Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Just Positive Comments On Relationships

As this is a vacation week, I am going to make sure that my post is about what goes right in a relationship rather than what can go wrong. Although both must be considered at times, I want my mind and spirit directed towards the positive.

As I get older and wiser, I am becoming more aware of wanting to make Nan happy, not just be willing to compromise my selfish desires. It’s a different motivation. I have heard that codependents actually operate from a selfish place, wanting to make others happy so that they can feel happy, or at least free of stress. That’s not the same thing as wanting to truly see another filled with joy.

I am hoping that this has not been a struggle for you. I know that for some it is not. Or perhaps this was easier when the relationship first began, but things have changed. I do know this: as a couple when you have the other person’s happiness as your goal, when both of you try to out love your mate, it is likely you both will also feel personally joyful.

What this requires, of course, is being a student of your partner. It requires studying them and really knowing the things that make them happy. What are on their list of favorites? I am not just talking about material things, but experiences and interests and colors and entertainment choices, etc. What does he like to read (does he like to read)? What is her love language?  

Nan loves to stare at water – any water: beach, lake, stream, river. If I want to make her happy on vacation, it will include some kind of water. She knows for me that a vacation must include an opportunity for solitude. A high-rise hotel just won’t make it for me. Shopping is not important for either one of us (except food), but don’t deprive us of good coffee. We know this about each other and try to plan accordingly.

When a couple is able to dream together, it creates intimacy. Can you dream with your partner and feel understood? It may be that your dreams are not always aligned, but can you lend energy to your partner’s vision even if you cannot support it? When Nan and I dream together there is a point where we become divergent, but we try to stay with the parts where we can agree.

Have you ever asked your partner what makes them happy? Have they ever asked you? I know some of you out their want your partner to “just know”. But it is a fair question, especially if you really want to be known. Don’t get mad or be frustrated by that question. It may not seem that romantic, but neither is having a mate that misses the mark all the time. This is an important aspect of good communication.  

One last comment about vacation. I know at least several couples that get along so well on vacation, but struggle at home. Whatever you tend to do on vacation that makes the difference needs to be figured out. And then do your best to make the necessary changes. It might just be as simple as carving out a few minutes each day to talk to each other.  

Monday, August 22, 2016

Back Off! I’m Just Trying to Survive

This month I am going to turn sixty-six years old. You have no idea how strange that sounds to my ears. It’s like someone looked at me and said “Hey Dave, you just turned into a wheelbarrow.” What!

But something even stranger occurred to me this last week as I drove up to our staff  retreat in the mountains. I was struck with the realization that I have been living my life in survival mode. Another way of saying that might be “living with a hyper-vigilant perspective”.  Maybe you can relate as well.

This is common for people who experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), but how about the rest of us who have not gone through war or extreme circumstances? I have been around people who have experienced these things, but I haven’t personally. Or have I? Nan has always maintained that anxious or critical parents produce anxious children and particularly self-critical children. Does this atmosphere produce trauma-like symptoms as well?

I am not especially concerned about personal safety issues on a daily basis – I am a pretty trusting person. I also don’t tend to get angry unless pushed pretty hard. So where does it affect me?

  • I am always looking ahead to any commitment that I must fulfill, not with joy, but with anxiety and concern. And mind you, I love my family, friends, church and co-workers. This makes life harder for Nan since she has to live my anxiety with me. 
  • Every purchase feels more like a loss than a gain. Therefore there is no real fun in shopping. I operate with an attitude of scarcity rather than abundance and that is just soul-killing. It makes generosity all the more difficult. 
  • Being “in the moment” is difficult because I have the feeling that I must be alert to changes in the environment. Satisfaction comes after something is finished, not while it is happening. 
  • Decisions become difficult because every one seems pregnant with “what if” scenarios that could end up badly or with loss. Risks seem unreasonable or even unimaginable and opportunities have been lost that could have turned out really positive.    
I think what is really difficult for me is that many people can’t understand and empathize with this perspective very well, but are more likely to criticize and challenge these fears in a negative manner. I am afraid I might even have done that with clients and that makes me sad.

But I also had another epiphany that day. “God is in control”. I know that sounds like a really “Christianese” kind of an answer, and it is. But it doesn’t make it any less true. That doesn’t mean that everything is going to turn out the way I wish it would. What it does do for me is to remind me to surrender the things I can’t control, but know that doesn’t mean they are unnoticed. I am His beloved. I am forgiven. I am precious. That means that I can rest in the moment.

