Hey everyone and happy Monday to you! Or maybe gloomy, slightly down Monday to you – that’s kind of how I’m feeling here in Ottawa today. Maybe it’s the post-event letdown, or the fact that I felt useful and appreciated this weekend with my skills and now I’m going back to limited work, or maybe it’s just the dreary weather…but I’m going to stick with “happy Monday” because there is ALWAYS something to rejoice about!
This morning I’m choosing to rejoice in the faithfulness of God. I am so thankful that He has absolutely used our experience as a couple with cancer 3 years ago for his glory and to better our characters and perceptions of life! It’s fun to see those changes and to experience it coming full circle, as it were, at a conference like this.
The Ottawa Share Conference is a program created by the Oncology Aftercare team from the CHEO and Ottawa Hospitals to deal more in-depth with the issues that childhood cancer survivors face as they transition to the life stage of being a young adult. It’s a harsh reality to be in a children’s hospital setting and then to be thrust into the “adult world” in a different hospital as soon as you’re 18, surrounded by people who are all (seemingly) in their 50’s and 60’s in the oncology ward. We were honored that they chose Wrong Way to Hope as the focus of their conference and excited to also present during break-out sessions on some of the themes developed in the film. Mikey spoke on “reintrajectorization” (finding your new life trajectory post-cancer treatments after everything has changed) and I spoke on relationships. We were pumped to have a mini reunion with almost the whole “cast” of WW2H, including Laurie (a local Ottawa girl and incredible woman!), Jared and Vik (both from BC) and Peter (another local guy)! It was SO good to be reconnected with them and to really relive that first trip and experience that has changed all of our lives in so many ways. I thought it’d be neat to share a little of what I spoke on and provide the resources available to you guys in case you’re seeking some direction or encouragements in your relationships – romantic, family-based, or between friends.
To be honest, I was quite intimidated to speak on this topic. I mean, what makes ME an expert to speak on the vast topic of relationships?! The answer? Nothing. But, I have had some experiences early-on in my marriage and gleaned a lot of wisdom from others and was happy and excited to pass that along.
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But first, what makes me qualified to speak on such a deep topic? Well, not much in my eyes, but my husband and I have had our share of difficult experiences. After my husband’s chemo and radiation treatments and navigating a time of me being the primary provider and worker, we’ve come through the other side of our cancer journey with a deeper, more real relationship and would both say that we are stronger now than we were before.
So why didn’t cancer rip us apart, like it does so many couples? I think if I could boil it down to three things, I’d say:
- Knowing who you are
- Having a shared purpose
- Love & Respect
Knowing who you are and why you act the way you do allows you to anticipate how you might react in certain situations relationally. For example, knowing how you respond to conflict, deal with change, and what your tendencies are when the unexpected happens will help you when it comes to interacting with family, friends, and a significant other. Dr. Gary Smalley created a personality quiz that helps give us insight into these different aspects of ourselves. While the results are not gold (everyone can change too – you aren’t locked into a certain personality type and can work on your weaknesses!), it gives us a great foundation from which to see what our gut reactions are. Take the assessment here.
Which are you? What can you learn from who you are?
Moving beyond personality traits then, another aspect of knowing who you are that’s important is learning your love language. Have you ever heard of the five love languages? Author (and counsellor) Gary Chapman wrote the book and came up with this concept about the five love languages because he came to see that everyone he had ever counselled had a “love language,” or a primary way of expressing and interpreting love. He also discovered that, for whatever reason, people are usually drawn to those who speak a different love language than their own. Of the many ways we can show love to another person, there seemed to be five comprehensive and universal “languages” to show love: words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service, and physical touch. This is important when it comes to relationships because by recognizing your different love languages, you can discover why there are problems, quarrels, or communication issues with someone you love. Take the love language assessment here (pretty interesting stuff!).
