Posts tagged “marriage

What Do Women Most Desire?

What do women most desire? Some would say the answer to this question is elusive, even though we have known for almost 600 years. Indeed, the answer was clearly shared within the 15th century romance tale – The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnelle. Few are aware of this important tale, but through unique advantages that I possess as a professor in a teacher credential program I have learned the secret.

One of my roles involves the supervision of student teachers. I set up student teaching placements in local schools, and then coach and mentor students toward mastering the essentials of teaching. One of the benefits of being a supervisor is that I get to be in classrooms. I get to observe classrooms in action. From the elegance of Math problems to the English class challenge of writing an impactful paper on the book The Chocolate War; from the fun of learning to hit a forehand on a tennis court in Physical Education to a Social Studies debate on the issue of building a wall along the U.S. / Mexican boarder, these are the kinds of rich learning experiences I get to observe. It is common for me, actually, immediately after leaving a classroom in which I have been observing, to get out my iPhone and order a book I just saw the classroom discussing. Their dialogue inspired me so much that I had to read it, too. Such was the source of my learning of The Wedding and, more importantly, the secret of what women most desire. For it was a high school English class that was studying the tale I am about to share with you. As a result of learning the secret, whether you are man or woman, your life may never be the same again.


The tale tells of an adventure during the time of King Arthur, a time when “chivalry was paramount.” It begins with King Arthur on a hunting trip. Separated from his knights while chasing a particular deer, he comes upon a knight not of his group, a knight of great might and fully armed. The knight intends to kill King Arthur for a wrong done many years before. Arthur delays the knight’s intention by talking with him and trying to convince him that it is no great thing to kill him when he isn’t in armor or armed really at all. So the knight agrees to let Arthur go for exactly one year, with the agreement that Arthur would return at the end of the year and tell the knight “what women everywhere love best.” If Arthur returned with the answer, he would live, otherwise he would die.

This Arthur agreed to, including that he wasn’t to tell anyone of their deal. But when he went back home many people could tell that he wasn’t himself. Finally, one of his most noble knights, Sir Gawain, approached him and asked what was wrong. Arthur ended up telling him about the unfortunate incident in the forest and the need for him to come up with what women truly desire most.

Gawain quickly came up with a plan. He would get on a horse and ride in one direction and Arthur would get on a horse and ride in the other direction, whereupon, as they rode far and near, they would ask people what their answer would be to this question. Surely, the answer would eventually come out of all this wisdom. The king liked the idea and they each set upon a journey of many months seeking the answer to this important, yet puzzling, question.

While on his journey Arthur met a lady that was as loathsome a creature as he had ever met. “Her face was red, and her nose dripped snot; her mouth was wide; her teeth were completely yellowed, and she had bleary eyes larger than a ball. Her mouth was overly large; her teeth hung over her lips.” There were many more details describing her foulness, but you get the picture.

Quite quickly the lady hailed the king and confidently explained that she knew the answer to his plight. She knew the secret; she knew what women most desire. “Grant me, sir, just one thing, and I guarantee you will live.” The king was not pleased with this lady, but he inquired as to what she wanted. In reply, she said “You must grant me a knight to marry. And his name is Sir Gawain.”

The king said he couldn’t do this and that it wasn’t for him to decide who Gawain would marry. But the lady was adamant, stating again that she could save his life. So the king reluctantly agreed to see what he could do.

When the king met Gawain he was discouraged, certain that he would die. Soon he shared with Gawain the offer of the foul lady and the deal she wanted in trade for her wisdom. As noble a knight as ever was, Gawain quickly agreed to marry her. “I shall marry her and marry her again. Even is she were a fiend. Even if she was as foul as Beelzebub. I will wed her, or could I really be your friend?

And so the king met again with the foul lady, whose name was Dame Ragnelle, and let her know that Gawain would indeed marry her. “Now,” said Arthur, “tell me your answer at once and save my life.” Ragnelle reviewed aloud many of the things that men thought women wanted – to be beautiful, to be in friendship with many wonderful men, to have pleasure in bed, to wed often, to be young, etc. “But there is one thing,” she said, “that we all fantasize about. Above all other things we desire from men to have sovereignty.” By this she meant that women want the ability to choose, whatever the situation may be. Sovereignty.

So the king went on his way and at the appointed time, exactly one year after first meeting the awful knight, met him where they had met before. Arthur told the knight what women most desire and the knight had to agree that it was a right and good answer. Arthur’s life was spared.

Gawain, though, believing in chivalry as he did, had to go ahead and marry Ragnelle. In spite of her ugliness, Gawain pledged his fidelity to her. People cried at the wedding for Gawain, but he married her nonetheless. During the reception banquet, true to her loathsome ways, Ragnelle ate more than any other guests. She probably ate more than any three guests put together.

