markforstrom.com

My essays about healthy relationships with God, others, & yourself.

Critical Spouse Theory

My wife, Cindy, and I were talking recently about obstacles to healthy marriages. One of the things we have observed happening in marriages today is the tendency to frame marriage problems using an Oppressed / Oppressor perspective.  Cindy brilliantly coined a phrase for this which I want to elaborate on today:  “Critical Spouse Theory.”

In this view, I am the Oppressed and my spouse is my Oppressor.   This approach is destructive to marriages on several levels.

First.  Both parties will inevitably declare themselves to be “the Oppressed.”  In a world where marriage is seen primarily as a means to one’s own personal happiness and fulfillment this resonates well.  Anything that blocks one’s personal fulfillment is obviously oppression!

As I said, both the husband and the wife will consider that they are the Oppressed and their spouse is the Oppressor–and they’ll have plenty of support to back their claims;  if they hop on TikToc or YouTube, they’ll find hundreds of ex-wives or ex-husbands, reinforcing this view that they don’t need to put up with such oppression from their spouse.

Second.  This way of looking at my spouse is overly simplistic.  It lumps her into the general category of Oppressor, discounting any of her good qualities.  In this worldview, there is no such thing as “partial oppression”–it’s an all-or-nothing approach.   I cannot see any of the good because I’m focusing only on the bad.

Third.  Once I apply this negative label of “My Oppressor,” I no longer look at my spouse as the precious person I fell in love with, but now I see her as my enemy.   This identity distortion will spoil every interaction between us.  I’m not talking to a decent human being so neither do I have to behave like one.

Fourth.   This perspective, therefore, absolves me of responsibility.   The Oppressed gets a pass on moral culpability.  I hear this all the time in the counseling office.  “I don’t have to treat him decently until he stops Oppressing me.”  And of course, the culture will reinforce this.  The Oppressor is only capable of evil and the Oppressed is exempt from moral critique.

Fifth.   Things are unlikely to change for the better.  The only way for my oppression to end is for me to come out on top (unlikely) or divorce (more likely).

Sixth.  Critical Spouse Theory doesn’t offer any hope for a healthy marriage.

Avoiding the Critical Spouse Theory worldview

Most of the essays I write on Christian marriage are the antidote to Critical Spouse Theory.   Here’s some links to several of them.

1.   We must recognize that Christian marriage must never be primarily about personal happiness and self fulfillment.  That is a consumer-based, commodifying basis of marriage.  A Christian marriage is not a contract, but rather a covenant.  Marriage isn’t a perpetual honeymoon, but it is rather a crucible for character-building, where we learn to be like Christ in how we relate in the most intimate of human relationships.   Marriage ought to be the context where we learn to love, serve, forgive, and grow toward one another, teaming up to provide a stable context for childrearing.

2.  We must recognize that all of us are a mix of Oppressor and Oppressed.   It’s rarely one sided.  Our marital love fails.   We all hurt the ones we love.  We all fail to fully keep the wedding vows we made.

3.  We would do well to focus on our side of the equation–becoming less of an Oppressor.  Take responsibility for what you need to change about you. We must focus less on the other person’s faults.  Jesus taught to take the log out of our own eye before obsessing over the speck in someone else’s.

4.  We must get rid of the 50-50 mindset.  I’ll automatically see myself as the Oppressed when I think that I’m unfairly getting less than my fair share.

5.  We must remember that we don’t get a pass on loving our spouse even when we may feel Oppressed.

 

One final word.  I’m not saying there aren’t actual cases of abuse in marriage–there are!  If you are in physical danger, call 911.  If your children are being abused, take them and get out.  Implement whatever boundaries are needed.  Yes, there are exceptional cases of abuse, but they are exactly that–exceptional.  Most of us just need to learn how to better respond to the ordinary challenges of marriage.

…and shockingly, I’m also Beloved.

In my last post, I made the statement that at my core I am fundamentally flawed, a vile sinner, a wretch, even an addict.

Today, I’m going to make the exact opposite claim–that I am Beloved–precious, set apart, cherished, spotless–a Saint.

Sinner and Saint.  Addict and Beloved.  I’m a contradiction of terms!

