Four Ways to Keep Your Relationship Afloat In Tough Times

Husbands and wives pledge to love each other through good times and bad, sickness and health, wealth and poverty. On the day of the wedding, these promises feel comforting. But when bad times come through the door, love often flies out the window.  How can a couple stick together even when the going gets tough?

Decades of research have revealed the following four habits to be essential for staying close through difficult times. They are like four pontoons that keep your relationship afloat (see what I did there?), especially when the storms of life lead you into choppy waters.

1.Meaningful Couple Prayer—Turns out, the Venerable Patrick Peyton, CSC. was right. The couple that prays together really does stay together.  Research by Baylor University found that couples who engage in meaningful couple-prayer are significantly more likely to think positively about each other and feel closer to each other, especially through hard times.

Meaningful couple prayer isn’t just about “saying words at God.”  It requires you and your spouse to take a little time every day—even just five minutes—to talk to God about your life, your fears, your hopes, your dreams, and your feelings.  Sit down together and speak to God as if he were the person who knew you best and loved you most.  In addition to the graces we receive from prayer, couple-prayer “works” on a human level because it gives couples a safe, quasi-indirect way to reveal our hearts to one another.  We talk to God while our spouse listens in.  Then, as our spouse prays, we ask God to help us really hear what our spouse is trying to say.  What are their needs, their fears, their wants and concerns?  How do these fit with our own needs, fears, wants and concerns?  By listening to each other in prayer, the Holy Spirit can guide you toward graceful solutions.

2.Talk Together—Create a daily talk ritual; a time where you intentionally discuss topics that don’t natually come up.  Specifically, focus on three questions.  1) How are each of you holding up?  Be honest.  What do you feel like you’re handling well?  Where do you feel like you’re struggling?  When were you at your best today?  When were you at your worst?  2)  When did you feel closest to your spouse/most grateful for your spouse’s support today?  First of all, discussing this question daily makes you more conscious of the need to do things to support each other.  Second, acknowledging the ways you have shown up for each other throughout the day reminds you that you aren’t alone. You have a friend who really wants to be there for you. 3) What could you do to help make each other’s day a little easier/more pleasant?  Is there a project you need some help with?  Is there something you need prayer for?  Are there little things that your spouse sometimes does that mean a lot?  Take this time to ask each other to do those little things that say, “Even when life is falling apart, you can count on me to be here and to take care of you.”

3.Work Together—Your household chores aren’t just something to get through.  They’re actually opportunities to build a sense of solidarity and team spirit.  It’s a funny thing.  You might not know how to weather the latest crisis, but doing something as simple as making the bed together, or cleaning up the kitchen after dinner together, or picking up the family room together before you turn in sends a powerful unconscious message that says, “I’m not just here for the fun.  I’m here for the hard stuff and the boring stuff too.  Somehow, we can get through this. Together.”

Research shows that couples who make a daily habit of cultivating simple caretaking behaviors like doing chores side-by-side develop better cooperation, communication and problem-solving skills. It turns out that the way you work together to avoid bumping into each other and stepping on each other’s toes while you clean up the kitchen becomes the unconscious template for how you work together to handle that health crisis, financial problem, or other unexpected challenge.

4. Play Together—When you’re going through tough times, you don’t want to play.  We just want to isolate and hide.  Resist that temptation as best you can. Make a little time every day to do something pleasant together. Think about the simple pleasures you enjoy in happier times and make yourselves do them–even if you’re not really feeling it.  It might not be all laughs and giggles, but worst case scenario?  You might help each other remember that life isn’t completely horrible and you’ll have each other to thank for that little moment of joy.  Psychology reminds us that humor and play are two the most sophisticated defense mechanisms.  They help us stubbornly resolve to make beautiful moments even when life is anything but.  The couple that learns how to gently play together even the face of trials are true masters at life and love.

Life can be hard, but cultivating a love that “endures all things” (1Cor 13:7), isn’t complicated. By remembering to Pray, Talk, Work, and Play together, you can build a relationship that can stand up to whatever life throws at you.

Dr. Greg Popcak is the author of many books including Just Married. Learn more at CatholicCounselors.com

Did Pope Francis Need To Apologize? (And What His Apology Can Teach Us)

Dr. Gregory K Popcak

 

Pope Francis made the news New Years Eve for his response to a woman he met in a line of well-wishers.  The over-eager woman grabbed the Holy Father’s arm forcefully and wouldn’t let go.  The viral video shows Pope Francis wincing—some suggest in pain from his sciatica—and then turning and slapping the woman’s hand twice before breaking free and storming off.

