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The Marriage Map

from The Divorce Remedy, Michele Weiner-Davis, M.S.W

The marriage map is meant to give you a broad overview of the experiences most couples have when they negotiate the marital terrain. As you read through these stages and developmental passages, don’t get too hung up on the timetable. Some couples move through these stages more quickly than others, and some bypass certain stages entirely. See if any of this sounds familiar to you as you think about your own marriage and that of friends and family.

Stage One- Passion prevails
Head over heels in love, you can’t believe how lucky you are to have met your one and only star-crossed lover. Everything other than the relationship quickly fades into the background. Much to your amazement, you have so much in common: you enjoy the same hobbies, music, restaurants and movies. You even like each other’s friends. You can finish each other’s sentences. When you pick up the phone to call your partner, he or she is already on the line calling you. You are completely in sync. Everything is perfect, just the way you imagined it would be. When little, annoying things pop up, they’re dismissed and overlooked.

At no other time in your relationship is your feeling of well-being and physical desire for each other as intense as it is during this romantic period. The newness and excitement of the relationship stimulates the production of chemicals in your bodies that increase energy, positive attitudes and heighten sexuality and sensuality. You feel good in your partner’s presence and start to believe that he or she is bringing out the best in you. Depression sets in when you’re apart. There aren’t enough hours in the day to be together. You never run out of things to say. Never, never, have you felt this way before. “It must be love,” you tell yourself. While in this naturally produced state of euphoria, you decide to commit to spending the rest of their lives together. “And why not,” you reason, “we’re perfect together.” And marry, you do.

Unless you elope or opt for a simple, judge’s chambers-style wedding, your euphoria takes a temporary nosedive as you plan and execute your wedding. Once you get past the superhuman challenges dealing with family politics and hosting a modern-day wedding, your starry-eyed obsession with each other re-emerges and takes you through the honeymoon period. At last, you are one. You have committed your lives to each other forever- soul mates in the eyes of God and the world. And for a period of time, nothing could be more glorious. But soon, your joy gives way to an inevitable earth-shattering awakening; marriage isn’t at all what you expected it to be.

Stage Two- What was I thinking?
In some ways, stage two is the most difficult because it is here that you experience the biggest fall. After all, how many miles is it from bliss to disillusionment? Millions. What accounts for this drastic change in perspective? For starters, reality sets in. The little things start to bother you. You realize that your spouse has stinky breath in the morning, spends way too long on the toilet, leaves magazines and letters strewn on the kitchen counter, never wraps food properly before it’s put in the refrigerator and, to top things off, snoring has become a way of life. There are big things too.

Although you once thought you and your spouse were kindred spirits, you now realize that there are many, many differences between you. Although you share interests in hobbies, you disagree about how often you want to participate in them. You like the same kinds of restaurants, but you enjoy eating out often while your partner prefers staying home and saving money. Your tastes in music are compatible, but you prefer quiet time in the evening while your mate enjoys blasting the stereo. You have many common friends, but you can’t agree on which nights to see them.

You’re confused about what’s going on. You wonder if an alien abducted your partner and left you with this strange and complicated being, a person with whom you can’t agree on a single thing. You argue about everything. “Who is this obstinate person I married?” you ask yourself. “What was I thinking?” You knew life wouldn’t always be a bed of roses, but you never thought all you’d get was a bed of thorns. You figured that love would carry you through the rough spots, but you didn’t imagine there’d be times you didn’t feel love. You feel so disillusioned and you wonder if you made a mistake. When you remind yourself you made a life-long commitment, you start to understand the real meaning of eternity.

Ironically, it is in the midst of feeling at odds with your once kindred spirit that you are faced with making all sorts of life-altering decisions. For example, it is now that you decide whether and when to have children, where to live, who will support the family, who will handle the bills, how your free time will be spent, how in-laws fit in to your lives, and who will do the cooking. Just at the time when a team spirit would have come in mighty handy, spouses often start to feel like opponents. So they spend the next decade or so trying to “win” and get their partners to change, which tr

Stage Three- Everything would be great if you changed
In this stage of marriage, most people believe that there are two ways of looking at things, your spouse’s way and your way, also known as the Right Way. Even if couples begin marriage with the enlightened view that there are many valid perspectives on any given situation, they tend to develop severe amnesia quickly. And rather than brainstorm creative solutions, couples often battle tenaciously to get their partners to admit they are wrong. That’s because every point of disagreement is an opportunity to define the marriage. Do it my way, and the marriage will work, do it yours and it won’t.

