Fighting for a Win-Win in Dating and Marriage: Tips for Handling Conflicts from the Gottman Institute (Book Review)

V1NYC_Dating & Church of God_InstaPost

This coming week, my church’s Biblical Dating in the Digital Age series will focus on “Dating and the Church of God” – or how a love relationship between a man and a woman that starts with dating will eventually become, in marriage, a visible sign of the invisible grace of God: the relationship between Christ and his bride, the Church.

At the same time as the series has been running, my husband and I have been co-leading a premarital counseling course for several couples that are approaching marriage. The bulk of our course is based on research from the Gottman Institute. Researchers there have been taking a scientific approach to the study of marriage (and divorce) for the past twenty years. Gottman’s book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, is based on those insights, which include an over 90% ability to predict a couple’s eventual divorce simply by the way they react to each other over the course of a normal conversation or day spent together. Many of these insights, though discovered in the context of marriage, are also applicable to dating.

Screenshot 2018-10-24 at 11.31.23 AM.png

One of the most helpful insights Gottman uncovered is this: Couples are going to argue. Expect it. In fact, 69% of conflicts between even happy couples are what he terms “Unsolvable.” In other words, they are issues that may appear surface and temporary, but at root are core differences in temperament, values, and beliefs that are not going to go away. Ever. What’s key is not whether you fight, it’s how.

So what’s a dating or married couple to do when faced with the billionth fight over the same topic, whether it’s the frequency of date night, someone’s inability to buy good gifts, or who gets to wield the remote?

Screenshot 2018-10-24 at 12.33.14 PM.png
etsy.com/shop/bitterwhimsy

Simple. (Sort of.) You realize that you, buddy, are not going to win this one. Neither is your partner. Not completely. You recognize that you are two people who think differently about what’s important and you agree to disagree.

Let’s say, either while you are already married with kids, or while you are projecting your dating life into its possible future, you begin discussing holidays with the parents.  You think it’s important to spend every Christmas with your parents, and your partner wants to take vacays to Disney with the kids. You are adamant that your family is the most important thing in your life and you want your kids to spend time with their grandparents. Your partner (who is as not as close to his or her parents) is equally adamant that getaways for your nuclear family will help cement your bond and create lasting memories. At the core, the two of you are fighting not about a holiday, but about definitions of family and priorities that you’ve been forming since childhood. Neither of your experiences or values is going to change.

Screenshot 2018-10-24 at 12.37.01 PM.png

You could fight about – or sweep under the rug – both the surface and the deeper issue every Christmas for the rest of your lives, and let the bitterness of the perpetual conflict – or perpetual repression – seep into the rest of your relationship. Or, you negotiate. You compromise. You find a middle ground in which neither of you is right, neither of you is wrong, and neither of you gets completely what you want. But both of you win.

You win because you’ve stopped an unsolvable disagreement from spilling into those areas of your life where are in accord. You’ve drained the toxin from a conflict that has the potential to poison your marriage. Now, you agree to spend most Christmases with the grandparents, but every third year you see them on Thanksgiving instead and head to the Magic Kingdom for Yuletide. Is either of you getting exactly what you want, every time? Nope. But both of you are getting some of what you want. Both of your needs and concerns are being valued. And you get to keep a healthy relationship. That’s the definition of a win-win.

(Just know that for me this is an imagined scenario only. In reality, I think I’d commit seppuku with a rusty nail clipper rather than be anywhere near Disney on Jesus’ birthday. I’m not anti-Disney, exactly. Just anti-peak holiday crowds, interminable lines, and exorbitant prices for a stupid sipper shaped like Mickey’s head that, btw, is both creepy and bad for the environment. Let me tell you: it’s exhausting to spend a whole day on your feet while feeling morally superior to the people you are elbowing out of your way.)

christmas-trees-sleeping-beauty-castle-disneyland
Remember, it’s a beautiful castle, but the wicked witch and her spinning wheel are hiding upstairs. (image from disneytouristblog.com)

That’s just one example of how couples might begin practicing the art of the “win-win” while they are still dating. Whether it’s who pays for those Broadway tickets or how many evenings you need to spend with just the two of you vs. hanging out with friends . . . find a way to negotiate. Give a little to get a little. It sounds manipulative, but it’s not. It’s practical. And it’s loving. You have a perspective that your partner needs. And your partner has a perspective that will help you grow into a fuller, richer person.

