Taking the time to learn about the interests of someone you care about is a great way to strengthen your relationships — sometimes, even when those interests are something you don’t like.

football fans.3bugsmomEric loves football.

I could count on my fingers how many football games I watched before marrying him.

To me football was an exceedingly dull waste of time. Who in their right mind would want to spend all Sunday watching game after game after game? Well, it turned out Eric did.

At first I did other things while Eric sat enthralled in front of the TV, shouting for joy at random displays of manliness involving catching a ball and running down a field.

One day I realized I’m married to a man who loves football, and because I failed to understand why, I thought I’d attempt to comprehend my husband’s fascination with an oddly shaped pig-skin and some eighty men trying to make each other eat grass.

I committed to sit and knit through watch one game a week. I chose the game based on if I liked the teams’ mascots or colors. (If I was going to watch something I didn’t enjoy, I might as well avoid ugly teams. Sorry Broncos.)

“Knit one, pearl two, knit one, pearl…” would be going along in my brain when Eric would exclaim, “Go, go, go, go,” or “Get him! Sack him!” I had no idea what “him” Eric was referring to, or what a “sack” was, but I would look up just in time to see a pile of bodies or some guy being chased down the field.

Over the course of a few weeks, I started picking up on key words: turn over, field goal, punt, kick-off return, and the like; but I didn’t know what any of them meant.

One game I asked Eric, “What’s a down?” He looked at me in surprise. I’m not sure if he was offended by me interrupting the game, or shocked that I asked him a question about football after quietly “watching” it for weeks. Either way, he regained his composer quickly and politely answered my question.

Slowly I began learning the basics: What was a penalty, what was special teams, and how did that yellow line get across the field so quickly? Eric never tired of answering the same questions many times over.

After an entire season, though I loved seeing Eric’s excitement for football, mine was yet to blossom. I still found the games boring, even though by this time I understood the fundamentals.

But I stuck with it. The next year I continued to watch one game per week.

Then came 6 October 2003.

The Indianapolis Colts were playing at the home of number one rated defense in the NFL, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Fourth quarter…

Less than four minutes left…

Tampa Bay: 35…

Indy: 14…

What followed was one of the greatest comebacks in NFL history.

For the rest of the game, I found my knuckles were white due to clenching my until-then-forgotten knitting needles (I would relax my hands only to notice I was doing it again a minute later).

I realized I was holding my breath.

The time for every play, though only a few seconds, seemed stretched like homemade taffy as those seemingly impossible 21 points were achieved in less than four minutes.

I had never seen anything like it. (Four minutes!)

Then Indy actually won in overtime when a field goal that was deflected by a Buc, somehow made it the 29 yards, then bounced off from the right upright, yet still went in.

What are the odds?

And through all of this I was a stereotypical football fan — hooting and hollering, wrapped up in the excitement, as this underdog team pulled off the unimaginable.

Eric’s interest in football was now my own.

I moved from passively being in the same room as my husband to actively spending time doing something with my husband. Watching football became something we did together — playfully fighting when we rooted for different teams and feeding off from each other’s excitement when we wanted the same team to win.

My new found interest blessed me in other relationships as well. Following football is a major pastime among most guys I know. Being able to discuss football with a level of clarity has allowed me to have better relationships with coworkers and friends.

Strong communication is essential in a healthy relationship, and when communication centers around a shared interest, it becomes exponentially meaningful, fun, and entertaining.

Think about it. How wonderful is it for you to be able to discuss something you find thrilling with someone else who knows what you’re talking about?

I’m not telling you to go and learn about football, but if there is something your friend or spouse values, take the time to discover what it is all about. You’ll start to see the beauty in it, and your relationship will grow.

Image: ©iStockphoto.com/3bugsmom

Healthy relationships are built on universal principles — rules and guidelines that apply to a vast majority of situations and can be found in the teachings of the greatest prophets, sages, gurus, and philosophers. I’d like to share affirmations of relationship principles from half-way around the globe.

