Saturday, December 29, 2012

Keeping It Real

During a counseling session I am always disappointed when I hear the phrase: “He/she shouldn't … followed by whatever frustrated expectation that they hold. It could be:

“She shouldn't get so upset.”
“He shouldn't care about my weight.”
“She shouldn't expect me to turn off the TV and talk so often.”
“He shouldn't want to spend so much time with his friends.”

I could go on with a long list. I’m sure that you have your own if you are in a relationship. Even if you are not, you may have a generalized list for the opposite sex:

“Men shouldn't expect…….”
“Women don’t really believe that a guy should……, do they?”

The problem with this kind of thinking is that it will keep you either outside of a relationship, or in a very conflicted or dissatisfied one. I am not saying that the expectations that people hold onto are necessarily good or bad – just that they are real. And if we want to be in a relationship with them, we will have to make peace with what is, rather than what we think it should be.

Before we are married we have the luxury of choosing whether we want to abide by the other person’s desires. We can ask ourselves “Can I live with this if it never changes?” Once we are married it is much more difficult. We can ask for changes, but we cannot demand them. If he drinks too much before you get married, he will probably drink too much after. If she is too emotional before you get married, she will still be emotional after the honeymoon.

It is fraudulent to make temporary adjustments for the sake of getting married, and then abandon the changes once the ring is securely on your finger. I have seen guys pay focused attention to their girlfriends during dating, and then nearly ignore them once they are married. I have seen women lose weight in order to attract a man and then rapidly put it back once they are married. There are people who feign interest in sex, sports, movies, music, church, parenthood and all kinds of things until they have settled into married life. This is just plain dishonest. I strongly recommend that you count the cost up front and decide whether you are willing to pay the price or not. Your integrity is on the line.

It may sound like I am being negative here, but that is not the case. My desire is that you would give up illusions in favor of reality, so that you will not be blindsided and disappointed in your relationships. People can, and do change, but we cannot depend on it. However, there are changes that I can make within myself that make me a better and more desirable partner. Those are the things that I can focus on that will make a difference.

As always I like to point to the fruits of the spirit as a great list of attributes to strive for in our personal development. According to Galations 5:22-23
 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

As we end this year, remember to pick out your "word" for 2013. If you don't know what I'm talking about -- go back and read My Word.

Happy New Year -- stay safe, and may God Bless you.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Relationships, Marriage and the Seven Deadly Sins

I was listening to a talk on spiritual direction and the speaker referenced the seven deadly sins of traditional Christianity. In recent times there has been a distancing from the word sin, the concept of moral absolutes and an acceptance of moral relativity (to our detriment, I might add). As I was going over the list (lust, sloth, gluttony, greed, wrath, envy and pride) I realized how damaging they are not only to our relationship with God, but also to a marriage and other relationships.

Out of the list it is generally accepted that pride is the original and deadliest of the seven sins and the source of all the others.

Traditionally, each of the sins had an opposite which was labeled a “virtue”, and the goal of every true believer. The virtue associated with pride is humility. Often when we are at a stuck place in counseling it is because at least one person is unyielding because of pride.

It is so sad to watch a marriage unravel because of the unnecessary stubbornness of a spouse. There are times when a solution is evident and easy, but one or both are unwilling to take a step towards each other because of selfish pride.

What makes us hold out even though we know we are going to lose something precious? I think it is because we fear we are going to lose something which feels even bigger to us, which is a sense of self. The problem is, we are operating under a lie. The self is always enlarged by humility because it requires strength to lay down one’s life for another. It challenges us to love our neighbor as ourselves. That is not an easy task for anyone.

Think of the other sins on the list. Each one of those is an unwelcome guest in a relationship, marriage, or family. Which of these are particularly problematic for you? I know that as I look at the list some jump out at me and I cringe.

Just for the record here are the sins and virtues in pairs: lust/chastity, gluttony/temperance, greed/charity, sloth/diligence, wrath/patience, envy/kindness, and pride/humility.

How can we overcome our sinful tendencies in a culture that often supports them? I think only by surrendering to our loving God who is not looking to punish us, but to draw us towards Himself into an eternal family.

Interestingly, many New Year’s resolutions have traditionally come from this list. I think they are still valid as personal goals for the coming years. What do you think?

Let's begin the new year with some joyful anticipation.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Help! Stress!

I came across a good article on stress the other day – it went into a lot of the biological and physiological changes that take place in us, as well as the emotional. For me, the most helpful part of the article was when it talked about the psychological damage that is caused by stress.

Studies have shown that stress is most damaging when it has one or more of these conditions:

Beyond your control

Repetitive – Prolonged exposure to irritations and annoyances takes its toll on our coping abilities. Doing the same boring task over and over again dulls our mind. It becomes more difficult to concentrate and perform well. We worry that we may make mistakes or reach our limit of patience. “I can’t drive this crowded freeway one more day during rush hour.” “I can’t cook one more meal for this ungrateful family.”

Routine in relationships has the advantage of creating stability, but if the routine is inflexible it may become negative and stressful.

Unpredictable – Even more harmful is when there is no possible way of knowing when something bad is about to happen. If you live with an angry or alcoholic person, there most likely is an atmosphere of “walking on eggshells”. You know that things may fall apart at any moment and you will live in a heightened state of alert. Especially if you are a parent you will feel the stress of wondering when to step in and protect the kids from a spouse or even another sibling.

If your job situation is unstable and could end, or your stability is tied to the financial markets there will be a lot of pressure on you. If you live paycheck to paycheck and drive old cars and own old appliances you may always be waiting for something to break and wreak havoc.

Beyond your control – This is most likely the worst of the lot. Having control makes us feel safe and we will often go to great lengths to try to keep from the anxiety produced by uncertainty. Unfortunately that includes trying to control other people or uncontrollable situations. When we try to control others, they will likely rebel after a certain point and we will feel even more at a loss.

As a business owner I can’t make people buy from me. As a husband I can’t force my wife to agree with me. When taxes are raised and food and gas prices continue to escalate, I can mostly sit by and watch it happen.

What are the solutions?

Minimize your exposure to the really annoying people or tasks and alter your routines to break up the tedium of life if repetitiveness is your stressor. Try making more positive responses to people and take the negative thoughts captive.

For the last two, I would encourage you to take control of what you can control. For things that are unpredictable, rather than focusing on worst case scenarios and feeling stuck, work on having several contingency plans to address possible events. When situations are beyond your control, set boundaries and limits and ask for what you need in order to maintain as much positive control as you can. Focus on gratitude even when you don’t feel like it.

Then let the rest go. Be comforted that God is in control – always. He is never blindsided. 

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Leadership in the Home

If you hang around a church or business for any length of time you are going to hear about leadership issues. Usually this topic concerns the kind of organizational leadership that occurs with the top layer of any entity that has to interact with people.

The home is also a people unit that must have structure and leadership as well.

