Friday, February 28, 2014

My Lips Are Sealed

He was oppressed and treated harshly,
    yet he never said a word.
He was led like a lamb to the slaughter.
    And as a sheep is silent before the shearers,
    he did not open his mouth. (Isaiah 53:7)

I was thinking about this passage today and what it might say about a defensive attitude. How many times have I failed to keep silent when it would have been the best choice for relational harmony? How many times did I not choose the path of (what would feel like) suffering for the right reason?

Maybe you are like me and think that you should have a retort for everything. You might think that to fail to answer a criticism would be weak. Was Jesus weak in the above passage?

I think Jesus knew his mission and would not stray from it. He had a focus on the big picture that governed his behavior and his attitude.

It could be the same with us. When we get frustrated in our marriages and other relationships we can keep a macro outlook and let things go without challenging them. It is not immediately satisfying, but godly humility is the road to emotional maturity. Is that a goal of yours?

I am not advocating passively tolerating real abuse in a relationship. That is a condition that calls for immediate and appropriate action. It requires that we speak up. But what some might interpret as emotional abuse could actually be disagreement. Can you accept that people will not always agree with you and refrain from pushing back? Is preserving a relationship more important to you than winning an argument?

To paraphrase our pastor recently, “Forgiving is choosing to suffer, instead of holding onto our right to make someone else suffer.” It hurts to hold our tongue when we feel slighted or misunderstood. It doesn’t feel fair. Again, it feels weak. But if I’m a big picture guy I understand that my mission is to glorify Christ with my life. Sometimes that requires making sacrifices that almost feel untenable. Perhaps, that especially means surrendering my pride.

I have noticed that this defensive posture is a learned automatic response in most people. In other words, it is a deeply ingrained habit. And we all know that it takes awareness, desire, and above all, intentional, often painful work to break any habit. And for this one, often there is no immediate reward. The reward comes as a relationship improves over time.   

I have found that it is easy to receive mercy and grace – not so much to give it. A non-defensive attitude is an incredibly precious gift that you have to offer in any relationship. 

Wednesday, February 26, 2014


When I first started to counsel I thought the bulk of my work related to sex would be helping people to stay within bounds, or guiding them back after taking a walk on the wild side. Although that still is a big issue, I did not fully realize that there is a whole other side to the subject – that of low-sex or no-sex marriages. And it is an equal opportunities issue. There seem to be as many desire-challenged men as there are women, often leaving one or both partners feeling unloved or unsatisfied with the marriage.

A recent article by Cliff & Joyce Penner in AACC’s Christian Counseling Connection magazine dealt with the topic. They described a sexless marriage as one where the couple has sex fewer than 10 times per year. Why would people refrain from this God-given gift to us? It is not a simple subject, but here are a few thoughts.

The history each spouse brings to the relationship as well as their own history as a couple will impact their sex life. Was there a negative attitude towards sex growing up? Was there abuse? Did one or both of the partners grow up in an anxious or alcoholic family system? Was there a break in trust or an affair that has decreased desire towards their partner? Were there unsatisfying or shaming experiences related to earlier attempts at sex?

How about health issues? Is there medication that affects desire or performance? Is there a chronic illness that makes sex difficult? That illness can be either physical or emotional. Anxiety and depression can have a very negative impact on our connecting sexually. Are there low levels of testosterone in either partner? Testosterone is the ‘horsepower’ behind sexual desire. Is there a lack of physical fitness? Is there any pain associated with intercourse? There doesn’t have to be – get help.

Our lifestyle patterns also affect our desire for sex. 

Are we too busy for sex? Are we too tired? Are we too angry with each other? Does the fear of interruption from children keep us away from each other? How about our expectations? Do we believe that every encounter with each other has to be a “10” and so we wait for the perfect circumstances of mutual desire? Are there addictions that get in the way like pornography, romance novels, alcoholism, recreational drugs or hobbies or workaholism?

Here are a few things you can do when you find yourselves drifting away from each other in the bedroom.

1.       Stay connected emotionally. Talk to each other every day. Make time for each other on a daily basis. Deal with problems quickly and regularly and without hostility.

2.       Get away with each other regularly. It doesn’t have to be for long periods of time. A meal out as a couple away from the kids. An overnight stay a couple of times a year. A real vacation once a year.
    3.       Keep being affectionate with each other. Hold hands, kiss like you used to when you were dating, flirt with each other. Talk about sex – what you like and don’t like.
      4.       Intentionally schedule time for sexual connection if that’s what it takes. Yes, make it part of a date night together. Let anticipation fuel your desire. And remember that “quickies” count.
        5.       Make the bedroom a pleasant environment – soft light or candles, nice smells, attractive decoration. Keep it free of clutter, work items, televisions, and computers. No fighting in the bedroom – take that somewhere else.
          6.       Etc., etc., etc. There is so much more to be said on this subject.

