Saturday, December 28, 2013

I Want To Get Married

We often give out a list of “Must Haves” and “Can’t Stands” to singles that are in the search for a mate. They are lists of qualities that they are looking for in a husband or wife. It helps them define the characteristics they are hoping to find in a spouse so they can eliminate inappropriate matches early in the dating process.

Great. But after reading an article on Millennials (born between 1980 and 2000) in the workplace, I realized that we may have been feeding the entitlement tendency of this generation.

Yes, it is helpful to define what a good match for us would look like – but it is equally as important to define what would make us a good mate.

As an employer, when I look at a potential employee I am asking myself the question “What will this person bring to the table if I hire him/her?” I know what I have to offer: a salary, medical benefits, vacation and sick pay, defined working hours, a chance for advancement, etc. But what does the person in front of me bring besides a warm body? I think a single might ask themselves the same question. 

“What do I bring to a relationship that makes me a good catch?”

Here is a starting point. 
  • Emotionally mature. I am able to deal with life’s ups and downs without a lot of drama.
  • Hard working. I am committed to the domestic and financial health of a marriage.
  • Addiction free. I am not controlled by alcohol, drugs, shopping, pornography, Facebook, texting, video gaming, gambling or any other type of addiction.
  • A healthy and appealing body. Yes, attractiveness counts. It’s what gets the chemistry started.
  • A generous attitude. I am patient and kind and giving towards others. I exude Christ’s love.
  • Flexible. I don’t always have to have my own way. I can compromise.
  • Realistic. I am able to manage my expectations and appetite for more and bigger.
  • Trustworthy and trusting. I am not jealous or possessive. I keep my promises. 
  • I am not contentious or argumentative.

One way of determining good personal characteristics is to draw up your own lists of what you do and don't desire, and then make sure you are all of those things, too. If you read through the book of Proverbs, you will get a great sense of what good character looks like on the practical side of life. 1 Corinthians chapter 13 gives you a guideline for being loving. James chapter 1 is also a good chapter to read.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Visiting Home

Jessica had a rocky childhood. It was plagued by a lot of emotional turmoil and conflict as a result of feeling unwanted. Her parents were emotionally disconnected and her older brother became her mother’s confidant. Her mother had expectations of her, to do chores and not get in trouble, but there was little warmth between them. Her father checked out of the family emotionally and spent as much time at his job as possible. So Jessica grew up feeling that she was not lovable and worthy of attention.

Eventually Jessica moved out, got married and started a family of her own. Unlike her father, her husband was warm and supportive. They moved several hundred miles away from her parent’s home. Things were certainly better, but she still felt somewhat insecure and anxious, especially when it came time to make the annual trip to see her parents and siblings for Christmas.

What was driving this anxiety about visiting home? 

Jessica still held expectations that things within her family of origin would change. Each year she visited, she hoped that she would finally feel special and loved. But her Mom, an active narcissist, still primarily pursued and got attention from her brother and his family. Her Dad was better these days and connected with her family, but not intimately with her. Each year she let her unmet childhood needs rule her thinking and her emotions.

So what should Jessica expect when she visits home each year?

Nothing. Tough as it sounds, grieving the loss of the way it should have been growing up and holding no expectations of change in the future is the only healthy choice. She can actively choose to go through a process of forgiving her parents for the hurts they caused when she was growing up. And she can lovingly detach when she visits, keeping the interactions light and polite.

It probably sounds unfair that Jessica needs to do the work of healing. After all, it’s her parents who missed the mark. And it isn’t fair – but it’s necessary. Otherwise, Jessica will be re-wounded every time she visits and she will become more and more bitter and resentful, and it will leak into her relationships with her husband and children.   

Christ did not ask us to walk the easy path. He asked us to walk the path of freedom. Often that path is uphill and twisty, and hard to see ahead. And we have to trust that the path leads us to where we want to go. Trust is the belief in an unseen outcome, because of the assurance of the source of our information. Hopefully you place your trust in Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday, today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8)  

Saturday, December 14, 2013

You Know What To Do

I’ve been pondering a maxim that I read in a fiction novel this week (yes, I read fiction, too). The wise teacher was instructing his students on a life principle.

“You know what to do. You just don’t want to do it.”

I think this describes a lot of people that come in for counseling. Perhaps they are hoping that there is an alternative to facing the hard stuff. Or they need someone with an authoritative voice to help them face the truth. Or they are hoping that the counselor will confront their partner instead of having to do it themselves.  

Yes, it is true that sometimes people need help breaking denial. They may have a big old blind spot that needs to be exposed. This is especially true for people with a more serious disorder. But for many this is not the case. It is simply that the needed change is painful, complicated, or difficult.

I see two main areas that are pretty common.

  • I need to stop drinking.
  • I need to let go of an affair or other sexual behavior outside of marriage.
  • I have to deal with my anger
  • I have a problem with lying.
  • I have a spending or other addiction.

  • I need to move out of my parent’s house
  • I need to let go of a relationship that is destructive.
  • I need to find a job or look for another job.
  • I need to move forward with a marriage commitment
  • I need to get my finances in order, but it means having to reduce my lifestyle

Both of those lists could get much longer. And let me say, it takes courage to do those things. Being coached through them often makes the process easier, or at least more doable. That is one reason why we love the AA method of using sponsors. Sponsors are able to strengthen and encourage us when we are weak. They are a gift.

I remember times in my life where I have had to face both moral and practical issues. They really are not fun. Deciding to allocate money to a retirement account meant reducing my available spending money. Admitting I was a people pleaser and needed to set appropriate boundaries was, and still is painful for me. Even before I entered counseling I knew many of the things that needed changing – but I needed help doing them.  My pride, my fear, and my family issues got in the way.

God tells us that He is available to be a 24/7 resource. His word stands as a promise to us. We can always reach out to Him when we are weak.

Psalm 46:1 

God is our refuge and our strength:
An ever present help in times of trouble.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Emotional, Logical, Strategic

When I was a kid I used to love to go to smorgasbords – or buffet meals. I could have anything or everything. It was a feast of unlimited proportions. What a delight! There was a problem, though. The table was big, and my stomach was, well, smaller than I imagined.

I was locked in a battle between the emotional and the logical.

Eating as much as I possibly could because it all looked good would have been an emotional decision. Knowing I couldn’t because my stomach was limited and I would be in pain was a logical one. It put me in a dilemma.

