A few days ago I gave a talk on marriage at my church. (Mormons are funny that way in that we have a lay ministry and no preacher, so somebody different speaks every week. My card was pulled, as it were.) Probably not-so-coincidentally, my wife, Erin, and I concluded three years of teaching a Strengthening Marriage class together the week previous. My talk took the form a Top Ten list and even though I basically blubbered my way through it, I think there’s some good stuff in here worth sharing and keeping. It’s mostly common sense, but good.
This is obviously gonna skew towards the religious in its presentation, but even if you’re not a goin’-to-church-on-Sunday kind of person, I think there might be a couple of things of worth in here anyway.
The list is in no particular order. I counted down just because Letterman.
10. Remembering How It All Started Can Help Through Difficult Periods.
Every relationship has a foundation. It is important to always remember that foundation because within it is the confirmation that two people should be together and that the relationship is worth fighting for.
Our foundation: I was a recently returned missionary. Erin was the president of Genesis Club at her high school—a Protestant club. If there were tracks, we were on opposite sides. So, we became friends instead of the other thing. We talked about religion, but I was so offensive in my approach she eventually told me that if we were going to continue being friends then I could never talk to her about religion ever again. I agreed.
We started dating more than a year later when she began college full-time. It was against both of our principles to date outside of our religion, but we felt the influence of our Heavenly Father drawing us together. We dated in secret because her parents would not allow me, a Mormon, into their home.
Erin made the difficult decision to begin taking the missionary discussions when who Mormons are did not match up with what she’d been told about what we believe. What she learned prompted her to be baptized and that’s when we told her parents a)we were dating and b)Erin was getting baptized in a week. They did not take it well and it was not a fun conversation. (Thankfully, our relationship with them is solid now because they’re awesome people.)
We prayed to know whether we should be married and received confirmation. Erin’s mom begged me not to propose, but I did it anyway. Erin had to convince her she wasn’t pregnant and that the short, 3-month engagement we had planned was typical of Mormon culture.
We were married on July 8, 2000. We passed through fire to get there and that experience has blessed us many times since as life has thrown even greater challenges at us. We’re in all of this together.
9. Successful Marriage and Family Relationships are Built on Gospel Principles.
From the Proclamation to the World on the Family as written by the leaders of the LDS Church: “Successful marriages are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities.”
(Wholesome Recreational Activities always made Erin laugh whenever we’d mention this list in class. What would an “un”wholesome recreational activity be? Robbing banks?)
8. The Magic Ratio is 5 to 1.
Psychologist John Gottman found through studies he did with married couples four destructive patterns of communication: CRITICISM – CONTEMPT – DEFENSIVENESS –STONEWALLING. We are all human and indulge our stupid, dark sides from time to time. But is there a bad behavior we make a particular habit of?
The Magic Ratio is 5 to 1: Gottman said his studies showed him that, “When positive feelings and interactions occur five times more often than negative interactions, the marriage is likely to be stable.”
Whenever I’m being particularly belligerent with her, or rough with the kids, Erin will often kindly ask me, “How’s your 5?” And then I know I probably need to stop being such a jerk.
7. Conflict is Not the Same as Contention.
From the Book of Mormon, 3 Nephi 11:29 – “For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.”
A little background. The Nephites—the righteous people who had just been spared great destruction, mind you—had been fighting about issues concerning baptism and doctrine, angrily, with no resolution.
The Savior comes to visit them and what’s the first thing he does? He resolves this conflict for them. He knew he couldn’t do anything for them until they worked past these issues and their anger.
Contention is the escalation of conflict and does not seek resolution. Given that, if you think about it, even silence can be contention if it contributes to escalation. This is poison to a marriage. So, conflict is not to be avoided, but taken care of. In the right way. Without contention.
6. Good Communication Requires Sacrifice.
Elder Marvin J. Ashton of the Quorum of the Twelves Apostles said: “I pray our Heavenly Father will help us to communicate more effectively in the home through a willingness to sacrifice, a willingness to listen, a willingness to vocalize feelings, a willingness to avoid judgment, a willingness to maintain confidences, and a willingness to practice patience… May our gracious and kind Heavenly Father help us in our needs and desires for more effective family communication. Communication can help build family unity if we will work at it and sacrifice for it.”
