Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Magical Thinking

At dinner a few nights ago I asked daughter #3 to say the blessing.  She glumly asked 'Do I have to?'.  Before I could answer, daughter #4 spoke up saying brightly 'Do it!  You'll get boyfriend points!'  at which daughter #3 brightened up and said the blessing.

I asked them what they meant by 'boyfriend points' since I hadn't heard the term before and they explained that by doing good things you get 'boyfriend points' and the more points you get the better a boyfriend you will have.  I made sure they understood that was a game and things didn't really work that way.

What they were doing was an example of 'magical thinking'.  Magical thinking is when you come to believe that certain actions will result in something that is in reality completely unrelated to the that action.  While I'm glad she agreed to say the blessing and will be blessed for it in some way, it doesn't guarantee anything about any future boyfriend.

As it says in the scriptures:
D&C 130

20 There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—
21 And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.

Unfortunately, we all tend to fall into the trap of magical thinking now and then, especially when we suffer wrongs we don't deserve.  We can even become angry with the church or with God when our personal righteousness doesn't shield us from trials.

In marriage, magical thinking can be a source of hurt, disappointment, and bewilderment.  It can blind us to dangers, preventing us from seeing warning signs until it is too late.  If you think 'that won't happen in my marriage' then ask yourself why you think it won't.  If you think your marriage is on solid ground because you are aware of what you need to do obtain those blessings and are doing it, then you are probably on the right track.  If it is because you go to church and pay tithing and serve faithfully in your calling then you are probably applying magical thinking.  Doing all those things is good and will bring you blessings, but you can do all that and still fail to obey the laws that will lead to blessings in your marriage.

One common example of magical thinking is the belief that by living the law of chastity faithfully before marriage and being married in the temple, we are sure to have a good marriage and a faithful spouse.  Not so.  Living the law of chastity means you come into marriage without the emotional scars and baggage of sexual sins.  That is a wonderful blessing to be free of that and it creates an environment where it is easier to create a celestial marriage after the wedding, but where the marriage goes after the wedding depends on what the couple does in the days, months and years to come.

A spouse who neglects the needs of their companion or conducts themselves in a selfish or unChristlike manner will provoke unhappiness in the home.  A person who was raised with a very negative view of sex will not suddenly become a passionate uninhibited lover just because they are a virgin on their wedding night.

Another common case of magical thinking is that if a man does more housework, his wife will make love to him more often.  It might happen, if it is the housework burden that is holding his wife back from getting intimate more often.  It won't resolve issue unrelated to housework though.  I'm not trying to discourage husbands from helping out as best they can, it is the right thing to do, but don't do it expecting a sexual payoff.  Do it for her, not for you.

We also shouldn't make the mistake of thinking that we can control everything in our lives through obedience to God's laws.  Other people still have their free agency and get to make their own choices, and at time we are called to go through the refiners fire, individually or as a couple. We do have the promise however that God will keep his word, and while blessings may be delayed, they are never denied to those who follow in faith. Miracles can and do happen as well, but we need to recognize those miracles for the gift from God that they are and not credit ourselves.  Then we can feel the joy of His love.

I hope my daughters do find good boyfriends someday down the road.  If they've listened to what I've taught them about dating and what to look for in a guy they will.   I hope they will still bless supper too, even though they know 'boyfriend points' aren't real.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Fear, the intimacy killer

Intimacy and vulnerability seem to go hand in hand.  Physical intimacy requires making ourselves physically vulnerable to our partner, trusting that they will seek our pleasure.  Likewise with emotional intimacy, it requires we make ourselves emotionally vulnerable.  For some reason emotional hurts go much deeper and last much longer than the physical kind.  They are also much easier to cause, unintentionally or not.  This can create fear that will limit our closeness and fear is the intimacy killer.

I confess that have given in to that fear a lot.  There were things my wife did that hurt or bothered me and I never discussed them with her in order to avoid conflict.  Because I stayed silent, she didn't know she had hurt me and had no reason to change her behavior.  There were things I wanted to try in the bedroom that I was afraid to ask for in case she thought less of me for wanting them, or in case asking would make her feel inadequate or think that I was ungrateful for what she was already doing.  My wife has done the same thing too.  She happens to love hard rock music but she hid that from me for many years fearing I would disapprove and look down on her for it.

Giving into that fear makes bottle up feelings and desires and personality.  We hide who we are and start playing a role rather than being ourselves. Secret hurts are never resolved, secret desires are never fulfilled, secret interests are never fully explored, and you can`t get to really know somebody who is not being genuine.  Those secrets create a barrier to intimacy, and they can also make us vulnerable to temptation when we encounter somebody who accepts the parts of us we are afraid to show our spouse.

Years ago my wife and I were in the process of working out longstanding issues in our marriage and just starting to really open up to each other.  At the start of that journey I though the only thing that needed to change was our sex life, but soon found that I needed to change and stop letting fear shut me down and isolate me from her.

On our anniversary that year we wound up going places we never went before, doing things we never did before, trying foods we never tried before.  Nothing wild or crazy, we just crossed off a few easy bucket list items.  It became a night of firsts.  When we got home to conclude our celebration, I mustered the courage to ask for something I've always wanted to do with her.  I was prepared for the worst, but to my joy and amazement she was perfectly happy to go ahead and it became the perfect end to the night and a new entry on our intimacy menu.  I now kick myself for waiting so many years to ask.

On the other end of the scale, learning I needed to open up to my wife also meant letting her know about some deep wounds inflicted long ago that had not healed.  That was the start of a painful emotional process of reconciliation.  Tearful conversations late at night behind closed doors, struggles to turn feelings into words, questions that were hard to ask and harder to answer.  None of it was fun but opening up and facing it together has deepened our attachment and cleared the air on things that hung around unsaid for far too long.

It is also important that we do not give our spouse good reason to fear being open with us.  If we have a habit of reacting in judgmental and critical ways it discourages our spouse from letting us see who they really are.  Likewise if your spouse can`t be trusted to handle your heart with care, focus on resolving that.

Empathy and charity for our spouse will invite them to be open with us.  They create a warm loving atmosphere where it feels safe to let down the defenses and expose our true, weak self.  Opening up to ours spouse is something else that can encourage them to respond in kind. 

There is nothing so wonderful and so powerful as to know that your spouse really knows who you are, warts and all, and still loves you deeply.