I’m not the only one to observe this seeming contradiction.  Martin Luther used this Latin term to describe Christians:  “simul justus et peccator,” one who is simultaneously just (righteous) and a sinner.   This is possible only through a concept called the imputation of the righteousness of Christ.

R.C. Sproul explained it like this.

When God looks at [the Christian], He sees the merit of Christ. He has covered your nakedness. He has clothed you with the righteousness of Jesus. So that the moment you have faith, the righteousness of Christ is transferred to your account. And you are at one and the same time just…or righteous by Christ’s righteousness. But what else are you? You’re still a sinner. Christians still sin.

Before further unpacking these seemingly contradicting identities of the Christian, I need to explain two contrasting attributes of God: His Justice and Love…

  1. I have no problem with the doctrine of the Justice of God.  I would expect a Holy, Righteous God to display judgment toward every puny creature who insults His Holiness, just as I would have no qualms if you swatted a mosquito who offended you. 
  2. I find the wrath of God to be a very logical and rational belief.   The thing I find illogical is God’s Love
  3. Shockingly, God delights in loving His creation, even those who have insulted Him.  It’s easy to love the lovely, but love is most profound when it is applied to those who deserve it least, e.g., loving one’s enemies.  Such love for the unlovely is unexpected, counterintuitive, sensational, rare, and unnatural–indeed, God’s agape love is a supernatural kind of love.  I write about it a lot!  
  4. The obstacle is that our Just God can’t have a Love relationship with sinners until the sin barrier is removed. 
  5. This dilemma is solved in Christianity’s Gospel (i.e., “the good news”) message,  in which God sends Jesus to die on our behalf, satisfying the wrath of God required by his Justice and transferring to us the righteousness of Christ which enables us to experience His Love.

Back to our identity.  What I appreciate about Christianity is that I can readily admit what I know to be true–that I’m an imperfect, floundering,  undeserving, wretched sinner.  And yet–here’s the surprise–I’m loved anyway!  Despite me!  I deserve the wrath of His Justice, but Jesus took care of that so I can experience His Love, i.e., the riches of his kindness and grace!  Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.  All that’s required is faith.

A Sinner and a Saint!  A Christian mustn’t give up either of these labels.

  • If we view ourselves as Wretches-only, we will be self-loathing, living in a shame-based belief system where we are constantly being scorned for our deficiencies, never good enough, and never able to gain God’s approval–as if Jesus didn’t do enough.  Sadly, some people live this way–missing God’s grace, mercy, abundance, and joy.  They deny his Love.
  • However, if we view ourselves as Beloved-only, we ignore the reality of our sinfulness.  Such Christians view themselves as wonderfully awesome–as if God were lucky to have them on His team.  Their puffed-up pride puts them in the place of God, presumptuously expecting God to grant them whatever favors they demand from Him.  They deny his Justice.

It’s only through understanding that we are Wretched, Yet Loved Anyway, that we can live with a right view of His deity and our humanity.

So I’m ok living in contradiction with the terms Sinner/Saint or Wretched/Beloved.  On this side of heaven, I will struggle with sin, but even so, He continuously treats me as His Beloved.  He sees me as I am in Christ and as I will fully be one day, clothed with his righteousness.  And that makes me exceedingly and humbly grateful!

And it makes me want to be a little less wretched, loving Him back, not out of guilt, penance, or obligation, but solely out of profound, humble, gratitude.

I’m Mark and I’m an addict…

I went to my first NA meeting a couple of days ago.   NA stands for Narcotics Anonymous, a 12-step program for those addicted to drugs.   The meeting opened with everyone introducing themselves around the circle, stating their name, followed by the words, “…and I’m an addict.”  In unison, the group members matter-of-factly responded, “Hi so-and-so.”

I was at this meeting because some of my counseling clients had suggested it would be good for me to see firsthand the value of groups like this as support systems for struggling people.  Unsurprisingly, I was the only one who said, “I’m not an addict,” when it was my turn.

That they were so quick to call themselves addicts was unsettling to me as I’ve always balked at labels like “addict.”  I would have rather they said, “I struggle with addiction,” (focusing on their behaviors) rather than calling themselves an “addict” (which speaks to their identity.)

