The best thing Jim and I have done recently to strengthen our marriage was to attend a 16-week marriage ministry called ReEngage. We have since become leaders and taken multiple groups through. Every time we learn something new about ourselves and about each other. ReEngage uses a small group model to create a safe community where we can be honest, authentic, and real. We spend 8 weeks working on our relationship with God and 8 weeks learning about aspects of marriage. Alongside our spouse and 5 other couples, we dive deep into working on ourselves.
One of the most powerful things we teach in ReEngage is to draw a circle around yourself and then to work on everyone that is inside the circle. Really staying in your circle is just a practical principal that empowers us to stop trying to change our spouse. Though it sounds like a simple thing, it is much harder to practice. Learning to stay in your circle will change your marriage, your parenting and even how you foster deep friendships.
Staying inside my circle does not come easily. It is much easier to look at all the reasons and causes of my actions, than to focus only on myself. I would prefer to share all the circumstances that led up to me pouting. If he just loved me more…If he just talked to me more…If I wasn’t so stressed at work, then I wouldn’t pout. When I realize that regardless of my circumstances, I get to react in a way honoring to God, then I am empowered to change myself
Focusing on ourselves can feel uncomfortable. Many times, people would rather generalize when they answer questions. We say things like, “We…” or “Most of us…” But when we get in our own circle, then we own our actions, with statements like… “I did this….” Or “I feel …” We vulnerably, honestly share our stuff. It becomes a much stronger statement that pierces our heart when we hurt others. Learning to own your own stuff takes practice, courage and will change your relationships.
Create a Safe Place
Staying inside your circle also means not giving other people advice on how to fix their situation, unless they ask. When people share hard situations or get emotional, most of us feel pretty uncomfortable. We try to make it go away as fast as we can by trying to fix the problem or directing the focus somewhere else. Not giving advice creates a safe place for honesty and openness about struggles. Leaving space for emotions validates feelings. We have to trust God in the process instead of trying to fix others ourselves.
Another way we get out of our circle is by keeping score. We work on our marriage for a while but as soon as we notice that we’ve made more changes than our spouse, then we feel like they owe us something. We become resentful and backslide thinking why should I do all this work if they aren’t even trying. Working on yourself is not about becoming who your spouse wants you to be. It is about becoming who Christ wants you to be. Regardless of what your spouse does or if they do anything at all, we can work on ourselves.
Draw a Circle
One of the most powerful exercises you can do to help you sort through any struggle is to take a piece of paper and draw a big circle. Then write everything that you can control inside the circle. Everything that you cannot control write outside of the circle. Pray over the things on the outside of the circle and give them to God. Then focus on the few things on the inside of the circle that you can control and focus on them. What changes can you make? What small practical steps that might help? Where you can start? What choices do you have?
I am often reminded of Matthew 7:3 which says, Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?
Regardless of our situation, we all have things to learn. Rather than feeling helpless in your situation, get inside your circle and discover what you can change. Own your brokenness and give the rest to God.