I’m not saying don’t have non-negotiables. I’m saying be realistic about how many you have. And ask yourself: If I bend on this a little, what am I losing? What am I gaining? What might my partner lose or gain?

You might gain years together. You might get a marriage as it was meant to be: two people who are willing to mutually sacrifice for the other’s good.

Or, on the flip side, you might decide your non-negotiables are exactly that and save yourself years of fruitless friction in a relationship that doesn’t allow you to express your authentic self, nor appreciate who your partner truly is.

Screenshot 2018-10-24 at 12.11.28 PM.png

Either way, it’s a win for both of you.

Find more resources for couples from the Gottman Institute on gottman.com

To follow Vineyard One’s Dating and God series, watch the sermon series on Facebook Live at 10:30 am EST, or at any time after the live stream concludes, or visit vineyardone.nyc.

Everything I Know About Love, I Learned from “Bachelor Nation” (Book Review)

dating

In tribute to my church’s current series on God and Dating, I’m continuing to review some of the books I’ve read relating to love, romance, dating, and marriage.

Bachelor Nation: Inside the World of America’s Favorite Guilty Pleasure isn’t really about dating, in the sense that it’s not a “how-to” primer, the way The Four Man Planwhich I wrote about last week, is. But entertainment journalist and author Amy Kaufman definitely uncovers some of the secrets to making people feel the pulse-pounding onslaught of love (or maybe just lust) – whether or not they’re there for the “right reasons.”

Screenshot 2018-10-11 at 10.11.45 AM

Let it be said, right off the bat, that the Bachelor producers come off in this book as beyond Machiavellian. They make the author of The Prince, the scourge of the Medicis, look like a rank amateur. They are manipulative, scheming, ratings-grubbing, and drama-mongering. And they are obviously geniuses at what they do, because, well,  we’re still watching.

Screenshot 2018-10-11 at 12.09.03 PM
An Actual Bachelor Producer

Well, I’m not. Anymore. Mostly because it’s faster for me to skim the recaps.

What were my “right reasons” for beginning to watch the voyeuristic marvel that is the Bachelor franchise? Way back in 2002, my husband and I had a new baby that Would. Not. Sleep. After four months of stumbling around like zombies on Ambien, we gave up and sleep-trained her – an esoteric process otherwise known as “let the baby cry herself to sleep, already!” The problem was, we were in a very small apartment and had nowhere to go away from the crying. So, we turned on the tv, and lo and behold! Like a light shining out on our desperate existence, there was Chris Harrison! And the Bachelor! And 25 Bachelorettes!

Reader, it was the distraction we needed. We were hooked like big, bug-eyed catfish and stayed hooked through the second season, when the lovely former cheerleader Trista graced our screen and flitted out with a proposal from Fireman Ryan, he of the sweetly terrible – I mean just horrendous – poetry. We watched their wedding, when the couple bizarrely decided they only needed to recite thirteen-and-a-half out of fourteen lines of Elizbeth Barrett Browning’s sonnet, “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.”

People, you just cannot truncate a sonnet of its final couplet. It becomes a painfully unfinished thing.  It’s like . . . if Pygmalion hadn’t wanted to bother with styling Galatea’s hair and just left her brainpan open. IT CANNOT BE DONE.

Screenshot 2018-10-11 at 10.37.53 AM
Etienne-Maurice Falconette, The Walters Art Museum
Screenshot 2018-10-11 at 10.39.01 AM
Trista and Ryan, ABC

Sorry, had to get that off my chest.

Anyway, back to the book. Here, in no particular order, are the 10 secrets to falling in love a la Bachelor Nation. (Have no fear, I will also list more broadly applicable secrets for the rest of us who like to visit Reality TV Land but wouldn’t want to live there.)