But I’m starting to rethink my view on this.  Although many of them had been clean for a decade or more, these were people who had a clear understanding of their vulnerabilities and potential for relapse and were not afraid to admit their inherent weaknesses.  There was a palpable sense of humility in the room.  There was no judgment here; only knowing looks that communicated, “We’ve all been there, buddy.”  This was a group of flawed people who identified as such.  There was no pride, no condescension, no raised eyebrows.  In this room, everyone was on an equal plane.   Except me.   I wasn’t an addict.   Or so I thought.

But now after a couple of days of reflection, I realize that those precious people were on to something.  They had a more accurate view of their own nature than I did.  Because–truth be told–I am an addict too.

No, I’m not addicted to drugs or alcohol or porn or sex or any of the standard vices we think of when we think of addiction.  But I am addicted to sin in its various forms.  I’m addicted to pride, ego, comfort, attention, acceptance, accomplishments, gluttony, extremeness, efficiency, productivity, and recognition.  In short, I’m addicted to myself.   Being a sinner is my identity; I’m not merely behaviorally challenged.

I’m so glad that my new NA friends helped me see that I’m also an addict.  I’m always at risk of acting out of my sinful nature; indeed, relapse is always a potential with me.  And, like my fellow addicts, I realize that my sin struggle will be lifelong, persisting until heaven.

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed[a] thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”             

Luke 18:9-14 (ESV)

In this parable, Jesus points out that God forgives the one who humbly identified himself as a vile sinner, but not the “good” Pharisee, who merely focused on his proud behavior management.   My NA experience was like being in a room of humble, broken, tax collectors.

A final lesson learned from the addicts was that there is no chance of improvement on our own.  A foundational principle of NA, AA, or any 12-step program is that avoiding relapses requires the help of one’s “higher power.”

In my next post, I’ll explain my belief that the God of Christianity provides the only real solution for our sinful addiction to self.

People are just like Silly Putty

I loved playing with Silly Putty as a kid.  Its consistency is so strange that it seems to originate from another planet.  It’s so unnatural–sometimes it acts like a solid and other times a *liquid.  I still find Silly Putty so amazing that I even keep a container of it in my counseling office!  Partly to play with, but mostly to demonstrate to my clients how people are just like Silly Putty.

How to make Silly Putty — and People — become SOLID.

If you take Silly putty and roll it into a ball, you can throw it on the ground and it will bounce back up, just like a superball.  In fact, the harder you throw it, the resistance increases, causing a bigger bounce. Amazingly, no matter how hard you throw it, it doesn’t change its shape at all!  It stays exactly the same.

People are just like this–I know I am.  If you treat me roughly, I will instinctively resist you.  Abrasiveness, criticism, and confrontation don’t produce growth, but instead put us on the defensive.  When we feel attacked, our brains immediately go into “fight-or-flight mode with self-protection as our natural response.  We don’t learn, change, or grow when approached with harshness, shame, or blame.

How to make Silly Putty — and People — become LIQUID.

In contrast, if you are gentle with Silly Putty, it behaves like a liquid.  If you lightly press and ever-so-gently tug it, it soon becomes so pliable that it almost runs.

People are just like this.  If you want to help people change, adapt, grow, or understand your concerns, you have to be gentle with them.

Proverbs 15:1   A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

Galatians 6:1   …if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently…

Scripture asserts that tenderness is the path to great transformative power.  And it’s not only true, but it works!  In my counseling office, I’ve seen firsthand, that gentleness is the pathway to genuine, lasting change.

So if we desire to be influential in helping people change for the better, let’s approach that task with great gentleness.


*Silly Putty, according to Wikipedia contains viscoelastic liquid silicones, a type of non-Newtonian fluid, which makes it act as a viscous liquid over a long time period but as an elastic solid over a short time period.

Not getting divorced doesn’t mean your kids aren’t being raised in a broken home

I’ve met many Christians who are determined to never get a divorce due to their biblical convictions, but I find the goal of simply not getting divorced to be extremely short-sighted.  I’m not here to make a case for or against divorce, but my point here is that there are many seemingly “intact” marriages that are so unhealthy that their kids can only be described as growing up in a broken home.

Kids thrive best in a stable, loving, secure home with a mom and a dad who love them and love each other.   A mentor of mine said decades ago that the best gift you can give your kids is to display love for your spouse.  I agree.