It doesn't matter if you are a man, woman, single parent, or the principle person in a household; leadership skills are required to maintain an effective and peaceful environment. The Bible has things to say about what constitutes a good leader. They are not just spiritual in nature, but also very practical – when applied, they work.

  • Sober-minded – this means exercising self-control over the decisions that must be made in order maintain a functional household. It means managing money well, managing time well, and managing people with wisdom.

  • Physically sober – this means having self-control over alcohol, food, and other substances.

  • Calm – You might not always be able to remain completely calm in the face of stressful situations, but you can always be the least anxious person in the room. When you are able to do this, people will look up to you for guidance and will likely trust your decisions. Anger will cause family members to distance from you and see you as emotionally unreliable.

  • Responsible – 1 Tim 5:8 - But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. It is clear that leaders are to do whatever is necessary to take care of their families. It can be particularly hard when the only jobs available feel beneath our abilities. Being responsible also means doing the other hard stuff as well; keeping our promises, whether that means being on time, showing up for events, or even holding boundaries and following through with discipline.

  • Sacrificial – a good leader knows that they are to be a servant. Whatever they would impose on their family they must be willing to do themselves, and do it first. A good leader is last in line, making sure all the others have been cared for first. If you can do this you will have loyal followers.  

  • Generous – in more than just physical goods. They are also looking for opportunities to show love and speak words of praise and affirmation. They search for the positive in people and limit the criticisms.  

I’m sure you can come up with many more attributes of a good leader. How would you like to be regarded in your family? Do you want to be feared or distrusted? Or do you want to be respected, loved and obeyed? It is your choice.

Saturday, December 1, 2012


There are times as a counselor when I feel a deep sadness along with a large dollop of frustration. I expect to feel sad as I hear of people’s pain. It is just plain hard to listen to the results of sin, regret, and/or natural or unfortunate circumstances in the lives of people.

But my frustration comes when progress is blocked by a client tenaciously holding on to something of a destructive nature that yields no possible benefit.

Bitterness is one of these with disastrous relational results.

Bitterness separates parents from children, husbands from wives, and congregants from churches. It can rip close friends apart from one another leaving both lonely and dissatisfied. Why would we hold on to such a destructive force as cold resentment when we are quite aware of how it hurts us and others?    

The answer is not very pretty: It is power that can be used to control or punish others and justify our bad behavior. I give myself permission to withhold love and approval. I build a fortress of protection from relational risk. But I am also out of the will of God.

There are times when it is appropriate to set boundaries with people in order to stop or prevent damage. But these boundaries must be set with love with a goal towards restoration, if possible. How can we move towards reconciliation if our heart is cold and hard?

In bitterness spouses will withhold conversation, friendliness or sex, or communicate only in anger, sarcasm or irritability, needlessly maintaining walls of separation. The results are a loveless or shallow marriage. Children will become rebellious and disrespectful and parents will deny the nurturance that all sons and daughter need to become healthy adults.

The Bible says that forgiveness (as opposed to reconciliation) is not an option. And the truth is that often we are the only one that suffers as our heart shuts down. The ability to forgive is both an act of the will and an act of obedience. It is also a supernatural occurrence because the truth is that I rarely feel the strength or the inclination. Can I really utter the words “not my will but thy will be done” in my humanness?

It is with love that I write these words because my joy is in seeing reconciliation and restoration in the lives of people I care about. It is always difficult to be the one who takes a risk and makes a first move. Often that first move is internal, allowing God to work on our hearts. It is a surrender to love that far surpasses our ability to comprehend it. Only God can effectively remove our bitterroot judgments. And only with our cooperation will He do that.

Eph 4:31-32 (NLT) Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Necessary Losses

Inspired by our pastor’s sermon last weekend, I was thinking about how to be thankful for everything, not just the gains, but also the losses. This really seems like a tough pill to swallow when the losses are involuntary. But I started thinking that some losses are chosen. Why would we do that?

Perhaps we might do that in order to gain something as a result.    

When we became committed to our church there was a loss involved for us. We had become used to spending most weekends down at the marina on our sailboat. It was evident that we would have to make a choice where we would invest our time and money. A sailboat does not maintain itself. There are slip fees, insurance, boat payments and upkeep fees. We still miss the sailboat, but we love our church community better.

The Bible uses the words sacrifice and surrender to describe voluntary losses for the purpose of gain. They are not words that I am naturally drawn to, but they are important concepts if I am to achieve maturity.

Some of our sacrifices are in obedience to God in order to gain favor and accomplish His purposes in our lives and in the lives of others. Parents make sacrifices to promote the welfare of their children. Employers make sacrifices to promote the welfare of their employees. The hope is that the results would be loyalty from children and employees. (And obviously there are no guarantees.)

I think about the people who choose to go on missions trips, often paying for all or much of the expenses themselves. They may use up their vacation time from work, or for longer mission commitments they might even quit their jobs and rely on their savings to fund their calling. The loss of financial security can be significant. 

With marriage there are other necessary losses involved.

  • I give up separate relationships with members of the opposite sex. No more private lunches with co-workers or dinner with friends of the opposite sex without my spouse. I don’t go “hang out” in singles environments anymore. We find couples activities instead.
  •  “My time” becomes “our time”, and my schedule is no longer my own. I don’t make time commitments outside of work without discussing it with my mate first. Girls or boys “night out” is no longer a given. It doesn't have to disappear; it just needs to be agreed upon.
  •  “My money” becomes “our money” and spending decisions must be mutual. I no longer spend like I did when I was single. Things like electronic gear, (musical instruments), smart phones, clothes, shoes, handbags and a hundred other things must be decided based on our “family” budget, not my sole desire. Delayed gratification becomes the rule, not the exception. 

When couples become parents there are further losses.

I know many wives who will allow their husbands to continue in risky behavior up until they become pregnant, but then they insist that things change. The motorcycle has to be sold. No more extreme sports. No more trips to Las Vegas or other gambling behaviors, etc.  No more living on the financial edge, from paycheck to paycheck. Buying toys for the child takes priority over buying “toys” for the adults.

But all these are necessary losses if we are to become fully mature – and trust me, maturity is a huge gain in the long run.

1 Cor. 13:11 When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

It's All About ME!

One of the more difficult personality types to deal with is the narcissist. It is generally accepted that when it becomes extreme in a person, (Narcissistic Personality Disorder) the ability to sustain a relationship with them can be nearly impossible. If you are married to someone with NPD, it is necessary to seek professional help. If you are in a dating relationship with someone you suspect is narcissistic to a pathological degree, it should be a big red flag – some therapists will tell you to run – and run fast.

Narcissism, as opposed to healthy self esteem, can be described as an inflated sense of self importance and excessive self focus. I am not going to go into theories about the formation of a narcissist or the sub-types here, but simply to help you recognize the signs in yourself or others. 