  1. Alcohol. Lots and lots of alcohol. So much alcohol. Because people without inhibitions can be coached to do anything!
  2. Sleep-deprivation. Also not known to promote rational, self-protective behavior.
  3. Isolation. You know all those women can’t leave the house, right? Not even to run to CVS for toothpaste.
  4. Complete lack of privacy. Cameras everywhere! Eventually, contestants can’t keep their guard up all the time any longer and that’s when things really get rockin’.
  5. Ruthless editing. By manipulating camera angles, cuts, and voice-overs, and splicing together exactly the words they want someone to say, the producers can make a perfectly pleasant one-on-one date seem like an encounter between Attila the Hun and the Roman army. Or vice versa.
  6. The same interrogation techniques used by police when they’re trying to get someone to confess to murder. “Oh, come on, Ashley. You know you’re for falling for Justin. We’ve been in this room for 15 hours without daylight or water or even those little 100 calorie cookie packs from the vending machine. Why don’t you just cry a little and say you’re ready to marry him and we can all go back to our tequila?”
  7. Pursuant to numbers 4, 5 and 6: An iron-clad contract. Everything you say and do can and will be used against you in the court of reality television. Even if you didn’t actually say or do it.
  8. Boredom. There is nothing to do in the Bachelor/ette mansion. No books, no tv, not even jenga. Eventually, there is nothing to do to entertain yourself except fall in love, form Survivor-like alliances, and acquiesce to whatever cunning narrative the producers want to tell the viewing audience. They want you to wear a tiara and a ballgown? Sure, what else have you got to do?
  9. Using women’s biology against them. Did you know that when a bunch of women stay in the same place for an extended time, their menstrual cycles start to sync up? The Bachelor producers sure do. Mass outbreaks of crying, moodiness, and exhaustion make for must-see-tv!
  10. The producers conspire against you. They cultivate your friendship and then they lie, lie, lie. Say Rudy tells Tania – to her face! – that he doesn’t know how he feels about her but he does think she’s great in the sack. The producer whom Tania trusts the most will then assure Tania that Rudy is a deep, sensitive guy who is already halfway to the altar.
  11. Did I mention the alcohol? Because I think they might fill the swimming pool with it.
Screenshot 2018-10-11 at 12.33.26 PM.png
The Bachelor Pool: Powered by hormones, mixed drinks, and impaired decision-making.

Now, for those of us who have no designs on the Fantasy Suite, here are Bachelor-inspired dating insights for normal people:

Love is many things, but among the most measurable is a neurochemical state. The culprit is dopamine, “a stimulant that gives us motivation, energy and focus” (Kaufman 135). When you’re in love, dopamine floods your brain and you feel elation, drive, even obsession. The Bachelor puts its contestants in situations that prime them for dopamine surges. Maybe we can’t all have twenty-five people vying for the favor of our attention, but there are some things we can do to stimulate dopamine production on our way to finding that fairy-tale ending:

  1. Go looking for love. Just the expectation that you might meet someone drives up your dopamine levels. Proximity to other people looking for love can also increase dopamine production.
  2. Put yourself in novel situations. Combine your romantic quest with new experiences. Try new things in order to meet new kinds of people. And when you’ve met someone, try new things with them.
  3. It’s even better if the new thing is something you’re slightly afraid of. Conquering fear or facing imagined danger with a potential or actual romantic partner will bond you even more. The Bachelor calls these “adrenalin dates” (Kaufman 133) – rappelling down a cliff, zip-lining over a forest, swimming with sharks, dashing to Macy’s on Black Friday. The surge of endorphins on top of all the other hormones will increase your feelings of connectedness and euphoria.
  4. Keep your clothes on. Also known as the “Don’t Give Away Your Goodies For Free” postulate*. Why? Because when you’re in a state of heightened dopamine – which everyone at the beginning of a relationship is – it’s hard to distinguish between lust and love. The instant sex enters the picture, your dopamine system basically explodes your brain. It conspires against your reason, wisdom, and self-preservation. You can go instantly from a superficial interest in someone to feeling like he is the Romeo to your Juliet, the Lancelot to your Guenivere, the Jason Mesnick to your Melissa Mycroft. And we all know how well those stories turned out**.

 

*I heard a mom tell her teenage daughter this on the subway. It was probably the funniest #overheardinnyc moment I’ve heard yet, even if the daughter didn’t feel the same way.

**Also, because reportedly the number one reason would-be contestants get turned down for the show? Previously undiagnosed STDs.

******

Want to learn more about love? Join Vineyard One NYC for our sermon series on “Biblical Dating in the Digital Age.” Find us at vineyardone.nyc or stream our services Sunday mornings at 10:30am EST on Facebook Live.

A Math Nerd’s Dating Manifesto: The Four Man Plan (Book Review)

V1NYC_RelationshipsSeries_Pwrpt Slide.jpeg

In the annals of crazy-pants things to do with your time, our church’s decision to have a sermon series on God and dating feels up there. For one thing, the Bible has no advice whatsoever about dating, although my husband did notice that wells seem to be a good place to meet your future spouse (Zipporah) or your future spouse’s marriage broker (Rebecca). Also, dating seems to be the kind of topic about which you can talk endlessly and come to very few solid conclusions or universal recommendations. There are too many variables at work: individual temperament, family history, cultural zeitgeist, shifts in gender roles and expectations, not to mention “the economy, stupid.” (Poor economic conditions discourage people from getting married, particularly women.)

