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.