Mary is a pretty girl and easily connects with people. Men are naturally attracted to her outgoing and easy manner. The problem is, every conversation is about her – her life, her interests, her work and her friends. If you try to share some of you own experiences, she will always point out how your experiences relate to her own. Eventually you may become frustrated, but if you express how this makes you feel unheard or alone, she is unable to empathize with your feelings. Instead she will tell you how she feels about what you said – usually criticized or angry or some other defensive emotion. You are aware of how she once again brought the focus back on herself.

Mary probably lacks awareness of how she affects other people negatively. Or if she is aware, her need for attention overrides her ability to manage her behavior. It actually may be low self-esteem that anxiously drives her to maintain the focus on herself. The true narcissist will always see you as the problem in disagreements. They are superior, and your inability to recognize that fact is the difficulty.

What does the Bible say about this?

Romans 12:3 (NLT) Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us.

Other translations say that we should have a sober appraisal of ourselves – neither grandiose nor self debasing. When love is our goal, our focus will naturally shift to the other person.

I can honestly say that it took the transformative power of God to help me grow in this area. My counselor (also named David) told me that he believes most men are (at minimum) a little bit narcissistic and most women, (at minimum) a little bit hysterical. But men can be hysterics, just as women can be narcissists. And either can be an hysteric (excessively emotional) narcissist! It is only by the grace of God working in our lives that we can overcome these character defects.

How about you? Do you see this characteristic in yourself? Can you commit to grow in this area?

Sunday, November 11, 2012

You're Killing Me, Jesus (no mattresses)

Today I am going to post an excerpt from Tim Keller’s excellent book “The Meaning of Marriage”. It will be a startling revelation for some – as it was for me.

In Mark 11: 25, Jesus says that if you are praying, and you realize that you have something against someone, you must forgive him or her right there. Does that mean you should not confront the person? No, you should, since Jesus in Matthew 18— as well as Paul in Galatians 6 and elsewhere— tells Christians that if someone wrongs them, they should go to the person and discuss their sin. Wait, we say. The Bible says we are supposed to forgive people and then go and confront them? Yes! The reason we are surprised by this is almost always because we confront people who have wronged us as a way of paying them back. By telling them off, we are actually getting revenge. They made us feel bad and now we are going to make them feel bad, too. But this is absolutely deadly. The person you are confronting knows you are doing payback, and he or she will either be devastated or infuriated— or both. You are not really telling the truth for their sake; you are telling it for your sake, and the fruit of that will be grief, bitterness, and despair.

Jesus gives us the solution. 

He says that Christians, knowing that they live only by the forgiving grace of God, must do the work of forgiving wrongdoers in their hearts and then go to confront them. If you do that, the confrontation will be so different. In other words, without the “compound”— the power of forgiving grace in your life— you will use the truth to hurt. The other person will either attack you back or withdraw. Your marriage will go either into a truth-without-love mode, with constant fighting, or a shallow love-without-truth mode, in which both partners simply avoid the underlying problems.

How different confrontations would be if we could follow Jesus’ words. How transformed marriages could be if we learned this lesson. I believe this would empower us to actually "speak the truth in love" instead of in anger or resentment. 

For me this means intentionally praying for people who feel wronged by me, or who I am having feelings of resentment towards. It is not something that I naturally feel motivated to do. In fact, it is usually just the opposite. It all comes down to my willingness to be obedient to Christ. 

What about you? Does this offend you or excite you?

Keller, Timothy (2011-11-01). The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the 
Wisdom of God (pp. 156-157). Penguin Group. 

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Running to the Roar

Abandonment issues often get discussed in counseling settings. Generally, it is not difficult to identify, especially because it is so prevalent in this current culture. So many children have been unintentionally abandoned because of economic needs. They are brought up in single parent families where their parent must work outside the home or in two parent families where both must work. Some children feel this separation at a deep level and as a result they turn into anxious adults.

There are other conditions that create a feeling of abandonment in a child. When a parent withdraws and uses silence as a punishment a child will feel scared and rejected. This form of manipulation may inflict an attachment wound, causing a child to become anxious or insecure.

The child is at risk of growing up into an adult that will react fearfully when encountering distancing from another adult. 

A fearful adult may shrink from conflict, but often it is just the opposite. To them conflict becomes a form of connection, even if it is a negative connection. If a person tries to walk away from them during the conflict, the historical feelings of abandonment are triggered and the fear escalates into rage.

So what is needed here?  

If you are facing a raging spouse, I recommend a technique called “Running to the Roar”. Although counter-intuitive, moving towards the conflict rather than backing away from it will usually yield the best results. Think of it like this: giving a fire more oxygen (space) will increase the size of the blaze, whereas putting a blanket over it will reduce the oxygen and smother the flame. An angry spouse is like a burning fire – it is scary. But our job is to determine whether our spouse is dangerous or just noisy (roaring). Most of the time it is the latter.

When I explained this concept to one of my couple clients, the husband said “I’m not sticking my head into the mouth of a roaring lion (his wife).” I said to him “The lion has no teeth – she’s actually safe, just scared and noisy.” She was in the room nodding her head, agreeing with me. The tears came as she realized that her real need was to feel valuable enough to her husband that he wouldn’t leave her when she was feeling emotional. We were able to get him to reverse his tactics during future conflicts, and both the intensity and the duration were significantly reduced. Often all she needed was for him to hug her and reassure her that everything would be OK.

If you are the fearful spouse, you must realize that it is still your responsibility to work on the problem. It is important that you develop self-soothing strategies, positive self-talk, an active prayer connection and to practice containing your emotions. Your spouse is not the source of your fear, just the trigger. Working together you will create a much more peaceful and satisfying relationship.

John 14:27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Under Promise and Over Deliver

A widely accepted axiom in the business world is stated like this:

“Under promise and over deliver”

It is known as a formula for success because it is a strategy most likely to produce a happy repeat customer. There is a risk of course, that under-promising might not lead to closing a sale, whereas hyperbole might extract a commitment. But the risk of over-promising is likely a dissatisfied, one time customer who will steer business away from you when they can.

I use this phrase in counseling couples as well. Often spouses with all the best intentions will over promise in an attempt to please their mate. 

But when they under deliver, they often have a hurt, sad or angry person to deal with.

I remember the early days of building a business when I would work late and Nan would call me at work and ask when I would be home. I would make overly optimistic estimates of when my evening would be finished. I would get home later than I had told her and she would be upset with me. She began to not fully trust me in this area.

I finally learned to emotionally support her (“I would sure rather be home with you.”) but give her very realistic estimates instead. As a matter of fact I would add 15 minutes or so as a time cushion. Often I came home earlier than she expected and I would be a hero (well, that’s a bit of an exaggeration.)

Was she disappointed when I told her that I needed to work late? Yes! But I can assure you that she was far less disappointed than when I would show up later than I had promised. And trust was rebuilt around this issue.

The pleaser personality is the most likely to get on the wrong side of this equation. They are also the most likely to be conflict avoidant. Rather than talk about the hard stuff at the outset, they would rather hope for the best case scenario, which unfortunately rarely materializes. They may then end up feeling like an irresponsible or scolded child.

