“What are you giving up for Lent?” This is a question that’s being asked in Catholic households, including ours. In years past I have given up different things, like drinking beer, soda, liquor. I have also taken a different approach by working on something in my own character, like yelling at my kids less, working on improving a relationship.

It’s in this vein that I came across this article today, “Give up this Bad Relationship Habit For Lent” by Dr. Gregory Popcak on the Catholic Exchange website.

Dr. Popcak suggests that we give up loving our comfort zones more than we love our spouse.

This concept intrigued me. As I read further into the article, I found myself agreeing with this concept. How many times do we find ourselves refusing to make small changes in our relationships, whether spousal or family because it’s difficult? After all, it takes a lot of effort to break free of the inertia of our “comfort zones.”

In the articles he makes three main points about loving our comfort zones:

  1. Intimacy is undermined
  2. Relationship relevance is diminshed
  3. Problem solving is more difficult

Intimacy undermined

The key to an intimate relationship is trust. Trust allows us to be vulnerable with our spouses. Trust allows us to approach our spouses with a burden and knowing that they will listen and have our backs. Dr. Popcak asks….

But what if addressing my needs requires you to grow or change in ways that would be good for you, but somehow uncomfortable. For instance, what if your spouse needs you to be more communicative, or affectionate, or playful, or serious, or responsible, or faithful, etc?

The intimacy of the relationship is tested if you are in love with your comfort zone. We can easily retreat into our comfort zone and delude ourselves by saying “I can’t do that” or as he says. “that’s not me.” When we do this, Dr. Popcak says, “your spouse will feel unsafe communicating his or her needs to you.” When this happens frequently enough, the two partners drift apart.

Over the course of our marriage, there have been many instances where either one of us has needed to grow for ourselves. A few years ago, I was wanting to make a career change. We had many discussions about it and I was able to find the right opportunity that fit our family and became an insurance agent. This was a completely differnt role than I had ever been in before. It required me to develop a higher degree of self-management. She supported me, even when I am sure on the inside she thought “why are earth are we doing this?”

I took a tremendous risk, but it was a calculated risk. While the financial outcome didn’t pan out as expected, I learned quite a bit about myself and our relationship.

If we didn’t have the level of trust that exists in our relationship, I don’t know that our relationship would have survived. I am very grateful for that.

Relationship Relevancy

Research shows that happy couples are more likely to seek out new experiences together than unhappy couples.

He makes the case that couples that are constantly trying new restaurants, classes, hobbies are also always challenging their comfort zones. They learn more about each other and enjoy each other’s company more and enjoy a deeper relationship with their spouse.

On the other hand, couples that live within their comfort zones tend to stagnate and feel threatened by change. Their marriages become boring and don’t grow in a life-affirming way. And again, they tend to grow apart.

We are very busy with kids’ activities and community service. It’s difficult to make time to explore new things as a couple. But, we have always made it a priority for us to have regular date nights. We enjoy spending time together even if it’s just being able to send the kids downstairs so that we can watch a movie. Some of our best times are spent trying out new restaurants together. Being able to try a bite of each other’s dishes or enjoying a bottle of wine that we’ve never had before.

There are also opportunities for us as a family to have those new experiences together on vacations. Watching my daughter experience the ocean this past summer was an absolute JOY! Riding a new roller coaster with the family works as well.

I work every day to strengthen the relevancy of my relationship with my wife as well as my children.

Solving Problems

As Dr. Popcak explains, “Solutions to marital problems usually requires one or both spouses to change in a least some small way.” It’s very easy for a partner to take the approach that “I am what I am.” When spouses are constantly getting stuck fighting the same fights again and again, it’s likely that one partner is refusing to change, even in the smallest of ways. Eventually, both partners dig in their heels and say “I’ll change my ways when they do.” Marriage requires both partners to grow and evolve into one. A health family life needs to grow and change as well.

I have seen this evolution happen within me and our relationship. I am not done changing. With each new year, I am presented with new challenges. Right now, my relationship with my oldest son is the most challenging.

He’s fifteen and convinced, as I am sure I was, that he knows everything. I am learning to transition in our relationship, from father to coach. While it wasn’t always easy to be a parent, it’s easy to do that than be a coach for him. My wife points out that I should be giving him the opportunity to make mistakes, even as he makes them over and over. When I step back from things, I recognize more and more how right she is.

In conclusion

During this Lenten season, I am endeavoring to make that transition from parent to a coach for my oldest son. I only hope that we can look back and say we did it right.

In what ways, can you love your comfort zones less?