When people are in this state of mind, they have a hard time understanding why their spouses are so glued to their way of seeing things. They assume it must be out of stubbornness, spitefulness or a need to control. What they don’t realize is that their spouses are thinking the same thing about them! Over time, both partners dig in their heels deeper and deeper. Anger, hurt and frustration fill the air. Little or no attempt is made to see the other person’s point of view for fear of losing face or worse yet, losing a sense of self.

Now is the time when many people face a fork in the marital road. They’re hurt and frustrated because their lives seem like an endless confrontation. They don’t want to go on this way. Three choices become apparent. Convinced they’ve tried everything, some people give up. They tell themselves they’ve fallen out of love or married the wrong person. Divorce seems like the only logical solution. Other people resign themselves to the status quo and decide to lead separate lives. Ultimately, they live unhappily ever after. But there are still others who decide that it’s time to end the cold war and begin to investigate healthier and more satisfying ways of interacting. Although the latter option requires a major leap of faith, those who take this leap are the fortunate ones because the best of marriage is yet to come.

Stage Four- That’s just way s/he is
In stage four, we finally come to terms with the fact that we are never going to see eye-to-eye with our partners about everything and we have to figure out what we must do to live more peaceably. We slowly accept that no amount of reasoning, begging, nagging, yelling, or threatening changes our partners’ minds. We look to others for suggestions; we seek religious counsel, talk to close friends and family, attend marital therapy, read self-help books, or take a relationship seminar. Those of us who are more private look inward and seek solutions there.

We more readily forgive our spouses for their hardheadedness, and recognize that we aren’t exactly easy to live with either. We dare to ask ourselves whether there’s something about our own behavior that could use shaping up. When disagreements occur, we make more of an effort to put ourselves in our partner’s shoes and, much to our surprise, we have a bit more compassion and understanding. We recognize that, as with everything in life, we have to accept the good with the bad. Fights happen less frequently and when they occur, they’re not as intense or as emotional as in the earlier years of marriage. We know how to push our partner’s buttons and we consciously decide not to. When we slip, we get better at making up because we remind ourselves that life is short and very little is worth the pain of disharmony. We learn that when you’ve wronged your spouse, love means always having to say you’re sorry. We mellow. We let things roll off our back that might have caused us to go to battle before. We stop being opponents. We’re teammates again. And because we’re smart enough to have reached this stage, we reap the benefits of the fifth, and final stage.

Stage Five- Together, at last
It is really a tragedy that half of all couples who wed never get to stage five, when all the pain and hard work of the earlier stages really begins to pay off. Since you are no longer in a struggle to define who you are and what the marriage should be, there is more peace and harmony. Even if you always have loved your spouse, you start to notice how much you are really liking him or her again. And then the strangest thing starts to happen. You realize that the alien who abducted your spouse in stage two has been kind enough to return him or her to you. You are pleased to discover that the qualities you saw in your partner so very long ago never really vanished. They were just camouflaged. This renews your feelings of connection.

By the time you reach stage five, you have a shared history. And although you’d both agree that marriage hasn’t been easy, you can feel proud that you’ve weathered the storms. You appreciate your partner’s sense of commitment and dedication to making your marriage last. You also look back and feel good about your accomplishments as a couple, a family and as individuals. You feel more secure about yourself as a person and you begin to appreciate the differences between you and your spouse. And what you don’t appreciate, you find greater acceptance for. You feel closer and more connected. If you have children, they’re older and more independent, allowing you to focus on your marriage again, like in the old days. And you start having “old day feelings” again. You have come full circle. The feeling you were longing for during those stormy periods is back, at last. You’re home again.

About the marriage map
I’m certain that if more couples realized that there really is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, they’d be more willing to tough it out through the downpour. The problem is, most people fool themselves into thinking that whatever stage they are in at the moment, is where they will be forever. That can be a depressing thought when you’re in the midst of hard times. And in marriage, there are lots hard times- unexpected problems with infertility, the births of children (marital satisfaction goes down with the birth of each child), the challenges of raising a family, children leaving home, infidelity, illnesses, deaths of close friends and family members. Even if there is lots of joy accompanying these transitional stages, it’s stressful nonetheless. But it’s important to remember that nothing lasts forever. There are seasons to everything in life, including marriage.

