Can marriages learn to navigate through the mess, stress, and all the rest? Dr. Don and Renee share real stories and tools -- from their own marriage experience to the everyday relationship problems all of us face. Hello Mess explores the lessons and tools Jesus teaches us about what it means to have healthy tension in relationships while exposing our unhealthy behavioral patterns that lead to disconnection.
The Uncomfortable Truth About Pruning
During the pruning process, the vine gets cut waaaay back until it is thirsty and appropriately distressed. God, our Vinedresser, is intentionally pruning us back in this season of distress. Listen in as we talk about what this looks like in our lives.
How to Create Rules of Engagement For Your Marriage
Renee: Whenever there's a conflict or a fight, you automatically have rules (whether spoken or unspoken) in which you engage each other. You may not know what they are until you're actually in the fight, but everyone has them. Most of us have learned these somewhere along with the ways because of our own personality or because of our family history or the ways we have developed our own defensiveness, but we all have rules of engagement. Rules of engagement are an essential thing to discover inside of your marriage. It's helpful to know what we will do when fighting, disagreeing, or not seeing eye to eye occurs.
Ask yourself: what are the ways we engage each other when we can't see eye to eye?
Don: The first rule of engagement is that you cannot make engagement rules during a heated engagement. This is called chaos, and it always has the same result. Rules of engagement have to be decided and committed to before the conflict begins (or you're playing Hunger Games, seeing who comes out alive and who doesn't).
Renee: it's a good conversation to have with one another and ask, what are the things that we want to agree to before we are fighting? What are the things that we decide are off bounds?
Don: Let's just say, this is not the frilly sort of hanging on the wall version of peacemakers or the spiritualized sanitized version of how you're going to be with each other. These are real in-the-moment-when-you're-slightly-crazy rules. You need boundaries to make sure you're connected and protected when neither of you are the best versions of yourselves. And so the rules need to be practical.
So what would be a practical, real rule of engagement?
Renee: a real rule of engagement could be...
No name-calling. No throwing things. No using the word divorce. Productive timeouts - a great way to say, we need to take a break from one another because it's getting unproductive. Don: Suppose I call a timeout, and you don't honor my request for a time out?
Renee: So that could be a rule of engagement!
Don: If someone calls a time out, time outs have to be honored. Otherwise, it's not really a rule of engagement. It's just a suggestion, right?
Renee: To figure out where to start for your rules of engagement, think through what you did the last time you had a conflict. This can give you a starting place for what you should or should not do in your next engagement.
Don: Write down your conflicts for 30 days. You may start to see patterns of what triggers a conflict. Are they after nine o'clock when you're tired? Are they in the laundry room because you feel unappreciated? While doing dishes? Whatever those hotspots are, you can see where you tend to get off the rails.
Now you need to figure out how to stay connected and protected while fighting. Write your rules down. They are real. If somebody breaks them, then what?
Renee: If someone breaks a rule, come back to your rules and look at them again. What do you have to figure out? What are you going to do about this particular one that's not being followed?
Your list should not be a list of 25 rules. Instead, start with a few primary behaviors that you're want to change while engaging in conflict.
Why Marriage is a Team Sport
4 Things That Will Gut Your Relationship
Don: Today's topic - four things that will gut your relationship. John Gottman has done great research and practical application over the years. He's at the University of Washington and has written several books on social and emotional intelligence. In their lab, they videotape couples and watch the videotapes. After watching the videotape, they predict which couples will end in divorce, their prediction rates, and 94%. That should be a little sobering.
What are the four things, according to Gottman, that predict the demise of a relationship?
Number one, criticalness. If you have a habit of being critical, if that's the pattern that you adopt in your relationship with one another, that criticalness will cycle and recycle. It will be relational cancer, and over days and months and years, it will compound, and it will gut your relationship.
Renee: One way that I think a critical spirit can come into a relationship is by sarcasm. It's an indirect way - then when someone says, what did that mean? You're like, Oh, I was just kidding. That's another way to kind of go. I don't think you were. So you're having a posture of a critical spirit can gut your relationship.
Don: The second apocalyptic horseman, according to Gottman, is contempt. Contempt is a dismissive attitude. It's the eye roll, the uh-huh. It's this attitude for which matters to the other person, shouldn't matter. It's a little bit of an embarrassment, and it has a position and a posture of, I'm embarrassed that you want that need that or are that.
Renee: I believe in marriage, we're designed to validate one another. So having contempt in your heart towards the other person is the opposite of what God's true design is inside of marriage. When you look in someone's eyes, you can see when someone has contempt for the person.
Don: Number three is defensiveness - taking a posture to self-protect. It's when you armor up. When you pull back, and you can no longer connect. You're no longer able to engage. You're behind a bunker and defending yourself - a pattern that cycles through our relationships results in some devastating longterm effects.
Renee: Even the posture of defensiveness shows you that it's putting armor on. It's putting a wedge between you and the other person. And then how do you get through to the other person when there's defensiveness between you?
Don: Number four is a term that Gottman uses called stonewalling. Stonewalling is a kind of withholding, withdrawing, saying it doesn't matter anymore. I'm out of range of your comments, your criticism, your concerns. I've left the building, and nothing you're saying or doing affects me right now.
Renee: I think stonewalling can happen over time; it's one brick at a time. You have access to one another when you first get married, and then over time, more bricks go up. Pretty soon, you realize, wow, I can't even see you anymore.
So the question for this topic would be, are you participating in any of those ways? These gut your relationship. Do you have a critical spirit, or do you have contempt in your heart? Are you defensive towards any feedback? Are you stonewalling the other person?
Don: Don't wait until it reaches critical mass, and things are at the end, and your relationship is on life support, do something now while you can.
