Unification News for November 2000

Discovering the Road to Love: Marriage Beyond our Dreams

Deitrich & Elizabeth Seidel
November, 2000

Our vision is guided by the original blueprint. Our true potential as marriage partners is made clear to us through our comprehension of our ultimate God given purpose. We develop a strong faith in that purpose, thus being guided by it.

Together as a couple we draw up a marriage vision statement. We put down in concrete terms what we expect our marriage to be. Our investment in marital growth then becomes the daily activity of building the bridge between the present reality and the original ideal for marriage.

Building our marriage needs a solid foundation. The strongest foundation is our experience of the heart of God. To nourish our spiritual life allows us to stay connected with God's will for our marital life.

We walk the talk by living out our marriage vision. We live for the sake of others and include our spouse as the most significant other through whom we learn how to be genuinely loving.

Couple Exercise:

Agree on simple conditions through which you nurture each others spiritual life. On a daily or weekly basis consider prayer, meditation, reaching out to others, community service and tithing your time and income. A well defined higher purpose for your marriage becomes an indispensable source for ongoing growth and wholesome formation of your relationship with your spouse.

Find in each other your original nature. Write a love letter in which you express five points you sincerely appreciate in your spouse. Tell your partner how you feel communicating these points. (20 mins)

Set some quiet time aside to draw up your own marriage vision statement. Start with five short statements that express what you desire your marriage to be. First you draw up individual lists and then you agree on a common list that also prioritizes your statements. Place the final vision statement that expresses your mutual commitment on your refrigerator door for daily reference (30min).

Improving your Communication Skills

All existence is based on communication. First know who you are as you relate to yourself and your Creator (communication with self and with God). The basic mode of existence is one of constant communication, that is giving and receiving between subject and object partners. Your identity as a person is developed by building relationships with fellow human beings and with creation.

Know your partner. All communication skills in marriage have one common purpose, namely, to set up the conditions through which the couple can experience genuine love. Here are a few points to keep in mind. Discover your personality type and that of your spouse. Educate yourself about essential differences between men and women that includes the uniqueness of masculine and feminine responses. Inform yourself about the childhood of your spouse, in particular experiences that influenced character and personality formation. Such a deeper understanding of your partner will give you additional emotional space and will keep your mutual expectations grounded.

Practice effective relationship skills. Good communication is made up of simple skills that are learned through daily practice. Here are three basic issues that require constant attention: learn to express feelings (self-disclosure), develop listening skills (empathic listening) and make your needs known (draw up a relationship menu, clarify assumptions and expectations, receive the full attention of your partner).

Couple Exercise:

Reflect on your prayer life, the way how you reach out to God, and on your forms of meditation, how you become receptive for God's voice. For a certain time period (one week or more) practice to listen twice as long to God than you share with him in your prayer.

Draw up a list of five characteristic male and female responses that you think apply most to you as a couple. You can refer to John Gray's Mars-Venus typology to get started. Discuss with your partner the validity of these gender differences and how they affect your daily interaction (30min).

Practice the skill of being an empathic listener. Think of an emotionally engaging experience in your life and share that story with your partner by putting emphasis on conveying your feelings. Speak for about one minute and then allow your spouse to offer an empathic response in which your feelings are reiterated in your partner's own words. Finish your story by means of these one minute intervals and then listen to a final empathic summary statement from your spouse. Take turns in this exercise (30min).

Conflict Resolution

The problem of estrangement from the original order. Before investing any effort to solve a situation of conflict, we need to create enough emotional space in our hearts and minds to endure the pain of conflict and at the same time to find sufficient presence of mind to apply strategies for conflict resolution. We will be able to endure emotional pain with a positive attitude once we can ascribe meaning to it. That is to say, we need to find a higher level of explaining the dynamics of conflict in order to be constructive even in extremely difficult situations. According to our God-given purpose, we are to realize a genuine loving relationship with our spouse, however, we live in a state of estrangement form that original purpose as we encounter the reality of conflict. In the Christian tradition, the teachings on the Fall of man address this issue of estrangement. We can expect that a thorough understanding of the roots of conflict in terms of the fallen condition of human beings will allow us to deal effectively with marital conflict.

Explore personal reasons why conflict arises. On a deeper level, there are distinct spiritual reasons for experiencing often a repeating pattern of

arguments with our spouse. A significant influence on our proneness to argumentation can be ascribed to our ancestral history and to our upbringing by our caretakers. It will be helpful to reflect on these factors when we explore our different backgrounds as a couple and as we seek to overcome personal dispositions that have lead to marital conflict in the past.

Prevention offers the best solution. Improved communication skills based on the common awareness of our spiritual circumstances as a couple allows us to generate patience, empathy and perseverance when dealing with confrontational issues. In particular, mutual knowledge of our personality type and a clear understanding of feminine and masculine behavior patterns become indispensable factors for developing the skill to negotiate differences and to avoid arguments. Another crucial point concerns the need for a reality check on the overall situation for our relationship as a couple. We need to be on the lookout for "Marriage Killers" and take preventative measures to avoid stressful situations that would tear down our marital life.

