Saturday, September 24, 2011


I remember a time halfway through our process of being counseled when I reached a point where I was ready to give up. We were about a year into it, and it seemed that no matter what I did or how diligent I was, it was not going to be enough for Nan. She seemed like a bottomless pit of needs and wants from me. As a man who had a high need to feel adequate (like all men), I was becoming discouraged and doubtful whether this counseling thing and this marriage thing was actually going to work over the long haul.

On the flip side of this, Nan was thinking “Isn’t he ever going to get it? I keep telling him and coaching him and encouraging him and being vulnerable with my feelings. Why doesn’t he completely ‘get me’ yet?”

These were the negative dialogs going on in our heads. But the truth was somewhat different. I was starting to understand and was responding much more appropriately, and she was becoming much more kind and yielded towards me. But we were both scared.

Subsequently, I discovered that there was a place of “enough” for her. She became trusting that our new way of dealing with each other was more than just temporary. Our anxiety in the relationship went down and our contentment went up.

Up until that point we both felt blamed by the other person, and alone in our self-righteousness. We were stuck. Both of us were impatient for change and did not like having to suffer. We really did believe that if only the other person would change, everything would be fine. The turning point came when we both acknowledged our part in the difficulties.

The element that was needed to reach this place was endurance.

It took a lot longer than we had hoped. But the damage was significant and the deficits were large. Just like a house that had been neglected for a long time, the rehabilitation took patience and effort. But our endurance produced results that continue to pay dividends.

So for all of you who are struggling and discouraged, do not give up hope. Roll up your sleeves and get to work. Stop talking about change and do something toward that goal. Make a plan, commit the time, and be prepared to endure the process until you are satisfied with the results. Often the only thing blocking the way is our own pride.   

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Turning Down The Noise

One of the things I most appreciate about our vacations is the space it provides for tuning out the extraneous noise of life and tuning in to what is more important. On our last three vacations not once did we turn on a television, even for a moment.  Instead, we talked to each other, read books together and spent time dreaming together.

Now, in all fairness, we have also “cut the cable” at home, relying on our Internet connection for news and entertainment. So for us this elimination of television is not a spiritual fast, but a significant lifestyle change. One thing I have noticed by this change in habit is that we are much more interruptable. There is none of that shushing each other so we don’t miss what is happening on the tube.

Perhaps there are other ways to achieve a level of peace and contentment as well. Here are some of the things we do.

  • We do not allow the telephone to rule our life. Often we check Caller I.D. for telemarketers before picking up the phone. Amazing how those folks never leave a voice message. I apply the same rule to my cellular phone – I have not developed the habit of texting, which I believe creates a false sense of urgency. I do understand the value, but it becomes one more intrusion into my inner world.

  • We also carefully consider outside commitments. So many things look appealing and interesting when you are part of a wonderful church community like Christian Assembly. Learning what to say “yes” to becomes a challenge. But if we are to have space for solitude and other spiritual disciplines we need to be mindful of our choices. Work, kids, spouses and friends will all contend for our time. Too many parents are tyrannized by kids’ outside activities. A good parent helps a child make choices and set good boundaries.

  • We do not shop as a form of entertainment. I often joke about how many people are at the “Church of the Holy Mall” every Sunday. It is a sad joke, though. As part of our commitment to simplicity, we try to limit our shopping mostly to essentials for life (books are essential, right?). It both helps us keep a budget as well as focus on what is more important to us.

  • We do not have any solo, all-consuming hobbies. This can become almost an obsession for some folks. We joke about “sports widows”, but often it is not funny to the lonely spouse. When does exercise become a narcissistic pursuit rather than a healthy one? Does our time at the gym squeeze out our time with God?

Perhaps you can add to my list. I would love for others to post ways in which you preserve sanity in your life and reduce the noise of living in this complex society.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Off The Table - Extreme Danger Ahead

“You’re just like your mother!”

“You’re just like your father!”

How many times have these phrases been hurled, not as a compliment, but as an expression of contempt?

In every relationship there are certain things that should be “off the table”. These are oHOHHsubjects or phrases or actions that are simply too inflammatory or hurtful. If I cross the line on these, I may do irreparable damage to the relationship, or at least break trust to an extent that it may be a long time before my partner is willing to let me get emotionally or physically close again.

Often, we toss out these remarks as reminders of past sins or failures with the intention to engender shame. But why would we do this to someone we supposedly care about?

I believe it is one way we try to control other people. When I am angry or upset, I am feeling a loss of control and my response is to try to gain it back. In my attempt to feel secure again, I may use maladaptive methods to manage my anxiety over this loss of power.

Every couple should talk about the issues in their lives that fall into this category and should agree to never tread on those tender places. To do so intentionally is simply unacceptable, sometimes even cruel, and may place the relationship in grave danger. I believe this can be especially helpful for those who are not yet married and desire to minimize potential hurt and conflict.

What are common things that should be 'off the table' for couples?
  • Threatening divorce
  • Foul or abusive language, cussing, insults
  • Rage (as opposed to anger)
  • Threatening abuse: physical, financial
  • Withholding affection for an extended time

If you have already crossed these boundaries in a relationship, intentionally or otherwise, it would be wise to humbly address your errors. It may be an opportunity for sincere repentance and apologies which opens the way for forgiveness and restoration. In some relationships these hurts might be so deep or the relationship so fragile that you may require the assistance of a pastor or counselor.

Psalm 139
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
      test me and know my anxious thoughts.
 24 Point out anything in me that offends you,
      and lead me along the path of everlasting life.    

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Emotional Triangles

Anxiety may be the most common byproduct of living in this fast-paced and complicated culture. I am sure that every generation has had to deal with its particular set of stressors back to the dawn of man. But what might set apart our more current generations is the intangible quality of many of the fears and threats that we have to face. There just seems to be more and more things that we cannot control or affect. And the result is increased anxiety.

So what does this have to do with triangles?

In relationships, a dyad (two people or two factions) is considered to be unstable. As long as a dyad is free of anxiety, it will function well. But introduce some stress into the relationship and it will become unstable.

One way we try to bring stability to the relationship is to form an emotional triangle. We look around to find a third party to absorb some of the anxiety the dyad is feeling. Parents do this with kids. They over invest emotional energy into an acting out child, which takes the focus off their own troubled relationship. The child can then be blamed for the stress in the marriage.

We can also reduce our anxiety by bringing in a third party as an advocate to our position. If I can convince a friend or family member that my spouse is the problem in our relationship, then I feel some relief. The problem is that it creates more distance between me and my spouse. And as an added bonus, when I eventually make up with my spouse I may have to deal with a damaged relationship I created between my spouse and the third party.

We not only can form emotional triangles, we can also be drawn into them. Other people will often try to bring us in as the third side of a triangle. It happens in families, it happens at our workplace and it happens in churches. It can occur through gossip (“Did you hear what so and so said about Judy? Can you believe that?”)

Every time we form an emotional triangle we will compound the problem.

The only solution is to be very vigilant to recognize when a triangle is about to be formed and resist it. It is important for problems to be dealt with directly between two parties.

Am I saying that it is always wrong to bring in a third party to a problem?

No, of course not. Sometimes it is the only solution. But the third party must be as unbiased as possible. The Bible has already outlined this process.    

Matt 18: 15-16 “If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back. But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses.