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Criticism: Constructive or Destructive?

Criticism can be a great thing. It keeps us from becoming myopic, helps us grow personally and often leads to recognizing and solving real problems. However, there is a significant difference between valuable ‘constructive criticism’ and a critical person who seems to only offer criticism that is destructive.

Criticism Pic

Criticism Pic

Here are three questions to discern between the two:

1. Are they willing to personally help solve the problem?

Critical people are all about the ‘hit and run.’ They are quick to point out what’s wrong, but there is a lack of willingness to be a part of the solution. If the problem is financial, are they willing to provide money? If the solution to problem requires time, will they rearrange their calendar? It’s one thing to say, “This is what’s wrong- you need to make it better.” it’s another to say, “This is what’s wrong and I will do whatever I can to help you make it better.”

2. How do they respond if you or others disagree?

No one is always 100% correct in their criticism. There will probably be parts where the person offering criticism is spot-on and other parts where they miss the mark. The question is whether or not they are willing to engage in a healthy dialogue about what they see. If there is no willingness to budge or to genuinely listen to another perspective(s), their criticism is less constructive and is more destructive.

3. What is the ‘spirit’ of their criticism?

When someone is offering criticism, it is often difficult to know their intent. One thing you can do is trying to listen ‘between the words.” What is the nature of the criticism? What is the heart in which it is being expressed? For criticism to be truly be constructive, it should be given with the goal of helping the recipient improve and be more successful, not to belittle or humiliate.

We all have given and received criticism. What advice would you add that may help criticism be less destructive and more constructive?

Water or Gasoline

People seem to fall into one of two categories… water or gasoline. Being able to discern between the two is important when building teams, discerning friendships, raising a family and even choosing a spouse.

Water or Gasoline Donovan Christian

Every arena of life is filled with ‘flare-ups’- challenging situations that have the potential to harm organizations and relationships. While some of these are preventable, most are not. The key, however, is not the prevention of these difficult situations, but the response.

When a ‘water’ person sees a flare-up, their instinctive response is to put water on the flame, thus reducing its destructive potential. Conversely, when a “gasoline” person sees a flare-up, their response is to douse it with flammable liquid. The result is just as we would expect, a difficult situation becoming more difficult… a small problem becoming a big problem… a contained flame with flickering embers becoming a raging inferno.

Water extinguishes. Fuel feeds. “For lack of wood, the fire goes out…” (Proverbs 26:20). It’s that simple.

One additional word of caution/encouragement. Water and gasoline are both contagious. If the initial response to a problem is with water, expect the bucket brigade. If it’s gas- pyromaniacs of the word unite. So… carefully guard the first response knowing this will determine much of what follows.

Which do you tend to be? Water or gasoline? How have you seen this to be true in your life situations?

The Key to a Lasting Marriage

Marriage anniversaries are a big deal. They represent important milestones and signify the blessing of having held true to a promise.

I’ve had the honor of knowing several couples who experienced the privilege of celebrating fifty years of marriage. When I have the opportunity, I do some investigating to see how they accomplished such an admirable feat. They all have a common theme.

Older Married Couple

I can tell you what I’ve never heard, “It was 50 years of bliss. We made it this long because it’s been so easy.”

Instead, what I have heard time and time again is, “We hit a couple of spots where it seemed like it was going to end, but we worked through it. It was hard. It was painful, but we fought for our marriage.” That is the key to making a marriage last.

Here’s an important truth we all need to remember: Many of today’s best marriages were yesterday’s worst.

Most (if not all) healthy marriages today, at one point (or several points) were on the brink of failure. They had moments of intense counseling, arguing, crying, sleeping on the couch, and painfully hard conversations about ending the relationship. But the truth of 1 Corinthians 13:7 shined through because, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

What is the key to a lasting marriage? It is not having an easy marriage. It’s two people committed to working through the hard times, knowing that the best times are yet ahead.

How have you seen this to be true in your own marriage?

The Cure For Critical

Are you critical? Do you often find yourself assessing other people and finding that they come up short? Do people feel like they can never measure up to your expectations or do anything right?

