Whose Family Values?

My wife and I spent time with family over the holidays, and it got me to thinking about family values. This is a very popular topic for politicians and preachers, for they champion family values for their respective audiences. Rarely do they, or any of the rest of us, define what is meant by family values.

“Value” is a word with many meanings, depending upon the context. It can refer to the importance, worth, or benefit, especially the importance or worth of something or someone one. Value can be related to the amount of money that can be received for something. Value can be applied to how useful or important something or someone is.

In general, I think of values as the beliefs people have, especially about what is right and wrong, what is most important in their lives, and what controls behavior. A search for family values in Google produced 24,100,000 results in 0.47 seconds. Traditional family values usually include such topics such as religion, marriage, communication, traditions, morals, holidays, interactions with relatives, and how time is spent together.  One source defined family values as

“. . . ideas passed down from generation to generation.  It boils down to the philosophy of how you want to live your family life.  Three traditional basic tasks in life have been described as work, play and love.”

I can go with this definition, but I would add a fourth task: faith. I would also add social responsibility. So, my basic tasks for family life are “to have socially responsible work, play, love, and faith.” Unless our values are lived out in socially responsible ways, family life in particular and community life in general will suffer and eventually deteriorate.

No two families will have identical values. Some writers have referred to life as living by a script. We are given a script in our family as children that tell us how we are to live our live in the family. As we get older, we begin to question the script we are given and eventually must decide whether to live with the script we are given, to rewrite portions of the childhood script, or to reject the family script altogether.

I have noticed that my children have some of the same values as those they were taught in our home, but I recognize they have values that reflect their own personalities and needs. Sometimes I am tempted to comment that they were not given that script in our home, but recognize that children must develop their own personal script. When we marry, we either incorporate items from our personal scripts into a new marriage script, or we scrap everything we were given and start afresh. Many family disputes arise from which script a person is following: a personal script v.s. a family script.

We need to encourage and help families to have values that guide them in living socially responsible lives.

Can A Person Be Free in A Relationship:

Recently a woman told me that she would “never bow down to a man.” This is a very common attitude among younger adults that I come in contact with. There are at least two reasons for this. One, at least in this part of the world, is the emphasis of conservative Christians on wifely submission to their husbands and the countless marriage retreats where this is the emphasis. Another is the notion of male superiority in our society at large. Note the current attempts to get equal pay for women so they are paid the same wage for doing the same job as male counterparts.

My question is: can a woman be in a relationship with a man and still be a free person in her own right without submission to anything or anyone? To state it in another way: can the woman I quoted find a meaningful and long-lasting relationship with a man without having to bow down to him? Let’s see.

When the feminist movement started in the 1970’s there was talk of doing away with any idea of gender identity. It was thought that male-female differences were not inborn but learned from a male-dominated society. The argument was made that gender differences could be unlearned as well, and the elimination of “sexism” would result in a truly androgynous society (neither specifically feminine nor masculine), apart from a few anatomical differences.

However, men and women are different. Research has shown that gender differences have as much to do with how our brains are wired as with the family we are reared in. Many young couples live together without marriage or long-lasting commitment because they think marriage would put them in bondage to their partner instead of their being free to be themselves. So long as we believe there are no gender differences, it would seem casual relationship would be the most nonthreatening, (All kinds of material on gender differences are available via Google if you are interested in knowing more about this.)

Do gender differences give males the dominance in female-male relationships? Is the female to bow down to the male? I think not. What conservative Christians miss is the Garden of Eden creation story in Genesis chapter 2 where God created male and female to compliment each other. The rest of creation was subject to man, but not the woman. For us today, if we can learn what our gender differences are and how to meet gender needs, men and women can compliment one another as God intended.

We do not stop being free individuals because we relate to another man or woman. However, our freedom can be limited unless we learn that each of us has gender specific needs the other must meet for a fulfilling and long-lasting relationship. We must reach beyond ourselves and take into consideration what our partner needs and how to meet those needs to the best of our ability. There is no need for a feeling of bondage, but a feeling of freedom in learning and satisfying mutual gender needs.