He mentions sacrifice twice and that’s kind of an odd word to associate with communication. Ultimately, what do we sacrifice if we want to really, truly communicate with someone, especially those we care most about?
We sacrifice the “I” in favor of the “We.” If two people are more concerned about what they have together than what they want for themselves, then real communication and resolution can occur.
5. The Bishop Does Not Eat Peeled Grapes.
Imagine the Bishop, the leader of our congregation, sitting up in front with Deacons on either side of him, one of them using a palm frond as a fan and the other peeling his grapes. That is an image that does not fit. It’s laughable.
That is because the Bishop does not rule, he presides. Presiding is a service position and he is equal to all of us, not above us. So it is with husbands and wives.
There is no Lord or Lady of the Castle, husbands and wives serve each other and their families.
I once saw a documentary on Chimpanzees (called—wait for it—Chimpanzee) and in it the mother of a baby chimpanzee was killed. A baby in that situation is either adopted by another female chimp in the tribe or is left to die. No female chimp would adopt this baby, but, incredibly, the male chimp leader of the tribe stepped up and took care of the baby chimpanzee as a mother would.
This put the male leader in a vulnerable position. Because he was performing duties outside of his office, his position in the tribe was suddenly in flux and the perception of him as a leader was on the wane. To assert his leadership, instead of beating his chest, he systematically went around to every chimp in the tribe and groomed them. He served them. And so they recognized his leadership.
4. Differences Allow for Unity.
Unity is not everyone being the same—it is not conformity to a standard but rather separate, well-functioning contributions to a single whole.
Sheri L. Dew said: “Our Father knew exactly what He was doing when He created us. He made us enough alike to love each other but enough different that we would need to unite our strengths and stewardships to create a whole. Neither man nor woman is perfect or complete without the other. Thus, no marriage… is likely to reach its full potential until husbands and wives… work together in unity of purpose, respecting each other’s struggles.”
Differences should be complimentary—we should fill in each other’s gaps. I am not a complete person. I need Erin to make me complete, and she was put on this Earth to do that. I was put on this Earth to do that for her.
Our first fight: It was the day after the Honeymoon and we were back to the real world. We both had work and school, and needed to be up at 7am. Erin set the alarm for 6am.
It goes off, she hits snooze. 7 minutes later, it goes off again and she hits snooze again. 7 minutes later, the same thing. And again. And again. Until I finally got up on the bed on all fours and pounded the mattress like a gorilla and screamed, “TURN OFF THE SNOOZE! TURN IT OFF! TURN IT OFF!”
Erin burst into tears. She wondered who this person was she had married and why. We had a long talk and it turned out that while once I was awake I was awake, Erin loved snooze because it was a little reminder she was sleeping and could get more. And then more and then more.
I was not a morning person. I had some real anger issues with the morning time and hated the world and all things pleasant and wonderful about it for the first half hour after getting up. Erin helped me see that if I was going to live with anyone besides myself then I had to work through that.
I helped her to not hit the snooze a million times like a crazy person. Our differences made us stronger and brought us together.
3. Whatever You’re Mad About, That’s Probably Not It.
We all deal with anger, but often our anger hides our underlying feelings that may or may not have anything to do with the topic at hand. These feelings must be discovered if real resolution is going to occur.
It requires great strength to be vulnerable, and it requires great compassion to handle vulnerability properly. We need to and should be able to be vulnerable with our spouse.
Erin is great at pulling underlying feelings out of me—even when I’m not aware of them myself. Just because you’re not aware of the underlying feelings doesn’t mean they don’t exist.
2. My Spouse is Not My Enemy.
We’re on the same team. Contention can make even those we love most seem like our enemy in the moment. When trust and love exists, confidence in your spouse’s intentions exists as well and remembering that can quell anger.
Erin and I will often say to each when things are heated, “I’m on your team.” It has a demonstrable calming effect.
1. Our Marriage Can Survive Teaching the Marriage Class Together.
During these three years of teaching the Strengthening Marriage class there were difficult weeks of disagreements about the topics and how to teach them. (As our class well knew because we were not exactly shy about sharing our struggles.) But we worked through it and we achieved greater unity and understanding.
That’s what’s great about a marriage class—it encourages us to have those important conversations that might not happen so much anymore with all the places to be and all of the things we have to do every day. Checking in with our spouse on neverendingly important but easily forgotten or dismissed issues is no bad thing.
