An Important Step in Healing Marriage

A commitment to healing marriage can include this simple exercise:

Imagine you are standing on the edge of a small forest, and you can faintly see your partner through the trees, standing on the other side. Imagine the trees as the issues, hurts, and irritations that currently stand between you both, the ones that you argue about or that keep you silently fuming or withdrawn from one another.  Trees Marked for Cutting

You want to come back together as a couple, but the forest of issues and disagreements seems too thick. Your first instinct might be to pull out the axes and begin attacking the trees, chopping at them, working to resolve dozens of seemingly big relationship issues.  But you quickly discover there seem to be too many, and more trees/issues are growing all the time. What to do?

Perhaps we can learn something from a ranger tasked with keeping a real forest environment healthy. The ranger will evaluate the the trees in a given area and place a bright ribbon or splash of paint on those designated for removal. Those trees are then removed and the entire forest benefits as light and nutrients are better distributed.

I don’t want to take the analogy too far, but ask that you note a couple of parallels with your relationship management. Can you identify those issues/trees that lie between you that are truly sucking the light and life out of the marriage? Now, as a couple,  “mark” those trees and commit that your problem solving energies are going to be directed only toward those issues. Make certain the problems designated for attention are true issues that lie between you, not just sapling misunderstandings, irritants, or idiosyncrasies  that you wish your partner didn’t have.

Work together on the big trees:

  1. Clearly define the problem
  2. Use a formal communication technique to keep things under control and on track (we teach some great ones at LIFE Marriage Retreats)
  3. Commit to seeing and understanding one another’s perspective
  4. Both partners make meaningful, written commitments to one another, including promises to change when appropriate
  5. Follow through on your commitments

After working with hundreds of couples in a marriage healing retreat setting we have found that most really have only 2-4 significant trees that are damaging the relationship ecosystem. As couples focus on those issues they invariably discover that many of the other relationship-blocking issues were related to the few major issues, and fade away.

Now, what about those remaining seemingly irritating trees? Certainly some of those will be naturally taken care of in a healthier marriage environment and as both partners commit to ongoing growth and change. But it is essential that you realize that NEVER will they all go away. You will have the choice to see remaining differences as twisted sun-blocking trees, or simply as part of a fascinating and beautiful garden. You will either continue to be endlessly and uselessly frustrated by them or you will learn to appreciate your partner’s different perspectives and ways of doing things. It is your choice.

So if you are committed to a healing marriage, start with some careful but committed pruning of real problems, but also be willing to sit back and simply enjoy some of the natural and exhilarating differences between the gardeners! And if the forest seems too thick, don’t hesitate to contact LIFE Marriage Retreats.

Marriage Myths-Part 3

       I am going to combine three of the myths into one for this posting:

      1.   If we have true love then we shouldn’t have to “work” at our marriage; it will simply be a natural process.

2.      If our marriage does not have the same hormonal fireworks as our courtship and newlywed days, we are failing.

3.      We just sort of fell out of love.  


Many years ago as I was struggling to define myself and figure out why my marriage relationship seemed to be stuck and stagnant I happened to hear the Bruce Springsteen song, “One Step Up and Two Steps Back.” Springsteen comes to an important realization as he sings, “I look in the mirror and I don’t see the man I wanted to be—somewhere along the line I slipped off track; one step up and two steps back.”

As I looked in my mirror I came to the same conclusion that I had slipped off track; and then with a new sense of purpose I took accountability for my own failings and neglect of my relationship and set out on a new relationship journey, committed to a new way of growth and rebuilding. It was the best commitment I ever made.

A vibrant, living marriage relationship provides us with the greatest test to our commitment and resiliency that most of us will ever know. It is a complex organism that will both delight and humble us. It is the great schoolroom and laboratory of life that will expose all of our weaknesses and failings, even as it refines us and, if we let it, ultimately leads us to become the people we are meant to be.

Perhaps the saddest thing we see is people who waste the potentially ennobling experiences of marriage and instead complain that they “have just lost the feelings,” or criticize their partner for not meeting their picture of the “ideal.”

Marriage is meant to be a challenging, rewarding, confusing, fulfilling, frustrating, joyful crucible of experiences that constantly tests us even as it rewards us with the sweetest fruits we will ever know.

The supercharged romantic experience of early marriage is meant to decline in favor of a strong, fulfilling, and lasting companionship. This does not mean the fire and passion dies, but instead gives off a constant warmth of comfort and safety rather than sparks and explosions that exhaust and eventually jade us.