Later that night, Gawain and Ragnelle were in their chamber when Gawain turned to her and instead of seeing an ugly, loathsome woman, he saw the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. He rejoiced at her beauty, and embraced her, but she interrupted him.

“Sir,” she said, “thus shall you have me.
Choose one—may God save me,
My beauty will not be permanent—
Whether you will have me fair at night
And ugly by day to all men’s sight,
Or else to have me fair by day
And at night one of the foulest women.
One of these you must have.
Choose one or the other.
Choose one, Sir Knight, whichever pleases you more.”

“Alas,” said Gawain, “the choice is hard.” And he thought about which choice would be best, the advantages and disadvantages to each. In the end, though, he said –

“My beautiful Lady, do as you please.
I put the choice in your hands.
Just as you wish—I give you control.
Free me when you choose, for I am constrained.
I give you the choice.”

And because he honored her in this way, the sorcery placed on her by her stepmother was broken. For until the best man in England had truly wedded her, she would appear as the exact opposite of what she was. So courteous, chivalrous Gawain came to her rescue. Out of love for his king and a willingness to keep his promise he came to be with the beautiful Ragnelle.


The tale, thought to be written around 1450, reveals a great, enduring truth – the human race was built for freedom. We function best, whether man, woman, or child, when we have autonomy and the ability to weigh our choices.

The tale is also a good example of curriculum content that can serve as a springboard to teach the elements of Choice Theory. In this case, the tale could be used to –

+ emphasize the basic need for freedom.

+ identify the Caring Habits and Deadly Habits of characters in the story.

+ examine the role of gender through the centuries since the tale was written.

+ discuss the factors that can contribute to unhappy marriages.

+ consider the concept of chivalry and its relationship to the basic need of freedom.

These are just a few classroom applications from the story. I would love it if you would respond and suggest additional teaching applications. If you have stories that you are already using in this way, it would be great if you could share them with us as well.


The month of June is just around the corner and with it comes The Better Plan classes that I teach at Pacific Union College as a part of the summer school schedule. Those dates are –

The Better Plan 1   June 26-29

The Better Plan 2   July 5-7


The Better Plan workshops can also be scheduled at your school, conference, or district. Let me know if you are interested.

How to Spot a Controlling Person (Even If It’s You)

I recently read a blog post by Donald Miller, the best-selling author of books like Blue Like Jazz (2003), Searching for God Knows What (2004), and A Million Miles in a Thousand Years (2009), and really want to share it with you. You can follow his blog at The list at the end of the post is especially insightful.

How to Spot A Controlling Person



I don’t like it when people try to control me (especially indirectly through manipulation) and I would have sworn I didn’t do a thing to try to control others. But it turns out that isn’t true. For all I know, I might even be manipulating you right now. Raise your hand if you think I’m trying to control you. (I see that hand. Now put it down. Now scratch your nose.)

I realized I was a controlling person not long ago when a therapist caught me in the act. I was wondering out loud why a friend was doing what she was doing and the thearpist questioned why I was trying to get inside somebody else’s head.

“What does it matter why people do what they do? Are you trying to predict behavior to gain a sense of security?”

It was a terrific observation.

Trying to figure out why people are doing what they are doing is a preface to trying to control or influence them indirectly. If I really wanted to know why they were doing what they were doing, I could just ask. But I didn’t want to ask because it was none of my business. They had a right to think and do as they wished.

Photo Credit: Leo Hidalgo, Creative Commons

Photo Credit: Leo Hidalgo, Creative Commons

Turns out controlling tendencies can hide anywhere. And most of the time (if not all the time) we don’t know we’re doing it.

The therapist went on to explain how relationships should work.

She put three large couch pillows on the floor and stood on one of the outside cushions. She then had me stand on the other outside cushion so there was an empty cushion between us.

“This is my pillow” she said, “and that is yours. This is my life and that is yours. The pillow in the middle represents our relationship. So, my responsibility is all about the pillow I’m standing on and yours is about yours. Together, we are responsible for the relationship. But at no point should I be stepping on your pillow.”

What she meant by that was this:

I can’t change anybody. I can’t force them or guilt them or shame them into doing anything. All I can do is stay on my pillow and ask myself whether or not I like the relationship. If I don’t, I can tell the other person what I want in a relationship and see if they want the same thing.

If not, I move on, and so do they.

In marriage, of course, it’s much harder. You can’t just walk away. But in business relationships and friendships, and even in dating, the model works quite well.

I found the metaphor freeing, actually.