Let’s get real: if there were a surefire way to find lasting romantic love, it would already be free to Prime members. (And the rest of us would have to save up our order for weeks or throw in extra q-tips until we reached the free shipping threshold, not that I’m bitter or anything.)

Screenshot 2018-10-05 at 3.03.45 PM.png

Still, in the interest of research for said sermon series (and not at all for the pure entertainment), I’ve been reading books about dating. I’ll share my thoughts about some of them here in the next few weeks.

First up is The Four Man Plan: A Romantic Science, by Cindy Lu.

Screenshot 2018-10-05 at 2.13.29 PM

First of all, Cindy Lu is an awesome name that reminds me of that time when the Grinch gave back Christmas. Just because of that, I’m tempted to believe anything she says.

Screenshot 2018-10-05 at 3.16.35 PM

The Four-Man Plan is billed as THE BEST HOW-TO-DATE-BOOK EVER, which given the author’s wicked sense of humor, has to be at least somewhat of a joke, along the lines of “THE MOST DRAMATIC ROSE CEREMONY EVER” or “THE MOST PEOPLE AT ANY INAUGURATION EVER.”

Important to know: This book is only for heterosexual women. Women, according to Cindy’s own story and the case studies in her book, can successfully use the Four-Man Plan to date up to 16 men at a time on their way to finding their Three-and-a-Half man, or, in Cindy’s math, THE ONE. (You really have to read the book to understand the calculations.) Men, of course, have never needed much encouragement to spread themselves around. (See: All the Biblical patriarchs.)

The gist: Cindy says that by assigning men mathematical values (from 1/4 to 3 1/2) and keeping track of them on a grid with 16 squares, the odds for finding a fulfilling relationship are ever in your favor. In practice I can’t imagine having time for that many men – When would you sleep? Go to work? Binge-watch Netflix? – so it’s good to know that 16 is a ceiling, not a goal.

screenshot-2018-10-05-at-2-32-02-pm.png
Snow White’s 4MP grid (from the book and website)

By juggling suitors, all of whom are fully aware of your actions (no being a Sneaky Susie), and never sleeping with more than one at a time (the math won’t allow it), you will spur men’s innate competitive nature, which means they will invest more energy and thought in pursuing you; you will open yourself up to becoming simultaneously a more adventurous and more patient dater (because you will not be fixated on getting any one person to put a ring on it); you will not be ruled by your fickle and, frankly, not very bright, hormones; and by virtue of having lots of guys to compare to each other, you will begin to understand better both yourself and the kind of guy that will fit with you.

My husband’s response: This seems very empowering for women. But I don’t have the same opinions about what motivates men or what men are looking for as Cindy does.

My response: If I ever had to date again, I might try this method. It sounds like a way to reduce a lot of the angst and pressure, particularly for Christian singles who are feeling anxious about marriage. I’m all for formulas, and this one almost makes dating sound fun and confidence-building and not like something I would maybe do as an alternative to getting my bunions shaved.

The takeaway for church folk: Not written from a Christian perspective – or any particular ideological or theological bent – but from a practical one. Cindy is concerned not with how we think men should be, but with how she has experienced them to be, which is why I think my husband had trouble relating to her portrayal of men. There are definitely Christian men who – like my husband was – are only looking to date one woman at a time with an eye towards marriage. The plan actually accommodates those men; it just instructs the woman to let the man initiate that discussion, not bring it up on her own.  (This aspect of the plan seems practical and smart and also kind of icky and disempowering, all at the same time. I’m not fond of it, but I can see why it might work.) Cindy also mentions that singles who are planning on abstinence til marriage can still use the plan. In fact, that person will have more space available on her grid for potential dates (because in Cindy’s schema, a sexual partner has a higher “value” and thus takes up more space).

Resources: You can go to Cindy’s website to find testimonials, blog posts, and (if you buy the book) a private Facebook group with 4MP coaches. Or join Vineyard One NYC on Sunday mornings at 10:30 am EST on Facebook Live to check out our sermon series, “Biblical Dating in the Digital Age: How Would Jesus Swipe.” (I’ll let you in on a little secret: The subtitle is a big misdirect. Jesus would totally be a Coffee Meets Bagel guy.)

