Leadership: Collaborating Across Generational Cohorts

Based on my birth date I am a confused Baby Boomer/Gen-Xer, because I sit in both camps depending on what study defines the age range for each generational cohort.  By my self-assessment, I primarily identify with the characteristics of the Gen-Xer.  However, no one fits all stereotypes, and I see my profile as a bell curve with my tails in the Boomer and Millennial camps.  What concerns me most about the current workplace dynamics is the lack of collaboration and appreciation that cohorts have for one another.  Has there ever been such an emotionally charged divide?

How Technology Impacts Generational Cohorts Attributes and Collaboration

Studies show that having the authority and left to their own preferences, people promote and invite into their ranks those who have similar values, interests, and styles.  What might this mean for all employees?  The likely assumption would be more cohort division and clustering of similar thinking and approaches.  When these dynamics are interwoven with current communication platforms, one would naturally forecast that there would be fewer cohorts sitting across the table from one another.  Does technology allow shared-thinking groups the ability to silo themselves and hang onto preconceived ideas and stereotypes?  Would the absence of web-meetings, working remotely, iPhones, call-in conferencing, etc. force the generations to collaborate and appreciate each other more?

No doubt, technology has expanded the width of our network, yet has it come at the expense of the depth in our relationships?  Companies bring more colleagues together through technology platforms, yet have they invested the corresponding resources to foster effective collaboration?

How to Build Bridges toward Collaboration

How can generations learn to appreciate and collaborate more with each other to deliver superior solutions?  Part of the answer involves understanding the impact of mindset.  Will people hang onto their beliefs and look for evidence to support how they feel, or will they choose to engage, brainstorm, and build a superior team?

Where would one start? First, acknowledge that technology will continue to be a force that shapes team collaboration across all cohorts. Second, appreciate that generational cohorts are shaped by their macros experiences that form their worldview. Third, be cognizant that people are individuals and some do not hold the same characteristics of their birthed cohort. Fourth, choose to respect and actively work with each style to extract the best of what it can contribute to the situation.

Gen CommunicationAs the table suggests, cohorts’ preferences differ in what and how to communicate, problem-solve, decide, and lead.  Most would agree that good communication is a key competency in influencing outcomes and achieving goals; therefore, colleagues need to answer three questions regarding their communication: (1) how much, (2) how to, and (3) to whom.

Given how technology has expanded access to information and communication platforms,  it should come as no surprise how cohorts’ styles and mediums have evolved.  Baby Boomers have a more guarded view of information and prefer face-to-face communication; whereas, Millennials are more collaborative and utilize social media to communicate information. Each style has its merits and drawbacks.  Millennials readily share information so teams can make decisions.  Baby Boomers prefer to make more decisions within their peer group and inform the team.  The argument could be made that the Millennials’ preferred communication style lends itself to better decision-making because of its increased diversity and inclusion.  However, the drawback is the increased risk that sensitive information would be leaked as more employees are involved in the collaborative process.

How to Collaborate through Consensus with the End Goal in Mind

Generational cohort preferences are rooted in human judgment in how best to work towards a goal.  For example, many of my work processes are classic Gen-Xer.  My leadership style takes the form of coaching, and when I am asked to lead a meeting, my first inclination is to create a PowerPoint slide deck to lead the discussion.

I propose that cohorts will only increase in collaboration when they choose to de-emphasize a preferred, prescriptive process and focus on developing the best way to meet the objectives.   Teams should allow their members some nonjudgmental space and flexibility to carry out their best work.  Every member must learn to appreciate and find value in the other work styles as well as remain flexible.  The surprise outcome may be the discovery of a hybrid team work style that delivers the right product at the right time.

Generational cohort conflict cannot be solved, because it is rooted in different values and worldviews.  Poorly led organizations ignore cohort differences.  The better organizations seek ways to manage this conflict, and the best companies leverage these differences to win.


HE21118Davis_07-medAbout the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional coach and consultant with an extensive background in leadership and business development.  She coaches individuals as well as designs and facilitates workshops that address her clients’ specific business needs.  She has a passion to help organizations fully engage all its employees.  Reach out to her at sandra.s.dillon@hotmail.com or 281.793.3741 to further the conversation and determine how she can help you grow your business.

Networking: How to Think of It as Fun When You Think It’s Not

Networking 5You probably read the title of this article and don’t necessarily agree that networking is fun, but you were intrigued enough to read more.  If you don’t think networking is fun, we probably have a different definition or approach.

I know plenty of people who are highly networked and consider it a necessity of doing business, yet I know far more who say they need to start networking in case they lose their job.  Sadly, many people don’t practice networking until they need something such as a job lead, referral, or recommendation.  Networking then becomes a fearful activity as they live in a tight time frame to secure a job while managing the risk of rejection.

I propose that the definition of networking extends beyond a job and the industry connections where one earns a living.  Networking is a life skill and a fun one to practice across all life relationships. Why?  Because networking is not about asking for anything but about giving to others.