Marriage is the most important relationship we have outside of the one we have with Heavenly Father—even more important than what we have with our kids. The kids will leave, but our spouse is forever. Marriage is part of the Eternal Plan. I’m grateful to take part in it, and I’m especially grateful to be married to as good a partner as Erin. I pray every day to be worthy of her.
My marriage is the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me. I absolutely know the truth of President James E. Faust’s words when he said, “Happiness in marriage and parenthood (and I would add “family”) can exceed a thousand times any other happiness.”
Tags: book of mormon, communication, contention, erin, eternal marriage, eternal plan, gospel principles, heavenly father, james e. faust, john gottman, list, lord of the castle, love story, magic ratio, marriage, sacrifice, sheri l. dew, strengthening marriage, Successful Marriage, top ten, top ten list
Cami’s our best eater, but she refused her food at dinner tonight. Not verbally, of course, because she can’t talk. She just shoved it away. I shoved it back at her and she pushed it back at me so hard I thought it might fly out of my hands. We went back and forth for a while before I finally noticed she was pointing at something insistently. I gave up.
“Fine, Cami, what is it you want? Get up and show me.”
She did. She carefully climbed down from her chair at the table and walked over to the phone, where we had stacked all the presents we’re giving to the girls’ teachers tomorrow. She pulled down the shiny, orange one. A small purse. Earlier that day Erin put a bag of M&Ms inside. I pulled out the M&Ms and asked Cami, “Is this is it? Is this what you want? You want candy for dinner?”
Cami smiled her big, toothless grin and shrieked for joy. I told her it wasn’t gonna happen. That candy was for Elora’s teacher. She insistently stabbed at the bag of candy with her index finger and happy shrieked some more.
Not knowing what else to to, I offered Cami a deal. She couldn’t have the M&Ms, but we did have a miniature candy bar I could give her–but only after she ate her dinner.
Cami looked at me intently, making the kind of eye contact she offers up too rarely. She grabbed her fork, swung her legs under the table, and began eating. A couple bites later, she pronounced herself done by putting down the fork and looking up at me expectantly. The big grin came back.
“No,” I said. “You have to eat the WHOLE dinner.”
Again Cami picked up the fork and started eating. Now, she was chowing down.
I turned to look at Erin, whose jaw sat slacked. I asked her, “Did I just have a conversation with Cami?”
“I think you did,” she said.
Cami ate and ate until all of her chicken and her beans and her rice were completely gone. When she was finished she pushed her plate away and walked over to where she knew we kept the mini candy bars.
“Okay, Cami,” I said. “I’ll get it for you.” She turned around and went back to her seat to patiently wait for me to unwrap the bar. Erin and I, and Elora for that matter, didn’t even know how to process what had happened.
I grabbed Elora’s teacher’s gift, ripped the bag of M&Ms out of it, and poured it into a bowl.
“Tonight,” I said. “Cami gets all the candy she wants.”
I tried to watch the pilot a couple years ago and made it about 15 minutes in before stopping. Too many F Bombs, a topless woman and an overall dark and depressive feeling to the entire proceedings left me feeling cold and like I needed to spend some time repenting.
Some time passed, Breaking Bad entered its final stretch, and I started hearing from friends at church about how much they enjoy Breaking Bad. They dig the show and don’t have any problems with it like I did. I decided to give it another shot. I did some research and found out the rest of the show isn’t like what I saw. The F bomb doesn’t really appear all that often and nudity is at a minus. Besides, Citizen Kane is my favorite movie. What is that but a movie about one man’s descent into self-destruction brought on by his own selfish choices? I love the movie BECAUSE it’s about that. It’s a great lesson about the kind of lives we should be living. No one wants to end up like Kane.
SO, I queue up the pilot to Breaking Bad again and this time I forced myself through it. There was lots to love, certainly. It’s well photographed, holds your interest, and the psychology of the thing was fascinating. I loved all the actors and their performances–Bryan Cranston in particular is always worth watching, as everyone knows. Loved Aaron Paul, who was new to me. The writing was so, so good. It’s exactly the kind of show I could really get into.
And I won’t watch one minute past the pilot even though I desperately want to. The storyteller in me is dying for the master class I know is just waiting for me on Netflix, but I won’t do it.