But there was always a third choice. Choose the best and thoroughly enjoy the experience. This is thinking strategically.

Often couples will get locked in conflicts over emotional vs. logical thinking patterns. Not surprisingly it is usually the guy who accuses his beloved of thinking emotionally and the woman asserting that her man has no feelings. Strategic thinking would not permit decisions to be feelings driven, but feelings influenced.

I can see this emotional vs. logical split within the larger culture as well.

There was a motto in the past that said:  “If it feels good, do it” -- definitely an emotional way to think – with a great potential for sin.

But logic could also be applied: “Only do it if you are sure that you won’t get caught and suffer the consequences” – also sinful thinking.

But nothing goes unnoticed by God and so neither position is a good bet. Strategic thinking says God allows us so many good things to choose from, why not choose the best. Like in the Garden of Eden, there were almost unlimited good things to pick from. There was no need to stray.

I think the church gets caught up in this kind of thinking, too. There are congregations where they succumb to unrestrained emotionality in their expression of worship. It is chaotic and feelings driven. But God is not chaotic. He warns us to maintain order when we assemble.

But there is an opposite as well – meetings conducted by rules, rigidity and coldness. There is no sense of love, and no room for the Spirit of God to move. This was the environment of the Pharisees that Jesus warned about when He was here on earth. 

Thinking strategically we would consider the whole Word of God and make balanced decisions, rather than separating out the parts that appeal to us.

In which direction do you lean? Do you need to make some adjustments in your thinking? 

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Missed It By That Much!

The uphill stretch of road eventually ended and after a short respite began to descend again. My poor old Honda CRV was in it’s element – downhill. In it’s glee to not have to work so hard it forgot about the 55 MPH speed limit and soon attracted a follower – a shiny CHP cruiser.

“Do you know what I clocked you at?” said the cruiser’s driver.

“Um… 65 or 70?” I answered.

“How about 74 MPH.” Gulp.

“Can I see your driver’s license, registration and insurance card, please.”

Its been many years since I heard those words, but I guess its inevitable that you can’t escape forever if you drive as much as I do.

Handing me back my three documents the officer said, “Remember, that other pedal is for braking. Use it on the downhill. Have a nice day.”

What? No expensive ticket? Wow! I don’t know if it was because it was Thanksgiving weekend, or because he felt sorry for us having to drive a 14 year old car or whatever. Or maybe it was the ratty looking bathrobes hanging from the backseat handholds. I didn’t care – we were off the hook. The officer was gracious. And I (and Nan) was filled with gratitude. I fully deserved a ticket. No question about it. 

That’s grace.

In our daily exchanges with people are we this generous? Do we extend grace to others or are we more about justice? In case you need definitions, justice is getting what you deserve, whereas grace is getting what you don’t deserve: a reprieve or pardon.

Particularly with the people closest to us there is a tendency to take offense and want to “even up the score.” How sad that we are often not willing to turn the other cheek. For me the hardest thing to do is keep my mouth closed. Grace is not saying what I want to say. It feels like suffering – and maybe it is in a way.

Can you imagine how much better marriages would be if spouses’ first response would be to offer grace to each other? Kids need structure and correction, but they also need a lot of grace from parents. I can’t tell you how many adults we see suffer from leftover childhood pain, the result of harsh parenting.

Yes, there are limits to grace. We must hold boundaries as well – and speak the truth when needed. But grace might be speaking the truth without harshness or anger. It might be surrendering our “right” to retaliate. Or grace might be speaking up for someone that has a “weak voice” and struggles to be heard, not requiring them to suffer through a tough exchange with someone.   

When have you been on the receiving end of grace? Where have you been a grace giver? Is your sense of justice so strong that this is one of those areas where you need to improve dramatically? If so, draw your strength from the ultimate Giver of grace. 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Your First Time at Bat

Having been in the counseling room for quite a while now, I sometimes forget how awkward the first encounter with a new therapist must feel to a client. I really do my best to put them at ease, but it’s still usually an adjustment.

I think what often makes the first meeting particularly uncomfortable is when the client is carrying a lot of shame and doesn’t want to talk about it directly. That is really understandable. They may be testing the water for safety. “Can I trust this counselor person? Will he understand me? Will she judge me? Is it really going to help?”

Forming a trust bond is the first important step of good counseling. The clinical term for this bond is the “therapeutic alliance”.  Without a strong therapeutic alliance, no real transparency is likely to occur. And without transparency, any healing will be superficial. 

It’s hard to talk honestly about our failures, frustrations, fears, insecurities, and especially our outright deliberate sins. Most people have spent a lot of their life pursuing “image management.” I know I have. As a matter of fact I probably spent the first several of my own personal counseling sessions trying to look better than I was. It wasn’t until I felt genuine care from my counselor and knew that I was safe, that I could become more vulnerable. But image management can also be a form of denial or deliberate deceit that needs to be broken – especially important with couples counseling.    

I have noticed that for some, it is easier to write about the hard stuff. That is why we use a pretty comprehensive history and intake form. Their outward appearance may not match the pain that is revealed in their intake form or their personal journals. I encourage clients to bring their written thoughts into session when this is the case for them. There is a lot of power released or surrendered in reading one’s private thoughts in front of another person.

As a counselor, I am grateful for the trust that is placed in me and do not take it for granted. For some people it is the first time that they have shared deep wounds, long buried and frightening in intensity. Although often painful to hear, it is an honor to be able to take the journey with a client for the first time. I am proud of them and the courage that it takes to be truthful in sharing the unlovely or horrific.

As we get closer to a new year, I pray for all the people that will step forward and make that first call next year. For some it will be dealing with hurts from the past. For others it will be admitting powerlessness over an addiction or behavior. And for many it will be marital or other relationship issues, both positive (pre-married counseling) or troublesome. 

Regardless, I am hoping that our clients current and future will see Christ as the true healer, and not us. We are simply facilitators – imperfect co-workers in the business of wholeness. 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Hard and Soft Boundaries

I heard a true story of a rural elementary school that was built on a large piece of real estate. When it was built there was no need to fence it in because there were no safety dangers. The teachers on yard duty just had to keep an eye on the group as they played during recess. As time went on, the adjacent area grew busier and the rural streets were paved and car traffic came closer to the school. The teachers had to set an imaginary boundary for the kids quite a distance from the street for safety. But now the kids’ play area was greatly curtailed. The balls would often roll into the “forbidden zone”, but the kids couldn’t fetch them without adult assistance.