People were designed for networking, because people were designed to be in relationship with one another. Networking is about building and sustaining relationships. People get off track when they approach networking as a give and take or a score to be kept. Ninety-nine percent of networking should be giving and blessing others without the expectation of receiving anything in return. When we give, how can we be rejected? If you approach every contact as an opportunity to help, you will be surprised how your relationships strengthen.

So how do you start networking with sincerity?  Ask powerful questions to learn more about people, where they are from, and their interests.  You might find some interesting common ground off which to build.  You might deepen the conversation by asking “-est” (extreme) type questions such as: 1) What is the biggest challenge you have faced? (2) What accomplishment are you proudest? and (3) What is your best piece of advice?  You may then ask, “How can I help you?”  You’ll be surprised how easy and fun it is to have a conversation when you only have a desire to connect and serve.  When you do eventually find yourself in a position of need, you may find that your network turns around and asks you, “How can I help you?”


HE21118Davis_07-medAbout the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional coach and consultant with an extensive background in leadership and business development.  She coaches individuals as well as designs and facilitates workshops that address her clients’ business needs.  She has a passion to help organizations fully engage all its employees.  Reach out to her at sandra.s.dillon@hotmail.com or 281.793.3741 to further the conversation and determine how she can help you grow your business.

Communication Intelligence: How Would You Rate Your Listening Skills?

listening 3The media is flooded with research and articles on Intelligence Quotient (IQ), Emotional Intelligence/Quotient (EI/EQ), and their role in personal life success.  On the contrary, few studies have mentioned the importance of Communication Quotient/Intelligence (CQ/I).  Whereas IQ measures mental capacity to learn and EQ the use of emotional information to guide thinking and behavior, CI reflects the ability to communicate effectively.  Communication intelligence is a complex concept encompassing both effective speaking and listening skills.

In American culture, extroversion is valued more than introversion and speaking is emphasized over listening.  For those who may not have thought about this concept, I would ask, “When was the last time you were complimented for being a good listener?”  Perhaps the only time you can recall was as a child, when your parent thanked you for listening and doing what you were asked after behavior to the contrary.  More likely than not, you have complimented colleagues and friends on a giving a powerful speech or presentation and leading a great discussion.  Have you complimented a peer for listening well?  Whether the environment is school, work, or home, there are few rewards for listening well and in contrast typically punishments or negative repercussions.

Listening TableNot only are people not rewarded for good listening, they are generally not highly skilled at it.  Why? I would propose, because effective listening is rarely taught.  Burley-Allen (1995) compared four communication modes with their percentage of time used and formal years of training.  Although the majority of communication (40%) is spent in listening mode, the American education system spends a fraction of the time teaching effective listening skills. Instead, most of our learning is modeled by our parents in early childhood and reflected in our reward and punishment patterns.  Our communication intelligence is built on the socialization process started in our families.

Listening is a skill that everyone can improve upon.  You first need to understand where you are on the listening effectiveness continuum.  Step one is gaining self-knowledge: being aware of your listening abilities and evaluating their effectiveness.  We can all benefit by reflecting on our predispositions and assumptions brought into our conversations and what filters we use to interpret messages.  Burley-Allen (1995) describes filters such as memories, values, strong beliefs, expectations, attitudes, past experiences, prejudices, assumptions, and feelings.

We should all be conscious of our filters and how they are affecting our ability to listen well.  Partnering with a coach can help you develop a plan to improve your listening abilities and communication effectiveness.  The reward?  Building listening capacity and skill proficiency increases personal success in relationships and leadership influence.

Reference

Burley-Allen, M. (1995). Listening: The Forgotten Skill. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons


HE21118Davis_07-medAbout the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional coach, consultant, and mentor with an extensive background in business development, leadership, and ministry which provides her with the experience, relational skills, and proven processes to move individuals, couples, and leaders to higher levels of personal awareness, effectiveness, and goal achievement.  She coaches in a variety of areas including leadership, life purpose/plans, business, finances, and premarital/marriage.  She can be reached at sandra.s.dillon@hotmail.com or 281.793.3741.

 

What is Your Primary Love Language?

Couple under umbrella

Love is a verb, not a feeling

As a marriage coach and mentor, couples ask me what one book I would recommend that would help them have a strong and lasting marriage.  Without a doubt, my answer is The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman. From my perspective, this book is a must-read for any couple who is seriously dating, engaged, or even married.  People who are single and will begin dating or are dating can also greatly benefit by investing the time to understand the key principles that satisfy their needs and build love in connection.

The concept of the love languages is incredibly powerful in its simplicity. What are these 5 love languages? Chapman (2015) lists them as (1) quality time, (2) acts of service, (3) words of affirmation, (4) gifts, and (5) physical touch.  He proposes that everyone needs to receive a least a little of each language but that one has at least one or two primary languages.  When people do not receive the bulk of their love through their primary love languages, they will not feel truly loved or connected with their partner.

Without understanding the concept of these five love languages, people love others in the languages that predominately speak to them.  For example, if a man has the primary love languages of quality time and physical touch, he will feel love and connection by holding hands, hugging, and kissing while enjoying a festival without the distraction of phones and social media.  If his partner feels love primarily through gifts and acts of service, she will likely enjoy spending time with him but will feel more loved by receiving a bouquet of flowers while he offers to take out her trash before they head out on their date.