Here are two scenarios that in my view constitute a broken marriage.

Lack of Affection.  Over a decade ago, I wrote about the importance of affection in marriage.  My views haven’t changed.  Most marriages begin with affection, but many couples lose it along the way.  Do we who are married show our kids that marriage is a delight or do they see ours as a loveless, contractual arrangement where we parents simply co-exist?  If our wedding vows have morphed into “I will tolerate you ’till death do us part,” what would compel our kids to ever want to make wedding vows at all?   So many couples function as roommates rather than lovers, which falls short of God’s design for marriage (e.g., Song of Solomon).  Plus, affectionless marriages naturally cause worry that affection may be sought outside the marriage, raising insecurities for the whole family.  The stakes are high.  If you are in a loveless marriage, now is the time to get marriage counseling to recover that affection!  How healing it would be for your kids to witness the rekindling of your affection.

Adversarial Relationship.  The concerns expressed above rise exponentially when parents display an adversarial relationship toward one other.   Parents, to whom kids look to instill safety, stability, and security in the home, instead instill fears and insecurities when they yell, swear, insult, criticize, get defensive, withdraw, or show contempt toward their spouse in front of the kids.  Do you know that parents are by far the greatest influence on their children?  That’s why when parents model destructive ways of interacting with others, kids often follow their example.  And all this hostility in the home makes it more likely these kids will develop chronic fear, depression, and anxiety disorders.  The stakes are high.  If you are in an adversarial marriage, now is the time to get marriage counseling.   Let your kids have a front-row seat as you repent and repair your marriage, being transformed from adversaries to allies.

In summary, simply avoiding divorce is not sufficient.  If your unhealthy marriage is harming you and your kids, take the step to get marriage counseling.  If you live in Iowa, I have a great place to recommend!  My colleagues and I would love to help you!

Complaining more may improve your relationships

My in-laws will never forget the day–years ago–when I suddenly stood up after a big family gathering and declared to everyone, “You people do something I don’t like!”  Even I was shocked that I had said such a thing!  We had just finished our meal and I had been unexpectedly triggered by something.  There was no going back now, so  I continued my complaint, “I don’t like it when you Hooblers stack the dirty plates after a meal because then I have to wash both sides of every plate!  That causes me extra work, which I don’t like!”

We had the Hooblers over for dinner again today, and, as they were handing me their plates one at a time, they once again recalled my dramatic outburst that day so long ago.  We laugh about it every time!

Complaining improved my relationship with my in-laws!

But what if I had used Criticism instead of a Complaint?  Aren’t they about the same?  Not at all.  I find it helpful to make a clear distinction between Complaints and Criticisms.

Complaints are honest expressions of things we wish were different.  They primarily utilize “I” statements and their intent is simply to create awareness about what would improve things for me.  The focus is education.

Criticisms, in contrast, are harsh judgments of a person’s character.  They primarily contain “you” statements and they often utilize excessive negativity, sarcasm, and loaded questions.  Their intent is character assassination, revenge, and vindication/victimization.  Criticisms point out a person’s faults, make assumptions about motives, and frequently use the words “always” and “never.”   They often resort to blaming and shaming, finger-pointing, and scapegoating

What if I had utilized Criticism instead of Complaint at the dinner table with the Hooblers?  Imagine what different result would have occurred had I had suddenly stood up after dinner and said this:

“You people really love making my life harder, don’t you?  You’re always trying to make more work for me and you don’t even care about the fact that now I’m going to have to put in twice as much work to clean up your messes.  You never think about anyone but yourselves do you?”  Well, I’m sick and tired of you coming over here and treating me like your slave. ”

I can guarantee there would have been no laughter today had I approached them back then with harsh Criticism.  Hurt and emotional distance? Likely.  Laughter?  Not a chance.

To be fair, it’s worth noting that as far as the dishes go, using either a Complaint or a Criticism will likely produce the same result.  A Complaint would sensitize relatives on how they can be a blessing to the host.   A Criticism might keep in-laws from ever coming over for dinner again!