Eventually a high fence was constructed around the play area close to the street that included the formerly off-limits part. The kids could once again use the entire playground because it was safe. Where the imaginary line had been mostly adequate, it had still carried some limitations and risk.

This is a great example of soft vs. hard boundaries.

Whether hard or soft, they are both designed to protect. In relationships they either protect us or others, or both. In abusive relationships, hard boundaries are usually set (“Do that one more time and I leave.”) A soft boundary I might set is to avoid talking about a particular subject (like politics) with certain people. I do not want to cut off the relationship, but I do want to avoid the danger zone.

Another soft boundary might be with time issues. With someone who is constantly late, I might be flexible to a certain degree – but when they are excessively late I may confront them or cancel an appointment or date. In this case I extend some grace but protect them from my anger or resentment when they push my limit.

When interventions are done with addicts, the family and friends always set a “bottom line”. This is a classic hard boundary – and it is absolutely necessary. It is usually very difficult for the family, but love for the addict compels them to suffer the pain of setting and following through no matter what. But if they waffle on the hard boundary in any way the intervention will be a failure. Softer boundaries can be set when the addict completes treatment.

I hate to set boundaries. I don’t like conflict. I hate for people to be displeased with me. But when we set boundaries, people will be angry or disappointed with us. It is unavoidable. I have had family members voice this to me directly. But I am willing to endure the discomfort in favor of emotional health.

Sometimes we set hard boundaries because we are unwilling to navigate the uncertain waters of softer ones. This is a mistake because it often wrecks or ends relationships. We have to be very careful not to set limits with anger or hostility. The goal is not to punish, but protect.

How about you? Do you struggle with this issue? Do you have a hard time settings limits, perhaps because of codependency? Are you harsh in the way you handle disappointments with people? Are you in denial about the need for certain limits in your life? Are you suffering because you are afraid to make a healthy choice, even when you know it must be done?

Those who are in abusive relationships often struggle the most with this issue. If this is you, get some help. Strengthen yourself by enlisting a support team and experiencing the kind of freedom that God would want for you. You might start by reading the book “Boundaries” by Cloud & Townsend.  

Sunday, November 10, 2013

What Men Want

The older I get, the more I seem to crave peacefulness. I love quiet most of the time. No TV, no telephones ringing and no neighbors screaming at each other. I know that not everyone is like me. Some people prefer excitement. Perhaps it is just my temperament, but I suspect that I am not alone in this.

Drama. Not for me, please.

Actually, I think it’s the same for a good number of us married guys in particular. We are pretty simple creatures most of the time. It doesn’t take a lot to keep us happy. So what is on our list of things that make life worth living?

Meaningful work
A few good friends
Hopefully, a robust spiritual life

But for most of us what tops the list – peace at home.

I have checked this out with a lot of my guy friends. Peace at home is not the first thing that they mention, but eventually they come around to it. They don’t always describe it that way. They talk about being accepted or respected or that home is their castle. But it all seems to point in the same direction. They feel emotionally safe when their home is not chaotic, angry, or stressful.

I remember listening to a talk radio psychologist a number of years back. Dr. Toni Grant was speaking with a young lady who had been through a series of bad relationships and was asking Dr. Grant what she was doing wrong. As the conversation progressed, it was revealed that the young woman always pursued exciting guys – guys that were a bit edgy. For her it was constantly a wild, but short relational ride. I will always remember Dr. Grant’s reply. She said:

“Well, you know dear, all good men are a little bit boring.” 

I think what she was saying was that stability is somewhat boring – in other words, peaceful. But stable guys are the ones that tend to settle down, get married and raise families.

Notice I did not say dead boring. No woman wants that – she wants a little life in her man.

It’s the same with women, too. The girl dancing on a table at a party is not likely to become wife and mother of the year. She may attract attention, but not necessarily a good husband. The guys that go after that kind of woman probably end up in the same kind of relational chaos as Dr. Grant’s caller.   

If you are married, what kind of environment are you creating at home?

If not, what type of relational partner are you pursuing?

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Hurting The Ones You Love

Last week at our premarrieds class we invited guest speakers to address our hopefuls. The couple shared their story which involved long standing emotional abuse – and subsequent recovery from almost certain divorce. It is easy to identify physical abuse because it is so obvious, but not necessarily so with other forms.

We all probably know the cycle of abuse.

The perpetrator acts out and alienates the victim. The victim withdraws, and perhaps threatens to leave. Then the perpetrator may blame and threaten the victim for causing the problem, but eventually “repents” and asks forgiveness and swears to never hurt them again. There may be true intentions to change, but at some point they lose it, and the cycle repeats. I have seen this, and probably so have you.

In this scenario the abuser knows that they have a problem, but feels unable to fully control themselves. Getting help is hard because it involves a lot of shame. Usually they get help when the victim finally holds a boundary, or they cross paths with the legal system and are required to deal with it. Often the abuse is accompanied by alcohol or drug problems. 

What makes it doubly hard is when the abuser is in denial of his/her problem. They may be continuing a family pattern, so it feels normal to them. Sometimes what is less clear is what really constitutes abuse.

Is raising your voice in an argument abuse? Is stubbornness to act or make changes abuse? Is not listening to your partner abuse? Is refusing to cook or do housework abuse?

Both Nan and I have heard women claiming emotional abuse simply because their partner does not agree with them. Would you classify that as abuse? We don't.

We have discovered that abuse is not gender specific – it can come from either men or women. And what is unopposed is the truth that it destroys relationships and families. Although anger is the most obvious indicator, that is not always the case. Sometimes it is rigid control. At the root is usually unresolved childhood or adolescent issues. 

Do not allow this relationship destroyer to continue -- it is not God honoring. Face it and get help.   

If you are unsure if you or someone else you know is being abused, or unsure if you are being abusive, go over the following list of the several faces of abuse.  It is quite extensive and covers, physical, spiritual, sexual, financial, emotional and immigrant abuse. 

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Men, Music and Feelings

In couples counseling Nan will often say:

“Guys have feelings, too. Let’s give him a turn” (to bring up something for discussion.)