There is no better or worse love language, and none of the love languages have a gender bias. Communicating your primary languages and purposefully acting in ways that align with his or hers will grow and deepen the relationship. Love is not necessarily a feeling but a verb, the act of loving your partner in the ways that speak love to him or her.

Some couples ask me whether you should partner with someone who has the same primary love languages.  The truth?  Plenty of people, who do not have the same primary love languages, have wildly successful marriages.  For those who overlap in their top languages, loving each other is easy as love is given and received in the same way.  Naturally effortless!  If your primary love languages are different, it will likely take more conscious thought, energy, and effort, but hopefully after practice, it becomes second nature.  I encourage you to buy the book, take the quiz at the end, tell your partner of your primary languages, and start loving your partner in their desired love languages.

Reference

Chapman, G. (2015). The five love languages: The secret to love that lasts. Chicago, IL: Northfield Publishing.


144-2 - CopyAbout the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional coach, consultant, and mentor with an extensive background in business development, leadership, and ministry which provides her with the experience, relational skills, and proven processes to move individuals, couples, and leaders to higher levels of personal awareness, effectiveness, and goal achievement.  She coaches in a variety of areas including life purpose and plans, business, finances, and premarital/marriage.  She can be reached at sandra.s.dillon@hotmail.com or 281.793.3741.

Are You Listening? What Did You Hear?

Attentively ListeningEffective listening is one of the most demanding components of any communication exchange, because it involves a mental process that requires self-discipline and demands tremendous amounts of focused energy.  As a life coach, my profession requires that I demonstrate a high proficiency in effective listening, and I must admit, I have to continually work at maintaining this skill.  Without continued practice, it is easy to slip into old and more comfortable listening habits.  The good news?  Effective listening is not an innate skill but one that everyone can learn and master.

What is effective listening?  Burley-Allen (1995) defines specific elements of effective listening which include (1) taking in information while remaining empathetic and nonjudgmental, (2) acknowledging the speaker in a way that invites the conversation to continue, and (3) providing encouraging feedback that carries the other person’s idea one step further.   Effective listening is harder than you might think to practice, because it involves not just tuning into the other person but tuning into oneself.  Have you had the chance to listen carefully to what you said and how you said it?  Have you ever recorded one of your serious or passionate conversations?  If you have, were you surprised in how you came across in the conversation?  Try it!  Next time you plan to have an important discussion, consider using effective listening techniques, record your conversation, and review the recording.  The feedback may surprise you, while providing you with valuable information in self-awareness and self-reflection.

Reference

Burley-Allen, M. (1995). Listening: The Forgotten Skill (2nd ed.). New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons.


144-2 - CopyAbout the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional coach, consultant, and mentor with an extensive background in business development, leadership, and ministry which provides her with the experience, relational skills, and proven processes to move individuals, couples, and leaders to higher levels of personal awareness, effectiveness, and goal achievement.  She coaches in a variety of areas including life purpose and plans, business, finances, and premarital/marriage.  Email: sandra.s.dillon@hotmail.com

 

Marriage: Uncomplicated

Mr and MrsToday’s marriages are more complicated than ever before.  A half century ago, the American marriage was simpler in its expectations and roles.  It was a male-female union to which the overwhelming majority of adults committed.  Divorce was not a chosen option, because it was penalized with societal ostracism.  Young adults would routinely marry their high school sweethearts, or those who were university bound would marry their college steady.  Marriage was the assumed relationship institution which led to the saying that girls went to college primarily to get their MRS degree—signified by a marriage proposal from a well-educated gentleman before graduation.

A successful marriage was defined by key behaviors and milestones such as a husband securing a well-paying job, buying a new family car, taking a home mortgage in the burbs, having children and grandchildren.  Both husband and wife had predetermined roles to play.  Husbands strived to work for the big company, measured success by promotions, brought home a paycheck to support his stay-at-home wife who cooked, tended to the children, and volunteered at the PTA.  Women could be teachers and nurses but were expected to give up their careers when their first child was born.

Fast forward to today, where the definition of marriage and its gender composition have challenged the mid-twentieth century design.  Marriage today is more complex and requires increased skills in communication, conflict management, and negotiation (Markman, Stanley, & Blumberg, 2010).  Why?  Because less is automatically assumed and accepted, and more needs to be decided.

Spouses are entering marriage with higher expectations of what marriage should be and what their partner will provide toward their happiness. Many couples expect their spouse to be both best friend and soul mate.  For those couples who can successfully fulfill those roles for each other, they should consider volunteering as marriage mentors to other couples who are struggling to achieve that status.

What can couples do to improve the strength and vitality of their marriage?  My initial answer would be to consider marriage coaching!  Ideally a couple should seek coaching before they say, “I do,” although it is never too late to invest in your marriage.  Marriage coaching can help with managing expectations as well as developing strategies for building and maintaining friendship, commitment, fun, and intimacy.  Although coaching can provide tools, success will be mostly influenced by the motivation to apply them.