Recently, I introduced myself to basic concepts, history, and scriptures from major Eastern religions. The main text I used for this study was Scriptures of the World’s Religions by James Fieser and John Powers, supplemented by many conversations with loved ones and mentors, and what I could find on Wikipedia.

Cultural differences made many of the passages bewildering. I felt disconnected with scripture due to lacking personal experience with the foreign circumstances they were written for. To overcome this, I generalized the passages until I found something I could relate to.

I am not an expert on Eastern religions, and I’m aware that what I say is strongly influenced by my own beliefs. I’m not writing in order to pass judgment on these religions but to show how through learning about them, I’ve developed a deeper understanding of what it means to be a friend and husband.

People are More Important Than Things

Hindu Aum.Wikimedia CommonsThere the sun has risen, and here my good fortune has risen. Being a clever woman, and able to triumph, I have triumphed over my husband.

I am the banner; I am the head. I am the formidable one who has the deciding word. My husband will obey my will alone, as I emerge triumphant….

The oblation that Indra made and so became glorious and supreme, this is what I have made for you, O gods. I have become truly without rival wives.

Without rival wives, killer of rival wives, victorious and pre-eminent, I have grabbed for myself the attraction of the other women as if it were the wealth of flighty women.

I have conquered and become pre-eminent over these rival wives, so that I may rule as empress over this hero and over the people.

Hindu hymn from Rg Veda

In the hymn above, a woman competed for her husband’s love. Does this happen in Western society? Yes, and not just wife for husband, but husband for wife, child for parent, parent for child, even friend for friend. If this is going on in your life, it needs to stop.

People are more important than things. A spouse is more important than a friend. If there is a “who” competing against a “what” for your love, you’d do well to rearrange your priorities. If your spouse or child is competing against a friend for your love, make the choice to end that competition. Ensure your family is foremost in your life.

Women Deserve Honor

Women must be honored and adorned by their fathers, brothers, husbands, and brothers-in-law, who desire (their own) welfare.

Where women are honored, there the gods are pleased; but where they are not honored, no sacred rite yields rewards.

Where the female relations live in grief, the family soon wholly perishes; but that family where they are not unhappy ever prospers.

In that family where the husband is pleased with his wife and the wife with her husband, happiness will assuredly be lasting….

Hindu scripture from The Laws of Manu

This is one of the most beautiful passages I came across in my studies. Kristin continuously amazes me with her humble strength, as does my mother, and so many of my female friends. Women are the toughest creatures in creation; how well they deserve honor!

How to Love a Woman

By a girl, by a young woman, or even by an aged one, nothing must be done independently, even in her own house.

Hindu scripture from The Laws of Manu

This brings up one of the sore spots found in many religions. By interpretation, this verse could be read as women are inferior, women need to be supervised, or women should not be independent. I disagree with these interpretations.

When I read this verse, I do not see how a woman should act. I see how one who loves a woman should act. This is not a commandment to women, but to those who love them.

Women should be supported in their endeavors: this is why they should never be independent. Not because they should never choose to be independent, but because they should never need to choose to be independent — they should have the support of those who love them.

Choose Love

Sikh Khanda.Wikimedia CommonsWhen husband and wife sit side by side, why should we treat them as two?

Outwardly separate, their bodies distinct, yet inwardly joined as one.

Comply with whatever your Spouse may desire, never resisting, spurning deceit….

Obey commands in total surrender, this is the fragrance to bring….

Abandon self-will, the Beloved draws near; no cunning will ever avail.

Be humble in manner and practice restraint, let sweetness of speech be your prayer.

Filled with the spirit of truth and contentment, the family’s pride and joy.

The one who is constant in goodness and virtue is cherished and loved by the Spouse.

Sikh scripture from Sukhmani Sahib

This is the best explanation of “the two will become one flesh” mystery of Christian marriage I’ve come across. The passage isn’t addressed to either husband or wife but to both. Both husband and wife should submit to their spouse’s desires. Both should “obey commands in total surrender.” Both should lose themselves when around the other.

This poem is delightful because it depicts love as an act of service. So often in society, influenced by Hollywood’s view of romance, we forget that love is more than a feeling — that it’s a verb as well as a noun.