And to tell the truth, a lot of guys have trouble connecting with their feelings. Or more accurately, they may have a harder time interpreting and expressing their feelings. I think one of the reasons is that we, as men, have been given mixed messages about our feelings. On the one hand we might have been told to suppress our feelings as in:

“Big boys don’t cry.” “Suck it up.” “Put on your big girl panties and deal with it.”

And to be honest, sometimes that is wisdom. But we also hear about being “sensitive” and “getting in touch” with our feelings. This, of course, comes mostly from our women. And this is necessary for true intimacy with a mate.

The problem is if we are too expressive with our feelings we risk losing respect from our mate. If we are too restrained we risk losing connection and intimacy. It’s a fine balance we guys are supposed to maintain.

So do guys actually have feelings?

Have you ever seen a guy shredding on an air guitar? Have you ever seen a guy dominating on air drums? That’s some real feelings being expressed!

For those guys feeling challenged in this area, I suggest one way could be by adding a big dose of music to your diet – all kinds of music. Music has the ability to pull various emotions out of us: joy, anger, sadness, longing, loneliness, hopefulness, love, despair, silliness, nostalgia, adoration. It takes sampling a lot of different styles of music to expand our feelings repertoire – not just songs from the pop culture.

What we tend to do is listen to music that reflects our mood, rather than changes our mood. This also is helpful in getting in touch with our feelings. If I don’t know what I’m feeling, the music I listen to might give me a clue. Do I tend to listen to sweet classical music or joyful rock music, angry rap or cynical country? Do I use music to boost my mood, or to cope with life and/or escape from reality for a while? All of this is helpful to connect us with our inner world.

So, do guys have feelings too? Yes, but usually not as in your face as women do. Ladies, try this: put on some music and observe its effect on your guy. Does it change him in any way? Do you like what you see?

I love what worship music in particular does for me. I know that is why music was created in the first place – to connect us to God, to express our gratitude. But it also connects me to myself, to my feelings.  

I would like to make a shameless plug for a couple of my friends’ musical projects. Shameless because they are so excellent. Check out their web pages. Let their music enrich your life.

These are just a couple of recent projects I've selected from a multitude of talented artist friends.  

Monday, October 21, 2013

Saying “I Do or I Don’t”

It is always an anxious moment for a pre-married or pre-engaged client when they ask us this age-old question:

“Should I ask her to marry me?”

I almost never answer this question directly. I don’t believe I should be given this much power in someone else’s life. But what I do is try to lead them through some questions that might help them make a good decision. If we are seeing a couple that is undecided, we often ask them to do a homework assignment from a workbook that guides them through this process. We ask them to take a personal retreat and seek God for an answer.

Confusion over this decision may come when boundaries have been crossed. A relationship may have become too intimate too quickly – especially when sexual boundaries have been discarded. We may feel very close, allowing our heart to rule over our head. Feeling close is not the same as being well-matched. It’s especially easy to ignore important signs when a relationship is relatively new and in the infatuation stage (less than six months or so).

This heart over head, or head over heart question is extremely important to the longevity of a relationship. If out of balance you may be opening up your life to either chaos or coldness, which might not be sustainable. 

Ask yourself these questions: 

  • Will he/she make a good parent?
  • Can I trust this person completely?
  • Will I fit into his/her family system?
  • Do we have common goals?
  • Is there any hint of abusiveness, physical or emotional?
  • Is he/she emotionally mature?
  • Are there any addictions that are not healed (drugs, alcohol, spending, sex)?
  • Are there any character issues that worry me (lying, angry, irresponsible, needy)?
  • Will we be partners, both carrying the weight of the relationship or will one person function more like a dependent child?
  • Do we resolve conflict effectively?
  • Do we apologize and forgive easily?
  • Is he/she possessive, jealous, manipulative or controlling?
  • Do I feel safe with this person? 

Intense feelings of love are not sufficient to sustain a lifetime marriage. The right questions have more to do with direction, purpose, respect, integrity and commitment. Those are questions that have to be answered with courage and rigorous honesty. 

A good goodbye is so much better than a painful life.   

If you are married, and struggling with some of these issues, take heart. There is always an opportunity to heal old wounds, build some relationship skills, and change some bad habits. Those things also take courage, honesty and just plain hard work. You may have to lead the process in your relationship. Start with prayer, surrender your heart, and get good counsel.  

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Argumentative People

“I don’t think I’m going to ask her to marry me.”

I was surprised. I had been counseling the couple for a while and they seemed pretty well suited for each other. I asked why. He replied “She challenges everything I say. She has a retort for everything I share. She’s just so argumentative.”

As I thought about their conversations, I could really understand what he was saying. I had missed it because she was just so kind in the way she did it. But it was there. So I did what I thought a good counselor should do. I asked if he would be willing to confront her instead of walking away from the relationship. He agreed to talk about it with her in our counseling session.

What happened should have been predictable. When confronted, she argued with him about his perspective. Fail!

Don’t think men won’t do this too.

“He argues with me until he wears me down. He won’t stop – it could go on for hours. Can’t we ever do it my way just once? I can’t take it anymore.”

The truth is, it’s hard to be in a relationship with someone who is always challenging you.

Both genders can feel overwhelmed by the intensity of an argumentative person, leaving them feeling unappreciated and inadequate. Yes, two volatile people might seem to understand each other in the way they do conflict, but they are also the most likely to have 911 called on them. It is usually not a relationship builder.

Why might someone become argumentative?

  • I have seen families where this is encouraged. Debating is seen as a way to build strong kids: “Don’t just agree, push back and defend your position.” 

  • I have also known people who have overdone it when learning to “find their voice” and protecting themselves from being overpowered. 

  • Sometimes it is just a personality trait that has to be brought under the control of the Holy Spirit. 

Are you in a relationship with a disagreeable person and suffering? Are you a disagreeable person and are not fully aware of it? Admitting the truth is the first step to healing. 

Phil 4:14-15 Do everything without complaining and arguing, so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Help! I'm Out Of Money

According to 2012 data, the poverty line in California for 2 people is $2450/mo, or slightly under $30,000/yr. Also, according to the 2013 Retirement Confidence Survey from the Employee Benefit Research Institute, nearly 3 out of 10 people have virtually nothing saved for retirement, and 57% have less than $25,000 in total savings and investments.

It is always sad to sit with couples in counseling who have come to retirement age with nothing but Social Security income, and often with debt as well. It puts them at or below the poverty level with little hope for a better financial future. Plus, when one of the spouses passes on, one of the Social Security checks disappears. It might necessitate getting back into the working world when jobs are hard to acquire.