[Side note.  If Criticism has been the pattern in your relationship, it’s likely that your genuine Complaint may be interpreted as a Criticism.  This is because you have conditioned the other person to brace for impact.   In that case, you will have to add extra sweetness to your Complaint to make your motives clear and to avoid misinterpretation.  You’ll need to go out of your way to include positivity, prior to your Complaint, saying: “I love you so much and I want to share something with you that I think will help us get closer.”]

Finally, there is a third option when frustrations arise:  Concealing our feelings.

Like Criticism, Concealing feelings is another poor option.  Stuffing our feelings and pretending we’re not bothered by something may seem charitable, but it’s also dishonest;  it denies reality and erodes transparency.   Wearing masks brings neither closeness nor connection.  It is much better to disclose our true feelings, which demonstrates self-respect as well as respect for others–those we care about deserve to know how their actions affect us!

So let’s neither Conceal our frustrations nor Criticize others.  Instead, let’s  Complain more for healthier relationships!


I credit learning the difference between a Complaint and a Criticism from a book by Dr. John Gottman, “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.” an excellent marriage book that I recommend for couples.   How we speak to each other makes a world of difference if we want to have healthy relationships.  

Something even better than Better-Than-Sex-Cake

I still remember where I was when I first heard about Better-Than-Sex-Cake.   I was in my late 20s at my mom’s aunt’s house in New Jersey.  The description of this dessert left an impression on me that remains–almost thirty years later!  My great aunts’ portrayal of the coveted confection literally made me drool:  rich chocolate cake, drizzled with gooey caramel, chocolate-covered toffee, and topped with frozen whipped cream.

Now to be honest, I’ve never actually tasted Better-Than-Sex-Cake, but from everything I’ve heard, it must certainly qualify as the best delicacy on the planet!

Recently I’ve been pondering: what if there was something in the universe even more delightful than Better-Than-Sex-Cake?   That would be amazing wouldn’t it!   Wouldn’t you want that?

I sure would.   And I believe I know what it is.   C.S. Lewis points us to it…

If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased. (C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory)

Lewis asserts that there exists something infinitely better than mud pies or chocolate cakes.  This “infinite joy” that he talks about is nothing but God Himself!  What if we were to experience a delight in God that surpasses all earthly delights?

I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately.  The Bible describes the Creator of the universe as One who wants to delight those who trust in Him.  Psalm 37:4 says,  “Delight yourself in the Lord, And He will give you the desires of your heart.”   Is God really delightful?  Many people live as if He is not.

It occurs to me that God is the One who created the pleasure sensors in our brains and the neural pathways that allow us to experience pleasure through our five senses.  He also created all the pleasures themselves, including the ingredients for Better-Than-Sex-Cake, not to mention the activity that inspired the cake’s name.  Wouldn’t it make sense that the Creator of these earthly delights is more desirable than all of them combined?  The Giver of gifts is greater than the gifts themselves.

Thinking about this reminds me how much I need to improve in finding pleasure in God.  To those like me who trust in Him, He offers unconditional love, kindness, forgiveness, patience, peace, and purpose. He gives me meaning in this life and hopeful assurance for the life to come.  He treats me quite the opposite of what I deserve.  What could be more desirable than that?  I find, like C.S. Lewis, that I have been far too easily pleased.

Time spent with Him through His Word and through prayer should become more delightful to my soul than any earthly pleasure.  Relishing God Himself ought to literally be the highlight of my day–every day.

And if it’s not the highlight of my day–which I’m ashamed to admit is most days–that means that this is something I really need to work on!

Scrapping the Honey-Do List

Recently I did something that has made my life much more enjoyable.  I scrapped Cindy’s Honey-Do List–permanently!   Since getting rid of it, my life has improved considerably.

For you singles reading this who may someday get married, let me explain what I’m talking about.  A Honey-Do List is a list that your spouse will make for you and leave in a prominent place for you to see.

Usually, the list will contain household projects or chores that you won’t care about whatsoever (otherwise you would have already done those things and there would be no need for a list.)   To you, most of the things on your list will seem needless, irrational, frivolous, or a waste of time and energy.   Your spouse has likely gotten tired of nagging you about these things and is hoping that putting them in list form will motivate you to action.  This will rarely occur.   And if you ever do accomplish the projects on your list, you will likely do them with much grumbling and eye-rolling.