Can the woman I quoted find a meaningful and long-lasting relationship with a man without having to bow down to him? To her I say, “yes,” if she finds a man who recognizes her gender differences, how her needs are different from his, and he is willing to try and meet her needs.   I say “yes,” if she can recognize his gender differences, what his needs are, and she is willing to try and meet those needs. This would give freedom to her relationship – the freedom to be who she truly is, and the freedom to help him be the person he truly is.


Can A Relationship Be Saved?

In a few weeks I will have opportunity to perform a wedding for my nephew and his bride-to-be. Next week I meet with them for pre-marriage counseling and one of the first things I will emphasize is their relationship. Relationships can live or die. When marriages and friendships go wrong it is because the relationship is either terminally ill or has already expired. Instead of dealing with relationship issues, most often attention is placed upon the people involved rather than the relationship itself.

What is a relationship? The online Merriam-Webster defines it as “the way in which two or more people, groups, countries, etc., talk to, behave toward, and deal with each other.” When prescribed or mutually agreed behavior, or set of behaviors changes, a relationship dies.

Unfortunately, we see the death of all kinds of relationships daily. It may be between friends, between siblings, between parents, or between nations. The idea of permanent or long-lasting relationships seems to be out of fashion, so it may seem human beings are incapable of forming satisfying relationships.

Many things can cause the death of a relationship. One is that the relationship has never been defined and behaviors are assumed that do not exist.

One young bride was upset with her new husband because he did not put the garbage can out on Thursday morning. That had been the weekly task of her father and she assumed all husbands took garbage out on whatever morning it was collected. This expected behavior was never discussed and it caused an early rift in the relationship. This is why pre-marital counseling is so important.

A second cause is failing to realize that people change over time. This means relationships will change as well. The beauty queen may not always be a beauty queen. The star athlete may lose his physical strength. Others may not always hold the person everyone liked in high esteem. Wealth may be lost. Can the relationship be sustained when natural change occurs? Certainly, we bring a lot of baggage to any relationship, but that baggage needs to be put out on the table insofar as we can, to recognize it and deal with it. Over the long haul, can we live with what is being brought to the relationship? Can we deal with the changes our partner(s) and we will experience? 

One difficulty in developing good relationships is the polarization of our thinking. People, groups, and nations tend to expect everyone else to think, believe, and act like they do. Surprise, surprise! They don’t.

So relationships are based upon unspoken and unwritten assumptions.   Anger and rejection results when we discover the “other” is either not like us and or is not what we assumed him or her to be. Often these feelings are felt because the different behavior injected into the relationship is thought to be an act of betrayal instead of hidden issues that have never been discussed.

A good relationship can be had if a few basic issues are resolved, such as: Why is a relationship wanted? What is expected in the relationship? Who will be involved – friends, family, previous children? How will the relationship be lived out day-by-day? Can I live with the failings of others in the relationship? Can personal freedom be maintained in the relationship?

No commitment is necessary for a one-night stand, but a commitment is necessary in order to have a long-lasting relationship. Perhaps it is the fear of commitment that undermines the start of a relationship.

Maintaining a healthy relationship requires a periodic review to determine what expectations exist, how well those expectations are or are not being fulfilled, and what behavior changes will be made by everyone involved that will help sustain relationship health.

I see the debris left by broken relationships every day. I experience and have experienced my own painful break in relationships. We must value a relationship enough to make it work. My wife and I had a long-lasting relationship. It was stormy at times for we did not do what I have suggested here until late in the marriage. No one helped us see what was involved in a marriage relationship and what it would require. We valued the relationship more than we valued our personal likes and dislikes. We did not always understand or agree with one another, but we learned to accept each other’s warts and differing ideas.

The first time we evaluated the relationship it was a painful experience. I thought I was doing everything right. To my dismay, I was not. Was I willing to make changes necessary for the marriage to last? Yes, but it was not easy.

The biblical word for “love” means to put the needs of another before one’s own need, to sustain and care for that person without considering any return to one’s self. That is the word Jesus used when he said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” A relationship can live and thrive if we love with this kind of love. A relationship can be saved.