Prepare-Enrich Conflict Resolution

             Today’s class on resolving conflict at our church really punched a pack. Hard to believe I do not remember learning these stages of conflict resolution when my husband and I attended our pre-marital counseling, Prepare-Enrich. It was refreshing to hear couples married a decade or two or three say they have revolving issues, and to see them practice some of these stages also. No doubt, we will all be able to practice these better in the weeks to come… and maybe some of you may want to try also.

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Notes from Prepare- Enrich Marriage Mentoring course 

CONFLICT- RESOLUTION

All couples have disagreements.

Studies show they are not related to marital happiness as much as how they are handled. Happy couples do not avoid disagreements, they resolve them while remaining respectful of each other, therefore strengthening their relationship. The first person sets the scenario for the other person’s response by the tone of their voice. ( if accusatory, sarcastic, derogatory)

The following stages provide an effective way to resolve conflict: Step by step.

1  Set aside a time and place. Agree to a time and place for discussion.                                                             Ie. “Can we find some time to talk about this?”

2  Define the issue/situation -be specific                                                                                 “I know you get a lot of enjoyment from watching sports, but I have felt we’re not                     connecting enough lately. I miss quality time with you.”

3  List the ways you both contribute to the problem.  This was the most difficult step for most in our class. To take the time and see how each contributes. i.e. The upset person contributes by not being open and honest, if, instead, they are seething inside…allowing thoughts like “he doesn’t even care about me.”

4  List Past Attempts (if any) to resolve the issue that were not successful.

5  Brainstorm possible solutions. Try to come up with 10 possible solutions to the situation. Do not judge or criticize any suggestions by each other. Don’t shut down brainstorming before it’s done. Write List.

6  Discuss and evaluate possible solutions. (be objective and give useful, constructive feedback)

7  Agree on one solution to try, and agree how you will work toward the solution. Sometimes it takes many attempts to find something that works and these problems repeat themselves.

8  Set up a meeting to follow up: Date , time, location. How is it working?

9  Be intentional– plan to meet again in a week or a month for follow-up.

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How to Use Time Out’s

Even with great communication, we still have conflict- because we can disagree. The point is it doesn’t have to be heated. Great communication is listening to understand. Avoid you statements, use I statements.  No you always, you never statements.  Start with affirmation. “I appreciate how you groom yourself and keep a nice appearance but I feel resentful when I have to pick up your clothes, feel I am the only one doing the laundry, etc.”

TIME-OUTs are from 20” to calm down up to a day… It takes 15 minutes for an anxiety attack to pass.

Recognize the need for time-out if : Face red. Breathing fast. Tears streaming. Fists clenched. Feel like screaming or throwing something. Afraid of partner’s intensity. Feel emotionally closed off.

Request a time-out–  for yourself. “I’m just too angry to talk right now. Please give me time to calm down and gather my thoughts”

Relax and Calm down. Deep breathing. Go for a jog or drive. Journal. Read. Pray. Don’t use the time to gather ammunition to come back and use against your partner!

Remember what’s important– identify what you’re thinking and feeling that became difficult to discuss.

Restate you are both a team. Your relationship wins when you both work toward solutions both of you feel good about!

 

How does Your Garden Grow?

crabgrass plot

That nasty grass is back? Wow.

Yesterday I hunkered in the little patch across from the sliding glass door where our rose tree fell in the dirt midweek. Steve propped it up with a stake. Once again, I stood in the plot where I’d spent hours alone removing stones and crabgrass. It felt sweet to have a husband beside me now to tend our garden.

Spring a decade past I wrote my single’s book to the daily mantra, weeding and writing, as I tackled the backyard of my newly acquired fixer-upper. When someone suggested, “You have a garden with every person in your life,” I became more thoughtful while I weeded. How was I doing maintaining the garden with various friends and family?

I first practiced weeding sessions when I dated. We would share observations, disgruntled and negative emotions evident through body language—words and actions. Hidden grudges, like crabgrass roots, strangled our potential for growth. Once exposed and removed, seeds could be sown. Loving thoughts, kind words and acts could once again, nourish our heart.

