Friday, January 31, 2014

Friendliness in Marriage

Not for the first time, I heard a complaint from a wife the other day:

“When he comes home from work, my husband greets the dog before he greets me!”

I thought about it for a moment and I asked:

“Are you as happy to see him when he comes home as the dog is? Do you smile and give him a hug?”

I could also apply this to husbands. Do you welcome your wife home from her job? Do you try to connect with her? Most wives these days are not stay-at-home workers.

Over the course of a marriage it is a temptation to let courtesies slide. When we were first together we couldn’t wait to see our beloved. We hugged and kissed. We remembered to say please and thank-you. We smiled a lot at each other and maybe even hung on to each other’s words. As the years progress, life gets busy. Kids may come along and suck up a lot of our time. Resentments and disappointments collect, and we somehow think that we are off the hook from having to continue the friendly exchanges.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

I can’t speak for the women, but I know us guys need that friendliness. It keeps us trying to do better. It makes really hard days at work worthwhile. It makes our home our castle – safe and secure.

Both Nan & I drop what we are doing when the other arrives home. We greet each other in the morning when we get up. We pray before bed. We try to remember to ask if the other needs something when we are going to the kitchen (Nan is better at this). All of this says “I like you. You are important to me.”

I have heard all kinds of excuses why he or she doesn’t want to be friendly to their spouse. Apart from needing some distance from addictive behavior, very few excuses are legitimate. Even with addictions, we can choose to be kind, and hopefully make a plan to help them (and us) out of their stuck place.

Beyond the personal and familial benefits of creating harmony in the home, I think there is also a mandate from God:

Romans 12:10(NLT)
10 Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.

How about you? Have you let the friendliness in your marriage or other significant relationships slide into a bad place? It could be that you are holding on to anger or resentment and need to forgive. Or perhaps it’s just an oversight, due to relational laziness. Either way, you have some work to do.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

False Advertising in Marriage

If you are recently married or hope to be, this will be of most interest to you.

I sometimes notice an inconsistency in couples before and after marriage. This difference is a result of being in the “acquisition mode” versus the “marriage mode”.

In the acquisition mode we are on our best behavior. We are kind, attentive and interested. We do things the other person likes to do. We dress for them, we can’t wait to see them or talk to them. And we keep ourselves in the best shape that we can.

For some folks that changes after the rings are on.

He proposed when she was a certain weight, and she accepted him at his current state of physicality. (Yes, I know she sometimes slims down for the wedding dress.) But did she start adding pounds after the wedding, and did Mr. Work Out turn into Mr. Couch Potato? That’s not fair to either one of them. Yes, I know our body changes over the years – for women especially during pregnancy. But we can work to keep ourselves in reasonable shape. I’m not advocating becoming compulsive or obsessive about it. 
1 Timothy 4:8 “Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come.” 
Ladies, good men will rarely talk about this issue with you – but he is probably thinking it. And if you ask him about it, he will deny it. But it affects his desire. This is one of the big fears of pre-married men.

What affects a woman’s desire? It is the way you treat her. Do you still take her out on dates? Are you friendly? Do you still listen to her? One of the big fears for women is that he will lose interest in her.

Sometimes guys will slip back into old habits after marriage (women, too). Did you give up smoking, drinking, drugs, cussing, pornography or something else only to resume sometime after the wedding? Not fair. Did you pray or read the Bible while you were dating, but let that slide, too? That is deception and it will affect her desire for you.

Sometimes people check off marriage on a to-do list. Then they shift their attention to the next thing. Marriage – check. Next item – baby, or boat or motorcycle or whatever. That isn’t fair to your partner. They married you to be with you, not for you to abandon them to a child or hobby or career.  

Do not pretend before you get married. If you are not into sports, say so. If you hate going out to movies, make sure your beloved knows that. If you have a low desire for sex, or are afraid of it – make sure you talk about that. 

If you have been married for a while, the same things still apply, even though it may be more difficult to get back on track. You may have to start back up that road slowly. I would suggest that it is honoring to God when you do.  

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Life Transitions

Transitions are a mixed bag. Sometimes they are exciting, like a new marriage or an upgrade in our living circumstances. And sometimes they are less than exciting – the loss of a job or having to deal with a permanent illness. Either way, there is likely to be anxiety.

Why anxiety? There is always an unknown element and an adjustment period.

Experts have predicted that it can take up to three years for a person relocating to a new city, away from friends and familiarity, to feel comfortable and at home again in the new location. I have had a good many friends who have made major moves and they can attest to truth of this. Even when the move was desirable and planned, the change was not easy or quick.

I know that there will come a time when we must move from full time employment to part time – and then to who knows what. It is inevitable, but will I welcome it, or will I resist it?

How about the transition from adolescent to adult? From young married adults to parents? Or from parents to empty-nesters? Some look forward to the day, but others delay the changeover to the very last possible moment.

The Bible is full of these life transitions – accounts of long journeys, captivities, men appointed by God to be kings and prophets and disciples. Many left families, countries and comfort to respond to the call of God. I’ll bet there was a lot of fear and anxiety.