 

Breath Prayer 1: Breathing with God Through Your Day

Breathe

This is the first installment of my Spiritual Practice of the Month series. Each month, I’ll post a description and a guide to a new spiritual expression meant to help us experience God and the freedom he desires for us in deep and fresh ways. You will also be able to follow this series on my Instagram account, ravishedbylight, where I will also be posting a new Bible Verse of the Week every Monday.

Breath prayer, like most contemplative practices, helps us become increasingly aware of God with us in every moment and circumstance of our lives.  There is more than one way to engage in breath prayer: one focuses on concentrated periods of prayer while another disperses the prayer throughout your entire day. For this post, I’m going to focus on the latter. It’s particularly good for busy seasons where stillness is hard to find or for people who may struggle with what’s typically thought of as prayer in evangelical circles (an unscripted conversation with God, eyes closed, while sitting or kneeling).

I’m going to shamelessly steal most of this post from my husband’s newsletter to our church earlier this week. He writes about his initial skepticism about spiritual direction as well as his encounter with God through breath prayer. I’ll follow with a step-by-step guide to experiencing breath prayer for yourself. (Use this link to skip the story and go directly to a printable breath prayer guide.) Here’s my husband’s story:

*******

I meet once a month with a Spiritual Director, Bill. He’s a man of wisdom, peace, and curiosity. He helps me explore my relationship with God, asking me to get specific about what God is saying to me and what God might be inviting me to.  Honestly, when I started meeting with him, I wanted to quit after about 2 sessions. At first, I didn’t get the point – I already read the bible, I pray, I try to obey what God is telling me – I thought, “Why do I need somebody else to do this with?”

Then God started talking to me.

During our times of discussion, prayer, and reflection, God began to show up and say things to me that were completely new and unexpected! It usually wasn’t Bill telling me “I think God is saying….” it was just us being quiet & reflective together, giving me space for God to speak his voice to me directly. Those things that God has been speaking to me have shaped the direction of my life and ministry.

Let me give you an example: recently, meeting with Bill, as we were talking about the kind of life that God desires for each of us, as we prayed, I heard the Lord say to me “A life governed by the Spirit.”

Romans 8.6

And that was it. It honestly didn’t seem like much at the time, but I could tell it was important. Bill asked me how I could explore that thought and we came up with the idea of “Breath Prayer.” Basically, I walk around all day and I pray a simple, one-sentence prayer under my breath wherever I go.

“Holy Spiritgovern my life.” I try to say it 100 times a day, reflecting on the meaning and letting the prayer speak to me and change me. In the days since I started praying this prayer, it’s meaning has exploded to me with implications I had never realized!

I work through it piece by piece – I’m asking my life to be governed by the Holy Spirit – not governed by my wallet (money), my watch (time & schedule), my will (selfish desires), etc. I don’t want my life to be governed by anyone or anything else by the Holy Spirit – that’s my prayer and declaration as I pray this 100 times a day.

As I ask the Spirit to govern my life, I’m asking him to rule, to make the decisions, to set the course, to provide for me, to protect me. I want his governing presence in the decisions I make myself, and in the circumstances that I find myself in.

When I ask the Spirit to govern my life, I’m submitting myself to him in every aspect of my life – my decisions, my interactions, my activities, my day-to-day life and looking ahead to the whole rest of my life. He gets to govern my body, my mind, my heart, my words, my actions – my whole life!

It’s a simple prayer – Holy Spiritgovern my life – but prayed over and over every day, it’s had a huge impact on me in just a short amount of time!

*******

Below is a guide to practicing breath prayer for yourself. You can also find the instructions in a printable pdf form if you click the link.

Breath Prayer

Ask the Lord for a simple word or phrase that encapsulates his invitation to you at this moment of your life. It may be a verse, a snippet of a song, something has said to you recently, or something entirely new from God.

Once God has spoken this word or phrase to you, commit to saying it to yourself throughout the day, during your morning routine, as you go to work or spend time with your family, as you do your household chores, watch sports, hang out with your friends, go on a date, brush your teeth. (You get the idea.) 

As you spend time with the prayer, be aware of how its meanings deepen and change. What happens if you emphasize one word instead of another? How is the prayer beginning to make itself known in different aspects of your life? Notice how God is changing you through the prayer.

Stay with the same prayer, even when you may experience boredom or resistance, until you sense God inviting you into something new.