Desire, time and commitment are necessary to create a fragrant garden.

Is there a child we are at odds with? An estranged sibling? Difficult parent or spouse? Every relationship requires maintenance. Critical thoughts as weeds, will be resistant. God counsels us through His Word to forgive misunderstandings or insults, wounds caused from ill-spoken words or apathetic responses.

Forgiveness yanks the weeds out immediately. If we clip the top and leave the root, though unseen, it will prevent our garden from flourishing.

 People are fragile. Handle with care. Hearts tended by affirmations and prayers will respond. We must move beyond the doubt of negative memories to the hope of belief for new tomorrows so we plant new experiences and rebuild damaged relationships. Cleared soil once dominated by weeds can blossom.

As we process our feelings and rehearse our thoughts with prayer, we become more skilled at speaking the truth with love. Words framed with respect and gentleness diffuse anger. Christ will teach us humility if we ask Him. He will show us the beam in our own eye before we confront the beam in someone else’s. When  stubs of pride are uncovered, the stranglehold of judgment, like stubborn deep roots—release. When judgment dies, mercy lives—mercy that triumphs over judgement. (James 2:13 KJV)

Gardening in the rain is so messy, I wait for better weather conditions.

Likewise, I am learning to observe the sunshine or dampness on my husband’s face. It’s like God saying When. Wait means more time to pray we are each receptive to the other. To be diplomatic goes beyond an agreement to discuss an issue. It is the intention to understand the other’s viewpoint, as well as to be heard. I love to weed after a good rain. When the ground is soft, the weeds come out so easy.

How do we live without grace? Not only offering grace to someone else but to ourselves? Each situation is different, even if it’s the same person. New information is needed. If we avoid conflict resolution or have not pursued building a relationship garden for awhile—our tools will be rusty.

When we pull unused tools out of the shed, we must trust God to begin.

He has equipped us with two patient ears to listen, one mouth to say less and a heart that beats to love as God designed. God, our Master Gardener. He knows how to prune anything and how to grow every flower and fragrance we can imagine—or can’t.

Pursue (think plant!)  righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience and gentleness of heart.

  1 Timothy 6:11 

copyright 2016  Dee Aspin

Thoughts on Dating and the Maze and Haze

Dating is like figuring out a  maze. Last night I spoke with two single friends and am so glad I am done with dating after literally a lifetime—married now 9 months almost!!  But it is impossible to get married without the D-a-t-i-n-g  word so… afterthoughts.

Dating can be a craze-maze if we are still processing our dysfunctional past—if we were raised where we were not given the opportunity to voice opinions and reason, or negotiate to resolve conflict or differences growing up. If we are indecisive. Apprehensive. Afraid. Unsure of ourselves.Low self esteem. 1×1 = 1  Two whole people multiplied makes one whole relationship. 1/2 times 1/2 = 1/4  Yikes!

In single parent homes we often do not learn how couples communicate—because  men and women communicate differently.Their brains are actually physiologically different—we are shortsighted. ie. Men need their caves for refreshing. We need to let them go there. Not resent what we don’t understand. Women need communication. Men need to tell us what they are doing or not doing. And ask us questions. We both need to always clarify what we are hearing each other say. “I heard you say this… did you mean this” before jumping to conclusions…because we hear words differently.

It’s a maze if we were in a committed co-dependent relationship or marriage where in order to remain together we had to cease to exist (no voice)—and enter dating at twenty years old or dating again at forty years old we feel behind the curve of ability.

So with the empty bag of tools we possess to garden weeds out of a relationship and plant seeds…we learn it. We learn how to sow the ground for good communication through years of trial and error, counsel and observation, prayer and pain.( Unless we are blessed to meet a person who has great communication skills, which was pretty non-existent in my dating life.)

The good news is that God marries imperfect people all the time. Marriage doesn’t mean we have arrived as amazing communicators at any level. But it ensures we get to work on it if we marry someone who loves us enough to listen and we love them enough to listen so we can both learn to communicate well – we can grow together  and individually.