Also, it’s important to remember that people generally don’t go through these stages sequentially. It’s three steps forward and two steps back. Just when you begin to feel more at peace with each other in stage four, a crisis occurs and you find yourselves slipping back to stage three- change your partner or bust! But if you’ve been fortunate enough to have visited stage four, sanity sets in eventually, and you get back on track. The quality and quantity of love you feel for each other is never stagnant. Love is dynamic. So is marriage. The wiser and more mature you become, the more you realize this. The more you realize this, the more time you and your spouse spend hanging out in stage five. Together again, at last.

Michele Weiner-Davis, Author of Divorce Busting

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Three Pitfalls to Avoid in an Empty Nest Marriage

SOURCE:  Barbara Rainey and Susan Yates / FamilyLife Ministry

Bess and Gary couldn’t wait for the empty nest. Raising their kids had been tough. They’d had different approaches to discipline, they’d struggled on a tight budget, and they’d postponed many of their dreams in order to be with their kids. Now the last one was leaving, and they felt they had done the best they could. Finally, they were about to be free from the daily stresses of parenting. They were excited. They couldn’t wait for it to be “just us” again.

Shelly’s situation was just the opposite. She had poured her life into her kids; they had come first. Now, as the last child got ready to leave, she was scared, really scared. ”I don’t even feel like I know my husband. I haven’t been alone with him since I was 26. Our whole life has revolved around the kids. Now what will we talk about at the dinner table? What will we do on weekends? I don’t even know if I have energy left to put into this relationship. And, I don’t know if I want to.”

When your kids begin leaving the home, empty nest couples are forced to consider marriage in a new light. This can be wonderful or it can be scary. You may be thrilled as you look forward to a second honeymoon season with your spouse. Or you may be asking yourselves, Without the kids, do we have enough to hold us together?

Most likely, you will respond with a mixture of both fear and excitement. Yet at some point you will wonder, What will my marriage look like now? Anticipating the hurdles in the road ahead is essential to a good marriage in the empty nest season.

Three common pitfalls

As Christians we believe there is an enemy of our souls who wants our marriages to fall apart. Part of the problem is we don’t often recognize this enemy or his tactics. Instead, we think the problem is us or, more likely, our spouse.

In order to successfully transition your marriage into the empty nest years, you should watch for three common pitfalls that many marriages face in middle-age.

1. A critical spirit. How many middle-aged couples do you know who are still in love with each other and whose marriages you admire? How many do you know who regularly criticize, condemn, and alienate each other?

Newlyweds seem to have cornered the market on being in love. And why is that? They usually have the time and focus. Empty nest couples have the same two commodities; the challenge is to capitalize on them.

We’ve noticed that, for an empty nest wife, it is all too easy to fill the void left by the kids with criticism of her husband. With the kids gone she tends to focus more on her spouse. It’s easy to find fault with what he has done or left undone, to revisit old wounds, to fret about the way she thinks things should be.

Why do we wives do this?

Partly because we are hurting and sad for our loss, partly because we know our husbands too well, partly because we have been mothering for so long we switch our attention from our kids to our husband without thinking. Unconsciously we become critical and we don’t even realize what we are doing. It’s so subtle.

Once you do recognize what is happening, it’s time to change course. Making changes can sometimes be as simple as deciding: You make the choice to give your husband the benefit of the doubt, to not comment on everything he does or doesn’t do, to focus on the things you appreciate about him, and to verbally express gratitude.

2. Emotional divorce. It is so very common to arrive at the empty nest and feel some level of isolation. This has been true for both of us. During transition we are especially vulnerable to this drift as each spouse processes life’s changes differently.

It might happen like this: He’s hurt me again. It’s the same old thing. There’s no use trying to talk it through. I just can’t go there again. It’s too exhausting, too painful. We’ll live in the same house and carry on, but I can’t keep trying. I can’t share with him at a deep level anymore.

Picture a glass patio door. In a sense what you are doing is shutting the glass door on your marriage. You still see your spouse, but there’s a barrier between you.

This is emotional divorce—the road to isolation.

When you are pulled this way, recognize what is happening and make the decision to take a hammer and begin breaking the glass. How do you do this? Refuse to give in to the temptation to pull away from your spouse and, instead, talk through the issues. Ask a wise couple whom you trust to talk with you, or get counseling if needed.