Except for the nagging part (Cindy doesn’t nag), that’s how it’s been with me for the past 37 years of marriage.  That changed a few months ago when I discovered an easy way to scrap Cindy’s Honey-Do List and be free from its burdens.   Why didn’t I think of this sooner!

Before I scrapped them, Cindy’s Honey-Do Lists would often contain things that I considered to be a total waste of time.  Things like:

  • Paint the deck where the old paint is peeling.
  • Rake the unsightly leaves from the yard.
  • Put covers over the air conditioner unit and grill.
  • Shovel the 8 inches of snow off the driveway so the ladies’ group can get to our front door.
  • Unreasonable stuff like that

As you can see, pretty much everything on Cindy’s list was totally ridiculous.  Surely,  you can sympathize with my reluctance to comply with such frivolous tasks and can understand my incessant eye-rolling about such matters!

So how did I shake free from this oppression?  Let me tell you the story.

Late last fall another ridiculous item appeared on Cindy’s Honey-Do List–Check the gutters for leaves.   In Cindy’s “irrational” way of thinking, leaves could blow on the roof, get washed into the gutters, and clog the gutters, causing water to stop flowing down the gutters, turning to ice in the gutters, causing ice dams to form, causing water to leak through the shingles and into our house, causing untold damage and destruction.  As I said, ridiculous!

As usual, I protested in my head, appealing to logic and common sense as my reason to resist.  The tree in the front doesn’t have that many leaves and it doesn’t even hang over the roof.  We’ve never had ice dam problems in the 33 years we’ve lived here.  The risk of me falling off a ladder far surpasses the risk of having our house destroyed by a theoretical ice dam.   It’s cold outside.  And on and on my mind went, looking for any way to opt-out.

And that’s the moment when I had my epiphany about completely scrapping Cindy’s Honey-Do List.

This profound thought hit me.  What if reframed Cindy’s list from…

Things That Need to Be Done  (which, of course, we will disagree on and which I will stubbornly resist)

and instead, think of it as a list of…

Things That Would Mean A Lot To Cindy  (which no one can disagree with and which I actually find motivating)

This new viewpoint literally made a world of difference for my attitude.  I literally rushed to the garage, grabbed the ladder, set up the ladder, climbed the ladder (putting my life at risk by the way), and looked up and down the gutters (confirming my prediction that there were no leaves).  And then I climbed down and put the ladder away, and rushed inside to announce to Cindy, “Honey, you’ll be so relieved to know that there are no leaves in the gutter to be concerned about.”

Loved wife.  Big kiss.   Happy home.

What made the difference?  When I looked at her list as a list of things that need doing, it was hard to avoid questioning whether those things were actually needed or not.  It caused contention about who’s opinion was more correct and whether the things were truly needed.  It set us up for a tug of war battle.   But when I looked her list as being  measurable ways to show her love everything changed.  It was akin to identifying Cindy’s extra love languages.

Ever since that day, we’ve scrapped the Honey-Do List at our house.  The new list is on my dining room table as I write this.   At the top, it reads:  “List of Things That Would Mean A Lot To Cindy.”   I think I’ll quit blogging now and go find something to check off!

How to decide what to do next.

(note:  I originally posted this in 2018, but wanted to post it again because this tool continues to be a help to me and my clients who are working on better self-management.)

“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.”   (Eph 5:15-16 ESV)

I want to share a free app that I have found to be extremely useful in helping me “make the best use of my time” as I manage my own life.  It’s called WhatsNext? by the Corporate Coach Group.

I don’t usually promote products, and I’m not getting a commission, but this app has helped me so much that I want to pass this resource along!

Most “task manager” and “to do list” apps have you assign a priority level to each task (high, medium, low, etc.)  That’s a start, but it doesn’t really help you prioritize which of your “high” level ones to do first.  If there are 10 things in your “high priority” list, how do you decide in which order they should be done?  Funnest first?  Most difficult first?  The ones that would make God, or my boss, or my wife the happiest?

This app solves this problem of real-time decision-making, and makes it easy to determine which–of all the things that I could do today–should I do first, then second, third, etc.  It’s not designed for long range strategic planning or for managing all the tasks that could be done, but it works perfectly in making decisions about the handful of things I could do today.

