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

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

 

How I Got There: The Tale of a Spiritual Pilgrimage (Book Review)

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Not everyone has heard of the Vineyard, but if your church service sings contemporary worship songs, has a rock guitarist and drummer in its worship band, and is filled with people in jeans and t-shirts instead of suits and ties, you have been influenced by its existence. John Wimber, a “self-proclaimed chain-smoking, beer-guzzling, drug abuser” and a former member of the Righteous Brothers, launched the first Vineyard Church in Southern California, and the movement has since had a global impact on worship music as well as a key role in the charismatic renewal of the American Evangelical Church.

Earlier this year, I was privileged to edit a memoir by Mike Turrigiano, former pastor of the North Brooklyn Vineyard Church (and also my former pastor), entitled How I Got There: The Tale of a Spiritual Pilgrimage. Mike tells the story of his unlikely journey from heroin addiction in the Bronx to being mentored and befriended by John Wimber and other pioneers of what today is the Vineyard Association of Churches. Mike likens himself to the “Forrest Gump” of the Vineyard  – just an ordinary guy who happens to be on site when extraordinary, history-making events happen. He describes himself as “Gumping” his way through life and ministry.

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Char and Mike (mainandplain.com)

Mike intertwines his personal story with that of the early days of the Vineyard: His entrance into Teen Challenge and subsequent work with Don and David Wilkerson, his whirlwind courtship of his wife, Char, their introduction to the Vineyard movement and friendship with Lonnie Frisbie (the charismatic, flawed leader of the Jesus People Revival), the miraculous highs and tragic lows of working on the frontlines of Vineyard church planting in the Northeast, Mike’s take on the controversial Toronto Blessing at the Toronto Airport Vineyard Church, and his leadership of a church that met in the iconically seedy and smelly Trash Bar in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Through all these events, Mike reflects on his own faith journey as well as the development of the Vineyard church.

Mike writes like he talks. He is down-to-earth, conversational, frank, and funny. He’s made no attempt to sand down the rough edges of his life or those of the other people he writes about, but he also treats everyone with tremendous grace and looks through a lens of deep gratitude, trust in God, and an awed appreciation for the experiences he’s had and the people he’s encountered. The book is a short read – only about 100 pages – but you won’t want to rush through it. Besides being necessary reading for anyone who is interested in the history of the Vineyard movement and its impact on the church, it is also a moving and quietly dramatic story of how Mike has been shaped – and continues to be shaped – by continually saying “yes” to the Holy Spirit. Read it and be challenged and inspired to say “yes” to whatever God is asking you to do or become.

Better than Redemption (Bourbon)

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This past Christmas, my church co-hosted a Christmas party in Long Island City. Our good friend Cici, owner of the Mighty March Liquor Store in Elmhurst, donated three cases of wine to the party. (My dad, a staunch Nazarene until the day he died, is probably giving me judgmental glances from heaven right about now. Nazarenes, who are both teetotalers and cessationists, don’t even get “drunk” in the spirit, much less on a good Chardonnay.) As a thank you, and to prepare for my in-laws’ upcoming visit to New York, we bought a few bottles of red wine. My husband had also – I can’t remember why – decided he wanted to drink bourbon.

So what else is a good Christian wife to do when she sees a bottle labeled “Redemption” but tell her husband to buy it? I’m pretty sure that’s what John Calvin would do, right? (Martin Luther, of course, was a beer guy.) Not that I had to flex many of my persuasive powers: As I said, he was on a bourbon kick for some mysterious reason. (For the purposes of this post, I’m not going to dwell on Redemption’s problematic claim that it’s a “true reflection of ‘America’s Native Spirit.'”)

Now, my experience with hard liquor is very limited. My husband is a scotch drinker, but scotch to me tastes exactly like a band-aid smells – rubbery, sharp, and with a whiff of bodily damage having taken place somewhere. Bourbon doesn’t rate much better with me, although the smell is more nail polish remover than plastic adhesive. So believe me when I say that the only reason I chose this particular bottle was its name. (There’s probably some sub-SAT level analogy there – choosing a book : its cover :: choosing a liquor : its name. Alas, I think analogies have been scrubbed from the SAT, which means millions of high schoolers are now illiterate in the mysterious symbology of analogies. Which I think was one of the rejected tracks from Schoolhouse Rock?)