            Lastly, if this is too hard to work out on your own, or if it is a deeply ingrained negative pattern that both of you have become resigned to – get help. God intended sex to be a blessing inside marriage. When it isn’t, then something needs to change. 

            Saturday, February 22, 2014


            Perfectionism is a tough task master – always looking over your shoulder to see how you are doing, and always driving you to do better, work harder, and never really being completely satisfied with your performance.

            Do you think trying to achieve perfection is a good goal?

            It is amazing how much effort we can expend trying to get from “excellent” to “near perfect”. It’s exhausting! It can strip even fun things of all the potential joy and replace it with stress and pain.

            Do you even have room in your thinking for the concept of “good enough”? Or for you does “good enough” sound like another way to say “failure”? If so, where did you get that message? Was it a parent or teacher or is it self-imposed?

            It is true that there are some folks whose “good enough” – isn’t. Excellence isn’t a goal for them, or even adequacy. But my guess is that they wouldn’t be reading this post. They wouldn’t be attracted to the title.

            Of course, no one can be perfect. So in their quest for perfection, perfectionists place their health in peril through stress and anxiety--and they can make other people's lives miserable. Working for a perfectionist boss is really tough since he or she will have unrealistic and unreasonable expectations of employees. Some physicians think perfectionism is a medical condition that should be categorized as a behavioral problem or psychiatric disorder. ...extreme forms of perfectionism should be considered an illness similar to narcissism, obsessive compulsiveness, dependent-personality disorder, and other personality disorders because of its links to distress and dysfunction,

            If you are not sure if you are a perfectionist, read the list below and see how many of the signs you can identify with.  

            Ten Top Signs Your a Perfectionist
            1. You can't stop thinking about a mistake you made.
            2. You are intensely competitive and can't stand doing worse than others.
            3. You either want to do something "just right" or not at all.
            4. You demand perfection from other people.
            5. You won't ask for help if asking can be perceived as a flaw or weakness.
            6. You will persist at a task long after other people have quit.
            7. You are a faultfinder who must correct other people when they are wrong.
            8. You are highly aware of other people's demands and expectations.
            9. You are very self-conscious about making mistakes in front of other people.
            10. You noticed the error in the title of this list.
            Source: The BBC News Online

            A scary warning for perfectionists: The impossible quest for perfection has been linked to a host of emotional, physical, and relationship problems, including depression, eating disorders, marital discord and even suicide.

            Sunday, February 16, 2014

            Losses and Limitations

            About a week ago my back gave out. That hasn’t happened for quite a while, but every time it does it gets my attention. It’s like adding 30 years to my age – bad years. All of a sudden my 6 foot height turns into 5’ 6”. Also, my normally cheery attitude loses some height. And it’s not just the pain that bothers me – it’s the loss of control. The things that I regularly do become difficult or impossible. The plans that I have made are unexpectedly put on hold and I become more dependent on Nan – and it bugs me.

            However I discovered that it wasn’t all bad.

            Eventually it taught me to embrace reality and surrender what I couldn’t change. And when I did that my attitude changed back to something a lot more peaceful. Acceptance is a powerful antidepressant.

            There are things that we must fight back against. Sometimes people put limitations on us that we shouldn’t accept. And when those are simply the opinion of an uninformed or harsh critic, we should resist. I had a friend who was told that as a result of a car accident, he would never walk again and be forever confined to a wheelchair. This man, a U.S. Marine, found that he was being grouped with people who “typically” don’t recover from his situation. Through persistence, he made a full recovery.  

            But when reality is the critic, we do well to embrace her warnings.

            I had a friend who blew out his finances from bad investments. Instead of accepting the bad decisions and loss that resulted, he began gambling with further “investments” using borrowed money. His goal was to get back the lost money before his wedding day. He lost that too and in the first year of marriage the unhappy couple (and unknowing bride) had to declare bankruptcy.

            I also heard a woman on the radio tell of her journey from multimillionaire to living on Social Security alone. When her husband passed away, she was unable to manage their assets and eventually lost everything. But what surprised me was that she said she had never been more at peace. The result was a simple life that left her free to experience God in a whole new way, unencumbered by the complexities and anxieties of managing wealth, a large home and an overflowing schedule.   