No more wishing people would change or explaining “if they only did it this way we would be better friends.” Instead, I just say “this relationship doesn’t work” and there’s nothing I can do about it. If I’ve explained what I want in a relationship but the other person isn’t on board, no harm no foul.

It’s difficult in some relationships, I know, because sometimes you have to watch people destroy their lives, but that’s just the point.

Their lives are theirs to destroy.

I found the principle to be true in business, too.

When somebody tries to sell a little too hard, they are on my pillow so I back off or set better boundaries. It’s also a great way to find and enter into relationships with clients. If they want what you’re selling, great, and if not, that’s also great.

Business relationships work better when they’re natural and not forced and everybody stays on their pillow.

And in my spiritual life it’s the same.

If somebody is giving me a guilt trip, they’re on my pillow. I believe much of evangelicalism is influenced by leaders who don’t realize they are standing all over their congregation’s pillows. Some leaders feel incredibly insecure unless they are managing the lives of everybody around them.

Make no mistake, this isn’t strength, it’s incredible weakness. Just tell the truth, explain the consequences, and let people make their own decisions.

Here are a few ways to know whether you might be a controlling person:

1. You imagine a life in which somebody else was different, and indirectly try to affect their change.
2. You get angry when things aren’t going your way and you let people know it.
3. You can only be surrounded by people who are submissive to you.
4. You give the silent treatment to people you are angry with.
5. You are often tempted to show somebody the errors they don’t see in themselves.

What ways do you tend to step on other people’s pillows? Do you shame people (I’m guilty of that) or give them the silent treatment? How do you try to influence others without being direct or when their lives are none of your business?

Stringless Love


A key choice theory axiom, maybe THE choice theory axiom, states that the only person we can control is ourselves. This doesn’t mean that we don’t try to control others. We very often do, and in ways that are so subtle that we aren’t aware of it, even as we are in the midst of doing it. Today’s blog will attempt to pull back the curtain of our behavior and give examples of just how powerful this process is, a process that has everything to do with our quality world pictures.

When it comes to axiom #1 it would be more accurate to say that we are controlling for our perceptions, rather than controlling our own or another’s behavior. In other words, the only person’s perceptions we can control is our own. Let me give you an example that Mike (not his real name) shared with me recently –

The other day I am out shopping with my wife, each of us with a list of items to find, and while working on my list I notice her further down the same aisle I am in. I see her and for some reason I want to go to her and express my affection for her, to touch her, you know, to “look lovingly into her eyes” kind of thing. So I’m thinking about that as I’m standing there in the bread section. Some of you may be thinking, “What are you waiting for? Go tell her you love her!” But it’s not exactly that simple. We’re working through some stuff. We’re doing good, but anyway .  .  .

For some reason the question occurs to me, there in the bread section, am I wanting to express my affection to her because I just want to give her affection, or am I wanting to express affection so that she will give me affection in return? Am I wanting to touch her because she would then touch me, too? As I thought about it, I realized that what I really wanted was for her to want me, for her to express affection for me, and for her to touch me. I did feel affection toward her, but more importantly, I was fishing for something from her. My gift was not so much a gift, as much as it was a prompt, maybe even a bit of a trap.

I must admit I was stopped in my tracks at that moment. What you had been saying in the Soul Shapers class kind of just flashed into me. I had this picture in my mind of how I wanted my wife and I to be, how I wanted her to treat me, and there I was trying to create it, trying to turn my picture into a reality. I was stunned at how subtle, yet how real, the process was in my thinking. I was further stunned by how many years I had been behaving this way. My “affection” was really a form of manipulation.

Mike realized that his “love” had strings attached. He was giving, but it was giving to get something in return. When his giving wasn’t responded to in a way that matched his expectations he became frustrated and hurt, and then went about creating another behavior to try to get what he wanted. Maybe this new behavior would be another “loving” action; maybe it would be a punishing action like the silent treatment.

Spouses face this process every day. So does a teacher with his/her students. People have antennae that discern the strings that are attached to gifts. Love with strings attached really isn’t love. Let’s be clear, though. The problem isn’t that we have expectations, at least if the expectations are reasonable and healthy, the problem occurs when we manipulate or coerce to get what we want. It is actually relationship-strengthening to state your expectation and then, using the caring habits, discuss and negotiate the ways in which that expectation can happen.

——   “Love with strings attached really isn’t love.”   ——

On a deeper and more important level, I think this process reveals something about what the presence of sin has brought to our little planet. Jeremiah wrote about our righteousness being like filthy rags, or in other words, even our love seems to involve selfishness. I think the process also reveals one of choice theory’s limitations – that being that choice theory can give us insights into our behavior, but it cannot change the heart. Only the Holy Spirit can give us a perfect love that doesn’t care about strings. Stringless love. That would be powerful.