The next day, Pope Francis issued a simple, but humble apology.  He said, “”Love makes us patient. So many times we lose patience, even me, and I apologize for yesterday’s bad example.”

We used this event as an opportunity to explore apologies on today’s show.  Many people think that apologizing for something means that they are accepting all the blame or admitting that they are a bad person.  For many, giving an apology means debasing themselves and so they are loathe to apologize for almost anything.

The theology of the body reminds us that building the Kingdom of God is primarily about healing the damage that sin does to our relationships with God and others.  Apologies are a big part of that process.  

But giving an apology doesn’t mean that you are accepting all the blame.  It doesn’t mean that it is all your fault.  And it doesn’t mean that you are saying that you are a bad person. Likewise, giving an apology isn’t a way of “evening the balance sheet” between people.

For the Christian, giving an apology has nothing to do with another person’s behavior or the context we’re in.  It simply means, “I have reflected on my behavior in the light of grace and my own expectations for myself.  Because of that, I believe that I should have handled that better and I am committed to handling similar situations better in the future.”

Some callers to the show today argued that Pope Francis didn’t need to apologize for his behavior because his response was a “human reaction” to being grabbed inappropriately.  Another person suggested that Pope Francis behavior was justified by every human being’s right to self-defense.

Both of these points are absolutely true.  It was a human reaction and we do have a right to self-defense.  But these points are also irrelevant.  Apologizing doesn’t necessarily mean I was wrong.  It means, “I believe I could and should do better in similar situations in the future.”

By apologizing, the Holy Father didn’t say, “I’m a bad person.” Or “I’m a bad Pope.” Or even, “This was all my fault.”  (And in the last instance, it clearly wasn’t all his fault.”  By apologizing, the Pope Francis simply said, “I could and should have handled that better and I am committed to doing so in the future.” 

We would all do well to follow his example in this instance.  Let’s worry less about assigning blame, finding fault, or worrying about debasing ourselves.  Let’s focus more on taking responsibility for our actions, acknowledging that there are often better ways to handling situations than our first impulses dictate, and committing to using those healthier, godlier alternatives in the future.

Resolving Repetitive Arguments

Often we feel as though we’re just going in circles, having the same arguments over and over. So how do we break the cycle and start actually resolving problems or situations?

Studies show that happy couples tend to be more solution-focused in general, and focus on spending most of their energy addressing more solvable problems. They’re aware of larger issues in the relationship but they tend to hold off on addressing these until they’ve built up enough confidence/rapport by handling the little things well.  Other couples tend to have a more emotionally-based approach that puts every issue—big and small—on an equal footing.  They are less successful at solving anything, in part because their arguments are more emotional and many of the issues they choose to focus on can’t be easily addressed, especially when there isn’t good rapport.

In the beginning, God created each of us to see the world a little differently so that, working together and using our gifts for each other’s good, we would all attend to different details in a manner that would allow us to create a more holistic solution to any challenge.  But in a fallen world filled with unique and unrepeatable people who see things differently AND don’t always work for each other’s good, there is bound to be  some degree of conflict. Pope St. John Paul the Great reminds us that the only solution to this challenge is love–the willingness to understand what the other person needs to flourish and the willingness to make personal sacrifices to help them achieve achieve those things.  By learning to be loving, ESPECIALLY in conflict, we can discover how to encourage each other through the tension, toward godly solutions, and experience even closer relationships–not just in spite of our differences, but because of those differences.

How can this be done?

Zoom Out–Repetitive arguments tend to be ones that are polarized. People stake out their positions too early in the discussion and then argue back and forth about who’s right and who’s wrong. If you’re having the same fight over and over, zoom out.  Step back from trying to solve the problem and instead, figure out how to EMPATHIZE with the other person’s position. Ask questions that allow you to have genuine sympathy for what they are trying to accomplish.You might ask, “Help me understand how things would be better for you if you got what you were asking for.” OR “What is it you’re hoping will change if we did things your way?”  You don’t have to agree with the other person, but keep asking questions until you truly understand their goal. People who feel truly understood are much more willing to negotiate in good faith.

Build The Solution Together–Repetitive arguments are usually caused because each person feels like they are trying to build something that the other person keeps taking apart–like two children fighting over the same block to build THEIR tower! Build your solution together.  Once you have zoomed out enough to understand what each of you is really trying to accomplish. Ask, the other person, “What solution could you imagine that would allow you to get what you want but still be respectful to my concerns?”  This is powerful question because it is both deferential AND assertive. On the one hand, you are humbly asking their advice. On the other hand, you are insisting that they consider your concern in their solution.  This question sets up the right spirit of honesty and collaboration that allows two former competitors to start building together.

