Thursday, November 20, 2014

Are You in a Relationship with a Mean Cat?

Somewhere around third grade I remember visiting a friend from school. He had cats; our family had dogs (and rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, birds, fish and turtles). We loved our pets – they were a significant part of our upbringing. But I wasn’t familiar with cats, and so I was shocked when my friend’s cat turned from purring as I stroked it, to sinking its teeth in me. I’m not talking about a friendly nip, but an aggressive chomp. But as surprised and angry as I was, retaliation was not an option that I considered. 
I bring this up because I think kindness to animals is a good indicator of character. 
There are psychological disorders where cruelty to animals can be a symptom – Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) is one and so is Antisocial Personality Disorder (sociopathy). This disregard for animals may eventually translate into abuse (emotional or physical) towards you or those you love. People with these disorders lack empathy. They are not able to identify with the pain of others and so may inflict it carelessly or even with delight! This might be something that can be overlooked or ignored when evaluating a relationship. I’m not implying that you should be looking for and diagnosing a disorder, but rather being aware of unusual behavior. 
I also have concerns about people who hold the value of an animal above or at the same level as people. I believe somewhere along the way they have picked up hurts that have not been resolved. Although God has given life to both humans and animals, He has given a special position to those who have been made in His image. 
I have always maintained that another good predictor of character is the way a person treats people who serve them, whether a wait person in a restaurant, an employee or a public servant. I watch people in positions of power to see how they care for people. Does the person you are dating have a natural demeanor of humility or do they seem to think of themselves as better than others? It’s possible that they may see you as inferior in time, and will treat you accordingly. 
We can be confused by what we may view as “high standards” in a person, when in reality it is really a critical spirit or an arrogant attitude. Good character displays good values, and good values include kindness and acceptance of others. Harshness is the result of a cold and unforgiving heart. 
I have friends that naturally seek out those who might normally be disregarded by others, and treat them as equals. I really admire that quality in them. I believe they experience life and love at a deeper level. Their hearts are tuned to a different frequency than most people. You might say they are tuned to a “God frequency”. They take the gift of compassion to a whole new level. 
I think this is a good verse to use for these kinds of evaluations: 
Romans 12:3 - For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.

Friday, November 7, 2014

My Marriage, Your Marriage

As I was archiving old counseling files this week I scanned through the reasons that clients gave for seeking counseling. Most were pretty routine: improve communication or conflict resolution, deal with an affair, etc. But one really struck me.

My wife is unhappy with her marriage, but I am happy with mine.

I think I read it a few times as I considered the response. Can people really see their marriages as separate entities? His marriage? Her marriage? We see marriage as a “oneness” or “us” relationship. I did not dig into the file further (confidentiality), but it did get me thinking about his viewpoint and what might be the reason for the relational disconnect.

  • Spiritual Disunity If two people are not on the same spiritual wavelength it is entirely possible to view the marriage differently. One person could feel very discontented with the lack of intimacy they experience when the spiritual connection is absent. They may be living with an entirely different values framework. We know, because we have lived it.  In Christian parlance we call this being unequally yoked. 
  • Lack of Emotional Connection When a couple does not have good emotional connection, it is hard to feel empathy for the other person. This can leave a spouse feeling very alone in a marriage. One of the partners may not be aware (or care) while the other is deeply wounded by the emotional distance. 
  • One Spouse is a Taker In some relationships there is a husband or wife who always seems to get their way. The relationship becomes very one-sided as he or she comes out on top in every conflict or decision. This person has a high satisfaction in the marriage because things always fall into place for them. However, the other half of the marriage (who may be codependent) is left feeling like they have very little power and always has to give, and never receive in order to keep the marriage stable. 
  • Change or Growth Nan just commented that one other common reason is when one person has gone through a significant change in their life. It could be normal, like pregnancy or menopause, or not so positive, like an illness, a job loss, or a stressful job change. Emotional or spiritual growth also can cause a significant separation in a marriage. When one spouse enters counseling alone, or deals effectively with an addiction it affects the other spouse. They may have just lost their drinking buddy or lost some other aspect of the relationship that was comfortable or predictable. They will often “cry foul” and complain that this isn’t the person they married; they liked it the way it was. However, if the couple enters counseling together this adjustment is usually easier on both of them and may avert potential marital drift. 

Whatever the reason may be, in order to thrive, a marriage must have unity. When one person is distressed, the marriage is distressed. There is no win/lose in relationships – either we both win, or we both lose.