One of the most important things in constructing solid relationships during a tough time is knowing who you are first as an individual but then in relation to the other person; then you are more able to have a shared focus or purpose (this relates more to relationships of the romantic kind). It really helped Mikey and I to manage our conflicts and navigate our new experiences when we were able to focus on something other than each other and other than our circumstances during Mikey’s treatments. This helped us because:
- As much as love each other, we aren’t perfect and will let each other down. Cancer or not, there will always be something to get frustrated about, miscommunicate about, and be let down about, but if we can focus on something other than each other and share that focus, our perspective will be on something steadier. For us, it’s our faith in Jesus. What we share together is the truth that we are forgiven and redeemed in him even though we aren’t perfect, and surely in any relationship your imperfections come through, especially in hard times. By both pursuing Jesus personally and together we were able to look ahead and fix our eyes on something other than each other.
- Circumstances are always changing, so basing your happiness and relationship on what’s happening around you isn’t fixing it on something steady. You need a foundation and something secure to be grounded in, and our faith continues to be that for us even as we continue to figure out who we are as a couple and what our direction is in life.
Lastly, practicing the principles of love & respect helps in every type of relationship. Although men and women need both love and respect, love is special for women because it is more of what we feed off of and need to live; respect is that for men. Think of it as an air hose to breathe; women need to receive love and men need to receive respect.
We first heard this simple but profound truth from a book of the same title by Emerson Eggerichs. Mikey and I first listened to this book on CD as we drove back from CA to WA on our honeymoon, pausing it every so often and discussing EVERY fight we ever had and finding that each issue boiled down to the same thing: him experiencing a lack of respect from me, and me experiencing a lack of love from him. In fact, a survey of 7,000 people revealed, when asked this question: When you are in conflict with your spouse or significant other, do you feel unloved or disrespected? that 83% of the men said “disrespected.” 72% of the women said “unloved.” Those are significant numbers!
During his chemo treatments, Mikey and I were often accompanied by his parents (and naturally so), especially in the beginning of the “new routine” we were getting used to. It was difficult and an odd situation to be in relationally because Mikey’s mom wanted to be at everything and, while we understood why, we often wanted to go alone. We were young into our marriage and wanted to distinguish ourselves as a couple and have a feeling of independence in the midst of feeling so dependent on his parents and others. However, when we asked to go alone for the remainder of the appointments and treatments, she was hurt – she essentially felt unloved by the request while Mikey felt disrespected when she came because he felt disrespected to do it alone as a man.
There’s just a small example of how this concept works in a non-romantic relationship; now, after more communication and clarification on why we were all feeling like we were, everyone was feeling better and understood one another much better. This love and respect idea rings so true for couples too, and I could write a whole series of posts on how this shapes out and shows itself in marriages, but I encourage you to look at this concept in your own life – part attitude and part action. For further exploration of the topic (highly recommended! ), check out the website.
In ALL relationships, the hard(est?) part to effective communication and mutual love and respect is learning to take off the lenses through which YOU view the world (whether you are a “beaver” or an “otter” – personality test! – whether your love language is one of “acts of service” or “quality time” – whether you connect more with love or respect) and learn to see life from the other’s perspective. This is incredibly difficult to do, but learning to adjust how you look at life, deal with conflict, show love, and express yourself helps immensely. The ability to adapt and connect, to be flexible and open, to listen and grow will go a long way in helping with your relationships, using the tools provided above as a guideline and foundation from which to start.
Parliament in the background!
By knowing who you are and how you relate to others, having a shared purpose with someone in your life, and treating each man with respect and woman with love, you will be better equipped for healthy relationships with those around you and more prepared to weather the storms together in difficult times.
I’ll be back tomorrow with the rest of your trip in photos and focusing on the fun of connecting with people in old and new relationships, but in the meantime, What are some of your relationship tips? Have you ever heard of the above resources? Any initial thoughts on them?
Again, I have nothing on my own to add or give, but through my experiences and the wisdom I’ve gained from others and from the resources we’ve been exposed to, I hope I was helpful to those at the conference dealing with relationships as we all do, but specifically surrounding cancer…it complicates things a little bit.
Have a *good* rest of your Monday (we’re trying to do the same and keep our eyes on our shared focus!) and I’ll be back tomorrow! Live well and be well,