When trust begins to erode in one aspect of a relationship, it can lead to mistrust in other areas as well. “You didn't pay the bills when you said you would – will you remember to pick up the kids from school on time?”

The solution is to learn to allow your partner to be disappointed. You are not disappointing them on purpose (I hope). It just isn’t always possible to make everything work out perfectly and keep everybody happy. Maturity requires us to accept this as a fact of life. If your relationship is stable, it will survive.

Is this a problem area for you? Are you actually afraid of your spouse? Why? It could be a family of origin issue that needs to be dealt with.

Remember to ask for help if you need it.      

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Your One Thing

Every once in a while I get confirmations about what I should write about in this blog. I didn’t have anything particularly on my mind this week that I felt I should write about until this morning. The phrase “one thing” popped into my head as I was showering and I started thinking about how that might evolve into a post. I had all kinds of ideas. Then I went to church and our pastor kept using the phrase and I knew I must be on track.

It occurred to me that everyone has a "one thing" that most needs to be addressed in their lives.

I have been reading about refusing offenses, and I think for many people this is their “one thing”. They are harboring resentments and bitterness that is getting in the way of true peace in their lives. These offenses might be real, or they might just feel real – but either way they are intrusive.  

For others, their “one thing” might be getting their finances in order. Or perhaps it is an addiction that is controlling them, or a lack of margin in their schedules that is pushing their relationship with God to the last item on their priority list. It could be so many different things.

But we all have “one thing” that if we were to conquer it, a mighty burden would be lifted from our souls.

For me, my “one thing” is a relational tangle. When I get near it, I feel guilty and powerless. The loss involved with it is both emotional and tangible. If I get too close I seem to get re-wounded. But I know God calls us to suffer for His sake – and that makes it all the harder for me.     

How do we identify our “one thing”? It’s the thing that occupies more than its share of our mental real estate. It jumps out at us in a sermon. It nags at us when we should be paying attention to something else. And we wish we could magically make the situation go away. But it rarely goes away because it is “our thing” and we must deal with it. For some that means taking an action step that they have been hesitant to take. For others it might be admitting their powerlessness and surrendering to a power greater than themselves.

It takes courage and maturity to face and conquer our fears, doubts, and self-focused lives. There may be low motivation because we believe that we have successfully managed or minimized the issue. Or we may feel totally justified in holding on to whatever it is that we are holding on to. But still it nags at us.

God is gentle, but pray that He is persistent. He knows what keeps us separated from Himself and from others. It is His kindness that presses us to deal with the undone things in our lives.

Romans 2:4 Don't you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can't you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin? 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Relational Drama

I must admit that for a while I was fascinated by the “reality” television shows. I suspect that I, like all the other viewers, have this inner voyeuristic bent that is curious to know how other people live behind closed doors.

Do people really fight that often and treat each other that harshly?  Is jealousy that rampant and are people really that fickle?

Later, I heard from an insider that these shows are actually scripted, and it took away most of the mystique and I soon lost interest. But the truth is that many people live out daily drama in their lives – and that is not a good thing.

I made a statement today at our pre-marrieds class that I truly believe:

“The higher the drama, the lower the level of maturity.”

Early in our marriage there was a lot of drama. There was drama in our dating, and there was drama on our honeymoon. It seems that we dragged all kinds of unpacked baggage from our families and our past into our relationship. It felt normal, but normal isn't necessarily healthy. 

In the counseling room we usually spend a lot of time helping people express their feelings. The belief is that if we can help them articulate their feelings they will discover their needs as well and be able to ask for them to be met (note: needs, not necessarily wants).

I wonder if we spend as much time as we should helping some people contain their feelings and manage their emotions.  In essence, do we encourage a higher level of emotional maturity which also (according to Pastor Peter Scazzero) leads to spiritual maturity? As a matter of fact, he says it is impossible to achieve spiritual maturity while remaining emotionally immature. 

The mature, healthy relationship contains little or no drama.

The Bible is full of help with gaining maturity. I particularly like the book of Proverbs for life lessons. It is probably the most significant of the books of wisdom and that is why most Bible reading plans include a daily verse or two from Proverbs.

There are 31 chapters in Proverbs and 31 days in most calendar months. I would challenge everyone to read a chapter a day, and then begin again with the new month. At the end of a year I would bet that the maturity level of every participant would increase significantly.

What do you think? How is the level of drama in your life and relationships? Is there some work that needs to be done? Are you the center or initiator of conflict, or does it seem to follow you around? Can you find ways to minimize the drama by changing your behavior? Would you consider reading a chapter a day from Proverbs for a year?  

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Learning To Say "No"

If you are like me, there are times that saying “no” is extremely difficult. The natural people pleaser in me comes out in full force and I struggle with feelings of guilt.

Actually I vacillate between feelings of guilt and feelings of resentment. I want to both please myself, and please others, but it’s just not always possible. Sometimes there is an opportunity to reach a compromise that is workable, and I try for that when it concerns people close to me. But there are other times when I must make a choice.

This becomes particularly important when it involves a conflict between time or money spent for things inside versus outside of my relationship. Commitment to one thing means not being available for something or someone else. When that someone else is a spouse there can be potential for some serious consequences.

So how do I learn to say no without feeling any guilt?

I think the first step is to realize that what we are feeling is usually false guilt. Often we are not doing anything wrong, it just feels that way. I have a right to make choices for my life, and I may need to change my self talk from self condemning to self affirming. This is not an excuse to make all my decisions selfish choices, but rather to embrace the reality that I need to exercise good self care and protect my primary relationships as well.

Part of the solution is to learn how to be gracious and effective in the way we turn people down. People use four strategies to say “no”. Only one is desirable. (From “The Power of a Positive No” by William Ury and thanks to Michael Hyatt).

 Accommodation: We say Yes when we want to say No. This happens when we value the relationship of the person making the request above the importance of our own interests.

Attack: We say no poorly. This is a result of valuing our own interests above the importance of the relationship. Sometimes we are fearful or resentful of the request and overreact to the person asking.

Avoidance: We say nothing at all. Because we are afraid of offending the other party, we say nothing, hoping the problem will go away. It rarely does.

Affirmation: We use a formula of “Yes-No-Yes.” This is in contrast to the ordinary “No” which begins with a No and ends with a No. A positive No begins with a “Yes” and ends with a “Yes.” 

The reality is that our resources are finite, and we must be wise about how we distribute them. Will we be misunderstood? Will people be irritated, offended or disappointed when we say “No”? Unfortunately, the answer will often be “Yes”.

Learning to deal with those uncomfortable feelings is part of our maturity. From a psychological perspective, it is overcoming our codependency. From a spiritual perspective it is being a good steward.  

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Truth or Consequences

The other night at my men’s life group, my co-leader Levi was reading from a book by Dr. Chris Thurman entitled “The Lies We Believe”.  (One of our strong bonds is our continuous pursuit of learning through reading that we both share.) The focus of the book is dealing with lies and deceptions that we tell ourselves and how to replace them with the truth.