People will always get together, and even have successful marriages in spite of rocky courtships or relationships. Once I received a note from a friend who was in a dysfunctional relationship. I didn’t know the answers, but remembered stories, so shared…

I will be praying. Sometimes people don’t know what love is if it has always been dysfunctional. They don’t know that without all the intensity of the crazies, a secure and peaceful relationship with good communication is true love. They have to learn to like normal.

I know you don’t want to hold your hopes up, that is the hardest part. But this is your first break-up with Greg and he may realize later that he has the feelings—when you are not in his life. Emotionally numb.

I met a women who was happily married with children 15 years when I last saw her. But in her twenties her fiancé, now husband, broke their engagement  multiple times. We couldn’t believe her response hanging in there unruffled. She calmly prayed with her Bible study group the night he broke up the 5th time “Oh, he’s just afraid again.”

Another couple our age who were engaged and broke up recently are now back together and doing well. Dr. Dobson in his rules of dating, posted, “Many couples have a breakup before marriage. It is part of the process.  If it is not to be, then you are both better for having dated each other….because you know more what a healthy relationship should be.”

That’s why I never regretted old dating relationships. God uses all things for good. No good thing will he withhold from those who walk uprightly Ps 84:11

I am confident God has the right one for you, whether it is Mr Man in Question or someone we can’t see yet. YOu are wonderful inside out.  Stay focused. In quietness and confidence is your strength. (Isaiah 30:15) He will give you peace and steady you.”

Parting thought: As a dating single, I said to myself in those tough times when seemed no one is out there, or fresh from a  break- up–

“There is always another man.”

If you are a guy reading this, “there is always another woman.”

So don’t give up. There are many people looking for someone to love at all ages….

 

Death and Grief Relief

Lately there has been a lot of death around me. We watched the footage of the Asian airline tragedy at SFO saddened this morning at the tragic  loss of two  Chinese teenagers. July 4th a childhood friend’s father, like an uncle to me, died one month after his wife of 63 years,(her mom) passed away. My Lab Sam died at the same time. Two friends have lost two generation-y nieces and another friend her cat of seventeen years in the past month.

Life and death exist side by side. What’s on the other side of death for a Christian brings grief relief.  The Bible bring comfort, as  2 Corinthians 5:6 “We are always full of good and hopeful and confident courage; we know that while we are at home in the body we are abroad from the home with the Lord (promised to us).” Verse 9 says “Therefore whether we are at home (on earth away from Him) or away from home (and with Him) we are constantly ambitious and strive earnestly to be pleasing to Him.” (Everyday Bible)

In the June 2013 issue of Guideposts Jennifer Hubbard shared the story of her first grade daughter Catherine Hubbard,  who died at Sandy Hook school. Jennifer said “The greatest comfort, the only comfort was knowing she was in heaven the safest place of all, with no hate, no bullets, only love and life eternal.” Catherine was so gentle and loved creation so much  butterflies would land on her hand and she’d whisper, “Tell all your friends I’m kind.” Catherine made her own business cards. She printed Catherines Animal Shelter across the top and Care Taker under her name, and handed them out at school

Untimely death is extremely difficult and seems to rock the order of all Creation.   When Catherine died her parents had donations sent to animal rescue volunteers who have now turned the $175,000 into an animal sanctuary. Jennifer believes the healing both animals and people can find walking the paths and working with the animals at the sanctuary, has fulfilled an unseen purpose and helped them move forward after Catherine’s death.

All of creation waits for the redemption of man, Romans 8:19 says. The animals are pinned in the same cycle we are, birth, decay, death—here!  But God created us all for Paradise, man and animal, a place of health and love and peace with Him, before the fall. After the fall He prepared the way for Jesus, our Redeemer, for our redemption back to our Heavenly Home.

We sometimes yearn for that place, our heavenly home and our reunion with those who have gone before us, man and animal. When I get teary at the loss of my Lab Sam, I picture him swimming in the river that flows from the Throne of God with my friend’s cat pawing the fish at the water edge nearby.