Social Security benefits were never designed to be a substitute for a retirement plan – just a short term supplement when life expectancy was much shorter than it is today. 

Because money can be such a huge area of conflict in a marriage I thought it would be wise to emphasize the importance of taking a serious stance on putting away money for the future no matter what age you might be or what your marital status is at the moment.

What I found to work is:

  • Create a very conservative spending plan and stick to it. (I use Quicken to help automate the process.)

  •  Treat all raises as money that can either reduce debt or increase savings. 

  • Maximize all contributions to employer and government sponsored retirement plans to the best of your ability (401K, 403B, IRA, etc). 

  • Take a Dave Ramsey or Crown Financial course. 

  • Have automatic withdrawals set-up when possible. It often feels painful to write out a check to a retirement account you might not use for 30-40 years. Think about how it would feel if you had to write separate checks for Federal, State, Social Security, Medicare and SDI taxes every paycheck. (Actually, that might be a good thing.) 

  • Use financial counselors when needed. 

  • Question and resist new technology – it can be very expensive to keep up with all the new available toys. New toys become old toys very rapidly. 

  • Talk to your spouse regularly about money and spending and make sure you are on the same page so that one of you doesn’t sabotage your plan. 

  • Dump the entitlement mentality. Never use the phrase “I deserve”. The Bible tells us what we deserve – that’s why we need a Savior. 

What is the goal here? It’s so that you can be a help, rather than a hindrance to others. 

Saturday, September 28, 2013

10 Lame Excuses for Divorce

When we face a life or death crisis, all of a sudden pride and superficialities fall away. We become totally emptied out and desperate for God to fill the uncertainty with hope.

I wish it were the same with the imminent possibility of the death of a marriage.

Sadly, instead, the leaving spouse often becomes more prideful and clings to superficialities that support their case for dissolving the marriage. Although not always the case, it is not uncommon for the other, often clueless spouse to become humbled by the pronouncement that the marriage may be over. The positive side of this, if there is one, is that it focuses attention on the marriage problems and may be the only thing that moves a resistant spouse to seek outside help.

Here are the top ten lame excuses people use to justify a divorce. (Thanks to Dr. David Clarke – David Clarke Seminars)

  • “I don’t love you anymore.” (Obviously you don’t understand love. You still think it’s a feeling.)

  • “I never loved you.” (Really? It was an arranged marriage?)

  • “I felt pressured to get married.” (Somebody actually held a gun to your head, huh?)

  • “I need to find myself.” (Let us help you – you’re married, perhaps with kids.”)

  • “It’s not you, it’s me.” (Now we’re getting to the truth.)

  • “I’m having a midlife crisis.” (I guess you think that gives you permission to engage in all kinds of sinful behavior.”), 

  • “God wants me to be happy.” (Sorry, not Biblical. He wants you to be holy.)

  • “It’s better for the kids.” (No, it’s not. Kids always do better in an intact family, even if it's conflictual.)

  • “My needs aren’t being met.” (You haven’t insisted that your needs be met by learning how to effectively confront your spouse.)

  • “I’ve fallen in love with my soul mate.” (No, it’s your sin mate. You have compromised your character and integrity.”)

Can you add to my list? I’ll bet some of the counselors out there can.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Is Crying For Women Only?

I grew up thinking that the phrase “a good cry” was an oxymoron. Those words didn’t fit together in my estimation. It was the same with “good grief”. Huh?

I since have come to realize that both can make sense. How did I form my negative opinion about crying? Perhaps it’s because I heard the admonishment:

“Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about!”

I’ll bet I wasn’t the only one to hear that, either. Whatever. But I think the message was clear – crying isn’t a good thing, maybe especially for boys. Fast forward a lot of years and I learn that perhaps I was a little hasty in my evaluation. This is closer to the truth. 

  • Crying actually is one way the body rids itself of certain toxins. What contributes to these toxins? Stress. Tears remove some of the chemicals built up in the body from stress, like the endorphin leucine-enkaphalin. And we all know that stress contributes to higher blood pressure, heart disease and ulcers. 

  • Crying kills bacteria.  Tears contain lysozyme which can kill up to 95% of bacteria within 5-10 minutes. How many times do you wipe your eyes not knowing that you are transferring bacteria from your environment? Crying is better than one of Monk’s wipes.

  • Crying can elevate our mood. I remember a lyric from an old Joni Mitchell song (People’s Parties):
“Laughing and crying, you know it’s the same release.”
 Laughing makes us feel good, and often so does crying. 

  • Crying helps us to get support from other people. Think of a baby. The baby cries out of a need and people hopefully come to its aid. The same can happen for adults. When I cry because of pain or sadness, people will often come to comfort me. It is why being in community is so essential. Crying alone is overrated. 

  • What’s the downside of crying? It can be manipulative. A baby cries out of need, but often a toddler cries when he doesn’t get his way. Adults can do the same thing. It is one of the great fears of men when faced with a crying woman. How should I interpret this? Is this something I should take seriously (a legitimate need) or is she trying to control me? If it is the latter he will quickly learn to tune you out. You can only “cry wolf” so many times. So women ask yourself this question: Is comfort enough for me or do I have to get my way? 

Depending on your culture, crying may be normal or extremely hard to do. It may be seen as a weakness, especially for men. Our early messages carry a lot of weight. Also, we have basic temperaments that will contribute to the ease with which we cry. Women seem to have a much easier time. If a “chick flick” doesn’t leave room for crying, it’s not really authentic to the genre. Nan chooses films, books and magazines that make her cry. I never do that on purpose, but sometimes I accidentally get hijacked.

What about you? Where do you stand on crying? Good or bad, necessary or annoying? For girls only?

Oh, by the way -- John 11:35  "Jesus wept." 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Marriage, Millenials and Miscellaneous

Some thoughts gained in part from a talk by Gabe Lyons

The society that we were born into in the 1950’s was very different from the one that we are now living in. Being connected to a faith community was not only accepted, but expected most of the time. As kids we would ask each other “What are you, Christian (protestant), Catholic or Jewish?” Two parents were the norm and getting married when you grew up was a given. Job applicants might be asked about their church affiliation -- and a pastor, priest or rabbi was often a reference. Marriage and faith were seen as indicators of good moral character and stability. (Statistics bear out that both add to a longer and more affluent life.)

