of happiness. Similarly, no reasonable husband or wife wakes up in the morning and decides: I'm going to hurt my spouse today. I don't think anyone deliberately sets out to hurt their friends or spouses. I wrote and earlier post on Mr and Mrs Imperfect, in which I discussed that no matter how kind, loving, caring and generous your partner is, they are still not perfect - none of us are. Each of us still has faults, weaknesses and potentially annoying habits. Sometimes we act selfishly, sometimes we don't pay enough attention to their needs, and we unintentionally hurt our spouse. So when the Bible says "make allowance for each other's faults" it means you should be willing to forgive and overlook offences because you know you are just as fallible, and just as likely to hurt the other person.

"To err is human; to forgive is divine."

So what are the things that stop us from giving forgiveness a chance in our relationships?

Anger - When we've been offended, it's natural to feel negative emotions like anger. But it's how we deal wit the angry feelings that determine if we are right or wrong. The Bible says "“In your anger do not sin; Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry" (Ephesians 4:26). This is because anger gives a foothold to the devil. Anger can cause us to do or say things we would regret later on, things that can completely destroy the love and intimacy in our relationships.

Revenge - The desire to retaliate can also stop us from forgiving. It's easy to go down the slippery slope of "He hurt me, so I must hurt him back" when we've been offended. But seeking revenge is never a way to resolve a hurt, it only makes things worse. It creates a destructive pattern and a vicious cycle of two people constantly scheming to get back at each other, which would ultimately mean the relationship is doomed.

Fear - Sometimes, fear holds us back from forgiving the other person because it feels like we are giving them so much power to hurt us again. Or fear makes us harden our hearts as a defense mechanism so that we will not be vulnerable. But the Bible says that "There is no fear in love, because perfect love casts out all fear." (1 John 4:18). If we are going to take a chance on love, we must be willing to remove the fear of getting hurt, and trust that the other person will not take advantage of the fact that we are willing to forgive them.

Guilt - On the other hand, unforgiveness yields guilt because it is essentially a disobedient act. We know that holding a grudge is not something we should be doing, and in the event that we hurt the other person, we expect them to forgive us too. So when we don't forgive, we carry around not only the hurt and pain, but also a burden of guilt.

So how can we learn to forgive and let go of these negative emotions? Especially in a situation where you feel the other person has offended you, but they might not even know it! How do you forgive when the other person is not repentant? Forgiveness is not easy, and we definitely need God's grace. We need to think of how much God in His infinite mercy has forgiven us our sins, so we too can extend grace and forgiveness to other people. Forgiveness is a choice that we make even when we don't feel like doing it - we should go ahead and do it anyway. We often find that the positive feelings catch up with our actions later.

I think God made forgiveness a command for many reasons. If it was optional,many of us would not do it, and we would hold grudges and keep getting on each other's nerves - leading to a breakdown of trust, intimacy and openness in our relationships. But if we learn and practice forgiveness, it will relieve us of burdens and open the door for healing to begin. Forgiveness helps us to resolves issues and gives us a fresh page to start over - and that is an essential ingredient for a long lasting happy marriage!

I'll discuss Quality Time in my next post. Stay blessed and favoured!



Monday, October 4

Lasting Marriage: Friendship

I don't know about you, but before I got married I loved observing happy couples. I liked it when I saw a couple who looked very comfortable, smiling, joking and playful with each other, regardless of how long they have been married. I've seen enough miserable-looking married couples and I never wanted my marriage to be like those. So whenever I saw a happy couple, it often felt like a breath of fresh air. I would look at them and wonder what makes them tick. I wanted to know what they are doing right that is sustaining their level of friendship and enthusiasm for enjoying each other's company. And I wanted to emulate that in my own life when I got married. I wanted to retain that freshness and excitement in my marriage whether I was a newly-wed or an old married woman at the age of sixty. So I started to ask questions. I observed even more couples. I read loads of good books on the joys of a happy life-long marriage and how to achieve it. I prayed and asked God to help me to be wise. And I listened to advice from people who had got it right.

