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.