While growing up as a child, it seemed that family reunions on my mother’s side always had Uncle M at the center. Either we would meet at his house, or he would bring everyone together. If he was relaxed, he could be found in his white tanktop grilling food outside. If the occasion called for more, he could be found in a bush jacket. His black kinky hair was always in a manicured mini afro.
There we were. All of the family gathered together for Uncle M’s 70th birthday. His daughters were no longer lanky teenagers, but elegant women with their husbands and young children at their sides. His wife of 40 years sat at his side like a queen. Brothers, sisters, and friends stood and shared cherished memories. Uncle M is a beloved man. Someone who would give the little food he had to others who needed it more. He would work to help his mother care for his siblings. But it was the stories of how he put his family first which caught my attention. You won’t hear about my Uncle M, because he wasn’t famous. He might have been, but he refused those positions because they would take him away from his family for too long.
I sat him down to glean some wisdom about leading a successful marital relationship. We started our interview with the story of how he met my aunt. He noticed her when she came from Cuba to attended college in his home island of Jamaica. Her incredible dexterity with piano sparked an interest in him to get to know her better. In spite of the English-Spanish language barrier, they were able to communicate.
Sometimes, the most curious things seal the deal. Simple things like a bird. A romance blossomed between the two of them and he asked her to be his girlfriend. But she made it clear that he ought to speak to her father about the matter. After much prayer, he asked God for a sign. He asked God to let him catch a bird and put it in my aunt’s hands. My aunt had never held a bird. If he could catch a bird and let her hold it, he would know that she was his future wife.
NEXT STEPS: Young Adult Ministry Training
As you can imagine, he was able to catch a little bird and place into my aunt’s hands! In surprise, she then opened her eyes and hands and the bird fluttered away. Uncle M knew it was time to have a serious talk with my grandfather, making known his intentions. Solemnly, my grandfather interviewed him and requested that he allow my aunt to finish her education before the wedding. Uncle M assured him that he would, and received my grandfather’s blessing.
I then asked Uncle M to share the basics of starting and maintaining a relationship. What follows are my questions and his responses in his words:
What tips would you give on how to pursue a girl?
Pray. Know yourself.
“It has to be a matter of prayer, you know. Because a life partnership is a serious thing. It really could either create havoc in your life, or create a blessing. You have to pray to the Lord, and be open for the Lord to guide you so that if this is not the person for you, then it doesn’t happen. And if it is the person, then the Lord will make it happen. And that you will have a mutual commitment with each other to make the relationship work.
Prayer is the first thing. And you must know what you want out of life in terms of the values that you have. What are the things that are nonnegotiable? What are the things which you are going to say, ‘If this is so, I am not going to go through with this relationship.’
I had several of them:
1) A person had to be a good Christian. A “good soil” Christian.
2) I wanted somebody who had a good family life too. And I had known her Dad for sometime because he was the one who baptized me. I knew that he was a Christian man. I wanted someone coming from a Christian family. So that’s important.
3) And for me, I wanted someone who was a virgin. Someone who didn’t sleep around with men and have loose relationships. Because I personally didn’t do that. I kept myself, so I wanted someone who was a virgin. And this was a nonnegotiable for me. If she had told me that she had had a boyfriend and they slept together, I would have just called off the relationship. I wouldn’t have anything to do with it because that’s one of those things which I am not going to compromise.
Also, love is a thing of a moment, but it’s really a thing of a life time. You don’t love as much as you want to at first sight.
Love is a thing that grows. It not a dead thing.”
What’s the best way to handle conflict?
There are two sides to every story.
“Conflict is an interesting thing, because conflict is inevitable. Two people are always going to have points that they don’t agree on. And that’s were conflicts come in, but you don’t have to fight. The way you want to handle conflict is to be open and honest with each other and use the gift of communication.
And as someone said, “Try to see from the other person’s perspective.” Not just from your perspective. And if you can put yourself in the other person’s place to see the subject, you are more than likely to be reasonable in managing conflict. There has to be compromise. It has to be a win-win. One person can’t say that they are all wrong and they are all right. It’s not going to work. The way that the human mind works is that we like something to feel as though we have also won.
And even if the person who is totally wrong is managing a conflict, the person that is in the right must be humble and not rub it in. This is so that the other person doesn’t feel put down or that they are being attacked in the communication.
In conflict, make compromises so there can be peace.”
Can you give an example?
“In marriage there are differences of opinion, and differences of opinion create conflict. For instance, I am a person of time. If I tell you 4 o’ clock, then I mean it. I don’t mean 4:05 or 4:10. If my wife tells you four o’ clock. It might mean 4:30 or quarter to five. We have conflicts over that and we have had to compromise to say “step it up.” The important thing is that you acknowledge what is right, and adjust to it.