Being prepared for conflict. Even with the best intentions it seems beyond our reach to avoid marital arguments and confrontations. The initial question is not how to reach a total absence of conflict but rather how to acquire the right attitude about conflict. If we perceive marital disagreements only as destructive, we may end up being dishonest with our feelings and consequently reach an emotional state of depression and despair. On the other hand, once we see conflicts as opportunities for mutual growth, we will be more ready to work out a difficult situation by honestly sharing our feelings and by respectfully negotiating our differences. To master the needed conflict resolution skills, we follow an ongoing process of learning, practice and evaluation, a process that leads us to the most important goal in relationship building: our willingness to change.

Couple Exercise

Write down those behaviors where you think you are a difficult partner to get along with. Reflect on possible reasons for these behaviors based on your spiritual self-understanding and on significant childhood experiences. Share your findings with your partner in an atmosphere of trust and empathy. Take turns.

Make a list of behaviors you wish your spouse would no longer do when relating to you. Express your feelings next to the stated behavior explaining why you find it upsetting. Prepare a loving atmosphere before mutually sharing your lists.

Draw up several rules you both agree to observe whenever you start an argument. Be clear how you will handle the initial phase of anger and confusion when a conflict arises. Give each other enough emotional space to stop your interaction at any time and keep in mind to avoid any escalation of your argument. Write down a few behaviors that will help you to reconcile with your partner. It is the way you make up for your argument that determines the stability and growth of your relationship.

If you are upset with your partner and you realize that talking will make things only worse, write a love letter to your spouse in which you reflect honestly on all feelings that are stored up inside you. As one possible approach you can follow the outline of Dr. Grey and verbalize feelings of anger, sadness, fear, regret and at the end always express your loving affection to your partner.

Intimacy and Sexuality in Marriage

The fulfillment of love starts with intimacy. Your ability to create intimacy with your spouse depends on your own inner peace and self respect. The first fruit of your love for God shows itself in achieving unity between your mind and body through self discipline. Ultimately it is your personal relationship with God that provides the conditions for intimacy with your partner such as selfless love, service and faithfulness. Likewise, intimacy as rooted in your spirituality becomes the foundation for a fulfilled sexual life with your spouse. As God is the original designer of our sexual life, we can understand that good sex must begin with God. Still the question needs to be answered how we can express love sexually when we have to deal with the damage of being raised by caretakers who had their own family problems.

The binding power of intimacy. Intimacy begins once you decide to live for the sake of your partner. You want to reach the state of complete trust feeling free to share your whole heart. The path of reaching intimacy requires risk taking. You make yourself vulnerable before your partner when you share your hidden feelings by practicing self disclosure. Without such risk taking in a spirit of mutual submission, you could not build an authentic relationship. Intimacy then becomes the experience of fully knowing each other, a knowledge which is the indispensable foundation for knowing your partner sexually. Only through consistent effort will you be able to improve your ability to be intimate with your spouse. What you need to work on is creating a feeling of togetherness by simply spending more time with each other, paying attention to the right timing when you express closeness to your partner and kindle that spark in our relationship which invites romance. In fact, couples which suffer from boredom and apathy should accept the advice to re-romanticize their relationship in order to rekindle their original love.

The right direction of sexual desire. To experience intimacy as a couple becomes the condition through which sexual love receives its stability and moves towards its God intended purpose. In other words, sexual desire is then guided by the presence of mutual commitment and service as expressed through intimacy. As much as you affirm sexual love in marriage to be enjoyed as God's gift, still you have to take precautions to direct your sexual desire always to your partner and to resist any misdirected sexual feelings that can lead to any form of free sex. You have to keep in mind that your sexuality expresses most distinctly that you are created for the sake of your partner. Subsequently, I am the care taker of my sexuality so that I can offer a pure sexual life to my spouse. In this sense, the goal and purpose of my sexual life belongs totally to my partner. In other words, sexual love is that part of my being over which only my spouse exercises ownership. Sexual problems arise when this original principle concerning the ownership of our sexual love is compromised. Keep in mind that your passionate sexual love within your committed monogamous marriage becomes the best means to prevent any abuse of human sexuality.

Couple Exercise

Reflect with your spouse on God's original plan for your marriage. Write down a few points how you feel God's presence through your partner's love. Be creative in writing down spiritual conditions that would allow you to experience God in your intimacy and sexual life.

In order to build intimacy, write down five behaviors of your spouse that would move your heart and rekindle your love. This can be simple things like offering compliments, helping with the work around the house or cooking a favorite meal. The more difficult items on your wish list could include the change of past habits like unsolicited criticism or the lack of effort to be a good listener. Be specific and do not ask too much at one time. Exchange your lists and leave it up to your partner how to practice these new behaviors.

Agree with your spouse to put time aside to educate yourself about how to improve your sexual life. One book to recommend is "The Act of Marriage" by Jim and Beverly La Haye. Read certain sections together and discuss the content. It will take repeated efforts to create an atmosphere of openness and trust so that you can freely share topics about your sexual life.

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