One of the phrases that he read said: “simply put, truth is reality as it really is.” And the acceptance of truth is what promotes mental, emotional and spiritual health.

The problem here is that truth may promote health, but not necessarily happiness – and that is why we might resist it. Although there are many different ways we can lie to ourselves (and the book goes into them), I would like to focus on one in particular – denial.

Denial is a very powerful and destructive lie because it keeps us stuck. People can deny all kinds of things from minor things (they can’t really be completely sold out), to major (the doctors must have made a misdiagnosis.)

I have seen people not accept that a relationship has really ended and kept the fantasy alive. I have seen people keep trying to use a credit card that has been denied repeatedly. I have had alcoholics try to convince me that their drinking is not a problem. And I have had people try to convince me that their sin is not a sin and is acceptable to God. And let’s not even get started on problems related to the IRS and back taxes.


To accept reality under these circumstances is to enter into a period of grief. Yes, my finances really are that bad. No, I really wasn't shown adequate love and care as a child, and my Mom is still incapable of meeting that need, even as and adult. And the list goes on and on. But telling ourselves the truth, even when painful, is the first step towards a new and healthier life. Once we break this denial and grieve our loss, we can come up with a new plan.

This plan might include setting limits with ourselves or others, quitting a bad relationship or job or making some other bold but needed move.

Are you being prodded right now as you read this? Is there a lie you have gone along with that you know is a lie? Are you afraid to tell yourself the truth and deal with the implications? Or is your problem that you don’t want to consider any form of self-examination – even if it might yield some positive results, simply because it might not turn out the way you want? Unfortunately what you don’t want to know might actually hurt you.     

Right now there is roof repair that is needed on my house – if I do not deal with it before the rains come again there will be a bucket in the middle of my family room when the weather turns. That’s reality – and I can’t pray it away.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

What To Do When You’re Stuck

One inevitable result of being in a relationship is that from time to time you will find yourself unable to come to an agreement with your beloved. Sometimes these impasses can give way to intense drama. You are both angry and frustrated and stuck in an emotional hole and can’t get out. What can you do?

Stop digging a deeper hole.

This is a “well, duh!” statement to be sure, and it’s easier said than done. But it could not be more true or wise. You simply must stop before the conflict escalates into contemptuous words or behavior and ultimately to an emotional withdrawal and shutdown.

Before you reach that point of no return, someone, preferably both, must physically detach and cool down. You know that you are losing control of yourself and putting the relationship at risk for a more significant conflict, and so someone needs to be the adult and make a mature move. That someone might as well be you.

I have James 1:19 tattooed on my forehead: Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.

If you find that you are talking over each other trying to get your point across, that is a pretty good indication that your ears are closed, and probably your mind as well. At this juncture nothing positive will come from continuing. This is when we must declare “I’m too upset right now. We need to come back to this later.” And then I withdraw for a while -- but not forever. We must re-open the dialog after we have collected ourselves, even if only to agree to disagree amicably.

When I am away cooling down, I must work to change my inner conversation from hostile or negative to something more productive. I must remind myself that the person I am in conflict with is someone that I care about and do not want to damage. Even if I strongly disagree with their position, can I empathize with it as it applies to their life? Can I imagine some sort of compromise that would help? What part of the issue is due to my stubbornness or pride? And yes, you should pray for wisdom.

When you re-engage can you offer a repair attempt? A repair attempt could be something like; “I think I may have overreacted – sorry.” Usually this is met by a mumbled confession of some sort by the other person. If they are not ready to go that far, do not take offense and start a new conflict – just proceed, or if the other person is still too upset, wait until they are more ready.

It may be hard to imagine that we could actually get closer through conflict – but if it is handled well – and resolved – that is a great indicator of emotional maturity.

1 Corinthians 1:14a – “Let love be your highest goal!” 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Will They Ever Leave For Good?

I read an article that said a recent poll determined that 85% of college students end up living at home after graduation (Time Magazine – May 2011). Add to that the number of non college-attending young adults  that are still at home or had to return because of financial reasons, and that’s a lot of kids not able to live independent of their families. Some even return home with spouses and children.

The reasons given are usually financial. They have a degree but are unable to find a job, especially in the area they are credentialed for. Or they simply have too much school and other debts to make it on the salaries that they earn. Most, but not all, are unhappy to be home again. And I suspect that most parents agree as well.

Regardless of the cause, I think establishing new boundaries are essential to harmony and growth.

The young adult leaves as an entitled child in a family home, but returns as a guest in their parents’ house. This transition may not be physical (as when the young adult never leaves) but perhaps age related. You have graduated high school or college or turned a particular age and now must begin to function more like an adult than before.

To me this means contributing more to the running of the household and when possible, contributing financially as well.  Statistics show that an average of about 80% of household income goes to covering non-discretionary bills and the last 20% is available for discretionary spending. That might be a good measure of how much to contribute. (One’s car, fuel, and insurance etc. would be part of the 80%).

It also means parents and “guests” treating each other as adults – showing respect to each other as well as keeping lines of communication open. Parents have feelings too and old parent-child conflicts must end. The days of entitlement thinking are in the past. Parents have a right to ask for no smoking, drinking, loud entertainment, etc. in their house if that’s what they want. It should not be a matter of debate or conflict.

Displaying a good attitude and observing courtesies towards each other promotes harmony. That means greeting each other and showing gratitude and trying to be a good guest or tolerant host. Having peace at home is a high value for most adults. So is having private undisturbed time.

The “guest” must also put a high priority on moving forward with their life. Settling in and becoming too comfortable is a liability for both parent and child. If unemployed, seeking work vigorously and unceasingly should be job one -- and when feasible, moving out should be the goal. Yes, it’s scary for all parties involved, but it is necessary for growth.

Many parents are too comfortable having their kids at home past their expiration dates. Children can become emotional buffers between spouses, preventing them from dealing with issues within the marriage. It is unhealthy for both the parents and the emerging young adults.

Of course prevention is always the best medicine. Good and wise planning can often improve your chances of success. Have a reasonably clear idea of your life direction before you begin applying to colleges. Research the job market for the field that you are considering training for. Have you prayed and asked God if He is calling you to something specifically? Carefully consider incurring any kind of debt – school or otherwise. There is no good debt – only some with payback potential.

Maybe then if you choose college you can be part of the 15% of graduates that keep moving forward uninterrupted.  

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Will She Ever Be Satisfied?

When I was going through counseling many years ago I remember getting to the point where I wondered if my wife Nan would ever be satisfied with all the things that were being asked of me. It seemed that no matter what changes I made, it was never enough for her. There was always MORE. (Of course the counselor was asking her to make changes as well, but I wasn't too concerned about that.)

So has Nan ever stopped asking for more?

No. There is still an outstanding list that follows me around. But I was asking the wrong question. The right question is “Is there a point where it is enough, where she is satisfied with the relationship, and more importantly, with me?” And the answer to that question is “Yes!” even though she will always want more.