Work on Friending, Not Fighting–The most important thing in problem-solving is NOT solving the problem.  It is taking care of each other through the conflict so that you can feel like two friends working together on the problem instead of two enemies fighting over limited resources. Focus on “Friending” NOT fighting. Tell the other person you appreciate them hanging in there with you, offer to pray together so that you are both open to God’s will, do little things to take care of them during a conflict like offering to get them a drink, or take a break, acknowledging their strengths or the value of their opinions.  The more effective you are at taking care of the other person, the more likely you will be able to break through the tendency toward self-preservation that pervades repetitive arguments.

 

For more on how to resolve repetitive arguments, check out God Help Me! These People Are Driving Me Nuts! and tune in to More2Life–weekdays at 10am E/9am C on EWTN, SiriusXM 130!

More2Life Hack: 3 Tips for Authentic Forgiveness

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Today on More2Life, we explored what authentic forgives does (and doesn’t) require.  Here are three tips to help you make forgiving others less complicated.

1. There is a difference between forgiveness and reconciliation.  

St. Augustine said that we’ve forgiven someone when we’ve surrendered our natural desire for revenge.  Forgiveness doesn’t mean pretending it never happened or letting the person go scot free.  It means surrendering your desire to hurt the other person or have them hurt for having hurt you.

Reconciliation, on the other hand, (again, according to Augustine) is the “tranquility that results from right order.”  In other words, in order to reconcile with someone, they have to be willing to work with you to heal the wounds, right the wrongs, or solve the problems caused by their actions.  Because not everyone is willing to do that, it is possible to forgive someone but still not be reconciled to them.

2. There are 3 Parts to an effective apology

If a person is truly sorry (as opposed to just going through the motions) their apology will reflect the fact that they feel how much they hurt you, own the responsibility for what they’ve done (instead of blaming you or making excuses), and want to make restitution.   If you are struggling to forgive someone, there is a good chance one of these three ingredients is missing. Full reconciliation will require you to insist that the missing elements be addressed.

3.  Reconciliation requires you to be able to trust they won’t do it again.

To completely reconcile with someone, you need to be able to trust that–barring some genuinely unusual circumstances–they won’t commit the same offense again.  Research shows that a trustworthy person has proven that they have 4 qualities.  The ability to do what they say they are going to do.  The integrity that either enables them to avoid giving offense in the first place and/or easily and quickly accept correction when they commit an offense in spite of themselves.  The benevolence that shows that they are committed to working for your good even when it is inconvenient for them to do so. And the consistency that proves to you that they can be counted on to demonstrate these qualities across many different areas of your life and relationship.  Someone who does not display these qualities cannot be trusted to be safe and so you cannot completely reconcile with them until they have developed their skills in these areas.

In short, forgiveness is a gift you give yourself.  But reconciliation is a project that requires the active cooperation of the wound-er and the wounded.  Knowing the difference can make all the difference.

For more tips on achieving authentic forgiveness and reconciliation, check out God Help Me, These People Are Driving Me Nuts! Making Peace with Difficult People or tune in to More2Life radio each weekday at 10am E/9am C on a Catholic radio station near you or SiriusXM Channel 130.

Hard to Say, “I’m Sorry” 3 Keys to an Effective Apology

Shutterstock

Shutterstock

Saying “sorry” and meaning it is about repairing relationship, not making ourselves feel better.  Check out my latest column for Our Sunday Visitor

Lent is a time of reparation — a season of sorrow for sins committed and expressions of a sincere desire to reform our lives. But what does it mean to be sorry? What are the components of real remorse?

Whether we are expressing sorrow to God, a spouse, family member or friend, it can be hard to say, “I’m sorry.” It can be even harder to say it well. Sometimes, when people say that they are sorry to us, we can feel like there is something missing. Often, it’s because there is. But what? As we express our sorrow to God this Lent for the ways that our lives do not reflect his plan for us, it can be important to make sure our “I’m sorry’s” have all the components of sincere remorse. Researchers note that good apologies involve three ingredients: empathy, restitution and objective criteria.

Apologies missing any one of these component often feel lacking, or incomplete and that nagging feeling can make it hard to experience real reconciliation. Here’s why these three components are such an important part of a complete apology.  (Continue Reading).