There are other kinds of transitions, too. The kinds that are not visible. Moving from bitterness and resentment to forgiveness, greed to giving, violent to peaceful, angry to calm, addicted to sober and fearful to confident. These too, are major life shifts, and may take time to adjust to.

Will people accept those changes, even when they are positive or will they want the old man or woman back, the one that they have assigned to a particular category? Good changes can often stress out a relationship almost as significantly as negative ones in certain cases.

My favorite transition is the one Jesus offers – a new life free of condemnation. This is a transformation from the inside out. Is it visible? Some say that there is light in the eyes of the believer that did not exist before making the decision to follow Him. It may be visible in the different decisions he or she makes in everyday life. Hopefully it will be visible in the way he loves and cares for others.

The Relationship Center exists to assist people in their life transitions, whether internal or external. We would love to hear your story. 
2 Corinthians 5:17 (NLT) This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Am I An Emotional Infant?

All week I have been using a self assessment of emotional and spiritual maturity from Pete Scazerro as a way to start the new year. Our pastor Mark reminded us, as he usually does at the beginning of each year, that our goal each year is to grow – that remaining the same year to year is a kind of tragedy.

What is our goal for clients at The Relationship Center?

I think Scazerro sums it up pretty well in his description of an Emotional Adult:

Emotional adults. I can respect and love others without having to change them or becoming critical and judgmental. I don’t expect anyone to be perfect in meeting my relational needs, whether it be my spouse, parents, friends, boss, or pastor. I love and appreciate people for who they are as whole individuals, the good and the bad, and not for what they can give me or how they behave. I take responsibility for my own thoughts, feelings, goals, and actions. When under stress, I don’t fall into a victim mentality or a blame game. I can state my own beliefs and values to those who disagree with me—without becoming adversarial. I am able to accurately self-assess my limits, strengths, and weaknesses and freely discuss them with others. Deeply in tune with my own emotions and feelings, I can move into the emotional worlds of others, meeting them at the place of their feelings, needs, and concerns. I am deeply convinced that I am absolutely loved by Christ, that I have nothing to prove.

For some, you may be thinking: “That describes me to a ‘T’.” But for others, you might say to yourself: “I have a long way to go.”

The self-assessment measures six areas and rates them according to four maturity levels:  Emotional Infant, Child, Adolescent and Adult.

I would love to tell you that I hit top tier on all six areas, but I didn’t. Did this depress me? I guess a little. But it also gave me a challenge and a hope. I still had room to grow, even at 63.  What are the components that will help me reach a higher level of maturity?

  • Self-discipline. I can be the master of my own emotions and actions. I can delay gratification and manage my appetites. 
  • Appropriate transparency. I filter my words so that I share with discernment. Everybody does not need to know everything about me. I can express myself without having to force myself upon others. 
  • Empathy. I have developed the skill of seeing situations from another person’s perspective and can express care for them. 
  • Listening. I listen twice as much as I talk. 
  • Appropriate self-sacrifice. I can yield to others needs when necessary. This is not martyrdom or masochistic, but thoughtfully measured and kindly offered.

For those who are interested, the assessment is available online at:

It might be helpful to keep this link or download the assessment and take it now and a year from now. You can pinpoint growth areas and then measure your success.  

Friday, January 3, 2014

What About Bob? (Neediness)

One of the sadder situations we run into in our counseling practice is when we have a very emotionally needy person. In relationships, this can be one of the greatest liabilities because it often achieves just the opposite of what the person desires. The more the needy person pursues, the farther the pursued person distances from them.  

Why is this?

I would define it as a control struggle. The pursued person often doesn’t feel loved, but rather they feel controlled or used. They become the object of stability for the other person, but that requires that they surrender their independence to a greater extent than they would like. They will likely become resentful and lose respect for the pursuer.   

Where it gets really ugly is when the person being chased turns on the needy person and expresses hostility and disgust. This rejection fuels further control efforts, and the needy person can become even more self-defeating with intensified behaviors. Check out a perfect example: 

Yes, it’s a comedy and extreme, but you can probably feel the tension in the exchange.

The reasons for this neediness probably stem from family of origin or early childhood attachment issues. These early unmet needs are never satisfied easily, and a part of the person remains emotionally immature. The internal craving for love and attention is similar to what an addict feels for his/her drug of choice.

What is the solution here?

The most helpful action is joining a codependency support group like the CODA class at our church or an Al-Anon group. Exploring the causes and grieving the associated losses will do much to bring comfort and understanding. Also, taking your dependency to God instead of your partner, as hard as that may feel at the time, will help you to not push them away and sabotage the relationship.  

What if you are the one being pursued? It is not good to give in to the intense demands of the pursuer, but you can remain kind and offer reassurance. Instead of running away from them you can remain calm and set and keep reasonable boundaries. You also might ask yourself why you attract needy people. It is possible that you also have family of origin issues that could benefit by joining a codependency group.

Personal or couples counseling is also very helpful to deal with this relationship dynamic. The counselor can assist with the setting and keeping of boundaries as well as regulating the emotional exchanges. 

Do you see yourself in either of these roles at times? It is always better to deal with it sooner than later. It will prevent you from experiencing unnecessary pain.