I used to interpret her desire for more as an indication of my inadequacy as a husband and her unreasonableness as a wife. I didn’t understand that this longing for more was just her nature as a woman. Nan says she is very satisfied with our relationship. But she will never stop trying to make it better.

Once I started seeing the new requests as “extra credits” or “bonus points” in our marriage as opposed to demands for competency I was able to relax a lot. I could remind myself that she is happy with me in the macro – even though she may often be asking for micro adjustments.

All that said I would like to remind you that we both had to go to counseling to reach a minimum level of acceptable behavior towards each other in our marriage. I wasn’t performing adequately and neither was she. We both had a lot of leftover baggage from our families of origin that had to be dealt with. It was humbling and difficult to admit that at the beginning, because it meant having to embrace change and break out of well established patterns – even if the routines were toxic.

Also, where a man can be stubborn and resistant, a woman can be demanding and hold unreasonable expectations. Both of them need to be humble and realistic. The man must develop a skill for listening so she doesn’t think he doesn’t care. The woman must learn to keep it short and to point so he doesn’t flood out from too many words.

The best thing Nan does is to reassure me that she is satisfied with me, proud of me, and happy to be with me – even as she is asking for me to make subtle changes. I want to emphasize the word “asking” – she doesn’t ever make demands.

Nan will often blame the curse placed on women by God for her burden of caring so much for our relationship, which comes from the second half of Genesis 3:16.

Genesis 3:16 – Then he said to the woman, "I will sharpen the pain of your pregnancy, and in pain you will give birth. And you will desire to control your husband, but he will rule over you."

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Before You Say I Do

I was asked an intriguing question in a counseling session recently.

“Don’t people often change after they get married?”

I thought about it for a bit before answering. It’s a complex question because the answer is both yes and no.

I say no, because there are core personality characteristics that don’t change much such as extroversion/introversion, our preferences for certain things, cerebral verses athletic pursuits, etc. It is possible to shift some of these things in time, but generally we are “bent” in a particular way.

I say yes, because some change is inevitable – and even desirable when it means growth in the direction of maturity. I do not want to remain the same and I don’t want my partner be static, either. Life and age brings us all kinds of situations where we must learn to adapt. But I am wondering if the real question that was being asked was:

“Are couples often not completely honest with each other before they get married?”

An anxious question to be sure, but a good one. My answer would be:

“If they are smart, they will be as rigorously honest as they possibly can.”

I think it is critical that couples not only share the complete history of their lives, but their fears, anxieties, frustrations, hopes, dreams, struggles and ambitions. If there are hidden addictions or instances of past physical or sexual abuse it must be discussed. They need to know what to expect from each other if they decide to tie their lives together.

If there are things you are afraid to discuss, then you really need to discuss them or ask yourself why you are so hesitant. Is there a lack of trust? Do you feel if you share this information or expectation you will be rejected? Do you really think it will get better or easier after you have taken your vows?

There are other forms of dishonesty as well. I have seen an instance where a guy had quit his job soon after being married, hoping to be taken care of by his new wife while he “finds himself” or “pursues his dream”.  Unfortunately he didn’t inform his wife of his plan.

There have also been women who maintain their weight right up to the wedding and then as soon as the ring is on their finger they figure the job is done and the pounds start coming. And the poor guy doesn’t know what to do or say.

Save yourself some pain. Talk about this stuff before you get engaged. Be as honest as you possibly can.   

Saturday, August 25, 2012

On Island Time

One of the luxuries of vacation is having time – even time to think about time. In a book I’ve been reading, it spoke about ‘island time’. I’ve not only read about it, but occasionally experienced it as well. The author of the book says that in the tropics there is a general lack of respect for time – or rather timekeeping. Time is quite special, but clocks are an aberration.

I have felt that way often during counseling sessions. Why one hour? For some sessions it’s too short, and others too long. When a “special moment” arrives I would rather throw the clock away. I don’t think God operates on the same time schedule as we do.

Do you sometimes feel that way when you wake up first thing in the morning? Like the clock should never have been invented – that you would love to just stretch time for a while and breathe in the new day before having to attend to obligations? 

How about our spiritual life? The three minute devotional often leaves us empty. It’s like having Cheetos for breakfast. It is better than nothing, but we are still hungry and unsatisfied and know that we could have done better for ourselves. Yet, the day calls and we answer. I wonder if we answer too quickly – or we try to crowd too many things into our schedule making it impossible to have room for any form of spontaneity.

Relationships often suffer under rigid adherence to time schedules.

I think of couples on their honeymoon who cannot relax and enjoy each other, but must use every minute to see and do as much as possible at their destination. Somehow I don’t think that was the original intent of taking time off after a wedding. I also know couples who leave no time to talk or be together during the typical work week. They lead parallel lives and wonder why they are unsatisfied with each other.

And I know of parents who have scheduled their children just as tightly. They don’t leave much time for the kind of relationship building that can only happen at random moments during a day. There is no such thing as “quality time” with kids – there are only quality moments in the midst of a quantity of time. A lot of grandparents seem to understand this. Age has a way of shifting our priorities.    

I am not advocating abandoning our time commitments. When I agree to a certain time, I must keep my promise. Being late is just plain selfish. I have seen quite a few cars with a bumper sticker that reads: "Always late, but worth the wait." I think to myself  "Probably not".

I know I have missed a good deal of life by being strictly on clock time. Everything is about hurry and efficiency and productivity. My focus is narrow and my goals are clearly defined. But then I remember the Garden of Eden. I’ll bet they weren’t on clock time.

When I am on island time I do not feel like I am wasting my life – rather I feel like this is what I was designed for. I can’t say that I’ve lived much of my life this way so far, but I am learning.

Maybe island time is really God time.

For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. (Eccl 3:1)

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Fighting For the Right Things

One of the advantages of aging is the potential to gain perspective. I use the word “potential” because perspective is more a result of maturity – which is not specifically age dependent. There are wise young people and clueless older folks. Still, life experience gives us an advantage if we are actively aware.

So many of the clients I have seen get stuck in the small story of their lives.

Often, the things these people fight over are of little or no value. Who lost the car keys? Why are you late? Did you really need another pair of shoes? Who forgot to……? Why can’t I spend money on what I want – I work hard.

All of these little squabbles erode the closeness of a relationship. Over a period of time we begin to judge the quality of the relationship as poor. We fight for power, control, significance and sometimes just being “right”. But we find ourselves emotionally alone and unhappy – the master of our own broken world of one.

Those who are able to see their lives as a part of a bigger story will make different decisions.

If I am a father, my children will be observing how I treat their mother. If I am an employer, my employees will watch how I deal with conflict and difficulties. If I claim to be a Christian, but love does not flow from me how is Christ honored? Will my anger, bitterness, resentment and argumentativeness ever serve a higher cause? It is in the small corners of our lives where our integrity is established. All our small decisions add up to the measure of who we are – whether anyone is watching or not.