Critical

While there is nothing wrong with legitimate criticism, or what we might call “loving discernment,” there are those who tend to be overly critical. They expect and inspect, readily finding deficiencies, causing inevitable strain on relationships.

Fault-finding becomes a pair of pessimistic lenses through which we see the world, consequently stealing our joy.

Like many negative behaviors, a critical spirit is a symptom of an underlying disease… pride. A critic is someone who considers themselves an authority. Pride believes, “I know what’s best… I know what’s right, and because something isn’t the way I believe it should be, it must be wrong.”

So, how do we overcome a critical spirit? If pride is the disease of a critical spirit, humility is the cure.

A humble spirit willingly admits that there may be alternate views to their own and that these views are equally worth consideration. Humility recognizes value in other people and lowers the “self-superiority” of a critical spirit.

The benefits are many including a more positive outlook on life, improved relationships and being liberated from the misery of being critical.

So why not start today? Ask God to replace any pride-rooted criticism with grace-filled humility and watch what happens!

What kind of impact has an overly critical spirit had on your own life?

Don’t Feed the Beast

I was having coffee with a good friend recently when we shared a moment of accountability. “How’s the battle with lust?” It’s an honest question men will readily ask/answer who sincerely desire to live Godly lives.

His response caught me in a good way… “It’s been going well. I haven’t been feeding the beast.” I thought this was a helpful and accurate description (and even said I would be “borrowing” it.)

Wild Dog

It’s true with any sin and certainly with lust. It can either be fed or starved. We can entertain thoughts or we can guard thoughts. We can stare or we can look away. We can expose ourselves to anything and everything or we can filter what we bring into our lives.

The outcome for either choice is real.

If we choose to feed it, it will get stronger. The more we feed it… the greater its appetite becomes. If we choose to starve it, it will get weaker. Starve it long enough, and it may well eventually die.

This is why Colossians 3:5 (NLT) says, “… put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you.” Some things need to be killed and the only way to do so is to starve it to death.

It is likely that most of us have a sin that we have been feeding for far too long. We may not even know that we have doing it. As a result, it is healthy and strong because we have given it too much power. It’s time to take away its power, even if it’s one meal at a time.

What sin have you been feeding that you need to start starving? How have you seen this to be true in your own life?

Belonging & Desire

Though brief, the Song of Solomon could be described as one of the world’s earliest romance novels. It’s detailed descriptions of affection between two lovers is enough to make even a grown man blush.

Verse 10 of chapter 7 offers a beautiful summary statement that captures the heart and essence of romance… “I am my beloved’s, and his desire is for me.”

Solomon 7:10

We find within this single sentence two essential components of romantic love: the blessing of belonging and the delight of desire.

Blessing of Belonging

Every human being longs to belong. This is all the more true in romantic relationships.

It’s why a teenage girl graffitis his name on her school folder. It’s why a young man gives up his hard-earned letterman jacket to be draped over her small shoulders. (Is this still a thing?) It’s why we change a relationship status on social media sites. It’s the underlying reason behind promise/engagement/wedding rings.

All of these say to the world, “I belong. I am accepted.”

When the woman says, “I am my beloved’s,” this is the implication. She is experiencing the blessing of belonging… the assurance and comfort of having been sought after, found and wanted. She has found the security of his love.

Delight of Desire

All desire has direction… our desires move us. They take us towards something or someone. Desire compels us toward action.

Just like belonging, every person wants to be wanted. They want to be the object of desire.

The woman tells us that her man has a desire and that “his desire is for me.” What a statement!

He wants something, he longs for something, and it is her. She is the object of his affection. She is the object for which his desire is being directed and is confident in his love for her. Life without her would be no life at all. “I am what he wants.”

Belonging and desire are beneficial to all relationships, but they are must-haves for lovers. If a person doesn’t feel accepted or wanted, you can forget about any resemblance of romance. With them, you have the makings of an epic love story.

How would you evaluate these in your own relationship? Does your partner have the security of belonging? Do they feel like the object of your desire? What can you begin doing today to improve in both of these areas?

If it must be whispered

If it must be whispered

If it must be whispered and cannot be shouted, perhaps it should not be said at all.

