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Since I am a reliability engineer, I know a lot about equipment failures.  For the majority of failures, what we see when the thing stops working is not when it fails.  The failure began earlier, often much earlier.  The pattern followed by equipment as it progresses from fully functional to a wreck is the same as marriages that die.  Armed with this knowledge, I believe we can be better prepared to intervene and save our marriages.  With divorce an all to common occurrence I think this is a worthy activity.

In our analogy let’s use a common piece of equipment that we are almost all familiar with – a car.  Initially our car runs fine.  In reliability terms we say it is performing its intended function.  In the marriage this is when life is good, husband and wife are actively engaged in each other’s lives.  Communication is good and mutual support and attentiveness is the norm.

As time progresses subtle changes take place.  For our car it could be that the brakes have worn significantly, our oil has become contaminated, or a wheel bearing has experienced heat and wear.  At some point the performance of our car  begins to suffer slightly.  It is not detectable yet, but the loss of function has started.  In a marriage a similar point is reached when stress and distractions begin to subtly pull the couple apart.  The list is a long one on what these can be – money issues, health problems, children’s needs / demands, work stresses, etc.  

At this point in our example we can actually head off a failure with rather simple steps.  By identifying and performing the correct preventive maintenance tasks or basic care tasks we can restore the full function of both our car and our marriage.  For our car we should routinely inspect it for wear in the brakes, tires, etc and all lube should be periodically changed and / or replenished.  In our marriage we should periodically and routinely inspect it for wear and tear from the stresses of life.  Our communication should also be periodically changed and / or replenished.  A regular date night and brief times away from home together are two important ingredients in our marriage basic care program.  Without these activities a small problem will grow over time.

Without good basic care and preventive maintenance activities, incipient failures progress to the point they begin to manifest themselves in ways that become detectable.  Our brakes will begin to squeak, our car will take longer to stop, minor irritants in our marriage will escalate into conflict and hurtful words.  Detecting these failures early is important in achieving a prompt and relatively simply resolution.  

Assuming the problems, be they vehicular or marital, are not addressed degradation will continue.  In a lot of equipment such as bearings a failure will accelerate as the debris from the original failure becomes the source of additional failure sites on a microscopic level.  In our marriages unresolved hurts introduce emotional pain and strained communication that accelerate toward a failure of the marriage. 

At some point the signs that are noticeable only to those most intimate with the marriage become obvious to family, friends, and even casual acquaintances.  Full functional failure is still preventable but only with prompt intervention and significant effort.  In the case of our brakes, instead of simply replacing brake pads we may have to turn rotors – a more intrusive and costly repair.  In a marriage it will likely include active intervention and support from family and friends and perhaps even professional counselling.  Again a more intrusive and costly repair.

The final stage is a complete failure.  For our car it means brakes locking up or ceasing to stop us followed closely by a loud crash.  In our marriage it means broken hopes, dreams, and emotional trauma as two persons who were once in love divorce and go their separate ways.

Recognizing that a marriage actual begins to fail much earlier and intervening at the earliest possible point can head off the painful and damaging results.  Here is a list of steps that can be taken to strengthen your marriage and ward off the decline so many couples experience.

Respect.  Mutual respect is an important ingredient in any healthy relationship, but even more so in a marriage.  Make up your mind that your mate is valuable and worthy of your esteem.  Think back to what drew you to them.  Think of what they are good at and dwell on these things.  And let them know that you value them.  We all have faults, but it does not help to dwell on our spouse’s faults.  Offer these up to God in prayer, but with your spouse focus on the positive.  (Eph 5:25-33)

Communication.  This includes all the verbal and non-verbal forms of communication.  Usually one person in the marriage talks more than the other.  Whichever you are, be intentional to do more of what you usually do less.  For the talker try to listen more.  For the quiet one, work to express yourself more.  Consider your non-verbal messages too. 

Identify and remove distractions.  This is necessary for enabling us to get to the true root causes of the problem.  Too much time and energy is wasted dealing with peripheral issues or the secondary effects of bad decisions rather than identifying and dealing with the underlying thought patterns and behaviours that caused the bad decisions.  Another way to approach this is to simplify your life.

Include Preventive Maintenance into your Marriage.  In the equipment realm Preventive Maintenance are those regular, often calendar-based activities undertaken to make sure that everything is performing as it should.  Discrepancies are addressed, usually with minor adjustments, and the equipment is restored to full function.  Marriages need the same regular care.  I mentioned a date night earlier, but it can be any technique where you and your spouse are engaged in time together, apart from distractions, and intentional about checking the vital signs of your marriage.

Fellowship.  Spend time with others of similar values, beliefs, and life situation in an interactive setting.  We cannot expect to do life alone either individually or as a married couple.  We are meant to live in community.  We have a large and close extended family and they form our primary area of fellowship, but we also have Lisa’s work family and there is our church family.

Develop Marriage Condition-monitoring into your personal reflection time.  Condition-monitoring simply looks for the telltale signs that identify that the function of equipment is beginning to deteriorate.  We can do the same thing in our marriage.  Here are a few suggestions. 

  • Check the temperature with the Romance Meter.  If the romance in your marriage has cooled, then look for the causes and address them.  Hugs, kisses at times other than…, touching, quality time alone are all aspects of the Romance Meter that we should check.  When these diminish or begin to be more rote than spontaneous it is time to dig deeper into causes and make some changes.  At this time the changes will usually be subtle, but the benefits can be oh so marvelous. 
  • Take a vibration check of the emotional stability.  If things are becoming a bit shaky in the emotional arena for either one or both of you (yes guys I said BOTH), then it is time to slow down, assess more deeply, and talk about it.
  • Gauge the communication depth.  If your discussions are shallow and don’t get to the issues and challenges of the day and work through toward support and understanding then you have uncovered an opportunity for improvement.  Talking only about the kids does not qualify for the depth needed.  We need to talk about the children and during the years we are raising a family it will be very high on the list of priorities.  For a healthy marriage it cannot become THE priority.  The priority must be the marriage itself. 

While there is more that can be said, I see I must wrap up for today.  Perhaps I will share some of Lisa’s and my story at a later date.  We have experienced much of the joy of marriage, but like all couples we have weathered our seasons of difficulty.  With God’s help and the prayers of family and friends we have weathered these and come out stronger in our commitment and love for each other.  It is my prayer for all married persons who read this that you will find comfort, solace, and a tidbit that will help you.  For those not married I encourage you to consider these suggestions for the day you either get married or in your times of supporting married friends.

God bless and may the light shine brightly where you tread.

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