As we deal with the challenges and opportunities of marriage in healthy and learning ways we will experience more and more joy and pleasure and less and less pain and frustration. We have a choice: learn the enduring lessons marriage has to offer and discover peace and harmony; or live in the insanity of doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

One of the principles that marriage most wants to teach us is Humility. As we maintain a sense of openness and teachability everything becomes possible. From such a position we will recognize the need to develop and grow in our relationships through learning and experience. We will understand that marriage contentment and success lies much more in our willingness to change ourselves than in demanding change of our partner. We will come to learn that the key to building a better marriage is to first build a better self, then bring that better self into the relationship day by day.

If you find yourself exhausted and bedraggled in your relationship one of the best ways to get back on track is to attend a LIFE Marriage Retreat. At the Retreat you will deal with the issues and challenges that have bogged you down even as you learn the principles and skills that define every successful marriage and feel those gain traction in your heart and relationship.

Marriage Myths-Part 1

If you know of the great story, “The Odyssey,” in which Ulysses struggles to find his way home following the Trojan War, you will remember how Ulysses and his crew were lured off course by promises of emotional or sensual delights that turned out to be myths and traps designed to prevent them from reaching their yearned-for home.

The Sirens almost succeeded in luring the king and crew to their death through their enchanted song; on the Island of the Lotus the men were drugged by lassitude and a false sense of peace; and in their encounter with the Harpies they were first trapped by seemingly never ending sensual delights that appealed to their human appetites.

There are many myths surrounding marriage that also send out false signals or make bogus offers that only serve to take us farther away from the true rewards of a healthy relationship. So much that the world tells us is counterfeit, it is sometimes hard to stay on track toward real joy and fulfillment.

In this LIFE Blog and in future newsletters in the coming weeks we will point to some of those myths that couples pursue at their peril, and give you some truth with which to replace them.

In this issue we will just list some of the dangerous myths, then in later issues and postings will describe them in some detail. Do any of these sound familiar to you?

Myth #1

If we have true love then we shouldn’t have to “work” at our marriage; it will simply be a natural and easy process.

Myth #2

Finances are the number one cause of divorce (you can replace the word ‘finances’ with any number of conflicts mentioned by divorce experts).

Myth #3

If our marriage does not have the same hormonal fireworks of our courtship and newlywed days, we are failing.

Myth #4

I just made a mistake when I thought I had found my Soul Mate, and I need to quit wasting time with this lump and get looking for the real thing.

Myth #5

We just sort of fell out of love

Myth #6

Pornography (individual or shared) will bring a bit of healthy spice to a marriage and is no threat to the partners or the relationship.

Myth #7

If we could just learn a few communication tools we could fix this thing.

Myth #8

If I keep trying I just know I can change my partner!

If you found yourself nodding at any of these absurdities then you deserve a healthy dose of truth and reality. We will provide that in coming postings and issues, but in the meantime consider getting the whole beautiful truth at a LIFE Marriage Retreat.

Marriage Infections and Their Cures (part 3)

The story is told of the woman who, while making dinner one night, was asked by her daughter why she cut the end of the roast off before placing it in the pan to cook. “Because that was always the way my mother did it,” she answered. But it got her thinking so she called her mother to ask her the same question. “Because that is the way your grandmother always did it,” she informed her   Influences we bring into marriagedaughter. But that, in turn, got her to thinking so she called her own aged mother and asked, “Mom, why did you cut the end off the roasts before cooking them?” Her mother was a little surprised by the question but said, “Well dear, I had a small roasting pan so I had to cut the end off the roast for it to fit.”

We all bring enormous influences with us from our families of origin (as well as from other life experiences) into our own marriages and families. If only all those influences and habits were healthy and productive! But as much as our families loved us, most of us picked up some baggage from mom and dad and siblings that we now would just as soon not have.

We have previously talked about the fall of a great Mayan city due to allowing disease-carrying Spanish sailors inside their city walls. We compared that tragedy to that which afflicts many marriages and families as they allow negative influences into their sacred homes and relationships through the Internet and other media.

Fortunately, as we discussed in previous postings,  every family can take preventative steps to protect themselves from many of these destructive outside influences. But what of those harmful traits that are brought into the home and relationship by family members in the form of attitudes, fixed beliefs, and habits?