This is not the world that Millenials (roughly 1983-2000) have been born into.

I won’t go into an explanation of the characteristics attributed to this generation, other than this group is rising in power and influence, but does not rest on the same foundational principles that I inherited. The current culture is described as postmodern, pluralistic and post-Christian. In a nutshell that means nothing is absolute, truth is open for interpretation, all religious paths are equally valid and Christianity is no longer the dominant force in religious thought.

What this results in is a lot of confusion and uncertainty. What can be trusted? Who can I believe? Does life have any ultimate meaning? Does it matter that I exist? Is this life all that there is? Anxiety and depression increase as these questions float around without any way to answer them.

It has been suggested that Christians have moved from the Moral Majority to the Prophetic Minority.

This means that a smaller group of people are carrying the messages that have the power to transform our culture. The good news in this is that a small group of intensely committed people have always been able to accomplish great things.

I see this as a mandate to support and encourage those of current and future generations as they cling to the values of marriage and religious freedom. It will become progressively more difficult to oppose the deconstruction of these institutions and maintain a Christian worldview. Some will likely go to jail in the struggle.

Yet people still yearn to be known deeply in a way that only marriage can satisfy. And when death and destruction and trouble comes, people look heavenward and hope that a merciful and powerful God exists and hears their prayers.

This is why I fight hard against divorce and the destruction of families. Families are often the best conveyors of values and positive traditions. Kids feel more secure even in a troubled or conflictual family than they do in a broken one. Just sit in a counseling room for an extended period of time and you will realize this.

It is important that we speak up and not be afraid of communicating our beliefs and not allow ourselves to be bullied into silence. How many times in the Bible are we commanded to “Fear not”? It is difficult to tell someone what they need to hear rather than what is popular. But don’t miss those opportunities. You may be the only one willing to speak the truth and be Jesus to them.

I know this post is a bit different than usual, but I just had to get it out while it was rolling around my brain. Love compels me to be a watchman on the wall at times. I would love to get some feedback from you. Use the comment box below and say yay or nay.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Avoiding A Relational Trap

All week I have been advising counseling clients not to fix, analyze or advise (thank-you Jim Cosby). Of course I have been analyzing and advising in hopes of fixing broken places in people’s lives. But then I figure that’s what many come to counseling for. Some, of course, come for emotional support during times of grief or hardship, but many more are looking for solutions.

I must say that my advice (to not F, A or A) is really hard to do for several reasons. But I will be avoiding a potential relational crash and burn if I do.

  • It feels so powerless and passive. The key word here is “feels”. But actually a good listener is doing something important. They are connecting emotionally with another person. Active listening is not easy. Just try to do it very accurately and you may re-evaluate its difficulty.

  • I get invited to do just that (FAA). Here is where it can get tough. What if your advice is solicited? Sometimes you may be offered an open door to speak into a person’s life or struggles. If the offer comes without strings attached and is genuine, you may want to carefully respond to the request. But sometimes it is an attempt to draw you into their drama with the hopes that you will rescue them and assume their responsibility. This is not helpful because it reinforces their sense of inadequacy and immaturity. Too often I will find myself entangled in an emotional triangle, because these kinds of problems often involve a third party. (See Emotional Triangles) <----- click link. 

  • I am a male and it is just my nature. Yes, it is true that men are designed to be problem solvers first and foremost. And that is also why we get into so much trouble relationally. We put our need to fix ahead of what’s best for the other person. But as Christ followers, male or female, we are to make sacrificial decisions for the greater good.

When I attempt to fix, analyze or advise I risk relational disharmony. I may be met with anger or distance when it is unwanted. I may feel rejected and resented by the other person. Also, I may feel resentful when they misunderstand my intention or reject my advice. Even when I am asked to comment, I may at some point cross an invisible boundary that I did not know existed and encounter some resistance. Then "I" might feel even more frustrated and resentful.

So what should we do? In most cases we should go back to the tried and true pattern of:

  • Reflecting – you can paraphrase what has been spoken to you so that the speaker knows that they were heard accurately.

  • Empathizing – you can express your (positive) feelings for them without having to remove the source of their pain.

  • Reassuring – you can offer up any honest reassurances about the situation without attempting to f, a or a. 

OK -- now go practice! And let me know how it works.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

When Is A Question Not A Question?

Mother to child: “Why did you shove a marble up your nose?”
Boss to employee: “Why are you late?”
Husband to wife: “Why are you always trying to make me mad?”
Wife to husband: “Why are you so insensitive?”

How many times have you heard a similar question and thought to yourself
“Are they really expecting an intelligent answer?”
 The truth is that these are not really questions – they are indirect accusations.

In the counseling room we do our best to try to keep couples from communicating in this way. The “why” questions invariably leads to predictable attack and defend exchanges. It might be considered a passive-aggressive way of blaming. Why do I say passive-aggressive? Because when challenged, the inquisitor can come back with the retort “I was only asking a simple question.” Sure bet.

This habit of asking “why” is so ingrained in most people that it is difficult to change, but it is so destructive to good communication that it is worth the effort to work on minimizing its use. I had one wife tell me (in front of her husband) “If I drop the word “why” from my vocabulary I won’t know how to start a conversation with him.”

What is the solution here?

  • Be direct. Express your feelings directly in a non-blaming manner.
  “I felt hurt when you forgot my birthday?” as opposed to “Why did you forget my birthday?”
“Would you close the front door, please,” rather than “Why didn’t you close the front door?”
  • Ask for what you need.
 “I need you to be more aware of the clock and show up on time for work.”
 Amazingly, some people don’t always fully understand what you want unless you spell it out for them.

  • Teach (children, not spouses).
 “That marble was hard to remove and probably felt really uncomfortable. It’s good to remember that the next time an idea like that pops in your head.”

I would challenge you to really think about this and see if you can go a whole week without asking the question “why” (in this relational context). I know that it can be really frustrating in the moment when you are upset, but surrendering your right to act offensively will yield better results in the long run. When the goal is spiritual maturity, the path may be more difficult, but the benefits outweigh the cost. 
 Eph. 4:15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 

Friday, August 23, 2013

Pine Needles and Excuses

From a distance, everything looked serene, like one of those magazine covers that make you wonder why you live in the city (maybe you don’t, so empathize with me). It wasn’t until closer inspection that I could see hundreds of thousand of pine needles building up on the landscape. Pine needles, dry and flammable – and this during an extreme fire warning with wildfires close by. What a great metaphor for our lives.