Love is not just a circumstance, and it isn’t something you can’t control. Love is not only possible but inspiring and divine if continued when the feeling has faded. Choosing to love is the surest way to rekindle an ebbing spark.

Take Action:

  • Seek out and live by universal principles.
  • Study the works of the greatest minds in history (Kris and I have provided a recommended reading list, What’s on Our Shelves, on the right side of this blog).
  • Write down your responsibilities, prioritize them, and live by that ranking.
  • Make the choice to love those around you even when you don’t feel like it. 

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.

James 1:19

Empathetic listening is one of the easiest and most important ways to keep women happy. Women feel validated in a relationship when they feel understood. They are quality-driven in their relationships. They share their feelings simply to be listened to.

They talk about problems without looking for solutions (because it makes them feel better, which is more important than actually solving the problem). Women communicate with the hope someone will empathize with them.

Kristin’s Story:

I have a friend who struggled with when to add a child to her family. We had casually discussed our thoughts and feelings on that topic before, but one day things were different.

I found myself putting in my own two-cents but slowly discovered that wasn’t what she needed. Whenever I interjected my own thoughts into the discourse she did not exchange or connect with me as she usually did.

It was like I was placing detours in the conversation, and my friend just impatiently listened before continuing down the road she was on originally.

Shouting at Brick Wall.PinkTagI paused to take an objective view of what was going on. Suddenly I could tell that this was no longer a far away issue — my friend had reached a point where this internal conflict needed to be resolved.

She was agitated. Struggling with this decision caused her mind to wonder from immediate tasks. I could almost see the knots inside of her, twisted upon each other.

Kristin’s Analysis:

Here she was, baring an intimate part of herself, and I was turning the conversation into something about me (my views; my opinions), which was making matters worse.

She needed to have the opportunity to release all the toxins this conflict was creating, and that release was through the use of words.

So I became slow to speak and tried to let her know through short words and body language that she wasn’t alone — that I supported her in whatever the decision ended up being.

I didn’t try to solve her problem; I just listened. And later, I shared in her joy when she shyly told me she was pregnant.

It is hard to find something greater than a friend who is willing to unselfishly listen. When a trial is overwhelming you, a friend who sacrifices time and energy in order to listen is a true companion.

Eric’s Story:

Last week, right after Kris and I finished hashing out what this article would be about, she started sharing what was being discussed in her Bible study group.

They were discussing fellowship, and Kristin was upset.

She asked questions such as, “Why isn’t there more fellowship in churches?” and, “How can the sixty seconds after the Pastor says, ‘Go greet someone you don’t know’ be considered fellowship?”

She went on (“Fellowship should be about accountability and friendship”) for a couple more minutes.

Because she was excited, I began answering. “You can’t expect real fellowship the first time you attend a new church…. Relationships take time to develop…. Friendships don’t happen overnight….”

And right in the middle of my tirade, it hit me. I said, “…for children. Isn’t that what it means to be an adult — to be responsible for your own life? [This is where it hit.] And I’m having a typical male reaction, aren’t I?” We both laughed.

Eric’s Analysis:

The truth is that Kristin wasn’t really complaining about fellowship. She knows relationships aren’t instantaneous. She knows churches hold numerous functions to foster friendships. She knows sixty seconds of “how are you?” isn’t considered by most pastors as fellowship.

Kris didn’t want my advice. She didn’t need my solutions. She needed someone to listen, and as her husband, I should be the safest person for her to go to in order for her to get the empathy she needs.

Aside from the amusing story above, I’m usually pretty good at being an empathetic listener to Kris. I’ve grown accustomed to holding my opinions to myself and giving her undivided attention when she needs it.

Unfortunately, listening with no response isn’t always what’s needed. For all you men out there, here’s a piece of advice that will help you steer clear of a common pitfall.

When I’m unsure if Kris wants me to offer advice or solutions (because sometimes she does), I ask, “Are you looking for advice, or venting?” Nine times out of ten she responds, “Just venting.”

But this is where so many men fail in communicating with women. Guys think that because the woman is “just venting” that they don’t need to listen.

