Mark’s Marriage Minute

Ingredients for a Good Conversation

If there is one complaint I hear more often than any other when couples come in to my office, it is that they struggle with their communication. I am not surprised. Rarely do we see good modeling of such, and there is no class taught on it in school.

In my book, Mike seeks to mine from a couple he is counseling what makes for good communication:

“Okay— first let me ask you a few more questions,” Mike said, glancing at Jake. “Both of you take a moment and tell me what you think are the necessary ingredients for a good conversation to take place — especially when you’re working through frustrations with each other.”

In the pages that follow they discuss those ingredients together.

I want to ask YOU the same question. What is one necessary ingredient for good conversation to take place, and especially when in conflict?

Let’s do this together, ok? How many ingredients can we come up with?  Leave a quick comment below. Ready? GO!!

Razor Sharp: 6 Ways To Keep Your Marriage Sharp

Guest Post from Dave Barringer

barringerWhile I’m away the next few weeks, I’m excited to share with you several guest posts from friends and colleagues that are passionate about marriages, relationships, and conflict resolution. This week’s post comes from Dave Barringer, Lead Pastor at Kalamazoo First Assembly of God in Kalamazoo, MI. Dave loves writing, preaching, and talking about marriage and has an incredible ability to do so with more humor and humility than most. He and Anne have been married for 17 years and have 2 kids, Cammi and Ethan. Don’t miss Dave’s blog at and find him on Twitter.

From the beginning of this, please note something: Marriage is hard work.  In saying that, I want to pose a question:

Are we working too hard on our marriage?

Before you fire off emails, posts, rebuttals, etc at me, I want to work out a thought that came out the other day.  It stemmed from a simple saying:

Work smarter; not harder.

When my son turned 10, he got his first pocket knife. He’s seen me whittle before (I’m not very good) and he’s been wanting to do it too.  I wanted to make sure it was sharp and it stayed sharp. Anne was concerned he was going to lose an appendage keeping it sharp. But I explained something key: The sharper you keep your knife, the easier it is to work on the project and, thus, less likely to get hurt. So, often I’d have Ethan bring me his knife and we’d take a few moments to sharpen his blade. I know it frustrated him to stop his project for something that seemed so small, but little corrections to the blade made all of the difference.  Struggling with a dull knife invites motions and angles that can lead to injuries.

Madly In Love (2)

Marriage is no different. Some of you are working hard on some areas with “dull blades.” You find yourself getting hurt in conversations and conflicts. You leave moments together with “nicks” on your heart.  I want to help you work smarter. It doesn’t remove the hard work, but why make hard work harder? It’s time to regain your “edge.” It’s time to step back and make some small, intentional moves that can keep your marriage sharp.

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Mark’s Marriage Minute

Will you listen?

In chapter 1 of my book, you catch a glimpse of what many couples experience when it comes to their communication:

Mike took a breath and asked, “Okay, from what you can see in your relationship as it stands now, where do you think you need the most help?”

After a moment, Lisa spoke first, looking hesitantly at her husband, “I’d say communication. It feels like Jake never listens to me or even tries to understand what I’m dealing with. He—”

Jake immediately went on the defensive, “I don’t understand why she keeps saying that! I have heard every word she has ever said— and believe me, that’s a lot of words ’cause she never stops talking!”

Lisa turned to Mike saying, “You see? He just doesn’t get it!” and then turned back to glare at Jake. The hurt and anger between them suddenly sizzled.

Good listening so rarely takes place. Sadly, we are far more intent on being heard, than in hearing. Still, when someone takes the time to listen to us, really listen, we feel loved and truly grateful.

This Week’s Challenge:

Stop and listen—really listen—to your spouse, your child, your friend, your co-worker, and really everyone you come in contact. Observe their reaction. Make a mental note of the difference it made in the conversation, and do it again.

So, will you listen? If so, you will be well on your way to impacting those around you with a greater love!

Great News: Awesome Dads Aren’t Born Awesome!

My kids are all grown. I miss the days when coming home they’d run to me and want to play. I always wanted to be an awesome Dad. Some days I did better than others. No matter where you are today, you can become that awesome Dad tomorrow. Print off the following and stick it in a place you will read it periodically over this next year. Pick one area to work on this week and BE AWESOME!

Image via Charlie Belvin Designs

(Image via Charlie Belvin Designs)

Fill their emotional tank.

Years ago – even before I was a Dad, I found a book on parenting that has become a classic. We recommend it to every parent. It is called:  How To Really Love Your Child, by Dr. Ross Campbell. The core idea is our children have emotional tanks that need to be filled on a regular basis with:

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Mark’s Marriage Minute

Really listening...