Not that it matters, since I have no idea what a “good” bourbon should taste like. My husband seemed to like it okay, although he quickly moved on from straight shots to making Old Fashioneds with Angostura bitters. He hasn’t chosen to re-purchase Redemption, though. (That sounds like the boozy equivalent of re-committing yourself to Jesus, which, to my recollection, every good Nazarene does at least half a dozen times a year.)

Last week, I visited Wilmore, Kentucky, home of Asbury Theological Seminary, for a conference. Since Kentucky is the birthplace of bourbon, it only made sense to pick some up as a souvenir for my husband, whose Redemption had long run dry. (The puns are endless.) While my traveling companion Larry and I were hunting down a liquor store on the way to the Bluegrass Airport, three different people recommended Woodford Reserve as the best local version.

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The people at Woodford Reserve, besides having apparently thoroughly mobilized the airport-adjacent population of Kentucky on their behalf, are conscientious folks. I couldn’t even click on their website without putting in my birthdate to prove I am above legal drinking age. I am more than a little confused by this precaution, given that the limit for legal consumption of html is somewhere around infinity. Their website also helpfully informed me that their bourbon has zero caffeine, zero carbs, zero protein, zero sodium, and zero sugar and is friendly to butterflies, watercress, and native white pond lilies. Except for the part where it can cause inebriation, lead to poor romantic choices, and smells like I should be scrubbing my toenails with it, this makes it no worse for your health and arguably better for the environment than Diet Coke.

My husband likes the way the Woodford tastes, too. He said it tastes like “burning velvet.” (My oldest daughter says this would be a great name for a band. She’s too young to have heard of the Flaming Lips.) Asked for a comparison to Redemption, he thought for a second and said, “The Redemption had the burning, not the velvet. And not even as much burning.”

So there you go, folks. Better than Redemption, and with more burning. Do with that what you will.

(P.S. I made gentle fun of the Nazarenes here, but I grew up with them and consider them my family. I jest with love.)

 

 

Advent Reflection: God’s Plan to Heal the World

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This morning, as I was thinking and praying about my next Advent reflection, the news was coming in about the bombing in the subway tunnels of Midtown Manhattan. Thankfully, there were only a few minor injuries and the bomber was caught.

In light of the attack this morning, here are my thoughts on the name “Mighty God.” I will post the missing reflection on “Counselor” later this week.

For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. – Isaiah 9:6.

READ

Jeremiah 23:5-6

“For the time is coming,”
says the Lord,
“when I will raise up a righteous descendant
from King David’s line.
He will be a King who rules with wisdom.
He will do what is just and right throughout the land.
And this will be his name:
‘The Lord Is Our Righteousness.’
In that day Judah will be saved,
and Israel will live in safety.

REFLECT & PRAY

“Living between the resurrection of Jesus and the final coming together of all things in heaven and earth means celebrating God’s healing of the world, not his abandoning of it” – N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope

This morning, a bomb exploded in a subway station in Midtown Manhattan. It did very little harm, and the would-be suicide bomber has been captured. But we know there are more people like him bent on violence of one kind of another, all over the world. Everywhere we turn, there are “wars and rumors of wars.”

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It seems only fair to wonder: Where is God and why isn’t he doing anything about all of this?

Centuries ago, God gave the prophet Jeremiah a glimpse into his plan. He told Jeremiah he would send a King unlike any other – a perfect ruler who would bring wisdom, justice, and security. He would bring his divided people back together, back from war and exile. The new King would give his people his righteousness. He would restore their ability to live in a rich, intimate relationship with God.

God’s promise, given through Jeremiah, brought much-needed hope at a time when his people were caught in political turmoil, fear, and heartache. And it brings hope to us today.

Jesus, our Mighty God, came to be King not just of Israel but to all of us. When Jesus defeated death and evil at the cross, he began his reign. He began extending his rule over everyone and everything, a process of healing and restoration that will only be complete when he returns to earth again. In that day, he will bring lasting peace, prosperity, and joy to all of creation. As N.T. Wright explains, God hasn’t abandoned the world; he is healing it.
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More than ever, we need Jesus to come and bring his promised peace. While we wait, we have the incredible privilege of working alongside Jesus, to bring healing and hope in our own spheres of influence. Sometimes that might not feel like much, but empowered by the Holy Spirit, we can work and pray, with faith, towards that time when Jesus’ reign is complete.

OBEY

Speak to Jesus about your hopes and fears for today and for the future. Ask him to give you a vision for his “healing of the world” and how you can play a part in it. Pray for the courage and faith to follow your calling.