There is a point in our lives where more of our focus needs to be outwards, not just inwards. The inward journey is establishing who we are to become: our identity, our values and our spiritual self. But the outward journey is letting others benefit from our ongoing self-development. Often this is a difficult shift because it requires maturity and self-control. The basis and process for making decisions change. Can I see the world more in terms of “us” rather than just “me”?

The big picture says I was not put here on earth simply for my own pleasure, to get as much as I can and to let the chips fall where they may. I realize that those chips fall on others, often painfully. Will I use my strength to promote positive outcomes even if it means sacrificing my pride or embracing some other form of suffering?

Choosing that path is entering into the big story – a transcendent life, the one worth living. But it will change the things I fight for. 

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Ending Unhealthy or Unproductive Relationships

I always struggle with knowing where to draw boundaries with certain people. And it’s no surprise that the closer the relationship, the more difficult the decision. I am quite aware of the difference between loving detachment and emotional cutoff. With some relationships I am just called to endure with grace and patience and loving-kindness.

But are there some relationships that just need to go away? In a word – yes.

Every time I say yes to spending time with one person, I am saying no to a multitude of others. Our time is finite and it’s quantity in our particular life is unknowable. I have found that we can spend many unproductive hours trying to cultivate relationships that yield little results for either party, or the benefit feels so lopsided that I see them as an intrusion and I resent them.

I am not just talking about personal relationships, but business relationships as well. As a sales person I have had to walk away from clients who had high demands and delivered little in return. Often these were the people that got my stomach acid churning and made it difficult for me to keep a positive attitude as I made my next sales call. Deciding to cut them loose always came with a sense of relief – and gave me more time to be with the really wonderful clients that I have or cultivate new ones.

If I am a leader, one of the goals is to develop other leaders and release them. I have to be wise in my time investments and careful with my choices. Does this person have the capacity to learn and become a humble and worthy leader or will my time be better spent with someone else?

It is always particularly hard to end toxic relationships in our personal life. It is often these people that make the most demands on us, get the angriest with us, and use manipulations like guilt and shame to try to control us. It is easy to recognize these people. When they leave a voice mail I am reluctant to call back. When I interact with them I feel uncomfortable and trapped or anxious and alert for signs of hurting their feelings. After being with them I feel emotionally drained and relieved to be away from them.

We cannot walk away from all undesirable relationships, but with some of them we must. A firm, but kind break-up is usually best. For those who hate conflict (most of us) this is not easy, especially when their attempts at reconnection through manipulation follow. In those cases I need to remind myself that I will suffer less if I hold fast. After ending a difficult or unhealthy relationship I find it is best to spend time with an energizing person who will fill us up and help reinforce our decision.

How do I decide who to leave behind? This is a decision that is often best made through prayer, and the input of wise and loving friends or mentors. 

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Truth In Dating

Way back in the 1970’s our band played for many singles events at a string of apartment complexes that only allowed single people as residents. Over the years that we played for theses dances I got a perspective that may be helpful with today’s largest single events – online dating sites.

It was clear to me that many of the residents were confused about the purpose of living at a singles only facility. 

There were a great many (mostly guys) who believed that staying single was the purpose of living in the complex. Their goal was to have fun while moving from person to person in uncommitted relationships.

Then there was the other group (mostly women) who saw a large group of persons of the opposite sex who were available for relationships, and had the primary goal of finding a marriage partner.

What I saw was a lot of over-drinking and over-thinking going on – and many disappointed and disillusioned young adults making bad choices. Obviously the atmosphere was perfect for a lot of promiscuous behavior.

It occurs to me that the same conditions exist for online dating if the goals are not communicated or if they are not clear and truthful. There are (married or other) predators among both men and women, and a Christian or other religious dating site is no guarantee of honesty. However I do think that one probably stands a much better chance on a dating site that is supportive of your belief system and strives to operate with integrity. Many of the right questions are asked on these dating sites and being honest and thoughtful as you answer them will hopefully yield good results

If it seems I am being negative or critical about Internet dating, I am not. A large percentage of couples who come to us for premarried counseling have met online and have done very well in finding a good mate. It is a wonderful way to increase the size of the pool from which you can seek a partner.

How are you at communicating your dating intentions? Are you afraid of scaring away potential dates if you are truly honest? Are you too eager to connect? Are you willing to sacrifice your integrity and values to get and keep a relationship? Are you willing to settle for less than you should, or are you one of those who hold unreasonable relationship expectations?

Sometimes it is hard to know the answers to the above questions without outside help.

If you have had many disappointing relationships or bad dating experiences, it is possible that your “chooser” is broken. Being in a close community with wise and supportive friends or mentors who will be honest with you is invaluable to get a perspective. 

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Mind Clutter

I came across this passage in “Here and Now” by Henri Nouwen (yes, I am temporarily addicted to Nouwen).

“Whether we ask for it or not… we simply cannot go far without being engulfed by words and images forcibly intruding themselves into our minds. But do we really want our mind to become the garbage can of the world? Do we want our mind to be filled with things that confuse us, excite us, depress us, arouse us, repulse us or attract us whether we think it is good for us or not?

That leaves me considering what power I have over those things. Certainly I cannot avoid the world. But I do have a certain amount of control over my world. All my electronic devices have off as well as on buttons. (Some of you are saying to yourself “I never knew that.”)

I have noticed that the unrestrained input of news on a daily basis tends to make me depressed and cynical. It is also quite addictive. I often find myself punching buttons on the car radio out of habit, even when it is turned off! When I reach this stage I know that it is time for a fast from news media and talk radio, etc.

How about the other media in our lives: movies, television, books, music, etc? Do we choose wisely or do we feed ourselves things that are of questionable worth – or that compromises our values? Do we hide some of those things from a spouse or friends? Do we have the willpower to discontinue reading or viewing something when we find it objectionable? Have you ever walked out on a movie for that reason?

Do you intentionally feed your mind good things? I try to always have at least a couple of really good books nearby. I don’t want to make it hard on myself to make positive choices. I am always tempted to snack on junk food for the mind.

Do you have a belief that everything is worth knowing? Or are you afraid off missing out on something important? Does this lead you to collect massive amounts of mind clutter? Once something is stored, it may become difficult or even impossible to discard. Think of violent or pornographic images both visual and written.

Perhaps we need to hit a reset button on some of our acquired habits and rethink what we want to allow into our head and heart.

Philippians 4:8 And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

How Smart Are Smart Phones?

Yesterday I was buying a sandwich at a local restaurant and I noticed that the young lady at the counter was drinking one of those energy drinks. I asked her if she liked it. She told me “not really” but I need it to get through the morning. She added “I know it’s not good for me” and explained how she knows she needs more sleep.