When “I’m Sorry” Isn’t Enough. 3 Keys to Healing Your Hurting Heart

Image via shutterstock. Used with permission

Image via shutterstock. Used with permission

We’ve all had times when it was hard to forgive someone for having hurt us or when our attempts to gain someone else’s forgiveness have fallen flat.

Heart Health

Sometimes,  “I’m sorry” isn’t enough because owe have an unforgiving heart. We want to hold on to the pain because it makes us feel self-righteous and superior to the person who hurt us and it gives us a weapon to use against the offender.  “Oh, yeah?  NOW you want to be nice to me? HA! Well, we’ll see about that!”

But what about those times when our hearts really do want to forgive but, despite our best and most sincere efforts to let go of the pain, we continue to be haunted by the hurt?  Should we feel guilty for somehow “refusing” to forgive? Or could something else be going on?

The Divine Longing for Justice

As I argue in Broken Gods: Hope, Healing, and the Seven Longings of the Human Heart, sometimes our inability to let go of the anger and hurt that follows an offense isn’t a lack of forgiveness, but a sign of our Divine Longing for Justice.  Our divine longing  for justice was hard-wired into us at the beginning of creation.  It is one of the seven longings that points us to God and, after the Fall, continues to nag at us from deep within so that we can restore the order that we destroyed by sin.

The Divine Longing for Justice helps us attend to the healing of wounds and offenses that we, in our weakness, might just prefer to ignore, but that the Holy Spirit wants us to address so that godly order might be restored and authentic healing can take place.

Satisfying The Divine Longing for Justice

When “I’m sorry” isn’t enough, despite our best efforts to let go of our hurt,  it is usually because one of the three components of an effective apology–of true remorse–is absent.    Researchers tell us that there are three keys to an effective apology.  We don’t need all three components every time someone offends us, but the more serious the offense, the more we will probably need all three keys to unlock the door to total reconciliation and healing.

3 Keys to Healing the Hurting Heart

The three keys are; empathy, objective remorse, restitution.

Empathy–refers to the offender’s willingness to demonstrate that they truly understand how deeply they have hurt us.  An apology consisting of ” “Fine, I’m sorry, are you happy now?”  isn’t an apology at all.  When someone hurts you, not only do you deserve to hear, “I can’t believe I did that to you.  I am so sorry for having hurt you like that.” but unless the offender can make such an expression of empathy, you can be sure that they really don’t understand the seriousness of what they did, which means it will probably happen again.  In these situations, your Divine Longing for Justice will continue to nag you as a way of saying, “The situation isn’t safe.  Don’t let down your guard yet!”

Objective Remorse–refers to the offender’s understanding that you had an objective right to expect more from them.  That is, you aren’t hurt because “you can’t take a joke,” or because “you are so sensitive,” or because “you are so demanding.”  Rather, you are hurt because you had a right to expect more from the person, that anyone would have expected more from them, and they let you down.  “I am so sorry. A husband should never treat a wife the way I  treated you.  You are absolutely right and I promise I won’t do it again.”  Without objective remorse, your Divine Longing for Justice won’t allow you to let go of your fear and pain because it recognized that the person isn’t truly sorry, but rather is blaming you for the audacity of actually expecting them to behave appropriately!

Restitution–is the offender’s willingness to make things right.  Sometimes restitution is material in that they will repair or replace they thing they broke or took from you.  More often, restitution requires a willingness to sit down with you and outline their plan for handling similar situations differently in the future.  Other times it will require them to admit that they don’t have what it takes to promise they won’t do it again, and agree to get the help they need–professionally or otherwise–to learn the skills that are lacking.  Either way, without some plan of restitution, your Divine Longing for Justice will not allow you to let go of the pain, because the wound is still raw and without restitution, it could become infected and lead to bitterness and deeper resentment over time.

Letting Go

The desire to let go of our pain after an offense and move on is noble and godly, but when the pain lingers despite our best efforts to forgive, we need to pause and ask God, “What are you telling me still needs to occur for true reconciliation to take place?”  and look at which of the 3 keys to reconciliation is missing.  God doesn’t want to heal us by half measures.  He desires true, authentic, and total healing for both us and our relationships and he gives us the Divine Longing for Justice to see that this healing and wholeness and take place.

If you need more help finding reconciliation after an offense, check out Broken Gods: Hope, Healing, and the Seven Longings of the Human Heart, or contact the Pastoral Solutions Institute to learn more about how our Catholic telecounseling practice can help you find true healing after the hurt.