Ask the Holy Spirit to show you a person in need of encouragement. Ask Jesus what words of hope he has for that person. Contact that person and pass on Jesus’ words.

Advent Reflection: Jesus’ Words of Life

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Each week of Advent, I’ll be posting two reflections on a different name of Jesus as given in Isaiah 9:6. This week’s name is “Counselor.” 

Guest writer: Mimi Otani, crazy4jazz.com

For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. – Isaiah 9:6.

READ

John 1:14-18

So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.

John testified about him when he shouted to the crowds, “This is the one I was talking about when I said, ‘Someone is coming after me who is far greater than I am, for he existed long before me.’

From his abundance we have all received one gracious blessing after another. For the law was given through Moses, but God’s unfailing love and faithfulness came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us.”

REFLECT AND PRAY

A good counselor is truthful as well as gracious. Jesus’ Apostles tell us that as we speak the truth in love, we will grow more like Christ (Eph 4:15).

Counselors guide others with words. Words, especially eloquent words, can have a strong effect on people. They can be wise or they can be unwise. They can help or hurt. Therefore, a speaker or writer must take great care before expressing them. Once uttered or published, words cannot be taken back – one cannot un-ring the bell.

If human words are powerful, then how much more powerful are God’s words? His words created the whole universe and the beginning of time. Such powerful words without grace could destroy us all.

But God’s power is not aimed at our destruction but at bringing us life. Jesus, the Word in human form, reveals the Father’s heart to us by “making his home among us.” He comes to us with love and a gentle spirit (1 Cor 4:21).

In your prayer time today, ask Jesus to reveal to you what kinds of words you have spoken today to yourself and to others. Ask Jesus to show you where your words have been hurtful or helpful, whether you have spoken truth with love or used it as a weapon. As Jesus brings your words to mind, respond with either thanks for how your words brought life or by asking for forgiveness for how they caused pain. Finally, ask Jesus to speak his own words to you. Consider bringing to him a problem or a question you have been dealing with, and hear what loving counsel he has for you this Advent season.

OBEY

What have you heard from Jesus during your prayer time? He may be leading you to ask for forgiveness for harsh words spoken or inviting you to say something life-giving to a person you will encounter this week. Or, he may offer you steps to address the problem you are facing. Whatever Jesus says to you, offer him your love and gratitude for his presence with you, and respond in obedience.

Advent Reflection: Drawn into Christ’s Love

656b8228-6f39-443c-82fd-0c3f0771c483An Advent series on the Names of Jesus from Isaiah 9:6.

Guest writer: Mercy Perez

Name of Jesus: “Wonderful”

READ

Romans 11:33

O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable are His judgments
and unfathomable are His ways!

REFLECT & PRAY

When I was a child and found myself in a difficult situation I would run to my mother for help. I remember, on one occasion, twirling my hair around a hairbrush and not able to undo it. My hair was wound tight on that hairbrush. My mom, with all the patience in the world, sat me between her legs and masterfully freed my hair.

As a child, I ran to my mother because she was always there. She was constant in meeting my basic needs. I grew to trust her for answers and guidance.

As an adult, I have learned that God knows me better than I know myself and it is a good thing to seek his wisdom and guidance in making life choices.

There is one thing that I have learned as I read the stories and events in the Bible; God does not follow anyone’s plans. His ways are unconventional and I must not put limitations on what He can do and does.

He promised a nation – as many descendants as there are the stars in the sky – would come from a 100-year-old man and a barren wife, and it was so (Ex. 32:13).

He made a passage of safety for his people by opening the Red Sea and they walked on dry ground (Ex. 14:21).

He also promised a Savior, not only for the Jewish nation but for all people.

Born of a virgin, in a stable, Jesus lived a humble life and died on a tree. Yet he turned the world upside down with a message of the kingdom of God, a message of reconciliation.

God’s love for us is deep and unceasing. He can do the impossible. And all that he has done and continues to do is for the purpose of drawing us closer to him, through the reconciliation of his son.

In your prayer time today, start by acknowledging to God that his ways are more than we can know or understand. Praise him for his wondrous riches, power, and knowledge.

Ask Jesus to bring to mind that one thing, or that one situation, that has kept you from drawing closer to him. Then, ask him to give you the strength, wisdom, and knowledge to face and overcome whatever is drawing you away.

OBEY

As you hear Jesus’ voice, ask for his help to respond with trust. Believe he is working in your life, in your situation, and in your struggle. Take a moment to be still, letting your loving, wonderful Savior draw you further into his love.