Your marriage is too important to let it fade away. A thick glass panel doesn’t crumble instantaneously. It takes constant chipping away until the barrier finally crumbles. In the same way, you need to be patient and chip away at your issues, knowing that God is for your marriage and He wants to remove the thick glass in order that fresh air might blow in and rejuvenate your marriage.

3. An affair. If you fail to stop the drift toward emotional divorce, you will become increasingly vulnerable to an affair. Infidelity in women rarely takes place on the spur of the moment. Instead, these types of relationships usually begin with an emotional affair: He understands me better than my husband does. He appreciates me in ways my husband does not. He finds me attractive. I am drawn to him. When we talk, I feel like he really listens to me.

It’s helpful to ask yourself, Am I believing in a fantasy or seeking the truth? God’s Word says that you are to flee from, not flirt, with temptation. You must run away from those temptations and run toward your spouse instead.

No limits

When driving a car, we are dependent upon road signs that signal speed limits, merging traffic, dangerous curves, and other warnings. These signs are in place for our safety. In a similar way, we share these warnings about the road ahead for the safety of your marriage. We are both strongly for marriages thriving, not just surviving. Knowing what the dangers are is the better part of avoiding them.

Remember: Your spouse is not your enemy. He is your partner.

You’re on the same team, and there is no limit to the new ventures that are available to empty-nest couples. In planning for and pursuing these ventures together, your marriage can thrive. Ask God to give you wisdom and watch Him work in ways that will go beyond your plans and even your dreams. “Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever!” (Ephesians 3:20-21 NIV).

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Excerpted from Barbara and Susan’s Guide to the Empty Nest ©2008 by Barbara Rainey and Susan Yates. Published by FamilyLife Publishing.

Nine Lies We Tell Ourselves To Avoid Change

SOURCE:   /PsychCentral

Most of us have a love-hate relationship with change.

On one hand, we want to move forward and grow, which is a fundamental principle of life. On the other hand, the prospect of change (or actual change) can cause us to feel anxious and as if we want to crawl into a hole or escape by another means. Devouring an entire pizza, going back to bed, having a third (or fourth) beer, or simply continuing life on autopilot might suddenly seem more attractive than forging a new path.

Why do we often get in our own way, clinging to habits and situations that no longer benefit us? Can you relate to any of the following myths about change?

  1. Myth: I need to know and understand every step of the process before I begin to make a change. Truth: We are all walking (or crawling or running) down a winding road in life. There are many blind curves. It’s impossible to know how things will play out beforehand, in part because the decisions you make today will help to determine your options tomorrow. Muster the courage to move forward, and the path ahead will reveal itself as you proceed.
  2. Myth: I’ll start tomorrow. I’ll feel more like it then. Truth: Every time you procrastinate, you reinforce the habit of giving in to short-term gratification, rather than delaying gratification in the service of your desired change. For instance, if your goal is improved physical health, choosing to binge-watch House of Cards and putting off that two-mile walk until tomorrow will feel more pleasurable in the short run. However, the more frequently you make this choice, the more engrained the binge-watching habit becomes. Newton’s First Law of Motion states that a body at rest will remain at rest unless an outside force acts on it, and a body in motion at a constant velocity will remain in motion in a straight line unless acted upon by an outside force. It’s going to take some extra effort to do things differently than you have been doing them. Nevertheless, practice starting today. We can be willing to do something even when we don’t want to.
  3. Myth: I can change other people. Truth: Members of Al-Anon (for family and friends of those with alcohol or drug problems) are taught that “I didn’t cause it, I can’t control it, and I can’t cure it”. Other people’s behavior is their responsibility. Your focus is best placed on your own actions and attitudes. Some people may be inspired by your choices and decide to move in a compatible direction. Other people may not, which may mean that some relationships will dwindle or even end. Sometimes we avoid change in order to stay in relationships or situations that have become familiar, even if they are destructive. Change can come at a cost – but so can staying the same.
  4. Myth: I can’t change until other people in my life change. Truth: You are the only one with the authority and ability to alter your patterns and choices. Please do not sell yourself short and hold up your own growth by hoping or demanding that other people do things differently before you are willing to budge. This gives your husband, child, parent, friend, or boss, so much power – this could end up being a life sentence for you, if the other person continues to remain the same. You are capable of making changes, regardless of other people’s behavior.
  5. Myth: I can and will change this habit/behavior when I get a “sign” or have a crisis. A crisis will scare me into making a change. Truth: While sometimes a crisis can give us a wake-up call, it’s not likely that this alone will keep us on a new path. Yes, the fear and anxiety often associated with a crisis might result in an adrenalin rush that could temporarily motivate you, but it’s not feasible to live in such a state over the long run. Significant on-going reasons, social support, and a clearer vision of your desired life (rather than focusing on what you don’t want) are more likely to keep you on a new path.
  6. Myth: I have to hit bottom in order to change. Truth: If you practice being mindful of your thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and behaviors, you’re more apt to discern where you might be tripping yourself up. You can then choose to alter your course before you’ve gone far afield. There does not have to be a lot of drama, either within yourself or with others, in order for you to make shifts in your habits or life direction.
  7. Myth: If a situation or relationship isn’t going exactly according to my expectations, I have to change it or leave it. Truth: Life can be beautiful even if we don’t get everything we think we need. No person, job, or opportunity will come without its thorns. Be careful that you don’t give up on someone or something because he, she, or it isn’t perfect. Perhaps what you’re being challenged to change is not the situation but rather your attitude.
  8. Myth: I’m too old to change. It’s too late to change. Truth: It’s never too late. I’ve seen people do enormous turnarounds in their 50s, 60s, 70s, and beyond. My grandfather became significantly happier in his 90s, which lasted until his passing just before he turned 102. Change often begins with the belief that it is possible. Start with this premise, remember your past successes and your associated character strengths, and reach out for the help you need. As Stephen Covey said, “We become what we repeatedly do.” Determine who you want to be and what you stand for, and begin to live as if you already are this person. You will falter, make mistakes, and choose unwisely at times, but that’s all part of the growth process.
  9. Myth: This is just the way I am. Truth: While it’s true that about 50% of our happiness set point is genetic, and 10% is thought to be due to circumstances, that leaves 40% that is up to you and your attitudes. Not to underestimate the effort it can take to make shifts in your belief system, communication patterns, ability to tolerate discomfort, and behaviors, but you have more influence in the matter than you may give yourself credit for.