  • A husband brings with him from his family of origin a tendency to be harsh and even abusive toward his wife and children.
  • A wife who observed her own mother’s lack of honesty now finds it difficult to be open and honest in her own marriage.
  • Spouses whose own parents divorced have no clear vision of what a healthy marriage and family can be.
  • Parents and children, bombarded with negative messages both inside and outside the home turn cynical and selfish with those who most deserve their love.

In our Marriage Retreats we do not encourage couples to get lost in blaming their past experiences (especially in their family of origin) for their current marriage troubles, but there can be some benefit in recognizing that, along with many positives, we all bring some harmful influences with us as we form the nucleus of a new family from two very different people.

We can control usage of the Internet and turn off the TV. But how do we deal with deep-seated fears, resentments, trust issues, and negative behaviors that lie within ourselves and our partners?

At a LIFE Marriage Retreat couples learn and practice the true principles and skills that define every successful marriage and life of meaning. They discover that as they make shifts in their perspective and pay attention to the results in their lives they can lay down the negative baggage they carry and replace it with  beliefs, behaviors, and goals that keep them pointed toward their objectives of a healthy and happy marriage and family.

It is not always an easy process to overcome deep-seated beliefs and behaviors, but we see couples succeed in doing so at every Retreat.

Success will not come just by digging those harmful tendencies out and thinking the work is done.  The real key is to see and believe in principles and practices that really work. It then becomes an almost natural process to allow those to simply replace the recognized negative influences within us.

As we take accountability for what we bring into our families and relationships the way will be cleared to make the changes that will bring us back on course to the higher and happier ground we all seek.

Marriage Infections and Their Cures (part 2)

In last week’s posting we described a ruin of an ancient Mayan city (near the site of our Mayan Riviera Marriage Retreats) that had fallen, not by sword and gun, but by diseases carried by the Spanish sailors who were invited into the city. We compared the fall of that once great city to marriages and families that invite (or unknowingly bring in) influences, habits, beliefs, and attitudes that lead to the damage and destruction of relationships.In this posting we will mention a few of the destructive external agents that couples and families invite into their homes. Adults and children are equally at risk in each area mentioned. These dangers are equally destructive to marriages and the larger family, not just to children. Marriage Problems

The Internet

What a powerful source for good the Internet can be! But for almost every good there is also a trap laid for the unwary.  

  • Time that could be better spent with spouse and family are instead wasted on endless surfing and pointless playing. We often work with couples that claim they just don’t have enough time for one another but confess they spend hours on the Internet.
  • Pornography is now gaining general recognition among the medical and psychological community as an addictive behavior that reacts in the brain in ways very similar to addictive substances, and its impact on marriages is prevalent and uniformly destructive.
  • Family members can be enticed to form inappropriate virtual relationships that can lead to emotional betrayal and even physical and emotional risks.

One Idea — With your family’s involvement, set firm rules for Internet usage in your home. Make certain that computers are kept in public and open areas; set a time for the Internet to be turned off at a certain time each night; install the best filtering and tracking software available (Safe Eyes has a very good reputation).

Television, Video Games, Music, Messaging, etc.

It’s your home, protect it. Would you allow dangerous and destructive people into your home? Then why do we allow just as harmful virtual influences into our lives and homes? Stop debating and choose the safer route. Some television programming is destructive to marriages and families, case closed. Some video games and music promote excess and violence when we are seeking homes of peace and sanctuary. Many are willing to text words, images, and ideas that they would never say aloud. Husband and wife must stand firm. You deserve a home of peace and safety.

One Idea — Many of these unwholesome influences run rampant through our homes because we don’t replace them with healthier activities. The truth is that children and adults might at first moan about spending more time together, but research shows that when a couple and family spend quality time together learning and having fun, they soon become entirely willing to spend less time on television, video games, and other negative or low benefit activities. It takes planning and commitment to pull a marriage and family together, but the rewards are astronomical. Carefully managing your family’s time and access to potentially negative influences is not depriving them, but serving them.

We invite you to take your home and relationships back from the negative forces that might be holding it (and you) at siege. You can be certain that as you do so your marriage will improve and your entire family will move to higher and happier ground.

LIFE Family Trainings and LIFE Marriage Retreats will be happy to help you on this noble quest.

In our next posting we will discuss some of the damaging beliefs and attitudes that are often brought into relationships, and ways to replace them with those that are more healthy and productive.

A Thought to Reflect Upon

“Shall we just carelessly allow (ourselves and our) children to hear casual tales which may be devised by casual and uncaring persons, and to receive into their minds ideas for the most part the very opposite of those which we should wish (ourselves and) them to have when they are grown up?”


