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.