If you look at the picture above, what you probably don’t see is the extra inches I am carrying around the belly-button. (Okay, maybe some of you can.) And you can’t hear that my breathing is a little too labored. That takes examination much closer up.

A good friend of mine, Dr. Bill Dyment generously sent me a copy of his new book that he co-wrote with Dr. Marcus Dayhoff entitled “Fire Your Excuses”  It only took a couple of chapters to realize that this book could change a person’s life. I immediately recognized all the excuses from listening to clients in the counseling room. Unfortunately, I also acknowledged many of them from my own life and how they produce feelings of shame. Consider this book an invitation to take a close up look at your life.

Do you have a ready list of excuses that you pull out regularly?

As a kid, I hated doing yard work. I was somewhat overweight, unmotivated, and it was a power struggle between me and my dad. So when I looked at the acres of pine needles I needed a breakthrough. Using some tips from the book I approached the task.

  • I first had to adjust my way of thinking. I was thinking negatively, and I realized it was an emotional component left over from my childhood. Once into the raking, I actually enjoyed it. Dealing with a past hurt or struggle might be your first step. 
  • I couldn’t finish it all in the time allotted, so I tackled what I thought was the most important first, not just the most noticeable. That turned out to be the stuff closest to structures. What is the most significant area of your life that needs attention right now? 
  • I set goals and stuck to them. I didn’t allow myself to be distracted. I didn’t overdo it, so I wouldn’t get discouraged. You might need to have a coach to help you set realistic goals, and a team to push you when you want to quit. 

Is this what the book is about? Well, actually it’s just a little corner of it. It’s about dealing with all the areas of life where we are likely to make excuses: blind spots, health, finances, time management, career, social connections, serving, and communication. So many of these areas are hard to face alone, but not facing them is like leaving those pine needles to build up until disaster finally comes and the loss is terrible. There is even a free assessment online to help you get started at  

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Owner Of Truth - Rigid Not Relational

One of the necessary qualities of a good relationship (or just plain getting along with people in general) is the ability to be flexible. Relationships thrive when there is an attitude of openness, not just toward decisions, but also in ideas and perspective.

Rigidity kills dialog, and dialog is necessary for mutual respect. And mutual respect is necessary for a close relationship. This does not mean you have to agree with the other person’s conclusions. It means that you are open to hearing them and giving weight to them and be willing to compromise when an action step is required.

I am not advocating chaos, which is the polar opposite of rigidity. Life needs order and structure – just not too much or too little. In Christ’s time the Pharisees were the picture of rigidity – rules and regulations to be followed without compromise. But Jesus was all about love. He put people first – over schedules and the material aspects of life. He, however, was not without structure – he always kept his mission and purpose in mind.

The lack of flexibility can come from what might be called ‘truth owning’. This is the belief that ‘I am right and you are wrong’ – and so you must conform to my ways.

People that hold this belief too tightly are relational hazards. 

They can become angry, sometimes very angry, when others do not recognize and surrender to their ‘truth’. They can become dictators in their own family or work place, and people will tend to avoid them or ‘walk on eggshells’ around them.

If you are one of these truth owners, you have some work to do. You must make modifications to your belief system. Only God is the source or owner of ultimate Truth. Our truth is our perspective and opinion. 

Sometimes rigidity may come from an obsessive-compulsive nature that needs to be brought under control. If you are unable to do that on your own then you may need help. When your belief is that it does not need to be brought under control (because I am right, and if everyone was like me the world would be a better place) then you may be dealing with a personality issue that needs even deeper help.

Proverbs 16:12 There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.

So, where are you on the flexibility scale?  

Saturday, August 10, 2013

It's All About ME!

I love being on the receiving end of wisdom from my counseling clients. Often they will bring snippets of useful information that I can store away in my toolbox to bring out as warranted.

This week I heard this statement from one of my younger clients:

“If you could do something to meet a need of your partner, why wouldn’t you?”

Wow – what a difference from the more common 

“Why should I? What’s he/she done for me?” 

The truth is he or she has probably done a lot for you. Or it is entirely possible that they haven’t because of the above attitude. I remember Sarah Eggerichs comment in the “Love and Respect” conference video: 

“Why wouldn’t you give your husband sex if he wants it? It’s an easy enough thing to do and it makes him so happy.” 

(Right about now some husbands are thinking "I like this blog -- I should share it with my wife")

Of course there are always exceptions, but she is speaking to the far greater percentage of good willed marriages. I thought at the time “That’s a pretty mature attitude. Why didn’t I think of that?” I don’t know why I didn’t consider applying that same thinking to many other parts of relational life. 

  • Turn off the electronic stuff and engage in a connected conversation. This used to be a complaint I only heard from women, but I hear this more and more from men as well. 

  • Take out the trash without being asked. Enough said. 

  • Be on time for a change. Always late and worth the wait? Umm – maybe not. 

  • Don’t leave the gas tank empty. You might make somebody you love late because they have to stop and fill up. 

  • Make plans before the very last moment. I used to do this when we were dating. It drove Nan crazy. I still sometimes do this when it comes to making vacation plans. And I love vacations. What gives with that? 

  • Monitor your own spending. Don’t create a parent-child scenario by being irresponsible. It’s no fun for either one of you. 

  • Help with dinner and clean-up. Or make dinner even when you don’t particularly feel like it. Sometimes it’s seen as the measure of a good or troubled marriage.

What prevents this kind of thinking? Sorry, but it’s selfishness or not being willing to surrender in some kind of immature power struggle. I’ve done it -- actually still do it at times. But I’m not proud of it, and it isn’t my goal.

Phil 2:3-4 (NLT) Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Finding Real Work in a Tough Economy

It is still a very difficult economy in which to find meaningful work, especially if you are recently out of college, or you’re struggling to find something in your field of choice.  I have five thoughts based on my experience, and the advice of experts, that I hope might be helpful.

At 21, fresh out of UCLA and about to get married, I scrambled to get a job.  Working at minimum wage at Pine Crest Preschool was not my idea of what I wanted to do after college, but a B.A. in History and Social Science doesn’t get you much!

  • So, my first advice is ‘take anything that is remotely related to what you think you want to do.’  