Marriage Infections and Their Cures

Some time ago we visited an ancient ruin of a once great Mayan city. As we walked through the  grounds studying the crumbling stone buildings and signs of magnificent sculpture, frescoes, and even impressive technology, it was easy to see in our imagination through the mists of 1200 years the hustle and bustle of thousands of citizens of the city involved in trade, worship, play, and all aspects of life.

The city was well situated in terms of productive soil, adequate water supply, and a defensible position on cliffs overlooking the sea. In any such setting our minds eventually come up against the question: What happened to these people? Where did they go?

At least part of the answer to that question is found in the annals of history. In the 1520’s a Spanish ship anchored just off shore from the city. It is easy to imagine the dilemma of the Mayan leaders. On  Marriage Problemsone hand they were in a secure position to defend themselves against what was a very small Spanish force, should the Spaniards prove hostile. Put they were also immensely curious about these white, bearded people and their technology that was so different from that of the Mayans. And so they invited them in.

Within a matter of just a few short months this great city was in crisis as hundreds, perhaps thousands, died from an unseen plague. Eventually the city was generally abandoned and the jungle began to relentlessly take it back.

You see, whether the Spanish were hostile or bent on destroying this city and people was irrelevant, because what they unknowingly brought into the Mayan city were European diseases, perhaps germs such as small pox and cholera. The Mayan people had no natural immunity to such diseases and were annihilated as thoroughly as though by gun and sword.

As we work with marriages and families in crisis we often can trace much of the decline back to a few choices that introduced an unseen and, at first, unfelt infection into the individuals which then proceeded to overwhelm them, and then their relationships.

In our next few postings we will point out some of those deadly “diseases” that we unknowingly invite into our lives and homes and describe the havoc they can wreak. Some of those deadly influences come through our televisions, computers, and iPods and are doubly dangerous because society simply winks at them without recognizing the toll they take. Others are erroneous beliefs and attitudes that can doom a marriage if not corrected. Still others come in the form of habits or addictions.

We will also give some ideas about how to make different choices that will invite the fresh and cleansing air of healing  and joy into our families. Because at the end of the day just as the Mayans had a choice, we all have a choice of who and what we will invite inside the walls of our families and relationships.

Mature Relationships Vs. Mexican Crabs

At a recent Marriage Retreat in San Diego we worked with a couple which had allowed competition in the relationship to tear at the foundation of the peace and well-being of the marriage. This was not simply a case of getting mad at one another over a game of Scrabble, but something that had infected all areas of their relationship as they compared who was contributing the most money to the marriage, who did the most around the house, who got the most laughs at the dinner party, or which one of them their kids liked the most. There is nothing healthy about this sort of competition in a marriage because it rarely leads to better performance in the relationship, instead driving wedges between the most important members of the family team.Once on a dock in Mexico we watched the crab fisherman unload their morning catch. Soon the dock was covered with large wooden crates, each filled with dozens of live crabs. I noticed that the crates had no lids and the fishermen were not paying much attention to the crabs, instead busying themselves with cleaning and securing their boats. As I watched some crabs climbing over their brother crabs towards the top of the crate I expected to soon see escaped crabs all over the dock.  But the fishermen knew they had little to worry about. Each time a crab made it nearly to the top of the prison, another crab would reach out a claw, grab the escapee and pull it back into the writhing mass of creatures. It was as if the crabs stuck in the crate were saying to those making a bid for freedom, “No way, Buster! If I’m stuck in here, you’re staying in here with me!” I felt like saying to them, “Silly animals, why don’t you help one another? If you would only work together you could all make it back into the sea.”But instead they continued to climb over one another, knocking each other from their lofty perches back into the morass.Such is the case with many relationships as partners jockey for position, competing with one another, often taking some perverse pleasure in seeing the other stumble, because it somehow puts them “ahead in the game.” Sometimes the spouses will chip away at one another with comparisons, pointing out how far short the other falls when compared to some other person. And so they remain, trapped in their cage, unaware that a short climb above them lies beautiful sunlight and freedom if they would only give one another a loving boost and encouragement.In our next posting we will look at the opposite of this unhealthy competition and comparing and see how a marriage evolving into a mature and sharing relationship grows in peace and a sense of mutual well-being. To see this shift in couples is one of our greatest rewards as we work with them at our Marriage Retreats and Trainings.