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  • Contract for Sanity

    Two buddies with a long-running rivalry were conscripted to star in the church nativity play. The one selected for Innkeeper never missed an opportunity to give his friend a hard time. The other boy played the role of Joseph. On the night of the performance, the Innkeeper deliberately went off script just to throw his friend for a loop. When Jospeh knocked on the door and asked for lodging, the Innkeeper did not say “We have no room.” Instead, he shocked everyone by exclaiming: “Welcome! Come on in!” For a split second, Joseph was stunned, but he quickly regrouped and said loudly: “Let’s get outta here, Mary. No wife of mine is gonna stay in a dump like this!” He kept his cool, used his head and came out looking pretty good, at least for that moment. But where did the play go from there?
    In the midst of a tense counseling session, a couple asked me: “Do you think we’re crazy?” I responded: “Some of your behaviors are irrational at best and destructive at worst, but I have a question: ‘Do you think you know how to act sane?'” Pausing in surprise, they admitted that acting sane was indeed something they understood and had actually practiced off-and-on for years. I then reminded them: “That’s really all you two need to do. Justact sane. It’s your choice.”
    “Sane” promotes peace and goodwill. It’s what makes relationships work. Here are some symptoms of sanity:
    Sane couples acknowledge and embrace feelings honestly. Pretending feelings are not there can turn you into passive-aggressive, volatile and scary housemates who mess with each other’s heads.
    Sane couples act out of love, not fear. Anything less than love can generate massive amounts of anxiety.
    Sane couples treat each other better than strangers. It’s okay to be kind and generous to people you barely know, but how do you treat each other when you’re upset? When the other person is there all the time and you’re still annoyed about something you’ve never discussed, it’s easy to forget how this person knows you inside and out, more painfully than any other person on earth, and yet loves you anyway.
    Sane couples offer each other encouragement instead of criticism, negativity and put downs that make it hard for the other to feel good about Self.
    Sane couples practice assertiveness, which is the ability to say what they feel and want without being viewed as selfish, bad, wrong or evil.
    Sane couples bless each other’s freedom to decide what is real and true and support one another’s dreams, instead of using mind games to stifle what each wants and erode self-confidence. A healthy relationship will never require you to sacrifice your dignity, your friends or your dreams.
    Sane couples are grounded in a realistic, transparent faith. Superficial “religion” can become an escape from the stress of living in denial of feelings, avoiding conflict, acting out of fear rather than love and treating each other worse than strangers. Whatever faith you embrace needs to make a real difference when it comes to getting along well with the living breathing person you call your partner. The most important question I ever ask couples is: “Do you believe God brought you together?” If the response is: “Never thought about it,” or “We used to believe that,” my heart sinks. But if both say: “Yes, we believe God brought us together,” then I know hope is still alive. The God who brought them together can keep them together. The pilot light is still lit.
    As a couple, you might want to start building a list of behaviors you believe will promote peace and goodwill, e.g.:
    • Keep commitments and respect schedules.
    • Value one another’s perceptions.
    • Conserve each other’s time and money.
    • Never allow anyone to split you.
    • Do not engage in blame games.
    • Defuse needless drama.
    • Despise chaos.
    • Admit when you are behaving immaturely.
    • Do not expect the other to cater to your every whim.
    Give serious thought to what is non-negotiable on your list of sanity-traits. There is a real sense in which you create your own reality and train people how to treat you, so have in your mind a well-formed outcome to work toward.
    It’s never too late to learn, grow and start doing what works. A divorced client explained to me: “I married into an ideal. Then my ideal became an ordeal. That ordeal led to a raw deal. Now, I’m looking for a new deal!”
    Whatever new deal you make, start early discussing and agreeing to specific terms of your Contract for Sanity.
    If you can hold two opposites in your minds at the same time, manage your feelings while communicating, remain self-aware, comfortable in your own skin and willing to take risks, you’re probably fairly healthy.
    Memorize these four phrases and use them often: “I was wrong. I am sorry. Please forgive me. I love you.”
    There will be no challenge strong enough to destroy your relationship so long as you’re willing to stop fighting against each other and start fighting for each other.
    May there be much peace on your earth.

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