A few years ago Jesse (my husband- if you're new here) and I were invited to a couples' study group. We met for 4 weeks and read from Andy Stanley's book Staying in Love. This week I'm sharing a synopsis of the study in 4 parts. I shared part 1 "Love is a Verb," part 2 "Re-Modeling" earlier this week, and part 3 "Feelin' It" yesterday.
I will be sharing the intro from part 1's post again for anyone who happens upon this post first- background information is helpful. If you've already read the intro, feel free to skip past the italicized portion.
During the "Staying in Love" couples' study group, we would read a couple of questions and meditate on some thoughts from the book prior to attending the sessions. During each session we would eat together; mingle; watch Andy Stanley (author and speaker) discuss 4 topics pertaining to "Staying in Love;" and then, as a group, discuss questions from the study guide. This study has been the best advice I have ever received in regards to "staying in love" / marital happiness, which is why I'd like to share it here and pass along the information. I've mentioned that I listen to Andy Stanley's podcast "Your Move" almost every morning. I download a series and then listen to the episodes (sometimes a couple of times because I get distracted).
"Staying in Love" is one of various series Andy Stanley offers. I believe the podcast episodes are shorter versions of the extended video episodes also offered on the "Your Move" site. These video episodes are often offered as DVDs (with the full video episodes) for purchase along with a study guide if that's more helpful to you. (It definitely helps me retain the information). Anyway, I recently listened to the "Staying in Love" podcast episodes again- perfect around Valentine's Day, right? I would like to share some of what I learned, but highly, highly recommend buying the book, watching the videos, and/or listening to the podcast episodes. I will definitely not do the study any justice. I should tell you that, yes, this is a Christian study, but I believe that the information is practical and universally applicable. I decided to split up my synopsis into 4 parts because 1 post was getting to be too long. I shared all 4 posts this week.
He, then, quotes from 1 Corinthians 13, which is a famous passage in the Bible known as "the love chapter." Most of what is said in 1 Corinthians makes sense (even to those who are not religious): "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres." The characteristics that seem counterintuitive though include that love "always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres" or as it says in another version: "bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things-" especially "always trusts" or "believes all things." It may seem counterintuitive, but Andy Stanley suggests (and I also believe) that these particular verses are teaching a powerful principle.
He goes on to reiterate that in every relationship, there are expectations based on actual promises made (explicit expectations) or long held beliefs (implicit expectations). We may come to expect certain things because of our past ("my mom always did this," "my dad always did that," etc.). We believe our expectations are typical or normal as that's what we grew up seeing or came to believe it somehow. Our partner may not always do what we expect (he or she possibly grew up with a different set of beliefs or came to believe something different). When our partner doesn't do what we expect, there is a gap and Andy Stanley suggests that have two choices as to what we put in that gap; we choose to "believe the best" or "assume the worst." And he says that what we put in that gap has to do with a). "what you see" and b). "who you are." That choice begins in our mind and then we say things or do things based on that choice.
He emphasizes what he said in episode 3- that we all brought beads into our relationships. He says that our past relationships have affected or infected our hearts and that our partner's behavior can quickly trigger the feelings that we felt growing up- some positive and some negative (like our pain and our fears). Then he asks the question directly, when you are confronted with a gap, where do you go? Do you fill the gap in with "the best" or "the worst?" Which way does your spouse go? He says that those who stay in love, learn to "believe the best." They do it either intuitively or learn to make a better choice (and make a habit of believing the best). He suggests that those who stay in love happily have gaps (because, in all relationships, there will always be gaps), but they fill the gap with positive instead of negative. They are "generous" in what they put in the gap.
On the other end of the spectrum are those who fill the gap with negative to the point where they go looking for it and even celebrate the failures or what they consider to be the shortcomings of their partner. He says that if both choose to engage in this cycle of negativity, then they are participating in the dissolution of the relationship (even when the negativity is justified or there's a pattern of behavior that merits negative words or behavior). They are both making a choice.
Then, he goes back to 1 Corinthians 13:7: "[Love] always protects, always trusts, [always believes] always hopes, always perseveres." Love protects the relationship, love always trusts (by being generous), always hopes (that there is a good reason for the gap), always perseveres (presses forward for the best of the relationship). He affirms that your spouse does not want to disappoint you. He or she does not want to disappoint you even if things seem like they haven't been going well. And if you express negativity towards his or her words or behavior, you are expressing to them that they do not measure up to your expectations and nobody wants to feel that way (including you).
He adds that one of the most powerful (most loving) thing you can do is to put "believe the best" in the gap EVEN IF your spouse has a pattern of dissatisfying behaviors. By putting "believe the best" in the gap, your spouse has breathing room and a healthy spouse begins to move towards you and towards the relationship. One of the most alarming things he says during this episode is that if you have a habit of putting "assume the worst" in the gap, your spouse is afraid of you and your response (even if you're right, but even when you're wrong. His or her excuse won't matter even then). By putting "believe the best" in the gap, you are telling your spouse that you trust them, that they are worthy of your trust. Trust is translated into acceptance. And we all want to be accepted and trusted. Sure, I'm flawed (or sinful), but there is power in being loved, accepted, and trusted.
He adds that your spouse's heart is just like your heart; it is drawn towards places of acceptance. He says that if you put "assume the worst" in the gap, your spouse doesn't trust you with his or her heart. You may be together, but it may be a sad place for them. And you have the power of putting "believe the best" in the gap. He asks: do you behave in a way that "protects, trusts, hopes, and perseveres?" Are you willing to communicate to your spouse that you believe them and that you're sure there's a good reason until proven otherwise? He adds you can decide not to "reject," "criticize," "punish," or "chastise" your partner unless there's an excellent reason, but even after the tough conversation takes place (in a respectable way), you go back to trusting and believing your spouse's intentions.
He concludes with something Jesus said, which is found in Luke 6:31: "Do to others as you would have them do to you" or "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." You would like your spouse to put "believe the best" in the gap; likewise, he would like you to do the same for him or her. This decision could revolutionize your marriage. In the same way, our Christian marriages can revolutionize the world. Our marriages can be our best evangelistic strategy- in our marriages, people will see that we love as Jesus loves us. He loves us with mercy and kindness. The relationship matters more than being right.
Thank you so much if you read all the way through this series. I learned so much again just from sharing it with you. I did the best I could to share some of what I learned, but I invite you to buy the book and DVD "Staying in Love" with all 4 extended video versions here or watch (or listen) to the episodes at the site Your Move right here. :)
Photo by Alicia Danielle for my sister Jasmine's wedding