Last weekend, I was tested on my vocabulary skills in a class and was rewarded with some chocolate when I came out tops in class! Well, the highlight of the reward was not really the chocolate but that the answers in that vocabulary test was intended for a specific person to hear and that person happened to be standing next to me when it was read out.
The test took place in a non-traditional classroom setting. There were dim lights, sweet floral scents from the fresh flowers on the table, and we were served with a delightful lunch that ended with the most wonderful deserts and gourmet teas. This was the beautiful Singapore Resort and Spa Sentosa, situated at the south-west side of Sentosa with a spectacular view of the South China Sea.
The occasion was, of course, the PSPC Marriage Enrichment Retreat jointly organised by the Men’s and Ladies’ Ministries. The retreat was led by the very able Pastor Benjamin and his wife Dinah Lee. Both of them are master trainers for Focus on the Family’s Marriage Mentoring programme.
The retreat started with a great time of worship in songs, led by the self-proclaimed (almost) perfect-husband type Jack Lum and his lovely wife Wilma. The husband and wife showed us how teamwork is done by a married couple through harmonious melodies and coordinated hand movements. It was a great start to the retreat with all of us singing love songs to the Lord and to each other.
Pastor Ben began the lessons with an advertisement for probably the most useful gadget a man can ever own in his life: a “Manslater”. The “Manslater” promises to be able to correctly translate all the codified communication transmitted by your spouse. For example, when the husband asks the wife if he could go for a sports game with his friends, and his wife answers, “Yes, of course”, the “Manslater” will immediately translate the true meaning of the reply to be “Not at all. Go at the risk of sleeping on the sofa tonight!” Obviously, by the time the men rushed to the front to purchase the gadget, it was already sold out! I heard that the waiting period for the gadget was about 50 years.
Sadly, without the benefit of the “Manslater”, all of us men (and some of the women), had to pay more attention to the lessons taught during the retreat. We learnt that there were three important points to note when spouses communicate, especially during a possible conflict situation. We must be super aware of the Atmosphere of the relationship, the Attitude we hold when getting into conflicts, and the Approach we use to navigate through the conflict.
Dinah highlighted the need to pay attention to a possible ailing relational atmosphere in marriages. We can recognise when the atmosphere is getting unhealthy when: (1) we stop focusing on the positive traits of our spouse; (2) we escalate the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”: Criticism, Defensiveness, Contempt, and Stone-walling; (3) we use emotional withdrawal and disengagement; and, (4) we get stuck with negative sentiments and feelings in our relationships.
The way out of a deteriorating relational atmosphere is to practice (1) Dialogue rather gridlock over perpetual issues, (2) Communicate acceptance, (3) replace a harsh conversational start-up with a soft start-up, and (4) become a Safe Person for your spouse.
While going through a conflict, we were taught the magic formula to express our feelings. This magic Feeling Formula is to use the following ‘fill in the blank’ sentences when expressing our feelings to each other:
I feel _________ (Feeling)
about ________ (Issue/ Concern)
because I think/ believe ________ (Thought/ Belief).
Hey, the formula actually works! It’s quite amazing! I can’t really explain it and you have to try it out yourself.
Of course, the trainers had to equip us with some skills in our approach to resolving conflicts. I can only remember a few points but I’m willing to share whatever I remember.
First, we start with the ‘Don’ts’: Don’t be stubborn. Don’t withdraw. Don’t blame. Don’t see yourself as a victim. Don’t try to win. Don’t bring out past hurts. That was easy! Then we go on to the ‘Dos’: Do remember Jesus’ example on the cross. Do be honest with your feelings. Do seek to understand. Do use the Feeling Formula! This was not so easy!
Well, we had a lot of laughter, fun and great learning moments during the retreat. We ended the retreat with another round of sumptuous tea and meaningful time of fellowship with each other. My wife and I got to meet a new couple and also caught up with a few other couples. Pastor Darryl closed the retreat time with a word of encouragement to all of us. He also assured us that the church leadership will support and help couples successfully navigate through the various stages of the marriage. In fact, the church leadership has already assembled a group of counsellors as well as preparing some experienced couples to serve as Marriage Mentors to assist couples who are going through rough patches.
Well, I hope you had an idea of what the retreat was like. I’d certainly encourage all to sign up quickly for the next retreat when it comes! Oh, did I tell you what the vocabulary test was about? Ask me when you see me in church!