Monday, March 30, 2015

You Want Me To Do What In My Relationship?

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. John 12:24 (ESV)
 When I heard this Scripture verse from the sermon this morning at our church I knew that the message was not going to be one of those feel good ones that reassures us that we can be happy and secure and comfortable. If I had any doubts all I needed to do was register the expression on Nan’s face. But as I listened it in it’s entirety it was also a message of hope – and it inspired me to apply the verse to relationships.

Marriages are unending opportunities to test out the verse

I want my marriage to be fruitful. I don’t want to just lope along trying not to get into too much trouble. That usually means that I am avoiding engaging at a very deep level. But I also know that swimming in the deep end of the emotional pool can be risky. We could end up sharing some really good intimate moments, but we could also end up in painful conflict.

These times of conflict challenge me to put my faith to the test. Will I power up on Nan or will I “die” to self? I can tell you what I feel like doing (and it isn’t admirable). But the verse tells me that if I don’t make the sacrifice I will remain alone and nothing good will come of it. Of course Nan has the same choice too, and I reluctantly (sheepishly) admit that over the years she has probably done a better job than I have. Call it male pride or immaturity. They both fit.

What kinds of sacrifices do you need to make in your relationship?

  • Your finances? 
  • Your ambition? 
  • Your anger? 
  • Your time? 
  • How about your contemptuous, critical or sarcastic attitude? 
  • Do you need to give up your right to your opinion all the time? That was and still is a really hard one for me. I always want the last word. 

Some couples will never make it unless they both are willing to die to self. There has been so much damage on both sides that they have built emotional fortresses and engage in a contest to see who can come up with the longest list of perceived offenses. The blame game becomes a highly skilled sport for them. But this can be a fight to the death of a marriage.

But the verse brings a message of hope. Jesus sacrificed Himself so that many could live.  We make sacrifices so that our relationships can survive and even thrive – and not just marriages, but also parents to children, friends to friends, and communities to communities. There is joy in this kind of surrender because it often brings peace and harmony. And that produces a feeling of satisfaction – not from the temporary loss, but from the expanding gain that follows.   

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Having a Long View

One of the advantages of working at a large church, as we do, is that we encounter a broad and diverse group of issues, clientele and ages and stages. It gives us a long view on many of life’s struggles. Yes, it poses some additional stressors in that expertise in all areas is not possible. Hence, reliance on the Holy Spirit becomes essential – and also a healthy ability to laugh at oneself.

For us the long view means that we are able to observe the tragedies of abuse, conflict, divorce, abandonment, controlling behavior, emotional and financial dyscontrol etc. while they are current, as well as the results in people’s lives many years afterwards. This is probably the best reinforcement for us as counselors, to remember to hold to our over-goals for our clients when they come in with the complaint “I’m not happy.”

What are over-goals? They are the goals we hold for our clients beyond the goals that they initially express for themselves. 
  • An emotional over-goal might be to grow in maturity even if the path leads to having to make uncomfortable decisions. 

  • A spiritual over-goal would be to become more formed into the image of Christ even if it means embracing sacrifices. 

  • A relational over-goal might be to reconcile broken relationships through forgiveness even if the process is awkward and difficult. 

Everyone wants to be out of pain and “happy”, me included. But often there is a high cost to achieving the kind of happiness I desire.

  • Will I abandon my family – wife, husband or children because I don’t desire to carry responsibilities and honor my commitments any longer? Am I too proud or stubborn to try to reconcile a broken and conflictual marriage? 

  • Will I spend money I don’t have and “hope” to figure out a way to pay later? 

  • Will I engage in behaviors that are against my, God’s and societies moral codes for temporary pleasures?   

  • Will I always follow the easiest path I can find, rather than the best?

Making good choices are often the results of having a long-view perspective. I encourage clients to “play the movie forward”. Where will this decision lead you? Into potential trouble down the road? Regret? Bankruptcy? Loneliness? Away from God and significant or beneficial relationships? Or will it likely produce the kind of results you will be proud to claim?

We can’t live a perfect life and shouldn’t try to – only Jesus did that. But we can live a thoughtful one. 

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Manipulators – Scary Close

I love reading, and so do many of you – after all you are reading this blog. So I happily recommend a book Nan and I are reading right now: Scary Close– dropping the act and finding true intimacy – by Donald Miller. It is very well written and an easy read – and it also brings a significant message.

Chapter 9 is entitled “Five Kinds of Manipulators”, and I thought I would excerpt from each type.  It is always valuable to assess whether you are in a romantic, work or other relationship with one or more of these people. But I believe it is even more important to determine which one of these types Donald Miller is describing most resembles us. If we are honest with ourselves, we will get uncomfortable reading through this list. 

