This past week the most amazing things happened. First, after being prompted to visit a friend we were gifted two tickets to a BYU Aspen Grove Marriage Retreat. This was two days and one night stay at Aspen Grove (near Sundance Resort), fully catered, and two days of seminars given by Dr. Jonathan Sandberg PhD. Not only was the timing of this gift absolutely perfect, it was needed and an answer to prayer.
There are very few times in life where your answer to prayer is gift wrapped for you with a shiny bow on top, but this felt like one of them. Most times answers are subtle, almost imperceptible as they are given bit by bit. I knew that this was an answer and a gift and I felt huge amounts of gratitude and amazement swell up within me as we finalized plans, dropped kids of at my mother in laws house and made our way to the mountains.
We discussed positive psychology and how so often in our relationships, when we are in a bad place we ONLY remember the bad times. We are essentially writing our story in the negative. We need to be constantly remembering the good times. Writing them down, rewriting, being grateful for those special moments and essentially rewriting our stories in the positive. We WANT to remember the positive, so we have to REMEMBER. Our current good experiences can rewrite the past, so work on your relationship, have fun together, heal and enjoy the time you have. Write that story.
Also in the first seminar Dr. Sandberg talked about the Greek philosophy of love. They believed love had 5 parts, ludus or playful, phailia or friendship, storge or familial, pragma o duty and eros or romantic. May times in our relationships we focus on just one of these five and wonder why our relationships are falling apart. In order to have a well developed abundant relationship, we need to nurture each of these five areas. To nurture ludos, we need to SCHEDULE time to have fun together each week (that doesn’t involve sex). He suggested alternating weeks to take on planning responsibilities. We then sang karaoke songs (usually upbeat love songs or disney songs)- totally bringing the playful silliness to our time at the retreat, showing us we CAN still be silly and fun together. To nourish our phailia or friendship we need to recognize that women’s friendships are different from men’s friendships. Essentially, women want meaningful conversation and men want someone to do things with. You have to step into their world and be there like they need a friend. Storge or familial love is when we as a family mourn or sacrifice together. Service is good for this as well. Showing up and being together when times are tough. Loving when someone in the family is struggling. Celebrating victories together. Eros or romantic love is not just sex (but it does include it), it also includes anything you know of that makes your spouse feel attractive, aroused and physically connected to you. Dr. Sandberg suggested that we decide which type of love we feel we need to work on, and make it a priority.
The philosophers dilemma was posed as a way that people deal with hard things. In this dilemma you have a large circle with a small circle inside. The large circle is what we see as ideal in life and the small circle is reality (all the hard stuff of real life). The first group of people are called Pollyanna’s they refuse to see the real hard stuff of life and live in a world where everything is great. The second group are the Cynics. They live only in the reality and refuse to see the ideal, they also shoot down everyone who does reach for (or live in) the ideal. The third group of people are Improvers. They live in reality but are constantly seeking the ideal. They are seeking to move people and circumstances to the ideal as they recognize and empathize with all the hard stuff that happens. Be an improver.
The second day we talked about how to repair the breach when we do have fights in our marriages. He described people as either tending to withdraw or pursue when having a fight. Pursuers want to talk about it now, they want to hash it out and will follow you around until you relent. Withdrawers will retreat from the fight, hiding in a cave to be angry and resentful. In order for any of us to have good communication in our marriages we need to have ARE, Accessibility, Response, and Engagement. We have to feel that our spouse is accessible. If they are not available to us, by either time away or emotional unavailability, we cannot hope to work on the good things. Response is a personal accountability to remain calm in your words, for pursuers they need to tone it down. Just taking the questioning down a notch and allowing some time to receive the engagement you are wanting. Engagement is the need to not withdraw, but to initiate conversation. Even if the conversation is saying that you notice there is something wrong and you want to talk about it at a specific time (later). The keys are to initiate conversation and to tone it down. Those two things will initiate the healing after the contention.
Many times we see people’s behavior as negative and want to change it. By looking just at the behavior, our intentions to change it becomes purely manipulation. When we are able to see beyond the behavior to the need it is expressing, of love, safety, connection, we see the “benevolent intent behind bad behavior”. Dr. Sandberg told the story of being in a Therapist conference and a woman showing a clip of a young woman married to an older man. He was angry, controlling, and mean. So much so that Dr. Sandberg himself was getting angry at him. Then the speaker said, “As you can see he is terrified. He is so afraid she is going to leave him he thinks that controlling her is going to make him feel more secure.” Noticing the emotion behind bad behavior is not going to change it, but it will give an insight into what the person is needing at any given time.
One way we were taught to be accessible, responsive and engaged is through validating each other in our emotions and interests. It is picking out the good part of what is said and pointing it out. It is validating the emotion behind experiences, and being emotionally attuned to the other. In therapy intimacy has 6 parts (much like the greek version of love); physical space, recreational, intellectual, emotional, sexual and spiritual. We need to work on all 6 parts to have a truly intimate relationship.
Overall, the weekend was a God-send and exactly what we needed. The last session we talked about emotional regulation and mental health. If you suspect or are dealing with mental health issues there are many ways to get help. Self help- reading, listening to podcasts and educating yourself on what it is, and how to treat it. Classes in psychotherapy. Many are probably offered in your community or free at a local university. Third party help, formal groups, and individual or family therapy. Overall I think the weekend was best summed up with a quote from Dr. Sandberg. “You don’t solve darkness by focusing on darkness. You solve darkness by focusing on light.” Let us put aside our problem saturated stories and rewrite our story with light and love and happiness.