Takes Effort, Looks Natural
Do a photo session with Mrs. Shipley and you’ll hear a version of the phrase “takes effort, looks natural.”
Mrs. Shipley's secret-sauce for natural-looking photos lies in her subtle posing cues. Holding that pose, as many are surprised to discover, takes effort. If you want to look natural, there's work involved.
The concept applies to the premarital counseling & relationship coaching I do in my ministry work. Surprisingly, the name of the game when it comes to relationship conflict isn't "resist & avoid" but rather "recognize & resolve". The hope is to help a couple open communication while seeing the benefit of working on their relationship. Do you want a more natural connection & trust in your relationship? Handle conflict productively so it doesn’t dominate and push out the fun, adventure and peace of being with someone you love and enjoy being around.
There’s some Scripture behind this concept: Ecclesiastes 9:9-10 says: “Enjoy life with the wife you love” & “whatever your hand finds to do [e.g. a relationship], do it with all your might.” Look into what appears natural and you'll find effort & work.
When we don’t make the effort:
Dr. John Gottman identifies four communication patterns he calls The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. If left alone, they lead to a relationship's end. Click here for an illustrative video outlining the Horsemen of Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness & Stonewalling or read below:
1. Criticism: You’re so selfish! A ‘you-statement’ implying something is wrong with them. The problem isn’t between you two anymore; you're choosing to see it 100% inside of them.
2. Contempt: Ugh, what an idiot. Another statement about your partner. This one can be verbal. Or it can be non-verbal in the form of eye-rolling, sneering and disgust.
3. Defensiveness: It’s not MY fault we’re always late! This behavior responds to criticism by going on the offensive with Contempt or Criticism. Or whining like a completely innocent victim.
4. Stonewalling: Forget it. Here you just give up on conversation repeatedly. Thoughts bottle up, you refuse to open up and often physically leave the room mid-conversation.
The end of the video cited above includes some antidotes to these behaviors.
Where to put the effort:
Dr. Scott Stanley is a relationship researcher worth looking-up. His books are good places to start if you needed to put some work into your relationship. He focuses relationship effort in three places:
1. Decide, don’t slide: Do you slide into in a major disagreement that begins over chores or calendars but ends in attacking character? Don’t slide into a disagreement when you don’t have the stamina or time to resolve it well. Instead, graciously decide to discuss at a better time. Then have the courage to not put off the conversation. Be intentional about when you face disagreement.
[Sidenote: Christians often cite Ephesians 4:26 “‘In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.” We argue late into the night just to dot the 'i' on this command. I think we misapply this verse to mean: if you are angry, don’t go to sleep till you have it resolved. Instead, I think it means don’t let anger lead you into sin. Don't slide into anger; decide to discuss & resolve at a better time.]
2. Do your part: It's easiest to see how my spouse needs to shape up. But the one I have the most control over is me. It takes more work, but it's more effective to triple check that I’m doing my part to the best of my ability to keep this relationship on track.
3. Make it safe to connect: Isn’t this why we’re in a relationship? It’s not a perfect person we’re looking for but someone we connect with and can be ourselves around. Am I safe being me around you? You can be safe being you around me.
Dr. Stanley's book discussing these concepts can be found here.
Premarital work is a double-edged sword for me:
As I attempt to cut through unexamined expectations, parental habits & inexperience in conflict resolution, I usually find the sword cutting into my life and marriage as well. Not cutting in a divisive way. Rather, I'm challenged to do the work of isolating and removing harmful attitudes & habits.
A picture is worth a thousand words. It's why people invest hundreds and thousands of their hard-earned dollars to capture them. Good relationships are an investment too. The work never ends, but connecting positively and intimately can become more natural. And the reward is more than a posed embrace, but a real and joyful connection with a lifelong companion.