  • The Scorekeeper  Whenever somebody starts keeping score in a relationship the relationship begins to die. A scorekeeper makes life feel like a contest, only there’s no way to win. Scorekeepers are in control of the scoreboard and frame it any way they want, but always in such a way they’re winning. Scorekeepers keep tabs on whatever favors you owe them and call in those favors when they want to control you. 

  • The Judge  A Judge personality strongly believes in right and wrong, which is great, but they also believe they are the ones who decide right and wrong and lord it over others to maintain authority and power. Right and wrong are less a moral code than they are a collar and leash they attach to others so they can lead them around. When a Judge personality is religious, they’ll use the Bible to gain control of others. The Bible becomes a book of rules they use to prove they are right rather than a book that introduces people to God. 

  • The False Hero  The False Hero manipulates by leading people to believe they have something better to offer than they do. The dark side to the (False Hero who is a) visionary personality is they can lead people to believe they have a future when it might not be possible or realistic, to actualize that vision. You might be dealing with a False Hero when the future they’re describing seems too good to be true. 

  • The Fearmonger  Fearmongers rule by making people suffer the consequences of insubordination. The mantra of the Fearmonger is: If you don’t submit to me I’ll make your life a living hell. Fearmongers manipulate by making people believe they are strong. They are never vulnerable and fear being perceived as weak. Fearmongers are completely incapable of vulnerability and, as such, incapable of intimacy. You know you’re with a Fearmonger when they overemphasize the concept of loyalty. Certainly loyalty is a virtue, but what a Fearmonger calls loyalty could better be described as complete and total submission. 

  • The Flopper  A Flopper is somebody who overdramatizes their victimhood in order to gain sympathy and attention. Floppers assume the role of victim whenever they can. This is a powerful and destructive form of manipulation. In order to be a victim, a person needs an oppressor. If you enter into a relationship with a Flopper, sooner or later that oppressor will be you. A Flopper’s internal mantra goes something like this: If people hurt me they’re in my debt, and I can hold it over them to get what I want. False victims are, themselves, passive oppressors. They seek control by making you feel guilty about what you’ve done. They don’t want to reconcile, they want control. If you consistently feel responsible for somebody else’s pain, but you can’t figure out how you caused it, you’re likely in a relationship with a Flopper.

I hope this excerpt whets your appetite for a deeper read – as in the whole book. 

Monday, March 2, 2015

Yelling, Screaming, Raging and Lecturing

There are many spouses who would never contemplate hitting their mate, but think nothing of yelling, screaming, raging and lecturing them, sometimes for hours.

I want to suggest that yelling at your spouse is a verbal slap to the heart.

Although physically assaulting your wife or husband (even once) is generally considered an adequate reason to separate until the wounded spouse feels safe – verbal assaults may do just as much damage and lead to the same result. And the heart may take a much longer time to heal than the body.

Lecturing a spouse is treating them like a child. I don’t care how much you feel the need to berate them or “educate” them; it is just wrong and contemptuous. The worst time and place to do this is in the bedroom at bedtime. The other worst time to do this is during the rest of the day. If you find yourself wanting to do this, take a break, get away and settle down.

It might even be worse for the child of a raging parent. There is a larger power imbalance and the dependency needs are greater. The kids can’t always leave the room to protect themselves emotionally. I have heard adult children confess that they would have preferred being spanked to having to endure the intense screaming and shaming. One man said this to me:

“Whenever Dad yelled at me the look on his face said he hated me and was disgusted with me.”  Then the man broke down crying.

I wonder if your spouse feels hated too when you scream at them?

Often this is a family of origin issue, meaning that it was behavior that was modeled in the family in which you grew up. Mom or Dad was a yeller, and so it just feels normal to scream at people. It might be normal to you, but it may not be normal to the others around you – and it certainly isn’t healthy or mature.

Sometimes the angry behavior is a way of coping with depression. It is said that women tend to go sad and cry when depressed and men tend to go angry and aggressive. When we act out angry feelings there is a boost in adrenaline that may pull us temporarily out of the feeling of depression. Unfortunately it is also followed by a letdown and usually a feeling of regret for pushing people away.

The best solution I know is to run away when you feel compelled to act out. Separate yourself as quickly as possible and let the feelings dissipate. For some people fear and anxiety drives them to lash out. Take yourself away and sort out the feelings so that you can deal with people calmly and rationally.

And lastly and most importantly, according to the Bible, it is often also a sin that separates us from God. 
Ephesians 4:26 (NIV) “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry. 
Proverbs 22:24-25 (NIV) Do not make friends with a hot-tempered person, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn their ways and get yourself ensnared.