Relationship MOT

This weekend we met with couples who have booked a wedding at Christ Church in 2016. We helped them think through some of their preparations for the day, but a significant part of the morning was spent helping them to think about how to strengthen their relationships.

It wasn’t a particularly romantic morning. I don’t believe in soulmates. I don’t believe that the person we choose to spend our life with is “the one”. But I do think that the couples we are marrying in Timperley this year will have amazing relationships, because they are all committed to loving one another.

Love is not just about feelings. Love is a choice that we go on making throughout a relationship. Sometimes it’s an easy choice to make. Sometimes, not so much. The relationships that are strongest are those where two people choose to continue loving, even through the rocky times.

It’s not easy to love someone else. I recently came across this quote:

To choose to love is to open a wound from which we never recover.
Brother Roger of Taize.

One of the things that can be helpful in a relationship is to take a step back, now and again, and ask how things really are. What I’ve given below are some questions based on the material we used with our couples this weekend.

This list isn’t exhaustive. There may be other things that are more important for a couple to think through. And some things here may be irrelevant or unhelpful.

 If you’ve got a partner, then grab a bottle of wine one night or a coffee one afternoon (and either way, chocolate would help) and look at some of these questions together. Make sure your time is uninterrupted, and that there is enough privacy to do this well. Ten minutes before bed probably isn’t going to cut it. Nor is Saturday morning on the Metrolink.

Rings

Communication
How do our differences in personality affect the way we communicate with one another?
How is our work and home life affecting the way we communicate with one another?
Do we make time and space for meaningful conversation?
Do we find it easy to talk to one another about our innermost thoughts and feelings?
If not, why?
Does each of us create a safe space for the other to be heard?
Are either of us holding onto past hurts and unforgiveness? What needs to happen to work this through?
Do both of us feel understood by the other?
Are we both aware of one another’s love language?
Are we both investing energy in listening properly to one another?
What would make each of us feel more heard in the relationship?
Is there a recent example of us communicating well?

Commitment
Which of our wedding vows are we finding easiest to live with at the moment?
Which are we finding hardest?
Have we had fun together recently?
Do we both feel safe and secure in this relationship?
How are we making time for one another on a daily, weekly and monthly basis?
Are we getting enough time apart?
Have we planned fun things together to look forward to?
Are we making time for sex and intimacy?

Conflict
Are we arguing well at the moment? (A good argument involves listening, seeing one another’s points of view, and finding a resolution).
Are we aware of the differences in our approaches to life?
Are we managing these differences well?
Is either of us intent on changing the other, or are we enabling one another to flourish as we are?
Are we arguing at bad times? Do we need to make space and time to talk properly?
When we argue, do we stay on topic or do we resort to personal attack?
Does each of us have times when we back down and accept the other’s opinion?
Are we having the same argument over and over?

When and where to get help?
Talking through some of these things may raise relationship problems that you either are or are not already aware of. No one has a perfect relationship, and every couple will go through bad times. If you need it, get help early and don’t be afraid to ask. Many problems can be easily solved with some careful listening to one another, and a fresh perspective from outside.

Relate do wonderful work and seem to be accessible in a number of ways.

Your local parish clergy (that’s Jim or I if you’re in Timperley) are usually really happy to sit with you and listen, and to offer pointers or suggestions for further support. If you live elsewhere, you can find your local parish church here.

If you want to do some reading on relationships, The Marriage Book and The Five Love Languages are both good places to start.

And if you are at all worried that you are trapped in an abusive relationship, you need to tell someone or contact the National Domestic Violence Helpline or the Men’s Advice Line.

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Losing my religion?

At times I have faced serious, faith-denying doubts. Times of extended sleeplessness and frightened, agonised wrestling with big questions. One of these moments happened soon after I married; another soon after I had children. Both triggered by the uncertainty that comes after a major life change; the burden of new responsibility as my life became intimately entwined with another, and the crushing knowledge that all relationships end in grief. Both times I had to renegotiate my faith, learning to trust God with the lives of these people who are so precious to me.

So I read this blog by Mandy Jackson-Beverly with a good amount of nodding. Mandy’s path is her own, and yet many of us have walked a similar way before, and will do so again.

Many of us know what it is like to be thrown into an abyss of doubt, falling through spiritual nothingness and not knowing who or what will catch us.

Many of us know what it is like to have the scaffold of faith, so carefully built, collapse in an instant.

Many of us know what it is like to live with fear, day after day, that everything we have placed our trust in will turn out to be an elaborate lie and a waste of time.

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But are these experiences about losing our faith?

Mandy’s blog is fairly pessimistic, with a glimmer of hope. She talks in terms of growing up and moving on from religion. Something that was so integral to her early life, through an exploration of spirituality that eventually “vanished”, becomes folly in later life.

How many of us feel like we “grow out of” our religion and move on with life?

What if the fears and questions that accelerate our growing agnosticism are not about doubt and loss of faith, but about deepening our experience of and relationship with God?

Once I had kids, I discovered a dark place that lay beyond the realm of my faith and spirituality. A place where I didn’t need God in order to make sense of things. A place where I could find things other than God to explain and give purpose to life. And this was not liberating, but frightening. This was about no longer needing everything that, to this point, I had built my life around. I was dismantling my scaffolding.

It took someone else to turn my fear around. They helped me see that this wasn’t about moving beyond a need for God. It was about finding God at work in new places and new people. In everything that might have replaced God, I found him waiting. I no longer needed the scaffolding I had built. I had found something new.

Perhaps in time this new scaffolding will also need to be taken down, to make way again.

Life takes us to some frightening places. Watching someone we love die is such a place. Mandy is honest about the raw hopelessness of seeing her mum’s suffering and death. And yet, within the darkness of her pain is a faint glimmer of hope. In a brief moment, she “felt something”.

I think that this is how it is. We question, we fear, we worry. And then, in one fleeting, fragile moment, we feel something.

And then it is gone.

But it was definitely there.

What is that “something”? What I do know is that it is special, faith-affirming and life-changing. Those I walk alongside in difficult times often speak of its power. Most of us have a story of the “something” moments.

In all our fear and emptiness, amongst our questions and anxiety, perhaps we can allow our attention to rest on those glimmers of “something”.

For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.
1 Corinthians 13:12