In my marriage coaching practice, I had several couples who came with an expectation that if they could only learn some tools and skills, their marriage would improve.  What happened?  One couple voluntarily dropped coaching after 3-4 sessions, because as the husband said, “Although the tools are really useful, we just aren’t committed to put them to work in our marriage.”  I applauded his honest answer.  If either spouse is not willing to do the hard work to achieve the vision for the marriage, success will be limited or elude them all together.

Marriage is a partnership, requiring spouses to die to their selfishness in order to uplift their spouse and marriage. As I like to ask,” What are you doing that is contributing to a marriage issue?”  Many spouses are surprised by the question, and as they consider their answer, they usually come to the realization that they try to argue their position with the hope of convincing their spouse to their way of thinking. When my husband and I disagree, if I do not remind myself, we remind each other of a powerful Scripture: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye” (Matthew 7:3-5, NIV).  When you take the time to think about how you contributed or are contributing to an issue, you may surprise yourself how much more humble you engage in conflict resolution.

In marriage coaching, I work with couples to develop a vision, mission, and goals for their marriage that excited them.  Couples who bring optimism, a willingness to develop a plan, and commitment to take action usually see their marriages thrive.  Marriage coaching holds a couple accountable to develop the goals they want to work on together and move forward.  It is that simple!  Although the definition of marriage has been redefined in this modern age, it does not have to be complicated.  Skills, tools, and coaching can take what appears complicated and make it uncomplicated.

Reference

Markham, H., Stanley, S., & Blumberg, S. (2010). Fighting for your marriage. (3rd. ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.


144-2 - CopyAbout the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional coach, consultant, and mentor with an extensive background in business development, leadership, and ministry which provides her with the experience, relational skills, and proven processes to move individuals, couples, and leaders to higher levels of personal awareness, effectiveness, and goal achievement.  She coaches in a variety of areas including life purpose and plans, business, finances, and premarital/marriage.  Contact: sandra.s.dillon@hotmail.com

Live, Love, and Laugh a Lot!

Couple-LaughingThey say, “Laughter is the best medicine.”  I believe laughter is not only the best medicine for what ails you but is part of the required maintenance for a healthy and satisfying marriage.  This concept was driven home during one of my coaching sessions, where a couple was trying to figure out whether they should take their dating relationship to the next level—engagement.   Based on their survey, they were highly compatible in their emotional intelligence, communication, conflict resolution, spiritual views, financial stewardship, and interests.  What was missing?

Although they had differences in daily lifestyle habits and personality traits, theirs was not any more divergent than most couples.  Frankly, I had seen couples with greater differences that were extremely happy in their relationship.  As we dug deep, trying to understand why Peggy* was hesitating when her mind could justify why they were a good fit, she blurted out that she never belly-laughed with Mark*.   Peggy loved going new places and doing fun activities with Mark, but their conversations never evoked the silliness and laughter that usually comes from experiencing life together.  Peggy was known to see humor in many situations and did frequently laugh with her family and other friends.  She could never figure out why she did not laugh with Mark, and disappointingly, Mark never did get to put a ring on her finger.  Regardless of how compatible this couple appeared on paper, Peggy did not feel connected to her partner, and lack of laughter was a significant contributor.

Why is laughter so important in a relationship?  For an individual laughter helps to release stress.  People who have a sense of humor tend to have less physical ailments and find greater joy in their lives. Humor and laughter shared within a marriage helps a couple cope with daily stresses.  Laughter bonds and makes a couple feel like they are in it together.  When you reflect on the times your marriage was most vibrant, I bet you and your spouse were laughing a lot—seeing humor in the small situations.  I pray you are and continue to be in that stage.  On a personal front, my husband represents the classic duck, where water just rolls off his back.  On the other hand, I am the worrier in the couple.  I convincingly tell myself, someone in the relationship needs to worry.  Many times, I will be verbally expressing my worries to my husband, and when I do, he always makes me laugh.  How?  Because he just gives me his look and says “Hakuna matata!”  I usually smile in response and continue with my rationale, and he says again, “Hakuna matata.”  I then respond, “but…,” and he says again, “Hakuna matata!”  I finally give up and just laugh!  “Hakuna matata” is a joke that keeps us together.  What stories or shared experiences keep you living, loving, and laughing together?

*Names have been changed to protect identities


144-2 - CopyAbout the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional coach, consultant, and mentor with an extensive background in business development, leadership, and ministry which provides her with the experience, relational skills, and proven processes to move individuals, couples, and leaders to higher levels of personal awareness, effectiveness, and goal achievement.  She coaches in a variety of areas including life purpose and plans, business, finances, and premarital/marriage.  Contact: sandra.s.dillon@hotmail.com

Planning for a Successful Marriage?