In other words, I did something very deliberate.

About a week ago, I was talking to a friend of mine who is getting married soon. He said he was looking forward to marriage, but dreading the inevitable.

I asked what was inevitable?

He said something like: "You know that after the first two years, everything goes downhill. Love and happiness doesn't last for so long once a couple get married."

I was a bit sad to hear that and I told him: "That's not true. I've been married for five years and I'm happier and more in love with my hubby than ever before, and enjoying my marriage more now, than I was in the earlier years. And I'm sure he will say the same too."

The next thing my friend said was: "Well you know you are not normal, you might just be lucky, so I'm not going to raise my expectations based on your own experience."

I was quite shocked. I thought; is that really what most people think about marriage? That after two years, the joy and happiness fades away and you are left with nothing but a miserable existence? That except for the "lucky few" who somehow stumble into lasting happiness, the rest of us are doomed into living in a boring prison for the rest of our lives? So what happens to the fun and excitement after a while? It goes away and can never be recaptured?

I think that's such a sad and pessimistic view of marriage, and it's not helped by the statistics and things we see around us. Many people have this wrong view of marriage because they are not prepared to see things in a long-term view. We have swallowed the hype of "hollywood romance" and "fairy-tale happily ever after" that lets us believe that once we have fallen in love, the euphoria of the early days will continue endlessly and we would never have to make the effort to keep it going. However the reality is, those feelings of euphoria are terribly unreliable and they tend to come and go. So when the euphoria dies down, Hollywood leads us to believe that we are now doomed to be unhappy forever, unless we can recapture those feelings with a new person.

Nowadays, we have this "throw-away" mentality, that is, if something is broken or not working, we would prefer to throw it away and buy a new one rather than trying to fix it. Sometimes we carry over this attitude into marriage and so when things start getting a bit boring, instead of thinking of creative ways to spice things up and rekindle our romance, we can fall into the trap of thinking that there's nothing we can do, apart from quitting or putting up with it. This mentality is what leads to broken marriages and affairs.

I once saw this status on somebody’s profile on Facebook: If we see a smile on a newly-wed man’s face, we all know why. But if we see a smile on a man who has been married for ten years, we all wonder why.

But let's go back to the original design for marriage. Whose idea was it? Marriage was God's idea. And He designed it to be a long-lasting lifelong and secure commitment where two people become one, until death parts them. So if the world’s view is that two years into the marriage, there is no more fun, excitement, love and happiness, does that mean that God’s plan was for us to live miserably for the rest of our married time on earth? I would say a resounding "NO!". Of course not. It is we who need to re-align ourselves with the truth - marriage is meant to be fun and joyful all the days of our lives. And we need to make sure that we constantly put the effort into our relationships to keep them strong, happy and beautiful. But how?

I'll talk about three important things: friendship, quality time and forgiveness.

Friendship: I know that in these days of social networking, the term "friendship" has taken on different meanings. But I want us to think about friendship in a true sense of mutual trust, closeness, openness, kindness, acceptance, caring and love for each other. Friendship is one of the most basic needs that we have as human beings. We were created to need companionship, support and encouragement from other people. And this is one of the reasons why God ordained marriage in the first place - for companionship. We marry so that we can have at least one person in the world that we can call a friend. 

Now most of us have many acquaintances but very few true friends. But the few friendships we have, we know that we have to nurture them to keep them going. If you have a friend you don't see, you don't speak to, you don't hang out with or keep in touch with, what's going to happen? Sooner or later, that friendship will wither and suffer and probably die a slow death. And it's the same with marriage. 