How about telling a friend about The Better Plan blog? It’s easy –

If today’s blog is helpful, take a moment and click on the Liked link.

Kids Need Happily Married Parents. Go figure.

We talked about mistake #1 in the last blog. Let’s move on to #2 – Put your marriage last.

The 7 Worst Things Good Parents Do

1. Baby your child.

2. Put your marriage last.

I wonder if the statement “Putting your marriage” last is even accurate. It seems like it would be a more accurate statement if it read “Acting like you’re putting your marriage last.” More often, I think, marriage partners very much want to experience intimacy—spiritually, emotionally, and physically—with each other. Something gets in the way of achieving intimacy, though, and partners recede back into coping mechanisms that are wrapped in hurt and pride. It may look like the partnership isn’t a priority, that work responsibilities or other friends or even their children, are keeping them from focusing on each other, but it isn’t really true.

Choice theory teaches that the only person we can control is ourselves.

It also teaches that we intentionally behave in a way that will either bring us what we want, especially when it comes to the way others, like our spouse, treats us, or in a way that at least brings us a feeling of control.

It is this willingness to settle for a little feeling of control, rather than lovingly, humbly, and energetically going for deeper levels of intimacy that creates and maintains a “cold war” home atmosphere, a distance between partners, and even a coping numbness. Consider the following scenario –

I have a quality world picture in my head about how I would like my wife to treat me when I arrive at home after work. Upon my walking through the door, this picture involves her jumping up, doing two back handsprings toward me, and then kissing me deeply and passionately. Alas, this picture doesn’t take place. Instead, she says hi and asks me how my day has gone. I am hurt and frustrated that once again my pictures aren’t being matched. She is watching a program on TV, but seems interested in me, even asking me to come join her. I politely decline, trying to sound friendly, grab some food from the kitchen, and head to the back of the house to watch a program of my choosing. I have not come across with a major silent treatment behavior, yet I have had what I refer to as a mini-withdrawal, a seemingly small decision to just do my thing. However, much more has happened here than a small withdrawal. I yearned for what I thought was a major connection, an intimate moment, but I settled for something much less. I withdrew into aloneness. You are probably thinking that my quality world picture involving handsprings and wet kisses was ridiculous to begin with. To that I would say you are right. It was ridiculous. Unfortunately, even ridiculous pictures exert a powerful influence on our behavior. Fortunately, though, we choose and shape the pictures that go into our quality world. Appropriate, realistic pictures help a lot. Another thing to consider, too, is this: If I wanted my wife to welcome me with two back handsprings and a kiss, what prevents me from greeting her with handsprings and a kiss? Oh, I might say to that suggestion, she has to make the first move. She is the one that needs to change, I reason. Keeping in mind what she desires, why can’t I be the person that I would like her to be? It is scenarios like these that play in a million variations every day. We settle for roommate status instead of going for an intimate partnership.

Our children see this dance of control play out in front of their eyes day after day. It is true that a good marriage is good for the mental health of the spouses. Having good relationships, especially one as significant as marriage, is incredibly important to us. It is also true, though, that a good marriage is good for the mental health of kids. They root for their parents to be happy and to treat each other well. The energy of the home environment is palpable and obvious, regardless of adult efforts to hide the anger and protect their kids from the dysfunction. A happy, healthy energy in the home is good for everyone. Kids do not begrudge appropriate and loving attention that their parents give to one another. Instead, they feed off of it; they learn from it. Someday they will have a home of their own and it will, for good or for bad, for happiness or for unhappiness, tend to mirror the homes of their childhood.

A recent article, Marriage Is Not a 24/7 Sleepover Party, in The Atlantic underscored the effect of the challenges of marriage –

“Marriage is in trouble. According to a 2011 Pew study, barely half of American adults are married, a record low. Nearly a quarter of Americans believe marriage is becoming obsolete. Many members of the millennial generation (18- to 29-year-olds) believe being a parent is more important than being married.”

Of all the relationships we form, marriage is the hardest one to maintain. Divorce rates are grim enough (hovering around 50% for decades); when you factor in how many more couples stay together in unhappy marriages it becomes downright discouraging. Entire families are affected by this dysfunction. Whether partners split and go their separate ways or stay together as lonely roommates, children are caught in the unhappy crossfire. Let’s do what we can (words like love, acceptance, trust, and humility come to mind) and stop the crossfire.

3. Push your child into too many activities.

4. Ignore your emotional or spiritual life.

5. Be your child’s best friend.

6. Fail to give your child structure.

7. Expect your child to fulfill your dreams.

Friel, J. and Friel, L. (1999). The 7 worst things good parents do. New York: Barnes & Noble.

Click on the following link to access the article in The Atlantic

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