The discussion that followed was about having a hard time getting to sleep at night because she is addicted to her computer and smart phone. I asked her if she ever turns the phone off. She hung her head and said “no”. Then she proceeded to tell me about her last weekend on Catalina Island where she couldn’t get a signal. She said at first she panicked and then spent the next few hours agitated. Since she didn’t shut the phone off the battery ran down trying to get a signal and it went dead. She panicked again realizing she didn’t know the time without it, and because she no longer memorized telephone numbers and relied on the smart phone to keep them for her. She said she felt a bit stranded and helpless.

I am wondering if our dependence or even addiction to these new devices poses both a physical and mental health risk. Some clinicians think the answer is a resounding “YES”.

We often define an addiction as anything that we are not able to say “no” to, but rather feel at the mercy of its power to control us.

Does the smart phone meet that criterion in your life? Has it become a ‘new century’ security blanket? Most folks I see walking around Beverly Hills have their phone in their hand, even if they are not looking at it (most are). I often see people in church doing the same thing.  

Are we actually becoming more and more isolated while having the illusion of being connected? People will become irritated if interrupted while texting, eschewing a live connection in favor of a digital one. I wonder how many parents are reluctant to ask their kids to turn off their devices (Xboxes included) and have face-to-face interaction because they are unwilling to turn theirs off as well. Or are the kids so addicted that they become hostile and disrespectful when asked to do so.

These new devices have added real benefits to our lives when we are able to control them. But when we cannot, they become a new form of idolatry and enslavement.

How about a spiritual fast where we leave these things off for a period of time and connect with God instead?

Saturday, July 14, 2012

A Clear Threat to Marriage

I was watching a couple of videos this morning on how husbands and wives wreck their marriages. Although intended to be generally humorous, it was also sad to me because I have seen all the mistakes played out before me in some form or fashion.

One that struck me particularly is a growing problem connected to social media, texting and the freedom that a cell phone affords. It is easier than ever to develop secret relationships, and often unintentionally become entangled in a downward spiral towards an emotional or physical affair. What may have started in friendship can end up in adultery.You can now have a conversation anywhere, and with chat and text it can be carried out in silence right in front of your spouse. 

And the sadder thing is that often spouses don’t know where or even if they should draw a boundary.

I have had both husbands and wives struggle with their feelings when their spouse seems to be connected to an opposite sex person through some form of social media. Is it even OK to feel concerned or jealous, they ask? Am I being too controlling or possessive?

Here are my questions to determine risk.

  • Will your spouse show all emails and messages to you, and willingly share their passwords, or is there hiding going on? Are there any intimate or sexual innuendos in the messages? Will they ignore you or give preference to answering emails and texts? Do you feel like a lower priority than the person they are communicating with?
  • Do I try to eliminate all my spouse’s relationships outside of our marriage (controlling and too jealous and possessive) or only some opposite sex relationships or perhaps just a particular one?
  • Is there a large quantity of emails or texts, or frequent contact with a person of the opposite sex? Does your spouse text while you are sleeping or get up in the middle of the night to text? (Not OK).
  • Will they refuse to end or limit the exchanges and get mad and blame you and try to make it your problem instead of theirs? Do they try to convince you that it is a business necessity, when in fact it is not and outside business hours?

Really, I could go on and on. If you feel uncomfortable with a spouse’s outside connection, there may be a reason. They need to take you seriously and put your feelings ahead of that other person’s, unless of course you are being totally unreasonable.  

If you are unclear about what is acceptable, I suggest you both read Dave Carder’s book “Close Calls ” together. It is all about protecting your marriage from affairs. If you are still not in agreement, I urge you to seek outside counsel from a pastor or counselor.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

A Powerful Question

One of the questions I will sometimes ask a new client is this:

“If this counseling process is successful, what will be different in your life/relationship?”

It is a powerful way to help a client define goals so that we might be able to measure progress and success. Most will respond with a variation on one of these two themes:

1. I will be out of pain

2. I will be happy (with myself, my situation or my relationship).

Although these can be good short-term goals for counseling, they should not be the only ones because they often do not speak to deeper issues. Sometimes healing is found in the direction of pain. Sometimes doing the right thing will make us unhappy (at least for a while). Rarely do people answer the question with a response like this:

“I will have increased in my emotional, relational and spiritual maturity.”

Now, to be fair, some do. They tend to be the ones who are headed for deeper levels of integrity in their lives. They understand the toughness of the battle that is before them, and they can also envision the rewards. Make no mistake about it – it is hard to say yes to the right things, and to deny ourselves things that we desire but are counter to our growth.

What is the feeling you get when you think of self-restraint? Do you feel angry or sad or controlled? Do you feel exited about the challenge? Do you feel good about yourself because you are doing well at managing your temptations?

If I were to be completely honest I would have to admit that I rarely feel good about restraint in the moment. It is mostly in reflection that I appreciate my self-controlled responses and understand the value of unspoken words or actions.  

Regardless of how you feel, who you are is God’s Beloved Child – and deeply accepting that reality should be your highest goal. It may not eliminate your pain, but it will give you a reason to be joyful.

One good book that I recommend is Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero. His basic premise is that it is impossible to mature spiritually while remaining emotionally immature.

Just something to think about.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Accommodation, Assimilation and Normalization

 I was reading about concepts related to learning today and came upon these two terms: accommodation and assimilation. As I understand them, they might be explained this way: accommodation is the adjustment we must make when a new reality is discovered that changes a “held belief”, whereas assimilation is incorporating new information that just adds to our belief.

For example, if, as a child we have a pet cat that is gray in color we might assume that all cats are gray. Then we come across a cat that is black and we modify our belief to “not all cats are gray”. That is accommodation.

Then, along comes a third cat that happens to be Siamese and is neither black nor gray. We have already determined that cats come in different colors, and including this new information just adds to our already established belief. This is assimilation.

(I suppose I could also maintain my belief that cats only come in gray and that the black and Siamese are not cats but other species. But I would be a strange child.)

With these concepts in hand I was trying to determine if my acceptance of mental fatigue as normal was accommodation or assimilation. Then I realized it was neither. It was normalization. Duh.

We can normalize behaviors as a result of familiarity. If I grew up with a rageaholic in the family, then yelling just seems normal to me. So I might never question whether it is healthy. If I marry a noisy angry person I might just accept that that’s how people are. Hopefully somewhere along the way I will discover my misconception and accommodate the new reality and respond appropriately. If I do not, I will just become part of the transmittal of multigenerational family problems.

We can also normalize behaviors or states of being when we repeat them so often that we just adjust to them. Sleeplessness and metal fatigue is like that for me if I am not careful. After a while I begin to rationalize that this is how I am wired and so I determine that it must be normal for me. But it’s not healthy.

For me it takes a couple of good nights of sleep and a break from my work routine to realize that I have slipped into some unhealthy adjustments. If I am smart, I try to correct the circumstances under which I might slip back into my bad habits. This is why vacations and “days off” are so essential for me.

How about you? What have you or others around you normalized that are creating personal or relational difficulties? Sometimes it takes courage and fortitude to make the necessary changes.