I won’t watch again because that feeling I got the first time I watched it–that dark, depressive feeling–never went away. In fact, it only got worse and it wasn’t really coming from the R Rated content that I’d already seen the bulk of two years past. It was just the vibe of the show. Now, I’m told Breaking Bad gets much, much worse as it goes along. Walter White becomes Scarface, I know this. Is that really worse than what became of Charles Foster Kane? I don’t know, but I know that the way Breaking Bad chooses to depict a fall of such magnitude is not something my Father in Heaven wants me, personally, to be watching. I think God often communicates with feelings like the ones I had when I watched the pilot. I do my best to pay attention to them.
Breaking Bad wallows in the evil it depicts. It is, as Blake says, visceral. I don’t think I need to give the devil that much airtime. I don’t think storytellers need to do that to get the point across. I know Kane cheated on his wife without ever having seen him in bed with his mistress. Was the impact of the betrayal of his marriage vows lost because I didn’t see it actually happen? Of course not.
I think there’s a fine line between showing consequences and glorifying them. I’m not saying the show is ever trying to put forth Walter White as any kind of example of what we should strive for, but in its effort to show the evil that one man can do because of his selfish choices, the show revels in the entertainment value of that very evil. This cannot be a good thing. I think it’s the source of that awfulness I’ve felt the two times I’ve watched it. I think it supersedes whatever other benefits may come from watching the show.
To be clear, I’m not saying anyone who watches Breaking Bad is evil or wrong for doing so. I’m simply trying to share my experience with the show, such as it is.
This post was in part inspired by Wes Molebash’s great cartoon on this very subject over at Insert [IMG] and the commentary below by Blake Atwood. I don’t know where Wes lands on this subject, but Blake offers an opposite–yet still Christian–point-of-view. Check it out.
“No, not like that! You’re not supposed to do it all retarded. Don’t act like a bunch of retards.”
Elora’s little sister, Cami, has special needs. Elora is particularly sensitive to the R-Word because of that, but hearing it come from the mouth of a teacher shook her up pretty bad. She told Erin and me that she hears the word on the playground all time. It bothers her, but they’re kids and kids aren’t known for the senstivity. But a teacher? How does that happen?
Here’s thing about the R-Word: getting mad about it doesn’t do any good. Most people who use it don’t understand the damage the word causes, so gently informing is always the better response. We didn’t want to call up the school and demand action be taken against the teacher or yell at the Principal. That wouldn’t do anything to actually fix the problem. And there was a problem. A big, school-wide one.
We wrote an email to the Principal instead, expressing our distress, but also our interest in doing whatever we could to help raise awareness at the school. In an impressive display of leadership, Principal Yang didn’t just send back apologies, but asked to meet with Erin to talk about what Miramonte Elementary could do to help their students and teachers be a bit more sensitive towards those with disabilities.
A few months later, on March 18, 3013 (Cami’s birthday, coincidentally), Miramonte held a Spread the Word to End the Word assembly. It was incredible. Many students came up to read their pledges and some high schoolers led everyone in a chant to SPREAD THE WORD/END THE WORD.
I regret I didn’t record the whole thing, but here’s the featured speakers, Elora and Erin, talking about Cami and what’s so bad using about the R-Word–even when you’re not referring to a person directly.
I think they did an incredible job. Many of Elora’s classmates came up to her afterwards and pledged to stop using the R-Word now that they knew better. If you’d like to take the pledge, please check out the End the Word site right here.
Back before blogs were cool, I used to have a fairly popular one on MySpace. (Well, as popular as a blog on MySpace could be in 2005.) One of the regular, more popular features was transcriptions of conversations I had with my then 3-year-old daughter, Elora. She was world class precocious back then. So much so that I created a supervillain based on her for my online comic. I regret that I ever stopped writing our conversations down, but today I have a new one I just have to share.
Elora is ten now. She doesn’t have her own Facebook account, but sometimes she co-opts her mom’s and uses it to tell me about her day while I’m at work. Here’s what happened:
Elora: Hey daddy, guess what?
Me: Hi Elora. What? Tell me.
Elora: I just beat mommy in a bet! Breakfeast in bed for me!
Me: Haha! What did you bet her?
Elora: She thought that a bearcat was not a real animal. So we bet and googled. AND I DEFEATED HER! FIGHT THE POWER!