            Accepting losses and limitations can be really hard. It means we have to face our fragility and powerlessness. It means that we have to be dependent on our Creator and trust that He is good, even when we do not understand why bad things are happening in our life.

            It might be that you are facing an insurmountable obstacle right now. It could be a marriage partner unwilling to get help or a health problem that you cannot change. It could be adult children that are making horrible choices or a job situation that can only get worse. Whatever it might be, the degree to which you accept what you cannot control will be the degree of peace that you will be able to experience.

            2 Corinthians 12:9-10 (NIV)

            But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. ”Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

            Sunday, February 9, 2014

            It's About You -- It's About Me

            Attachment is the ability to bond to others. It is rooted in our beliefs about ourselves and others. And it determines how secure we feel.

            Am I lovable? Are others willing to love me? Am I worthy of love? Are others even capable of love?

            There are many more questions surrounding our ability to attach. Why is this important? Our beliefs will influence our ability to have healthy relationships with others. It will determine whether we feel needy or safe or suspicious or trusting or optimistic when forming bonds with others. It even influences our ability to trust that God is good or available to us.

            These beliefs are developed during our early years, many of them before we can talk. As a newborn baby did I need medical intervention that included being poked with needles and isolated from my parents? When I cried was I comforted? When I was hungry was I fed quickly? Was I born into a tough situation where my caregiver was stressed and could not adequately provide for me?

            Fortunately, as humans with the ability to think and grow, we do not have to be permanently hobbled by our beliefs. We can learn to dispel any lies that we have accepted about our worth or the worth of others.

            Here is a quick assessment that can help you determine your attachment style – see which style you lean towards.

            1.    A. I don’t like sharing my feelings with others.
                   B. I really like sharing my feelings with my partner, but he/she does not seem as  open as I am.
                   C. My feelings are very confusing to me, so I try not to feel them.
                   D. I find it easy to share my feelings with people I’m close to.

            2.    A. I don’t like it when my partner wants to talk about his/her feelings.
                   B. My feelings can get out of control very quickly
                   C. My feelings are very intense and overwhelming.
                   D. I like it when my partner wants to share his/her feelings with me.                            

            3.    A. I have a hard time understanding how other people feel.
                   B. I worry about being alone.
                   C. I feel torn between wanting to be close to others and wanting to pull away.
                   D. I am confortable getting close to others, but I also feel comfortable being alone.

            4.    A. When I get stressed, I try to deal with the situation all by myself.
                   B. I worry about being abandoned in close relationships.
                   C. My partner complains that sometimes I’m really needy and clingy and other times I’m distant and aloof.
                   D. I expect my partner to respect who I am.

            5.   A. My partner often complains that I don’t like to talk about how I feel.
                  B. My partner complains that I am too clingy and too emotional.
                  C. I have a difficult time letting others get close to me, but once I let them in, I worry about being abandoned or rejected.   
                  D. I expect my partner to respond to my needs in a sensitive and appropriate way.

            6.   A. I don’t really need close relationships.
                  B. I strongly desire to be very intimate with people.
                  C. I feel very vulnerable in close relationships.
                  D. Building intimacy in relationships comes relatively easy to me.
            7.   A. I highly value my independence and self-sufficiency.
                  B. In my closest relationship, the other person doesn’t seem as desirous of intimacy and closeness as I am.
                  C. Sometimes I feel very disconnected from myself and my feelings.
                  D. I let myself feel my emotions, but I’m rarely, if ever, overwhelmed by them.

            8.   A. I don’t worry about being alone or abandoned.
                  B. I worry a great deal about being rejected by others.
                  C. I can’t decide whether or not I want to be in close relationships.
                  D. I am able to understand and respond sensitively to my partner’s feelings.

            9.   A. I don’t worry about being accepted by others.
                  B. I tend to value close, intimate relationships over personal achievement and success.
                  C. Other people can really hurt you if you let them get too close.
                  D. I do a decent job balancing my need for intimacy with my need for achievement and success.

            10. A. I tend to value personal achievements and success over close, intimate relationships.
                  B. When I get stressed, I desperately seek others for support, but no one seems as available as I would like them to be.
                  C. Close relationships are difficult to come by because people tend to be unpredictable in their actions and behaviors.
                  D. When I get stressed, I feel comfortable seeking comfort from my partner and/or close friends.


            A:  Avoidant attachment style  -- I'm worried about you
            B:  Anxious attachment style  --  I'm worried about me
            C:  Fearful attachment style   --  I'm worried about both of us 
            D:  Secure attachment style  --