I know many couples who work long hours outside of the home, have to raise young kids and look after so many other responsibilities that their marriage inevitably suffers for it. By the time they get home at night, they are too tired to do anything apart from having dinner in front of the TV and falling asleep. If all you do with your husband or wife is see them first thing in the morning on your way out and last thing at night before you sleep, what will that do to your friendship? It will be choked to death! The fact that you live in the same house doesn't mean anything - even enemies can live under the same roof. You have to be very deliberate about talking to them (and not just about who paid the last water bill), listening to them and having fun with them without the distractions of everyday living. Basically, you have to rearrange your priorities so that your marriage doesn’t suffer due to neglect.

Friends never run out of things to say to each other, and it should be the same between husband and wife. Some couples talk to their friends and colleagues at work more than they talk to each other! I heard of a woman who said she’s dreading retirement because she doesn’t know how she'll cope with being at home with her husband all the time. Over the years, they didn’t maintain their friendship and now they don’t have anything to say to each other anymore. But it doesn’t have to be that way. I think it’s very important for couples to keep the lines of communication open all the time. Make conversation an essential part of your day. Talk, talk, talk and keep talking. You can talk about any topic – politics, world affairs, your plans for the future, a book one of you is reading, what happened in the office today – anything. Just don’t let a single day pass by without having an interesting conversation with your spouse. It is surprising how much bonding takes place over a stimulating conversation.

But this sounds easy in theory. In practice, sometimes you have to make hard choices: like you may have to choose between attending a friend’s wedding and spending the only free weekend you’ve got at home with your spouse. Sometimes it may mean missing your favourite TV show and going for a walk/drive/quick meal outside with your spouse instead. It may mean banning the laptop/TV/long telephone calls for a while so that you can enjoy some time together without interruptions. But those little acts add up to something far more rewarding. I think it's better to miss a TV show than have a neglected spouse. That closeness and connection with your spouse will more than make up for the effort you put into maintaining your friendship.

For me, recently I was reminded of an episode. It was a Saturday night, the end of a very busy day. Hubby and I had been out all day running errands, shopping, visiting relatives and all that. We didn’t get home until very late, and we were both tired. As soon as we got in, he wanted to unwind and spend some time gisting with me in the living room before we retired to bed. But as soon as I stepped in, all I saw were the pile of chores I hadn’t done, and I immediately went into the kitchen to start washing the dishes. Hubby called me several times to leave the sink to come and relax with him and I kept saying – give me 5 minutes. In the end, I didn’t stop my chores until the kitchen was spick and span but by then I was too tired to spend any time with him and I just went straight to bed.

It wasn’t until a few days later that I realised how selfish my attitude was. The dishes could wait – of course they could. But I had made them a priority, instead of time with my husband. All too easily, I took it for granted that he would still be there no matter what, and that was wrong. If I put myself in his shoes, I would have been quite upset if I wanted to spend time with him but he preferred to devote time to his own chores instead. I have since made a note of this, and resolved that I would re-order my priorities. House chores can wait, hubby comes first.

So to sum up, we have to continually work on keeping the friendship with our spouse alive by making sure we put them first in our minds, with our words and the activities we do together. The rewards are soooo worth it!

That’s all for now, I’ll talk about the other two points in my next post. I’ll leave you with this quote:

“Staying together in marriage is not by accident, and it’s not luck. The harder you work at your marriage, the luckier you get.”

Have a great week!


Monday, April 26

Being Open and Honest

There was once a girl who had a secret about her past. It haunted her day and night, sometimes she cried herself to sleep. She had been dating this wonderful guy at the office for nine months, and she was dreading the day he would find out about this secret. It made her ill with worry and she was often sad and depressed. The weight of the guilt was heavy on her, so much so, that she stopped enjoying the present. She began to dwell in the past, reliving her mistakes over and over, worrying and beating herself up over it.

One day, her manager at work found her crying. He called her and asked her what was wrong. Faced with a person who showed concern about her welfare, she finally told him. She had an eight-year old son that nobody knew about. He lived with her mother in a different town and she saw him once a month. The reason she was so upset was that she regretted her mistakes, but she was worried about what her new boyfriend would say or do when he found out.