The Uncomfortable Truth About Pruning
Don: Do you remember your very first job? My very first job as a dishwasher was not that glorious. I have both wonderful and brutal memories of it.
It's interesting if we look at scriptures in Genesis, the very first job that we, as humans had collectively, were gardeners. We took care of the trees, we watched the animals. There's something about our early connection in and around a garden with trees. There's something about the nature of how trees grow, what nourishes them. What does it mean to cultivate something in an organic and beautiful, healthy way? Trees are both wild and fruitful. And yet there's a way that we are to be in relationship with those wild and fruitful things.
The first house that I owned, I lived in the East Valley, and I was pretty excited to be a homeowner, and the front yard had horrible non-landscaping. I talked to a friend of mine who picked out a tree for me, put some grass down, and gave me instructions. Dig a nice deep well around this tree and water it every seven to 10 days.
As I began to dig this well, the soil was really hard and really exhausting. So I gave up pretty quickly and decided I would water it a little more often. And so about a year later, he came back over to my house and looked over at the tree. I was pretty happy with the tree. It had grown! It had gotten established, and he took me over to, and he goes, Wooster, what have you done to this tree? And I told him, "Dan, I've taken good care of the tree. I water it a couple of times a week. I mean, I've really paid attention to this tree."
And he goes, "you have been watering it twice a week. Why would you do that?
And I say, "because I care about the tree, and I want it to grow."
And he says, "have you noticed where these roots are? They're all on the surface because roots go to where the water is. Your constant and shallow watering has drawn the roots up to the surface. This tree might've grown, but it's not well established. I asked you to dig a well and water it so that that water would slowly drip down deeper, and the roots would follow it. You've kind of done a disservice by putting so much on the surface that these roots haven't gone deeper."
This is the same concept that we've been talking about in our lives and activities; they've gotten narrower. Some of our normal activities have kept us spread out from each other. Things that used to take a lot of our time, attention, and went in multiple directions have really been edited down.
Let's talk about that surface kind-of-rootedness that keeps us busy and active - not that those things in and of themselves are bad, but they're pretty surface-y. They go in a lot of different directions.
I wanna know...have we missed something in being so extended on the surface but maybe not drawn as deep in terms of our system? Renee, what do you think about that?
Renee: Well, it makes me think about this last year that we've had. It was unprecedented. A tornado came through in our area in Arizona, and we had a tree that was completely taken out by the winds and storm. When we woke up the next day, it was such an astonishing picture of a tree being pulled out from the ground that I couldn't orient myself to understand what had happened.
But obviously, the tree didn't have deep enough roots for it to withstand the storm. I think that anytime we come into our own storm, we realize that our roots are not as deep as we thought they were.
There's a verse that we were looking at in John 15:1. Jesus is making this statement. He said, "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit. But while every branch that does bear fruit, he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser."
I think that that identification of Jesus claiming to be the real vine, not the fa
Why Being in Community is Messy
Renee: We've been thinking about this whole idea of the invitation and what Christ invites us into. Sometimes we understand what that means, but most of the time, we don't understand the fullness of what that invitation is. He invites us into being a community and being in relationship with one another.
We find all kinds of games when we're younger to include or exclude people when you think about it, right? Playground games where no one tells us how to do it, but we find a way to invite someone in, exclude someone or even make a group ourselves. At a young age, everyone learns how to do Red Rover. Do you remember that? I think most kids know how to do Red Rover, Red Rover send Sally on over, right? But that whole idea of how we get invited into relationship and groups is an interesting one because at a very young age, even as we get invited in, we can feel both the foundation of being excited about belonging to something and also nervous that we could be the ones kicked out of the group. We know that that dynamic is always happening. There's both a benefit of groups, but also nervousness. When you belong to something, you also ask, "Am I going to get voted off the Island? Am I going to be the one whom they don't want to be hanging around with at recess? And we all have our experiences of that.
Don: I think it's kind of funny because in terms of what's satisfying and interesting, if something doesn't pique our interest, or isn't a little risky, then it starts to become boring and familiar. There's a part of us that wants to be safe, but there's also another part that wants to feel alive. We have both of them going on.
So we've created Disneyland, right? Going to Disneyland will guarantee your safety. Disneyland is, I think, this fake place that I want to be. I want to feel risky, extended, and alive, but I also want to feel safe. I want to go on the thrilling rides but then I want to get off to feel safe again. I think Disneyland works because it puts two things together that in the real world don't travel together: risk and safety. We tend to want Disneyland relationships: they're only safe because none of what we're experiencing is real.
Renee: The truth is if we don't have Christ as the backdrop to relationships, we don't have a reason to be motivated to stay in relationships. In order to develop relationships, you have to see things differently. You have to have a different perspective of people. If we don't have Christ as a way to look at community and relationship, I think it's pretty rough to be in a community or be any in any kind of group.
At some point, everyone understands that there is a risk to be with each other. There is a downside. It doesn't take very long for us to realize that there are places inside of us that are undeveloped. There are places that are undeveloped in other people, the sinful nature of people. You are up close and personal as you do life with people inside of groups. You may welcome the risk at first, but then safety becomes a priority pretty quickly in any kind of community or group because as you see one another, you start to wonder, is this worth it?
Don: Well, I think you can make some Disneyland kind of friendships and some Disneyland kind of groups to where it looks like you're all about it. But you're just posing for pictures, and you'll buy a little something, you know, a little souvenir of the event.
Renee: It's like that one time when we saw college students on the beach. This was at the very beginning when cameras were new on cell phones, and we didn't know what these college students were doing. They looked odd. As we sat on the beach, we're like, what are they doing?
They were all pretending to be a group, but they weren't a group. They would pose to take group pictures having fun and then go back to looking at their ph