Today we will sing “What a Friend we have in Jesus,” and “Turn your eyes upon Jesus” the same songs I sang with the guitar at my Grandmothers funeral twenty years ago, the same lyrics that brought comfort then. An avid family man , businessman and born comedian, he leaves 4 older children who grieve him, unlike my Godfather who left 3 children who would not return his calls as he approached the grave.

One of the signs of a life well lived is when people will miss the person or critter departing. May we all live our lives with purpose, even as that little girl Catherine and serve God and others as well as we can until we all meet together on that Grand Day in the Sanctuary God dwells.

 

Spring and Seasonal Pain Single or Married

Spring can accentuate pain for a single longing to be married. Perspective helps. I remember…

“Life is like marriage; it’s up and it’s down,” Grandma used to say moving her hand up and down in the air like an elevator on the blitz.

I often thought of her witticism in my twenties because it meant good times and bad times come to all, single or married, even as I longed for marriage to fulfill my life.

Before I had long-lasting relationships beyond the first few months of infatuation, it offered a wise perspective from a woman married many years.  It said unhappiness in a marriage (not talking about abuse of course) is not necessarily a problem with the marriage:  finances, health, purpose, relationships, focus, unfortunate circumstances as well as unforeseen blessings blow in and out of season for each of us. It meant we can’t blame someone else if we are unfulfilled or judge they are not contributing to our lives in some way if life is spiraling and stale.

A friend complained her fruit trees produce tons of apples last year and a lot less this year. We may feel we are stagnating in certain situations and want change now, married or single, when it could be better if we allow God to work with our attitude. Focus on what we have rather than what we don’t even as the seasons will surely change and all things will pass.

When I turned 39—the worst year of my single life because the Need-to-start-a-family-by- 40-Pressure is volcanic—I vividly recalled a conversation with a married friend.

I was single and in pain—love-stuck in an orbiting relationship. She was married and in pain, her husband out of work again, trapped in the mire of financial loss and unsettled emotions pervading their home life again.

“I can’t remember what it is like to live a day, a life, without pain,” she lamented.

“I can’t either,” my voice lilted. “I had a few moments today, at lunch and when I was shopping. Otherwise I’m always aware of the ache.”

Five years later we exchanged another similar conversation—that struck a chord in my memory.

“I’m doing good” She stated heartily. “I’m not in pain anymore,” she mused. “Can’t remember the last day I felt it!”

“Me too!” I rejoined. “Isn’t that amazing how God brought us through that terrible time a few years ago…when we were engulfed in it?”

I  will never forget those two brief conversations with the same friend because it echoes the lives of all of us…at some point and for different reasons. We all go through seasons of pain that God acknowledges in Revelations. It is not just an emotional week or brief encounter with sorrow. In Greek it means anguish. It is the ache of a broken life, an altered dream, an adjustment to a new normal or the hangover of a crisis. It feels like a prison sentence. And it will pass. It is important to know this when it feels like it will never end.

A single friend who married at fifty said she had the aching longing every single day of her forties until she married at fifty. A man who grieved the early loss of his wife bore it for five years after her death.

God separates this deep pain from more temporary sorrows and sadness in Revelations describing heaven, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or sorrow (mourning in Greek) or crying or pain for the old order of things has passed away.” Rev 21:4

Isn’t it comforting to know God separates sorrow from pain? He created us and He understands our emotional needs.

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed (wasting away), for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”                                                           Lamentations 3:24

 

Our Love Story- Ring Connection

When I started this blog 5 years ago, I wanted to include a category titled Ring Connection. Nothing encouraged me more as a single than to hear how God brought people together in marriage! What did it look like? How was this one so different than others they had dated? How did God speak to each of them that they knew this time it was special and could last? 

The next two weeks you will read our story in two parts. Yes, no longer ringless, God brought my husby (the blend of husband and hubby)  in His perfect time. Our hope is you be encouraged. God answers prayer usually outside of our time frame and beyond our understanding.        


