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.