Me: HAHAHAHA. Good for you, Elora.
Elora: I know, right! I was rubbing it in her face. Ahh good times.
Me: Haha. Elora, you crack me up.
Elora: And i cannot wait for tomorrow.
Me: Is that when you get the breakfast?
Elora: Yeah. Mommy just said i cheated!
Me: How did you cheat?
Elora: How can I cheat at that? I did not cheat! It was a google! I cannot cheat!
Me: Sounds pretty legitimate to me.
Elora: What does legitimate mean?
Me: Good and right.
Elora: Mommy said you were acknowledging my cheating! I am happy and not happy she said I am too easy. (pouty face)
Me: Haha. No, I was agreeing with you.
Elora: I know. Mommy lied to me. Upset.
Me: Tell her she owes you TWO breakfasts in bed now.
Elora: (devil face) I will….. she said no. Oh well, she is making it. I will tell her three put ups.
Me: Put ups?
Elora: Yeah, it takes three good things to erase one bad thing. Three complemints. g2t, Violet [her younger sister] wants to go outside.
Me: g2t? Please don’t use acronyms with me, Elora. Or at all. But I really loved talking with you. Go have fun.
At 2, Violet is just starting to talk now as well. I think I may need to start paying close attention again.
December 30, 2012 Diapers, Pt. 2: Everything You Need to Know About Parenting Happens on the Change Table
If you think about it hard enough (and, unfortunately, I have), changing diapers is a microcosm of good parenting. Within this one, simple, necessary, incredibly stinky act, is everything you need to know about the difference between a good parent and a truly bad one.
Good Parent: Changes the child’s diaper.
Bad Parent: Does not change child’s diaper. Lets child sit in her own filth.
I’m a friggin’ diaper expert with a combined twelve years of experience across three children. We added the third child, Violet, just because we’re diaper-changing masochists. Credentials.
The dirty, not-so-secret fact about changing diapers is that the kid hates it just about as much as the parent. Violet arches her back and lets out a mighty scream when we strip her down and bust out the wipes. In that moment, she is unhappy. Why do I do that to her? I, her parent, am most concerned about her happiness above all else. I want her to have a joyful, full life in which she spends more time smiling than crying. But I make her cry everyday.
Why? Because I’m her parent. I really don’t care one bit about her happiness in the moment. I’m way more concerned about the kind of a happiness that lasts quite a bit longer.
If I gave in and did what she wanted and left the diaper on her otherwise cute little bum, the whole house would soon stink like wet dog and she’d develop a terrible rash. She either hasn’t figured that out yet or doesn’t care. Kids are myopic like that. All she knows is I’m about to stick a wet rag up her backside and she’d really, really, really rather I didn’t.
You stink, kid. Way it’s gotta be.
I understand in a way Violet does not and cannot (yet) that there are some serious, long term consequences to giving in and letting her sit in her own filth. That’s diapers, but there’s lots of things kids want to do that end with them sitting in their own proverbial filth. Playing video games too much. Not doing their homework. Eating nothing but junk. Watching nothing but junk. Becoming friends with junk.
A good parent steers their kid away from these things, despite their wishes. It isn’t always easy, but it’s always necessary. What’s tricky is that most of the non-diaper filth doesn’t come with it’s own smell. It would be easier if my kid started to stink when she didn’t do her homework, but it doesn’t work that way. So, as a parent, I have to be vigilant. I can’t be lazy. I can’t abdicate responsibility. I’m on duty, 24/7. Always watching, never sniffing. Because that won’t work.
None of this is pleasant. Even after thousands of diapers, I still get a case of I-didn’t-make-this-mess-so-why-do-I-have-to-clean-it-up every time I have to dig in there and play janitor to my kids’ nether regions. I don’t let it stop me though. I’d never say, no, that diaper stinks too bad, I’m not changing it. No decent parent would.
But in our weaker moments–when we’re letting things slide or don’t want that fight–that’s what we’re doing. We’re leaving the diaper on. We’re letting the rash develop.
This is the job, then: to parent despite unpleasantness. To make unhappy now so that happiness may reign later. This is what makes parenting the hardest job in the world. But only if you’re doing it right.
This post functions as a mostly unintentional sequel to “Why Changing Diapers is a Privilege.” Seriously, I never thought I’d have so much to say about diapers.