Good friends of ours, Kim and Kimmie Cole, wrote the following:

“The step-by-step process of PLEDGE will change how you listen to, hear, and respond to others.”

After learning the PLEDGE process and understanding the importance of listening, another person said to me:  “I listened to my husband this week, really listened, and found that he actually made sense. Then it dawned on me, I honestly can’t say how long it has been since I have really heard what he has to say!”

Question: When is the last time you really listened to your spouse or your children?

This Week’s Challenge:

Work hard every day to REALLY listen as you interact with people – especially your spouse and your children. See what difference it makes. I think you will be very pleasantly surprised!

What is Your Default Future?

Throughout my life I have struggled with decision making. I have gone under exhaustive self analysis to figure out why, and have a pretty good idea of the reasons behind it. There is one revelation I have had that has helped more than any other. It is this: when I don’t decide, I default to either what someone else wants and dictates for my life, or to what life circumstances dictate because of failing to decide. When I remember that, I make more decisions. Why? Because I don’t like defaulting. It makes me feel weak. It leaves me feeling frustrated about myself. I see that I am not taking an active part in what happens in my life and around me. I want to do better.

Madly In Love

What does this have to do with marriage?  A lot!!!

Most couples live out the entirety of their marriage in default mode. Que sera, sera (whatever will be, will be.) Very little time, money, focus or energy is used to move the marriage relationship forward and deeper. At best, they maintain their present experience as husband and wife. At worst, they put in little or no effort leading to a decline in their relationship. 

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Mark’s Marriage Minute

Dealing With Conflict...

In the opening chapter of my book you read the following story about Jake and Lisa:

“I can’t believe you’re telling me this!” yelled Jake. He knocked his chair over with a clatter and stomped toward the front door. “What did I do to deserve this?”

“Jake, come back!” cried Lisa, following him out to the driveway.

“I can’t! I have to get away and think,” growled Jake as he tried to contain his rage.

“I’m sorry! Really, I am! WAIT!” Lisa pleaded as Jake drove off, tires squealing, in his ’94 Mustang convertible.

Okay now stop a moment. Imagine this:  you are Lisa…or you are Jake. What do you do next?

Most of us really don’t know. We experience conflict and we hate it – for a number of reasons – one of them being we simply don’t know what to do when it happens!

My heart and passion is to help people find their way through difficult times like the one above. I can only help however, those who are willing to learn.

My challenge for you this week is to do one of the following to further your understanding of how to deal with conflict when it happens:

  • Ask a friend, mentor, pastor, or parent what they have learned over the years to help them deal with conflict well. Start a journal and write down what you discover.
  • Google “conflict resolution strategies” and write down what you learn.
  • Beg, borrow, or – no, don’t steal – buy my book The PLEDGE of a Lifetime and LEARN all you can about how to process conflict well in love!

Remember 3 Things and Get The Most Out Of Your Next Conflict

Most people don’t like conflict, but it doesn’t have to be all bad. In fact, there is much good that can come out of conflict if you know a healthy process to work through it AND you keep the following 3 opportunities in mind:

Simple Cents

1. It is an opportunity to grow in your understanding of each other.

Saying we all want to be understood is like saying we all need air to breathe. But how often do we focus on understanding the person we are talking to, especially when we are in conflict?

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Mark’s Marriage Minute

Victory Over Conflict...

Some dear friends of ours, George and Marjean Fooshee in their 59th year of marriage, wrote this about my book, The PLEDGE of a Lifetime:

“ … an engaging story of a couple learning to use the PLEDGE process to claim victory over conflict.”

Imagine, victory over conflict. Wouldn’t that be great? Most of us were never trained or taught how to experience this. It IS possible. But we must start by stopping.

Sound confusing? That’s what one man thought when I taught him the importance of Pausing when he found himself in the midst of conflict. I said he must stop before he says or does anything else that would cause harm and begin to learn a new way.

Question to consider:

  • How often do you experience victory over conflict?

Stop when you find yourself in a conflict and think: what is one thing I can do differently to help restore peace?

Mark’s Marriage Minute

Fighting Fair...

All of my life I have sought to bring peace to people in conflict. It is a core part of who I am, and why I wrote The PLEDGE of A Lifetime.

Dr. Tony Wheeler, President and Director of The Family Ministry Institute, Faculty Chair for Dr. John Trent’s said the following in his endorsement of my book, The PLEDGE of a Lifetime:

“A practical guide to help couples who struggle to ‘fight fair’ learn new ways of responding to conflict….”

Question for you today:

  • Share one tip you have learned about “fighting fair.”
  • If you kept one thing in mind this week about “fighting fair,” what would that be?

Somewhere, even on your hand, write down a key word that would remind you to live it out this week!