Husband and wife on bedMost couples plan for their perfect wedding but often overlook planning for a successful marriage.  It is not uncommon for a bride and groom to spend more on their wedding day than purposefully investing in their marriage over its lifetime.  Parrott and Parrott (2015) found that less than 20% of all American couples had any type of formal marriage preparation, and research showed that about half of newlyweds reported serious marital problems and had doubts whether their marriages would last.  Husbands and wives enter marriage with a set of personal needs and expectations in how they will be fulfilled by their spouse.  In many cases, these needs and expectations are unspoken, result from life experiences and family dynamics, and are biologically driven.  Some couples are not in tune with their needs; whereas, others are apprehensive in asking for fear of rejection.  A few husbands and wives have the unrealistic expectation that if their spouse really loved them, they would know what their needs were and act upon them.  Since it is unlikely that most spouses read minds, I would suggest that it is never too late to schedule a quiet date, where a couple can ask powerful questions about needs and expectations.

If you are considering that date, it might be helpful to understand some typical gender differences in marital needs.    These insights may help you better understand your spouse and why sometimes s/he acts in ways that confuse or frustrate you.  With awareness, empathy, and sharing, I pray you can get more of your needs met in marriage.  Love is the willingness to hear and try to meet your partner’s needs.  As my husband says to me, “Let me know what you need. If it’s not illegal or immoral, I’m on it!”

What does a wife need?

Many men confusingly ask, “What do women really want?”  Research conducted by Markman and Kraft (1989) found that a wife’s most basic needs in marriage are to be cherished, be understood, and be respected.  In my coaching experience, I often hear women say they need to feel safe in their marriages.  I would suggest that their concept of “safety” is weaved into their needs of being understood and respected.

A woman typically feels cherished, when she knows a husband puts her first among family, friends, and interests.  She believes when push comes to shove her husband will choose her.  The research also shows that when a wife believes she is cherished, she encourages her husband to pursue the things he enjoys (Parrott & Parrott, 2015).  Men who cherish their wives not only show their wives but tell them they love them, especially when “words of affirmation” is a primary love language.

A woman feels understood when her feelings are validated and accepted (Parrott & Parrott, 2015).  Men are biologically predisposed to speak less words and focus on solving problems.  Husbands validate their wives by just listening to them share their feelings and struggles without solving their problems.

Wives need to feel as if they are equal partners in their marriages.  Husbands can respect their wives by supporting their dreams and goals.  When women do not feel respected by their husbands, they tend to feel insecure, unworthy, and may suffer depression.

Without awareness of female-driven needs, husbands will try to love their wives in the ways that they feel loved.  The same is true of wives’ approach in loving their husbands.  Wives also need to understand their husbands’ basic needs, so they can love their husbands in ways that uplift their marriages.

What does a husband need?

God has a sense of humor.  What was He thinking when he designed Adam and Eve, man and women, or he and she.  Obviously, humans with enough similarities to be attracted to each other and enough differences to keep the relationship interesting.  Men are not only physically and mentally different in their hard-wiring than women, their basic marriage needs are as well.  The research by Parrott and Parrott (2015) suggest that wives should focus their efforts on satisfying their husbands’ needs to be admired, to have autonomy, and of enjoyment in shared activity with their spouses.

Men need words of encouragement from their wives in how they are meeting their needs.  Contrary to women who will try harder to get admiration, men tend to lose motivation to try and choose to focus on something else that brings them that positive reinforcement.  A wife should never resort to false praise but verbalizing specific behaviors to her husband that would please her and intentionally recognizing her pleasure when he acts will help to bridge the gap.

Wives tend to use words to draw closer, but sometimes husbands need autonomy to regroup before they can engage in marital conversation.  I learned this the hard way in my first marriage, when I would immediately start to vent the details of my work day to my husband upon walking into our home.  My husband, wHis vs Her Needsho had an equally stressful day, needed to go to his “man cave” for half an hour, before he could have conversation.

A common compliant I hear men express during marital coaching is their deep desire to have their wives join them or share in a hobby together. Men typically comment, “I wish my wife would (1) join me fishing, (2) travel with me on business, or (3) come to one of my softball games….”   Men connect with their wives by doing things together, even if it is just sitting on the coach together watching a movie.  Men bond to their wives through recreation; whereas, women feel intimacy by talking, sharing vulnerable moments, and cuddling.

What’s next?

Neither set of gender needs is right or wrong.  Instead, understanding the differences will hopefully make you realize that your spouse is not intentionally ignoring your needs. They are just focused on loving you in the way they feel loved.  You may already be aware of these differences.  If not, hopefully you have more insight.  Awareness is measured on a continuum, and wherever you are on that line, consider setting up a date to explore these gender differences.  Review the sets of basic needs and share your answers to the following questions:

  1. For each of the gender needs discussed, how much does this basic need hold true for you?
  2. For each need, on a scale of 1-10 (10=highest), how well is your spouse satisfying that need? Provide examples that support your score?
  3. Give examples of how your spouse could strengthen that need for you?
  4. Pick at least one of your spouse’s needs that you will commit to focus on and describe how you will do it.

References

Markman, H. & Kraft, S. (1989). Men and women in marriage: Dealing with gender differences in marital therapy. The Behavior Therapist, 12, p. 51-56.