To use the app, you simply plug in the five or eight or ten things you could do today.  Pressing the “prioritize” button then brings them up two at a time and compares each one with each of the others.  So instead of looking at 12 things and saying, “where do I start?” you simply compare two and say, “If I had only time to do one of these two things, which one would I want to have accomplished at the end of the day?  In other words, which task is most important for me to do–today?

When finished comparing all the possible combinations, the app gives you a list of all your tasks in order, so you simply begin working on #1, then #2, etc. You don’t have to give it any more thought!  And if you don’t have time to finish them all, no problem!  You did the most important things first, so you can sleep well, knowing you did the most important things with the time you had.

The app allows you to save multiple lists, such as “Things I could do on my day off” or “Home improvement projects I could do.”   And for adding tasks on the fly you can either insert them one-at-a-time into a previously prioritized list or you can run the program again.

The lists can even be backed up to the web and can be emailed too!

Here’s the link if you want to give it a try.

 

Make a list of what you love about your spouse.

Yesterday, I uncharacteristically focused on the negative. So today, I want to make up for that by going positive!

Here’s today’s assignment: Make a list of 50 things you especially love about your spouse—things you appreciate so much.  (This may take longer than yesterday’s assignment because it’s so easy to focus on what we don’t like.  It’s easy to fixate on the stubbed toe and forget the other nine toes that work perfectly well.)

Go ahead and do it now before continuing to read my post. I will too.

 

[Pause here until finished.]

 

How long did it take you to come up with 50?  Did it surprise you how easy or hard it was to come up with this list?  Did it take more time than yesterday’s list of negatives?

(By the way, unlike yesterday’s list, I recommend you DO show this list to your spouse!  It would be a blessing to you both!  Perhaps you could “pretty it up” and present it to your spouse as part of a Valentine’s Day gift!)

Now at the top of your list, I want you to add the words, “NOT BECAUSE.”  This is your NOT BECAUSE LIST.

In yesterday’s post, I talked about how agape love is an essential component in a uniquely Christian marriage.  It’s the kind of love that the Bible portrays as being unconditional.

On the list I just made about Cindy, I came up with 50 qualities that I love about her.  But please note that this use of the word “love” is not agape love, it’s more akin to “like.”  I like those things about Cindy—a lot!  But if I want to incorporate genuine agape love in my marriage to Cindy, I’ll need to show love to her…not because.

Likewise, you also need to show unconditional love to your spouse not because your spouse provides… [insert all 50 of your compliments here].  The question I want you to consider is this: if none of your spouse’s good qualities existed, would you still agape love him or her?

I’m suggesting that our loving treatment must be completely unrelated to our spouse’s current wonderfulness.  Here’s why:  most of the things we enjoy today will likely go away.  Our bodies will increasingly become older, and uglier, and eventually may even become disabled.  Our minds may not stay as sharp and may deteriorate altogether.  We may lose our abilities and capabilities.  We won’t have the energy we once had.  Our strength and stamina will likely lessen.  Our productivity will decrease and may disappear altogether.

In a Christian marriage, we pledge to love purely and unconditionally till death do us part.  If my grandfather’s love had depended on my grandmother retaining her wonderful qualities, he would have left her eighteen years earlier rather than love her until she died.  His love was not because of her loveliness, which was fading.  His love toward her was agape love.

Why must we love our spouse this way?  I can think of two reasons:

First, the Bible commands that marital love should mirror Jesus’s love.  We are to love just as He loved. This not because type of love is the kind of love Jesus showed us.  He loved us not because we qualified—in fact, we could never qualify.  His love had nothing to do with our qualities.  He was choosing to love us without conditions.  We should unconditionally love our spouse in the same way.

The other reason is the Golden Rule, which Jesus taught in Matthew 7:12.  Imagine if it was your wonderfulness that faded (and it will), wouldn’t you want your spouse to keep loving you as my grandfather did?   Therefore, we should treat our spouses the same way.

I’ve taken these last two posts to define two facets of agape love, which are really two sides of the same coin.

Nothing we might do will make him love us less  (the even though  aspect of agape love).

Nothing we might do will make him love us more  (the not because  aspect of agape love).

Let’s make that true in our own marriages!

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