When a guy vents, he doesn’t care whether or not anybody is listening. When a guy vents, he is usually thinking out loud.

But when a woman vents, and you want to see that woman happy, her venting better be the most important thing in the world to you.

Oh, and guys, empathetic listening is much easier than most of us think.

When Kris comes home frustrated over something at work which I can’t solve (this happens a lot with Kris as an officer in the military; most of her frustrations are caused by “classified” problems), all I need to do is give her my full attention, attempt to feel her pain, then give her a hug and a kiss when she’s done. Problem solved.

The next time you find it difficult to communicate with a woman, simply listen. Do your best to place yourself in her shoes, consider what she says, ask questions in order to understand what she is going through, and validate her feelings.

She’ll trust you more, you’ll be happier, and your relationship will deepen.

Image: ©iStockphoto.com/PinkTag

Read Part One.

“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.”

Genesis 2:24

One of the keys to blissful marriage is promise, dedication and obligation to your spouse, but that does not mean you need to abandon everyone around you. It does mean commitment to your spouse obtains priority above all other commitments (save your faithfulness to God).

A proper prioritization of commitments not only allows for a beautiful marriage, it also strengthens our relationships with our friends, coworkers — everyone we come in contact with.

Kristin’s Story:

I grew up in a formal atmosphere. My family’s love for each other was a quiet comfort — like a warm blanket fresh from the laundry. We respected each other’s privacy and did not intrude unless invited.

Eric’s family, on the other hand, was like an alien culture to me.

  • Where my family was quiet, Eric’s was loud.
  • Where mine was private, Eric’s was embarrassingly open.
  • Where mine was small (I grew up with two siblings), Eric’s (with seven children, and more aunts, uncles, and cousins than I care to count) was enormous.
  • Where mine was a warm blanket, Eric’s was a day at the carnival.

Upon engagement, my in-laws were ecstatic and took me in as if they were gaining a new daughter.

I confess their joy was a bit overwhelming.

Due to their exuberance, I felt intruded upon simply because their boundaries differed from those I grew up with. I used my formal politeness as a shield to keep them out. I was often uneasy inside.

Eric was a great help during all of this. I think he “left” his family before we met, so when we became engaged, he was ready to cling to me.

He patiently encouraged me to spend time with his family while being a buffer when I found interactions uncomfortable.

After seven years now, I have opened myself up to my in-laws. I have shed most of the formalness and am more casual with them (as they are interacting with one another).

Kristin’s Analysis:

Eric’s family had their priorities straight, so leaving them was a simple affair.

Commitment HandsThey supported us in becoming a family, and they created an atmosphere where I felt comfortable to go to them for advice, but I could also ignore them and focus on Eric without offending them.

I feel the biggest difference between the way my family reacted to my engagement and the way Eric’s did is that my family was not prepared to see me leave, where Eric’s had already let go.

Eric’s Story:

While going through my rebellious teenage years (and I rebelled against my parents to the point it shames me), I terrorized my mother.

After fighting with her over something I can’t remember, my father came to me and said in his you-need-to-pay-attention voice, “I better not ever hear you talk to your mom like that again. I love her, and if I have to protect her from you, I will.”

Eric’s Analysis:

My father’s statement taught me a lesson: Your wife needs to be the most important person in you life. By prioritizing his commitments, my father was able to courageously stand up with conviction and tell me I was wrong.

One of the fundamental principles in any happy marriage is commitment to your spouse. In certain circumstances, commitment needs to be to the exclusion of others. In other situations, it needn’t be so drastic.

A shift in commitment — from the family you grew up in to the family you start — is what it means to leave your old family in order to begin a new one. If you aren’t committed, your family will suffer.

Where do your commitments lie? What are your obligations? Are any of them greater than the one to your family? Could you leave them all behind if your family needed you to?

Spend some time thinking about this. Talk it over with your loved ones. Prioritize who and what is most important to you. Here’s a little hint: A “who” that you love should always come before a “what.”

Image: ©iStockphoto.com/khilagan

For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.