Parrott, L. & Parrott, L. (2015). Saving your marriage before it starts. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.


144-2 - CopyAbout the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional coach, consultant, and mentor with an extensive background in business development, leadership, and ministry which provides her with the experience, relational skills, and proven processes to move individuals, couples, and leaders to higher levels of personal awareness, effectiveness, and goal achievement.  She coaches in a variety of areas including life purpose and plans, business, finances, and premarital/marriage.  You can contact her at sandra.s.dillon@hotmail.com or 281.793.3741 to determine whether an investment in coaching might be right for you.

How to Create a Passionate and Purposeful Marriage?

Marriage on MissionWhen I ask couples why they are getting married or why they chose their partner, they typically reply with phrases such as “because I love her,” “he’s my best friend,” “she’ll make a great wife and mother,” and “he has a great sense of humor.”  These personal attributes and feelings are all wonderful ingredients for a happy marriage.  When I ask the next question, “What is the purpose of your marriage?” the answer comes in a quizzical look.  Many couples have not answered this second question for themselves, having been captivated by their “in love” feelings for each other.  Helmenstine (2017) claims that oxytocin and endorphins fuel feelings of love for 18 months to 4 years.  When the love chemicals dissipate, what will excite and sustain your marriage?

Keeping the marriage alive!

Those who enter marriage blindly typically do not fare as well as couples who seek premarital coaching.  Parrott and Parrott (2016) share that ~ 40% of divorced couples claim that lack of pre-marriage preparation contributed to their divorce.  The unfortunate statistics are that 20% of first marriages end in divorce within 5 years and 32% by 10 years (Avvo, 2010).  The statistics are even higher for couples who marry more than once.  For the average couple the love chemicals are replaced with feelings of attachment and comfort.  Couples who thrive typically do so by adopting behaviors that love their spouse and reflect their marriage purpose.  Chapman (2015) asserts that love is not a feeling but a verb in which spouses should intentionally love their partners in ways that speak to them.  I propose that intentional love can be taken to a higher level by co-creating a marriage mission statement.

What is a marriage mission statement?

God has designed you for a purpose, and He has also called our marriages into a purpose?  If you are married, are you living out your mission?  Companies, ministries, and even individuals have mission statements, so why should your marriage be any different? The purpose of a marriage mission statement is to get clarity on what is important to you, help set a direction for your marriage, and provide grounding and guiding boundaries by which to live.

Now if you are saying, “It’s too late for us, because we’ve been married over 20 years,” I would respond that it is never too late to invest in your marriage.  Why?  Because a marriage mission is not about the past or present but entirely on a future vision.  What do you want your marriage to become?  Creating a marriage mission statement together is fun!  Plan for a series of dates where the two of you spend quality time asking each other questions and sharing your deepest desires.

How do we write a marriage mission statement?

Your mission statement is as uniquely created as you are with the freedom to design its content, length, and style.  The only criteria are it should excite you, align you as a couple, and give you sufficient clarity to know that you are living it.  A recommended approach to build the content is to answer and discuss a series of questions intended to help you define a vision and explore values.  If your marriage mission does not reflect your core values, the statement will likely be empty words on a piece of paper.  Common elements in a mission statement may include a vision, values, dreams, goals, and actions that support its purpose.  When you discuss your marriage vision and values, your mission and goals will tend to fill in the gaps to bring your statement to life.

Below is a sampling of questions to stimulate your thinking and conversation.  Do not let this list inhibit you from exploring other questions.  Your answers should reflect your passions and feelings involving God, family, community, and others.

Vision

  • Describe your ideal marriage. What elements, conditions, activities, and behaviors would describe it?
  • What do you dream of accomplishing? How would a marriage union help achieve that?
  • How has God spoken into the future for your life and marriage?
  • If your children were asked to describe your marriage, how would you want them to be able to answer?

Values

  • What causes are you willing to fight for?
  • What are some of your core values?
  • What are your non-negotiable behaviors?
  • Where do you invest the best of your time, energy, and money?

Mission

  • What Scriptures speak to your heart? How does God fit into your marriage mission?
  • What are you excited and passionate to share alongside your spouse?
  • What activities and accomplishments would describe your ideal marriage?
  • What do you want to teach your children through your marriage relationship?

Living out your marriage mission!

Once you have a mission statement that reflects and excites you as a couple, think of short- and long-term goals that reflect that mission.  What actionable steps can you take to move into your mission?  Take time to pray to God to ask Him what he would like you to do.  Ideally, you may want to select a Scripture that speaks to your marriage!

How will you share your marriage mission?

Dillon Marriage MissionI pray that you have fun creating a marriage mission statement, but I would suggest you do not stop there.  Your statement is a living and breathing manifestation of your future dreams.  Could you use an accountability partner?  I suggest you share your mission statement with other couples.  Find those who are equally passionate about their marriage to join you, or perhaps be a mentor to a couple who wants to take the same journey.  Get together twice a year, review your mission statements, and share how you are or are not realizing your goals.  Make it a double or triple date, share your successes and challenges, and be sure to ask for support.