It is right to be on time for activities. You can’t say it is wrong. The thing starts at 4:15, but okay. It is right. It took her a degree of humility to say it is the right thing. If it is four o’ clock. It is four o’ clock. So, acknowledge what is right and adjust to it.
It is not always easy. When some people have to make the adjustment to what the other person wants, to them it is a sign of failure. It is not a sign failure. It is a sign of maturity that you are willing to acknowledge when you are wrong, and that you need to make the adjustment.”
How do you deal with her as she makes the adjustment?
Patience is a virtue. Give praise. Don’t take for granted.
“We all like to be praised and acknowledged when we have done good. And when the desired thing happens, one shouldn’t be silent about it. Understand that’s what you are supposed to do. Verbally praise. For example, ‘Thank you, honey. I makes me feel good when we are on time for church.’
[You don’t want to] nag and put down when it doesn’t happen. You’ve got to give things time to be worked out. So long as someone is not proud whereby if you say, “right,” they are going to say “left,”or if you say, “black,” they are going to say, “white.” So long as that level of pride isn’t there, they will make the adjustments. Sometimes slow, but they will eventually get to the desired decision.”
Who should you focus most on in the family the wife or the kids?
God. Spouse. Kids. There’s no other effective order.
“In a marital relationship, the kids are not the most important; the husband and wife are. The order is love to God, love for each other and then love for the children. If the children are equated with the husband and wife, the relationship is going to fall apart. So, there’s no compromise as far as that is concerned.
Some people pay so much attention to their kids and ignored their spouses that their spouses go away and left [sic]. Because they feel that they are not important anymore and that someone else has taken their place. And all marriage counselors will tell you that your love for God, your love for one another, and your love for the children must be in that order. If you try to mix them together or put the children above your spouse it is going to create a rift and a break in the family.”
I notice that you put a lot of emphasis in spending time with your family—even over job obligations.
For children there is no “quality time”
“Children know quantity of time. They don’t know so much [about] quality time. Some people say ‘well it’s quality time.’ No, fifteen minutes is not quality time with your child. They measure that by the amount of time you spend with them. One must make a conscious effort to spend time because that’s how you develop relationships and trust and mutual affection. It’s not in little bits of time here and there. Consistently be with each other and support each other. So, quantity time is just as important as quality time.”
How did those principles apply to your marital relationship?
Look at after your family’s holistic health and well-being first.
“I made sure that I was available. There were many times that I could have been gone to do the things that I like, but I made sure that I was available. I had job opportunities that I turned down because it would take me away from her too many days or too many hours out of the month. And I said, ‘You know what? No. I prefer to have the time with my wife and my children and build relationships that way because I could easily lose them if I just were on the road all the time looking at other people’s business while my business at home was not being looked after.’ So, I intentionally made the time to spend with my wife and my children.”
What are the little ways that you can make time quality time?
“Doing things together. Talking with each other. Reading a book with each other. Worshiping with each other. But doing things together. At home share the responsibilities and not you this and I do this, but we can do these things together. If we are washing dishes one could wash and one could dry. If we are cooking, one is there helping the other. Or both helping each other to make it happen. So doing things together.”
Any other words of advice?
Focus on the positive, strengthen the weaknesses, and celebrate individuality.
“Well, you know in relationships we mentioned earlier that you will always have conflicts, but the key counsel is find out what is working and do that.
Don’t focus on the negatives. If you focus on the negatives they are just going to grow. That’s human nature. Your eyes are going to be seeing the negatives all the time. You have to find out what is working and grow that. And intentionally work on that. And that will help to minimize the negatives.
So, don’t focus your time on the weaknesses of each other. What they didn’t do or what didn’t accomplish. Focus on what they did. And on the strengths. Those really help to minimize the weakness that there are because we all have weakness. We all have an up side and a downside.
As a matter of fact, our body is a mixture of handicaps. The eye can’t feel and the mouth can’t feel. So, the mouth is handicap because he can’t see and the nose is handicap because he can’t hear, but they all have to work together. We all have to acknowledge that we are not all good at every thing and that the person we are working with in a relationship has handicaps. So we accept each other for who we are.
And not try to make someone into you. Because that is where relationship breakdown we resist it as human being when we find out that someone is trying to remake us into their image. You just don’t want that. Individuality is important that that must be respected. The person is in their own individual to make their own choices and make their own plans and so forth. And we must not infringe upon that individuality.”
Probably not in that order 😛