Monday, May 18, 2015

Private Space

My left hand is in the galley (kitchen) and my right hand is in the saloon (living room).
Back in the Nineties (yes, that’s 1990’s) Nan and I owned a sailboat that we had docked in Marina Del Rey. It was a wonderful weekend retreat for both of us. It was large enough to stand up in and easily cook meals and “live aboard”. Mind you, we are best friends and get along really well, but we didn’t fully understand what “too close” meant until we spent a week on the boat.

What it wasn’t big enough for was providing personal space.

If we really wanted alone time we would have to leave the boat and go somewhere else, but that was pretty impractical at night. We had a small TV and a music system onboard to entertain us. The problem was that if both of us weren’t in the same mood, one of us would end up annoyed or disappointed. Even if one person tried to shut himself away in the forward cabin the sound would leak pretty significantly. It was okay on the weekends, but it got old as the week wore on and we repeatedly got in each other’s way. Unneeded conflict increased.

In relationships, we need both togetherness and separateness. We need the ability to express our uniqueness as individuals as well as our oneness in marriage. And that means having a private space to get away to when we need it. Some of us are fortunate enough to have a dedicated room, a man-cave or a craft room, while others must do with a locked door on a shared space, such as a bedroom (some moms tell me the bathroom is their only sanctuary).

Can you find a space to get away to? It could even be a chair in the garden or side patio or a little used alcove in the house. For others it is a shop or space in the garage that can be rearranged. This away space is a spiritual place, a place to rest, reflect, renew and regroup. This is a place you take your feelings, emotions and dreams before you share them with others. This is where you spend time with God.

Lately Nan has been occupying my seldom used office. Until a year ago it was a center of business activity in the mornings. Now it mostly serves as a place to pay bills and do an occasional Skype session. Nan has found it perfect. For me, I use a guest bedroom in the basement next to our music room. It has the added advantage of being a great place to nap when needed.

Almost all of our rooms have bookshelves to keep journals and reading material handy. And there are no clocks in view. Perhaps that is not possible for everyone, but being too aware of the passing of time can get in the way of its purpose. Can you shut off electronic devices or do you need to get away to even use them?

We are quite aware that people have different felt needs for alone time and private space – some need more and some less. We should try to accommodate our partner, within reason. I probably have a greater need than Nan does, but it has not been a big problem between us.

So How about you? What are your space and time requirements? Have you already worked this out with partners or roommates? Can you ask (nicely) for what you need?

Monday, May 11, 2015

Cultural Awareness

Culture (/ˈkʌlər/) is, in the words of E.B. Tylor, “that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.”
Growing up I understood “to be cultured” as something that was mostly acquired by the wealthy and privileged, the intellectually astute or those of societal stature who are “in the loop”. These days I know that we are actually all a product of culture, or really many cultures, and it is nothing like the concept that I learned.
What are some of these cultures?
  • My work culture
  • My family of origin culture
  • My ethnic culture
  • The popular culture during my formative years
  • My religious culture
  • My economic culture
And we go on to create cultures, too, when we get married and have a family. But the resultant culture has been highly influenced by all the others that we were exposed to.
Why is this so important? The truth is that the person we form a relationship with will likely have a different mix than we do. And these differences can become the source of a lot of conflicts because they often represent some deeply held beliefs or values.
These beliefs determine how we educate children, how we discipline them and what position we give them in a family. They determine marriage roles, how we file our taxes, where we live and what we drive. Is it OK to buy retail or must we negotiate for a price every time? Can a man be a stay-at-home dad or is that shameful?
I have heard individuals declare “I could never marry a Democrat” or “I could never marry a Republican”. These can be intense differences.
Often we will come across a couple that come from completely separate moral codes. She has no problem with premarital sex, but he wouldn’t even consider it. Or he wants to move in together to have a “trial marriage”, but she feels it would bring shame on her family. These moral decisions come from our cultural beliefs, religious, ethnic or family, and they are not easily set aside.
When we have one of these cultural disputes in counseling we always try to point them in a new direction. We ask this question:
“Will you allow God’s culture to trump all of the other ones? Will you allow the Bible to be the arbiter of this dispute?”
These are sobering questions for a Christian. This is where the “rubber meets the road” and puts their faith to the test. It often will cause cognitive dissonance. Fortunately it can have a benefit, too, of helping move people towards clarity of values and embracing suffering for the right reasons. It’s no fun to delay or surrender gratification or wrestle with a potential shift in our thinking.
Going against one’s family of origin culture may feel like disloyalty, especially when it involves the family directly as in planning a wedding. Nan and I highly recommend that you deal with these differences prior to announcing your engagement. Some really ugly stuff can come up if the couple is not clear on what their boundaries with family are.
So what influences you the most? Really ask yourself this question before you move on.
Popular culture?
Liberal or conservative culture?
Family culture?
Or God’s culture?