When should we refresh our marriage mission statement?

Life and marriage are a journey of unexplored roads.  Your marriage mission statement may need to be tweaked when you reach major life milestones such as having a child, changes in career paths, and empty-nesting.  With many couples spending more on their wedding ceremony than they do investing in their marriage, I pray you will take the time to plan for the glorious purpose of your marriage.  What do you want to accomplish with your soulmate?  What do you want your marriage to reflect back into the world?  Your choices will decide!

References

Avvo. (2010). Marriage and divorce statistics. Retrieved from https://www.avvo.com/legal-guides/ugc/marriage-divorce-statistics

Chapman, G. (2015). The five love languages: The secret to love that lasts. Chicago, IL; Northfield Publishing.

Helmenstine, A. (2017). The chemicals of love: Love chemicals and chemistry of love. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/the-chemistry-of-love-609354

Parrott, L. & Parrott, L. (2016). Saving your marriage before it starts assessment: Facilitator training manual.


144-2 - CopyAbout the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional coach, consultant, and mentor with an extensive background in business development, leadership, and ministry which provides her with the experience, relational skills, and proven processes to move individuals, couples, and leaders to higher levels of personal awareness, effectiveness, and goal achievement.  She coaches in a variety of areas including life purpose and plans, business, finances, and pre-marital/marriage.  Contact: sandra.s.dillon@hotmail.com

How to Avoid Walking on Egg Shells in Your Marriage or Romantic Relationship?

Walking on egg shellsHave you found yourself avoiding conversations you really want to have with your spouse for fear of starting an argument?  Is timing for those difficult conversations not right?  Does the timing never seem right?  Based on my conversations with others as a life coach, many couples shy away from initiating heart-felt and meaningful conversations because of the emotional repercussions.  Some dating, engaged, and married relationships have developed unhealthy behavior patterns, where one or both suffer to some extent with what I refer to as “walking on egg shells.”  The couple fails to realize the long-term damage that avoided conversation, verbal eruptions, and hurt feelings have on the relationship.  Empowered with awareness, communication strategies, and practice, any couple can turn “walking on egg shells” into “walking on sunshine.”

This coach has walked on egg shells too!

Is it achievable that couples can have no filters and be able to fully express themselves to their partner?  The answer is yes.  Commonly, life coaches have walked in the same footsteps as their clients.  I have crushed a few egg shells in my life walk.  I have journeyed from conversations with my first husband, which were limited to daily tasks, childcare, and surface level talk to avoid anticipated arguments, to freely bringing up meaningful and difficulty subjects with my second husband at any time without concern.  I am not suggesting you need to change spouses to experience healthier conversation, but both spouses need to commit to choose mindsets and communication approaches that honor themselves, spouse, and the marriage.

Conflict should be viewed as an invitation to create greater intimacy where both can be vulnerable, open, and honest.  How successful couples are in sustaining a happy and fun-filled marriage will be grounded in their willingness to deal with relationship conflict as well as manage emotions and relationship expectations.  How does a couple get from “walking on egg shells” to feeling respected, accepted, and loved?  It all starts with first understanding what you are really arguing about.

What was that argument really about?

“We seem to always fight about small, unimportant stuff!” and “Our issues never seem to get resolved!” are two common complaints expressed by couples.  What is really going on?  Although every couple’s circumstances are unique, for many couples the underlying dynamics are typically twofold.

First, when most couples argue, they are often unaware that trigger events are masking unresolved relationship issues, which may include those fundamental differences in views, beliefs, and expectations regarding money, sex, communication, religion, recreation, careers, parenting, and household chores.  For example, arguments over a clothing purchase may be unresolved conflict over how each spouse views the role of money in their relationship.  The wife may be a saver, who typically shops discount stores, because she favors financial security. She becomes anxious and argumentative with her status-driven husband purchases a $100 designer tie.  This couple has not discovered their personal drivers which are affecting their views of money stewardship or found a compromise position they could mutually live with. The argument may be centered around an expensive tie purchase, but the issue which should be explored is how each spouse views the role of money in their lives.

On a deeper level, hidden issues focus on needs such as acceptance, safety, love, respect, and control.  In another example, despite his wife’s repeated request to put the toilet seat down after use, the husband continues to forget.  He does not understand why this is so important to his wife, especially since he has no issue with lifting it up.  His lack of consideration results in an emotionally charged response, “If you only cared enough, I wouldn’t have to remind you all the time to put the toilet seat down!” The event that triggers the argument is the position of the toilet seat; however, the underlying issue that may need to be discussed in how well the wife feels loved and respected by her husband.   You should differentiate between an event and the underlying issue, so you know what you need to constructively address.

Second, many couples find themselves having the same arguments over and over, because they never resolve the relationship need.  In some cases, couples may understand the relationship issue acting at the heart of their arguments but lack the skills to resolve it.  These couples fall into a behavior pattern where they avoid discussing the issue during times of peace, leaving it to get raised during a crisis event, where it becomes difficult to resolve.  Markham, Stanley, and Blumberg (2010) found that most couples avoid being proactive in bringing up the issues when situations are calm, because they want to enjoy the good times.  Hence, couples typically enter a cycle of petty, emotionally-charged arguments again and again.

