QUESTION: In the interest of keeping peace in the household, you have suggested leniency with rebellious teens on issues that don't really matter. What does this mean in practical terms? Give me some examples of demands that would rock my daughter's boat unnecessarily.
JAMES DOBSON: Well, you will have to decide what the non-negotiables are to you and your husband. Defend those demands but lighten up on lesser matters. That may indicate a willingness to let her room look like a junkyard for a while. Close the door and pretend not to notice. Does that surprise you? I don't like lazy, sloppy, undisciplined kids any more than you do, but given the possibilities for chaos that this girl might precipitate, spit-shined rooms may not be all that important.
You have to ask yourself this question, "Is the behavior to which I object bad enough to risk turning the canoe upside down?" If the issue is that important, then brace yourself and make your stand. But think through those intractable matters in advance and plan your defense of them thoroughly.
Someday, when the river has smoothed out again, you may look back with satisfaction that you didn't add to the turbulence when your daughter was bobbing like a cork on a stormy sea.
QUESTION: My wife and I love each other very much, but we're going through a time of apathy. We just don't feel close to each other. Is this normal, and is there a way to bring back the fire?
DOBSON: This happens sooner or later in every marriage. A man and woman just seem to lose the wind in their romantic sails for a period of time.
Their plight reminds me of sailors back in the days of wooden vessels. Sailors in that era had much to fear, including pirates, storms and diseases. But their greatest fear was that the ship might encounter the doldrums. The doldrums was an area of the ocean near the equator characterized by calm and very light shifting winds. It could mean certain death for the entire crew. The ship's food and water supply could be exhausted as they drifted for days, or even weeks, waiting for a breeze to put them back on course.
Well, marriages that were once exciting and loving can also get caught in the romantic doldrums, causing a slow and painful death to the relationship. Author Doug Fields, in his book "Creative Romance," writes: "Dating and romancing your spouse can change those patterns, and it can be a lot of fun. There's no quick fix to a stagnant marriage, of course, but you can lay aside the excuses and begin to date your sweetheart." In fact, you might want to try thinking like a teen-ager again. Let me explain.
Recall for a moment the craziness of your dating days -- the coy attitudes, the flirting, the fantasies, the chasing after the prize. As we moved from courtship into marriage, most of us felt we should grow up and leave the game-playing behind. But we may not have matured as much as we'd like to think. In some ways, our romantic relationships will always bear some characteristics of adolescent sexuality. Adults still love the thrill of the chase, the lure of the unattainable, the excitement of the new and boredom with the old. Immature impulses are controlled and minimized in a committed relationship, of course, but they never fully disappear.
This could help you keep vitality in your marriage. When things have grown stale between you and your spouse, maybe you should remember some old tricks. How about breakfast in bed? A kiss in the rain? Re-reading those old love letters together? A night in a nearby hotel? Roasting marshmallows by an open fire? A phone call in the middle of the day? A long-stemmed red rose and a love note? There are dozens of ways to fill the sails with wind once more.
If it all sounds a little immature to act like a teen-ager again, just keep this in mind: In the best marriages, the chase is never really over.
(James Dobson is president of the nonprofit organization Focus on the Family, P.O. Box 444, Colorado Springs, CO. 80903; or www.family.org. Questions and answers are excerpted from "The Complete Marriage and Family Home Reference Guide," published by Tyndale House.)
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