Are you like me? Or at least similar in some other way? Or are you one of those leaders that has no clue what I am talking about and has never experienced the kind of fear I am describing? Be gentle with those who suffer differently than you do. Your turn will come, but probably in another way.

All of you therapists who are reading my post are probably having a ball diagnosing me. Have at it – that’s what we do sometimes!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Setting SMART Goals

Since this is near the beginning of a new year I thought I would share an acronym we learned in a staff meeting recently. It is an easy way to remember effective goal setting.

S.M.A.R.T – and we all want to be considered smart.

According to our pastor Tom, when it comes to a goal you are wanting to achieve is it:

  • Strategic -- (Does this goal clearly connect with what God has assigned me to do?)

  • Measurable -- (Does this goal have a number attached to it?)

  • Actionable -- (Does this goal have a clear action I must take?)

  • Realistic -- (Is this goal grounded in reality?)

  • Timed -- (Does this goal have a clear deadline?) 

Which one of these points is hardest for you?

I don’t know about you, but the hardest step for me is the last. Even the thought of having to set a hard deadline on a goal gives me a measure of anxiety. I can become a master of excuses in order to avoid having to exercise the required amount of self-discipline to meet the target date. I was painfully aware of this as I walked around the outside of our house with a contractor this morning. I had set a date to have some work done to our house by the end of last year. But here it is January and I am just getting started. And the truth is, I can come up with no good excuse.

If my goal is good (and in my case it is) I remind myself that giving up is not an option. Healthy self-reflection and a measure of grace helps me to process and reset my missed deadline. Instead of shaming myself, I encourage myself to positive action.

Is being realistic hard for you? Do you tend to overestimate your capabilities or resources? Unrealistic goals produce frustration and discouragement. You can begin to doubt yourself and others may lose trust for you as well if you are frequently falling short. It is usually smart to under-promise and over-deliver.

It’s easy to imagine this concept being applied to career or work goals, but how about to relational goals? Is there a growth goal that you have been thinking about that would produce a closer or healthier relationship? Or have you developed bad habits with people that you would want, or need to change? Can you articulate a relationship goal that encompasses this whole concept in one or two sentences?

For example: “Since God wants me to be patient and kind (strategic), I will completely eliminate my angry outbursts (measurable) by physically withdrawing from conflicts (actionable) so that my family can look forward to a peaceful vacation this summer (realistic and timed).”

Why don’t you give it a try in some area of your life and see what you can come up with. 

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Finding Your Voice

In counseling, the concept of “finding your voice” may come up as a topic or issue. Usually it is because someone has had a hard time speaking up when appropriate, or has been silenced because of various reasons. It can be a pretty sensitive area when the person has been a victim of physical, emotional or sexual abuse.

Especially in marriage it is good to have an equal voice and shared power (along with equal responsibility) and we encourage people to ask for what they need. If we continually sublimate our desires to someone else’s we will eventually build up toxic resentment and bitterness. Trying to keep the peace by not speaking up in a relationship is very risky. It is with both our words and actions that we set appropriate emotional and physical safety boundaries that declare “This is my property, stay off!”. Sometimes, however, when a person is learning to exercise their power in this new way they may overcompensate and create new problems.

                IMMATURE                    MATURE                             IMMATURE
--------------Reactive-------------    -------------------     ------------------Reactive------------------      
Passive Victim                                  Assertive           Aggressive          Rageful Victimizer
            |                      |                             |                          |             |                  |     
                     Passive Aggressive                                         Angry Aggressive

As you can see on the above chart, the range of response is a continuum from very passive to very aggressive. I would suggest that the goal is right in the middle, communicating in a firm, but kind manner. That is assertiveness. From a spiritual perspective, we call this “speaking the truth in love”. It respects both us and them and creates an environment where closeness is possible. Both withdrawal and aggression creates distance within a relationship, but kind honesty is fertile soil for something positive to grow.

When a person has been a victim of something serious, regulating their emotions and behavior and finding a balance may be very challenging. Not wanting to risk becoming a victim again, they might overestimate what is required to remain safe (overpowering).  This is when having a counselor or mentor to give feedback can be very helpful.

From a spiritual perspective, the Bible seems to have many more cautionary verses about anger and aggression. It is an area that is more likely to get away from us once we enter the territory. I also think we have a higher risk of practicing self-deception as we try to justify our over-reactive or sinful behavior in retrospect. On the other hand, measured responses have the potential to promote understanding and intimacy. Find your voice, but find the balance.

Proverbs 16:24(NLT)
Kind words are like honey — sweet to the soul and healthy for the body.

James 1:19-20(ESV)
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God