And, if you can’t find a job doing that, take whatever you can get.

The reason I say this, is because I got a job I really enjoyed later on from a friend who I had worked with at that first minimum wage preschool.  Her recommendation to her new boss landed me a position I would not have known about if it weren’t for her and my willingness to take what I could get.

  • So, the second thing is to connect in a meaningful way with your colleagues, and with those who have jobs in the field you would choose.  Referrals for work are the number one way people get better jobs!

  • Eighty percent of available jobs are never advertised, and over half of all employees get their jobs through networking, according to BH Careers International.

  • The third thought is that you must carry out an active, as opposed to a passive, job search. It is not enough to respond to leads from want ads or employment agencies. Carrying out an active search allows you to control the job search process and opens up many more job opportunities. It is estimated that only 10% of jobs are actually found from online searches.

  • Have a great attitude. Dress appropriately for any job interviews. Remember to smile.

  • The fourth thing is to conduct Informational interviews. Meet with someone from the firm to get more detailed information about the company itself and possibly a job lead.  This shows initiative and helps you to know if a place is where you would like to work.

  • The fifth suggestion if you are a person of faith, is to pray and ask God’s help in your search. Ask Him to inspire you about what you desire to do and with whom you should talk to find out more.

Several years ago I felt a restless feeling that there was something more I wanted to do. I had just prayed about it, and then I talked to a friend at church who mentioned she had too much work to do as an adjunct professor at Fuller Seminary.  I mentioned my interest in doing more, and within a day I was called and hired to teach part time.  I believe God put it on my heart to be open to new work, and on my friend’s heart to work less. So, God answered both of our prayers! 

One more thought: Can you be an INTROVERT and have a successful JOB SEARCH? Click on the link to the left and find out!

I pray that God will bless you as you seek him for direction in your life and your work!

Jeremiah 29:11-13  "I know the plans that I have for you. This message is from the Lord. I have good plans for you. I don’t plan to hurt you. I plan to give you hope and a good future."

Monday, July 29, 2013

Breaking Through A Quarter Life Crisis

“I can’t do anything with this history degree except teach, and I am tired of teaching.”

So said Nan at about age 25. This prompted her to change direction and pursue an M.A. in educational psychology and eventually marriage and family counseling. (My journey was all over the map and didn’t include the typical education track.) 

There are quite a few variations on the definition of a “quarter life crisis”. But all of them seem to agree that it affects many 25-35 year-olds after they have finished school. It is a time of confusion, wanting to get on with life but unable to get started. They probably have ended up back at their parent’s house, can’t find a job and may regret the choice of college degree that they have attained. The result is anxiety and depression and feeling stuck.

How do you break through this ‘crisis’?

The universal answer seems to be a familiar one. It’s time to break denial and face reality. You are overeducated yet unprepared for many of the jobs that are available. Or you have been trained in a field that has few opportunities and little or no commercial value. This is a harsh reality. You also may have been fed the lie that if you pursue your passion, the money will follow. Tell that to most music majors. They will probably have a different story.

What is helpful?

  • Grieve the loss of the life that you imagined would result from your university degree. It’s simply more difficult these days to transition from college to a ready and waiting job in the field that you have chosen. You will probably have to cast a much wider net. You may even have to choose a completely different field and train for that. 

  • Don’t look backwards, it will only encourage depression. Life at college was simple, if not easy. You knew what was expected, and as a result you could proceed with relative confidence. Not so much now. Looking forward may cause you to feel anxious, but it’s the only direction you have to go. Embrace it. 

  • Surround yourself with optimistic people. Ask yourself what is possible and realistic. Try stuff. If you spend time regretting the guidance you didn’t get or the bad advice you did get it will only make it worse. Get some direction from people in the real world who can help you now. 

  • Don’t compare yourself to your parents or other friends who are ahead of you in the game. Your parents likely had it very different when they started out. They may have had less education, but were more employable – and the job market was less stringent. Your friends may have chosen a more practical degree, such as math/computer/science/healthcare. 

  • Ask yourself what would make you valuable to a prospective employer. What would make you stand out from the other applicants? If you really don’t know, talk to employers that you or your parents know. They can be found everywhere. Their expectations and perspectives may be vastly different from yours.    

  • Don’t give up! Know that you will break free at some point if you just keep trying. 35 years old is the upper limit because most people will be established in something by then. 

I’m encouraging Nan to post on skills for getting a job. Maybe you have some suggestions. How about posting in the comment box and share your thoughts.

Friday, July 19, 2013

6 Things Therapists Can’t Do

Every once in a while I have someone come into the counseling room and announce:

“So, are you going to fix me up?” or sometimes “Are you going to fix my husband/wife?”

Usually we both laugh. It’s like someone has a broken bone that needs to be splinted. I agree that something is indeed broken, but we may not agree on whose job it is to do the fixing. I wish therapists had super powers, too. It would be so much easier than having to go through what sometimes ends up being a painful process – for both the client and counselor.

What can’t a therapist do?

  • They cannot go through the grieving process for you if you have suffered a loss. They can’t take away the pain, only grieve with you. 
  • They cannot do the work for you. You must practice the tools that are given to you. And then practice some more. Breaking old patterns take determination and time. If you ignore the homework it will extend your time in therapy. 
  • They cannot change your heart or your attitude. That is totally up to you and you must desire it enough to surrender your will. 
  • They cannot make you consistent in keeping your appointments and staying with the process. That is totally up to you. It is very frustrating to have to begin again after a significant break. Going from crisis to crisis is a painful way to live life.
  •  They cannot make you honest or vulnerable. It is hard to reveal things about ourselves that we are not proud of or that carry a lot of shame. But things not disclosed can’t be dealt with. Fortunately there is grace, forgiveness and healing for those who are willing to take the risk. 
  • They cannot guarantee the outcome that you want. They can’t guarantee that your spouse will change, your kids will heal, your addiction will disappear or your anxiety or depression will depart, never to return. They can only walk with you with expertise and hope.

Does this mean that counseling is not effective? Not at all. It just means that it requires more from you than you might have expected. 

There is a Super Power however. That is why we invite the Holy Spirit to be part of the counseling sessions. Sometimes hearts are changed rapidly. Sometimes deep healing occurs. Usually, however, it takes following the practical steps that are offered to make the incremental changes that produce results that you desire.