Genesis 2:24

When you marry you have to leave your old family behind in order to create a new one. When you marry, you make sacred vows with your spouse, God, and nobody else. When you marry, you start a new family.

This holds true whether or not you get along with your old family. (We will talk about family you get along with in the next article.)

Kris and I have attended numerous weddings of friends and family. We’ve heard promises of love and fidelity, honor and cherishing, doing right before God, so on and so forth.

We’ve never heard, “I swear to hold the beliefs of my family dearer than your beliefs,” or anything even comparable to that statement.

When Kristin accepted my marriage proposal, a suspicious thing happened — her family abruptly went frigid. Over phone calls, they consistently delivered assumption after assumption about my character, attempting to dissuade Kristin from matrimony.

Kristin’s View:

There’s no gentle way to tell this story because there’s little gentleness about it.

A horrible thing happened. My family turned on me. At first they were concerned that I was making a hasty decision in getting married, but their unease became an excuse to throw daggers at Eric’s personality.

Girl Crying on PhoneMy heart broke, and the grief in losing my family’s trust became a living creature swallowing up all the tender, newfound joy I had in being engaged. Every phone conversation ended in heart-wrenching sorrow as I staggered under the attacks of a man they chose not to know.

Malicious gossip began spreading from and through my own family members. I heard my beautiful future plans as a wife twisted into an unrecognizable distortion. My pristine reputation was slandered. I was savagely ripped apart. I couldn’t breathe.

Intimate pieces of me were brutally torn and I couldn’t hold my wounds tight enough together to stop the bleeding. These were wounds I wasn’t sure I would survive.

Eric’s View:

As the friction between Kris and her family escalated, her conflict nurtured my own. The vigilant-protector side of me wanted to scream and fight, while the compassionate-family-man side of me wanted to see us all together, working cohesively.

I felt I could be the vigilant-protector in this situation, but I could not be the compassionate-family-man — I couldn’t force Kristin’s family to accept me, but I could fight against them.

All of us working together was ideal; fighting was pragmatic. What can you do when your choices are either impossible or undesirable?

I’m ashamed to admit that I did fight against them for a time. I convinced myself they had no right to pass judgment on Kristin’s choice; she was an adult and could decide for herself. Aggression only breeds aggression and I saw first-hand how aggression caused Kristin’s suffering.

Kristin’s Analysis:

In the end I had to make a decision, to remain a daughter and sister to my family by not getting married or to leave them and cleave to Eric; therein building a family of my own. I chose Eric, because I truly believed that he was (and still is) the perfect match for me as a husband.

Having my childhood family ties cut so severely blessed me by having Eric as my sole support for the road ahead. It gave us a jumpstart on learning how to talk to one another when things didn’t go as expected or when incorrect assumptions were acted upon. God truly can turn every bad thing to His glory.

Eric’s Analysis:

We faced a problem. Initially, we thought it was Kristin’s family didn’t like her choice in a husband. But that wasn’t the real problem. Then we thought it was Kristin had to choose either me or her family, and I had to choose either the impossible ideal or the upsetting pragmatic. Again, wrong.

Our problem was the solutions we’d come up with — where no matter what choice we made someone ended up hurt. How did we solve it? We dropped the ball. That isn’t to say we accidentally let the ball slip from our hands. It is to say we didn’t like the way the game was being scored, so we stopped.

We intentionally quit playing their game and started our own. Our new game was called “Eric and Kristin Build a Life Together,” and Kristin’s family was invited to join but no longer make the rules.

To put it simply, we stopped looking at Kristin’s family as the problem (which it never was), and started looking at how we were handling our circumstance. We gripped the problem with our oun hands; thus giving us the control.

How would Kris and I ever be able to develop a loving family together if we constantly focused on the turmoil around us? Turmoil, mind you, neither of us had any control over.

We know our friends and family love us, but in spite of all they’ve done and said, they don’t know what is best for us. God knows, and thankfully we listen to Him.

You should too.

P.S. Today marks the first day of our seventh year of marriage, and we are happier, our relationship is hardier, and our love is more heartfelt than ever before.

Image: ©iStockphoto.com/sdominik