The Friendship  spawned in 2008. Steve became Dee’s audiobook engineer for Lord of the Ringless. It was comfortable from the beginning. She lived a single active life surrounded by nephews. Steve had married at 20, for twenty-plus years and raised three sons.

Their Awakening  began in September 2011 when Steve was the only one of 10 invitees to show at the Auburn open- air Strauss symphony. Dee discovered the man with 7 guitars, enjoyed classical music. In late October after the Lord of the Rings Munich Symphony they discovered a mutual love of sports too, in particular, basketball and football.

Steve’s  SPARK  ignited in December attending an Inspired Writer’s Christmas party together. “I had one of those brief moments where Denise was the only person in the room- an Oh no, I’m think I’m falling in love moment.” Steve feared losing the friendship—but risked sharing his feelings Dec 30th. Unsure, of her feelings but enjoying the friendship, Dee suggested they continue doing things together and readdress the relationship later.

Denise’s April shower moment came on a book tour. At a Washington state rest stop, I opened my moonroof and gentle rain fell just as Steve’s eyelashes brushed my cheek—my first butterfly kiss. Wondrously, the verse from my morning quiet time with God danced in my head,

“The seed will grow well, the vine will yield it’s fruit…and the heavens will drop their dew.” Zechariah 8:12

DEWDROPS  have taken on a new meaning for Steve and Dee . They are gifts God drops from heaven to show His blessings and provision in seasons of sunshine and rain. Trusting God, believing Him for His promises remains significant, especially during this time of spotty employment for Steve.

And HUMOR . When Steve broke his clavicle, he became Bam Bam because he bounced twice on the concrete floor. Dee became Pebbles, his sidekick with the topknot. Words of affirmation lighten our daily adventure. Dee is POB , Princess of Buckingham and Steven, POW , the Prince of Wales, reflecting their English heritage. (Her “all” will transition to his “ell”)

Steve’s planned PROPOSAL unfolded a Dewdrop Saturday. He posed the M question on bended knees on the Pacific CrestTrail during a 10 minute interlude from a spring blizzard. God cleared the white out long enough to display gorgeous Sierra Crested white tops, sky blue Donner Lake and open heavens. Then the snow fell again—and a brilliant rainbow appeared. “The future is as bright as the promises of God,” Steve recited. Miracle Week followed…

( to be continued next Friday)

Safe People: How to Recognize them…

Doctors Henry Cloud and John Townsend wrote a book called “Safe People” and speak extensively on the topic. I heard them years ago and this week a friend sent me the list for finding relationships that are healthy and avoiding those that are not. This is a good point check for all friendships . The Bible advises to "choose our friends wisely."

 

UNSAFE PEOPLE

1. Think they have it all together instead of admitting their weaknesses.

2. Are defensive instead of open to feedback.

3. Are self-righteous instead of humble.

4. Only apologize instead of changing their behavior.

5. Avoid working on their problems instead of dealing with them.

6. Demand trust, instead of earning it.

7. Believe they are perfect instead of admitting their faults.

8. Blame others instead of taking responsibility.

9. Will lie instead of being honest.

10. Are stagnant instead of growing.

11. Avoid closeness instead of connecting.

12. Are only concerned about "I" instead of "we" (not relationship centered)

13. Resist freedom instead of encouraging it.

14. Condemn us instead of forgiving us.

15. Stay in parent/child roles instead of relating as equals.

16. Are unstable over time instead of being consistent.

17. Are a negative influence on us, rather than a positive one.

18. Gossip instead of keeping our confidences.

SAFE PEOPLE

1. Value love – connection – have the ability to trust.

2. Value responsibility (take responsibility for themselves and value that in others) Neither overly dependent on others nor codependent – feeling responsible for others

3. Value honesty – ability to be known – transparent – who they really are.

4. Working on their own issues

5. Respond to truth

6. Have a good track record (may fail, but learn from failure and move on, are in progress of making a good track record even if this is a new beginning for them)

7. Can be observed and tested – see them in interactions with other people (test them with a small part of yourself, share a part of your heart and see what happens)

8. Bear good fruit in your life by being with them (encourage you to grow individually and in your connection with other people)