Her manager, who was a wise man, asked her a few questions:

Do you regret your past?
She said yes.
Do you wish you could go back in time to do things differently?
She nodded.
Can you actually go back and change things?
She paused for a moment. Then she shook her head.
Is there any way that the mistake would go away?
Do you realise that while you are hung up about the past, your present and future happiness is slipping away?
She paused to reflect on this.
If you cannot change the outcome of your past mistakes, don’t you think it’s time to stop beating yourself up over it?
That had not occurred to her.
If you like this guy and you think he likes you too, the best thing you can do is to be honest with him. That way you will be right with yourself. It is a risk, but the result is that no matter what happens, you have let go of the guilt and fear that is holding you back.

She thanked her manager and left his office. Later that evening, she summoned up the courage to tell her boyfriend about her son. To her surprise, he was not upset. In fact, he was delighted to hear that she had a child because he recently found out that he couldn’t have children. The next weekend, they went to visit her mother together. All her worries, fears and anxieties melted away when she saw her boyfriend and her son getting along so well together. By the time they were leaving, her son was sad to see them go, and he asked when her boyfriend could come and visit again. It was a step forward. She didn't need to worry about her secret anymore.

* * * * *

Now this story is fiction, but I wanted to highlight a few lessons that I’ve learnt recently. One is about dwelling in the past. We all have chapters in our lives that we wish we would erase or re-write. It’s part of life, part of growing up, part of learning who we are. I’ve had to learn to let my past go. I cannot change it, I cannot undo it. And the more I dwelt on it, I found out that it was a heavy burden, sapping my energy, draining the joy of my present, and blocking me from moving on with my future. If this applies to you, I would urge you to take another look at the issue. The past is gone; there is nothing you can do to change what happened. What you can change however, is your attitude. You have to forgive yourself of the mistakes and stop beating yourself over it. You have to deal with the guilt by admitting that you did something wrong, but God will forgive you if you ask Him to. And once you have learnt from the mistake, you can move ahead with your life, knowing that you are a better and wiser person for it.

Another lesson I’ve learnt is sharing my burdens. Some of us pretend that we’ve got it all together, and we don’t need help. We give people an illusion that we have no problems, no weaknesses and no struggles. Yet, we are crumbling under the weight of problems on the inside. We need to stop trying to pretend like we know-it-all and be humble enough to ask for help when we are struggling. Nobody is perfect, nobody knows everything. If you ask for help, it doesn’t make you a weak person; it makes you a wise person.

And finally: honesty. I’ve been told that honesty is the best policy, but sometimes I’m still surprised by the truth in it. I find that, when I come clean and admit my mistakes, people don’t judge me half as bad as I judge myself. Sometimes I’ve been struggling with an issue for months, and finally when I discuss it with hubby, the problem seems to shrink in size to almost nothing. I’ve realised that it’s okay to admit to yourself and your husband that you have weaknesses, fears, doubts and struggles. That’s what is meant by “naked and not ashamed”. You should be comfortable enough with each other to share each other’s struggles, and find solutions together. That’s why he or she is there to support you.

Sometimes I feel quite silly for trying to bear my struggles alone. I think that sometimes, the last person we listen to is our spouse. When we have a problem, we assume we can pray about, or share with a friend, or seek help elsewhere. All of which are good, but they can also be tactics to try and cover up who we are with our spouse. It’s a slippery road; once you start hiding things from your spouse or significant other, you start building a wall between you. And the longer it goes on, the higher that wall becomes. When all we need can just simply be: come clean; admit we have a weakness and we can then work together to find a solution as a couple.

If we reflect on these things, we find that it is fear and pride that holds us back. Fear blows our issues out of proportion, such that, in our minds, we feel we are going to get judged by everyone else. Pride prevents us from admitting that we are not perfect, and we need other people to help us. But what sweet relief we get; when we do confront our fears and swallow our pride. We find peace.

Stay blessed and favoured!

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