How do you start having those difficult conversations?

Some couples find themselves in an anxious pattern of avoiding conflict, which ultimately leads to “walking on eggshells.”   Markham et al. (2010) found that marriage health suffers when spouses do not feel relaxed around their partners.  How can you get back on track so you are having those important conversations, getting the issues on the table, and resolving conflict?  Consider adopting these attitudes and communication strategies for your next conversation.

  • Schedule a relaxed time to talk about hidden issues in your relationship where desires, expectations, feelings, and needs can be shared, and you can feel truly known.
  • Self-reflect on what you need from your partner and marriage to feel loved and accepted. Be prepared to ask for what you want without the expectation of receiving it.
  • Be receptive and non-judgmental in hearing authentic messages from your partner. Your goal should be to learn, understand, and respect your spouse’s point of view, even if you do not agree with it.
  • Listen not only to your spouse’s words but the underlying feelings. Refrain from defending yourself and your position, but instead paraphrase back to your partner what you heard, because it affirms your spouse and confirms your understanding.
  • Own your feelings. Attacks start with “You make me mad when you leave your dirty socks on the floor, and I have to pick them up” and ownership starts with “I feel overwhelmed when I come from work and still see your dirty socks laying on the floor.”
  • Approach the conversation with the intention of glorifying the marriage and not winning your position.  Husband and wife are teammates who sacrifice and support each other for the benefit of the marriage.
  • Adjust your expectations. Reflect on whether your expectations of your spouse are realistic given his/her personality, strengths, and weaknesses.  What adjustments are you willing to make?  What are your negotiables and non-negotiables?
  • Do not bite off more than you can chew. Start small by setting a simple agenda for one topic you will talk through thoroughly.  Take turns explaining how each of you have contributed to the problem, share your perceptions, facts, and feelings.  Do not try to solve the issue until both parties have fully expressed themselves.
  • Brainstorm options on how to solve the problem. Compromise or in some instances concede to the desires of your partner.  One wife I know said, “I let him win when it’s really important to him, and he lets me win when it’s important to me.”  Although marriage conversations are not about creating winners and losers, her point illustrates the gracious giving that one spouse can give to the other.
  • Get specific with examples. If you share how you would feel more loved from your spouse, provide examples. Instead of saying, “I want more surprises to feel loved by you,” instead plant the seed, “I would feel more loved if you surprised me twice a year by sending me flowers at the office.”
  • Agree on specific actions. Take turns summarizing what you agreed to, and ideally, commit those actions to paper to avoid future disagreements caused by faulty memories and misinterpretations.
  • Practice, practice, practice. Adopting new communication behaviors does not come without challenges as you try to break old behaviors.  Do not give up, because the health of your marriage is at stake.  If needed, call a time out if you feel yourself getting too emotionally charged.  A time out includes agreement on when you will reconvene, whether that be 15 minutes or 2 hours.  A time out is not designed to avoid the conversation but to give space for emotions to calm, so both spouses can continue speaking and listening respectfully.

Give yourself and your spouse plenty of patience and grace

As you work through each of your hidden relationship issues, keep in mind this is a journey.  In some cases, the conversation may not ultimately resolve an issue, but conflict can be managed just by letting the issue be fully and respectfully aired.  What is important is for both a husband and wife to feel truly heard and be able to authentically express themselves, their worldview, and their feelings within the safety of their marriage without the pressure to agree.  As two individuals, you may agree to disagree.

Embracing the right attitudes and approaches will help a husband and wife manage the inevitable conflict that every couple has without damaging the relationship.  Avoidance or emotionally charged conflict can harm the marriage, because hurtful words or avoidance can lead spouses to redirect their time and energy away from their partner toward other relationships with children, friends, extended family, careers and hobbies to get their needs met.  Friendship is one of the strongest bonds for a happy marriage and pursuing that friendship is critical to a healthy marriage.  Friendship is co-constructed in healthy conversation and getting each other’s needs met.

Taking marriage to the next level

If you find you and your spouse have worked through most of your relationship issues, you may want to take your conversations to a new level by creating a marriage mission.  Marriage excitement and commitment build when a couple takes a longer term view of their relationship.  A marriage mission statement can help define the purpose of your marriage and guide it by defining activities, behaviors, and goals that you live out as a couple.  Marriage mission statements can also help couples with decision-making, because decisions should align with the marriage purpose.  If you decide to create a marriage mission statement, you can post it on the refrigerator as a daily reminder on why you both are in it together.

Reference

Markman, H., Stanley, S., & Blumberg, S. (2010). Fighting for your marriage. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.


144-2 - CopyAbout the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional coach, consultant, and mentor with an extensive background in business development, leadership, and ministry which provides her with the experience, relational skills, and proven processes to move individuals, couples, and leaders to higher levels of personal awareness, effectiveness, and goal achievement.  She coaches in a variety of areas including life purpose and plans, business, finances, and premarital/marriage.