Marriage … it’s not for everyone …

I’ve seen parents smiling and bragging on their 8 or 10 or 12 year old kid being in a relationship as if somehow their kid is better than yours if they have a boyfriend or girlfriend earlier. I’ve had people condescend to me when my child has chosen not to date or pursue a love interest. I could almost hear them say, “Well that’s just not natural.” 

Acceptance of the homosexual relationship has recently come into vogue, but is the choice not to have an intimate relationship acceptable?  Society pressure toward intimate relationships is tremendous. Whenever there is a Columbine or a Colorado theater or a Sandy Hook, the media rushes to establish that the perpetrator(s) had no close relationships. It’s as if people who are comfortable being alone must be evil.

There is a rush to relationship and in many cases a rush to sexual activity along with it. Slow it down, take it easy, get to know each other.  As parents, we vicariously encourage all sorts of bad behavior with a smile or a laugh at it. We are concerned with having that all important “sex” talk, when our real concern should be in teaching how to have a respectful, loving, mutually beneficial relationship. Of course, our best instruction is a good example.

New to the social landscape are cyber communities where people interact not directly in person but over the internet. Yet there is very little that is being studied or written about the relationships within those communities.  I know people who are socially shy, but have very extensive cyber communities where they interact.

The world is changing at a pace far exceeding anything that mankind has dealt with before. Inability to manage this onslaught of change appears to be creating completely new problems for some people.  What should we be doing or offering to meet these problems head on?  Does this require marriage and family to be redefined?  We know that successful companies today have to constantly redefine themselves. Does the same hold true for families?

A Toast to the Millennials

Not by choice, but I had a chance to interact with some Millennials this week end and I must say that I was quite impressed. Millennials describes that generation born between 1980 and 2000, while my generation is the Baby Boom generation born 1946 – 1964. We were the largest, most studied generation … until the Millennials came along. That generation is actually slightly larger, and with the technology available today, will even be more closely analyzed.

I say “not by choice”, not because I fear any interaction with them, but  rarely do I have an opportunity to interact with them.  However, I woke up early Friday (like 2am early) with a kidney stone on the move.  I’ll spare you the details, just ask anyone who has had one.  Pleasantly, there were Millennials on the nursing staff.  I guess what impressed me almost immediately was their friendly disposition and what seemed like a passion for their work.

While my generation was shaped by Woodstock, JFK, RFK and MLK, the Millennials are connected, diverse collaborators shaped by 9/11, texting and the recession (US Chamber of Commerce Foundation).  The Millennial generation “is technically savvy, almost as if it has a digital sixth sense.  A wired, connected world is all that Millennials have ever known.”

“Millennials are marrying much later, if at all.  In 1970 about 44 percent of eighteen- to twenty-five-year old Boomers were married.  Today only 15 percent of Millennials in that age group are married.  And the average age of first marriages has gone up from 20.8 for women in 1970 to 25.5 today.  For men the average age of first marriages has increased from 23.2 to 27.5 over the same period.”  (The Millennials: Connecting to America’s Largest Generation by Rainer & Rainer)

The two studies I have cited have a lot to say about the Millennials. Both of my sons were born to that generation and have shown a work ethic comparable to any Boomers I know.  So have what I’ve seen of most of their peers.  I have confidence in their leadership for the coming world. I just wish we were giving them a world in better condition.

33 Years, but who’s counting …

It’s August, so it’s time to work hard to get the preschool ready for four-year-olds, three-year-olds, and the new two-year-olds, almost two full classes this year.  So many more children this year, we had to build on another classroom.  We were setting up new equipment, emptying lots of boxes, and as I took a load out to the recycling, I noticed some activity in the church. There is a wedding this afternoon. I wanted to tell them that August 9 is a really good date to get married. Kim and I did so 33 years ago in 1980.

I know how you love one person for 33 years, and so does Kim. You start by remembering first of all that love is a verb. I can’t understand when a person tells another, “I don’t love you anymore,” and ends a marriage often destroying the family. Really?  You decided to love that person, and now you’ve decided not to love them?  Then you need to take responsibility for that decision. “I’m not happy.”  Whose responsibility is that?  When you put responsibility on someone else to make you happy, you will never be happy. Can someone do things that you don’t like?  Certainly. But if it upsets you, you choose to be upset.

This is different than if somebody is abusing you. Abuse is not loving you, and you have a responsibility to extricate yourself from that situation even if you love that person.  For your own sake, you must stop loving an abuser and remove yourself from them.  Don’t hesitate to get a therapist to help you walk through this one.  The abuser does not think they are abusing or blames the victim for what the victim made the abuser do. It’s just not healthy in any way.

But today I celebrated the life I share with this woman who has loved and continues to love me so well.  They say that birthdays are good for you because the more you have, the longer you live. The same cannot be said for anniversaries and marriage. I’ve seen too many marriages that had anniversaries long after the couple had decided to stop loving each other.  Instead, an anniversary gives you pause to ask, “Have I loved my mate well or is there more I should do?”  Go ahead; answer the question.

My bride gave me a gift that I still enjoy today, and it gets better all the time …

The key to success in any relationship, but especially in a marriage, is open, honest communication. It is the gift that my bride gave me from the day we were married, and it has made all the difference.  This Friday we will celebrate 33 years from the day we committed to each other to be a family.  Over that time there have been hundreds of conversations about the values we share and have passed on to our kids.

It was not easy. My wife, Kim, had tremendous patience while I learned the essentials of good communication from her. I have a tendency to react, especially when my temper rises, but rule #1 of communicating is that you have to remove the emotion from it. Stop yelling, stop hating, just talk about whatever it is that you think is bothering you. Often times, in the course of conversation, you’ll find out it is not what you think it is.

Along with no emotion is rule #2, never go to bed angry. Often it was being tired that contributed to my crankiness that lead to the fight. However, the lights did not go out and I was not allowed to go to sleep until we had talked it out, and that was true for our children as well.  Once they learned to talk, going to bed in tears was not an option.

Rule #3 – take time to communicate. On occasion, I have delayed going to work so that we can talk, because like you, our schedules can become overly busy.  That few minutes to connect makes a huge deposit in the emotional bank account.  It’s important to plan blocks of time for in depth discussion, even if it is just coffee on the back porch. When the walls go up, it’s time to get away for a day or a weekend and tear them down again.

For more in depth treatment on communicating, see the chapter in Stephen Covey’s book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People on “Seek to Understand Before Being Understood”  Until then, start with Kim’s three rules … and have a great family.