Great Expectations

Expectations

Most people live in a tension of having expectations about something and subsequently dealing with the reality of whether or not those expectations become a reality.

This happens at work, ministry, marriage, and just about every area of life.

The reality of this tension means people usually do one of two things. They either set high expectations and are disappointed when those are not met or they stop having expectations altogether in order to avoid disappointment.

But there is a viable, healthy third alternative:

Set your expectations high, but be satisfied when you don’t meet them.

Continue to aim high. Dream big and want the best for things in your life. This allows us to accomplish greater things, to excel, and to do more than we think we might have otherwise.

But… whenever you don’t meet the mark set by those high expectations, don’t get discouraged. Be content. Be satisfied knowing that you did what you could and continue having high expectations.

Where do you typically find yourself in this tension?

Choosing To Love- The only reason I’m still married.

Donovan and ShellyMy wife and I recently celebrated 18 years of marriage, and it’s for one reason only… choosing to love.

If someone were to graph our marriage, we would see mostly good moments, quite a few high points, and a few low spots. Truth be told, Shelly (my wife) is easy to be married to. I, on the other hand, am not.

During one of our more trying seasons, I remember Shelly saying to me, “I love you, but I don’t like you.” It took me a minute, but I understood exactly what she was trying to say.

When the New Testament was written, there were four major Greek words for what we now singularly call “love.”

Eros love is a romantic love. It exists between people who are physically attracted to one another. As you might imagine, eros is lost when romance or physical attraction is lost.

Storge, is a love that exists because of familiarity. We would associate it with fondness or affection. It naturally exists in relationships between parents and children or maybe between close friends. It’s strength is also it’s weakness, because when familiarity or fondness goes, storge goes with it.

Phileo love is when someone has a strong emotional connection to someone or something. We might characterize it primarily as a feeling. As we’ve seen with the previous loves, when feelings fade, phileo fades.

Agape, the fourth and final love, is altogether different and is essential to the health and long-term success of any marriage. It’s the love my wife gives to me and is the reason I’m still married.

Agape love is not emotional, it’s volitional. It’s a deliberate choice- an act of the will. Agape says “I’ve made a decision to love you.” It has nothing to do with whether someone deserves our love. It’s a unique love because of what it does, not because of how it feels.

“Being in love is a good thing, but it is not the best thing. It is a noble feeling, but it is still a feeling… no feeling can be relied on to last in its full intensity, or even to last at all…” C.S. Lewis

Jesus teaches us that there is a superior kind of love that is greater and stronger than all other loves. The “I’m choosing” love that is agape. This is why He can paradoxically tell us to love (agape) our enemies. He doesn’t command us to be fond of our enemies or to have good feelings for our enemies, He commands us to choose to act in a loving way towards them.

So, do we resign ourselves to being stuck in a marriage where there is no eros (romance), storge (fondness) or phileo (feeling) love? Not necessarily.

Tim Keller says it well, “Love is an action first and a feeling second. If you love people, eventually you’ll come to like them.” When we choose to love (agape), many times feelings will follow. This is what gets us through the low spots.

Any other lesser-love will fail both you and your marriage. They always will. But there is a greater love that is available should we embrace it. A love that makes marriages last… it’s called agape.

What kind of results have you seen from these different kinds of love in your own marriage?

Making Progess- Four Simple Steps to Getting Where You Want to Be

Most people have an area of their life, either personally or professionally, they would like to work on to make improvements. The challenge isn’t having the desire to make something better, it’s actually doing something about it.

Doc - Jan 24, 2013, 12-05 PM

Here is the simplest approach I’ve found to make changes in whatever area you want to work on.

1) Know where you are.

This is the easiest step and probably the reason you’re even thinking about making changes in the first place… there’s an element of dissatisfaction.

2) Identify where you want to be.

Be as specific as possible. The more you can “see” what it would look like and be like the better.

3) Decide what you have to do to get there.

This is your “to-do” list. Again, be as specific as possible without bogging yourself down to the point that you get overwhelmed.

4) Do it.

This is always the hardest step, but when we see how the “doing” actually moves us where we want to be, it serves as a powerful motivator.

What other advice or recommendations would you offer to help someone get where they want to be?

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