Ultimately, making a change is a courageous act.

Too often we feel that adjusting this or that isn’t worth the effort when by doing so we might contribute to making a significant difference to the bigger picture. To quote Mother Teresa, “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”

Believe that your willingness and decision to grow and transform is part of a bigger picture that encompasses your family, community, or the world – because this is the truth. You may never know all the people you affect in positive ways.

Dealing with a Difficult Ex-Spouse: 10 Tips to Help You Cope

SOURCE:  Ron Deal, LMFT, LPC

Wouldn’t it be nice if adults could remember that parenting is not about them, and that it is about the children?  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the pain of the broken personal relationships of the past could be kept separate from the practical parental concerns of the present.  Wouldn’t it be nice…

Yes, it would.  But sometimes people aren’t nice.

Dealing with a difficult ex-spouse can be very discouraging and defeating.  Yet, we are called to continue trying to pursue good, to “turn the other cheek”, and “walk the extra mile.”  Hopefully, the following tips can aid you in your efforts to cope—because it’s all about the children.

 

1.      Be sure to notice your own part of the ongoing conflict.  Christian ex-spouses, for example, often feel justified in their anger toward their irresponsible ex-spouse.  It’s easy, then, to also feel justified in your efforts to change them in whatever ways you feel are morally or practically necessary.  Unfortunately, this sense of “rightness” often blinds good-hearted Christians from seeing just how their own behavior contributes to the ongoing cycle of conflict.  Any time you try to change a difficult ex-spouse—even if for understandable moral reasons—you inadvertently invite hostility or a lack of cooperation in return.  Learn to let go of what you can’t change so you don’t unknowingly keep the between home power struggles alive.

2.      Stepparents should communicate a “non-threatening posture” to the same-gender ex-spouse.  An ex-wife, for example, may continue negativity because she is threatened by the presence of the new stepmother.  It is helpful if the stepmother will communicate the following either by phone or email: “I just want you to know that I value your role with your children and I will never try to replace you.  You are their mother and I’m not.  I will support your decisions with the children, have them to your house on time, and never talk badly about you to the children.  You have my word on that.”  This helps to alleviate the need of the biological mother to bad-mouth the stepparent or the new marriage in order to keep her children’s loyalties.

3.      Keep your “business meetings” impersonal to avoid excessive conflict.  Face-to-face interaction has the most potential for conflict.  Use the phone when possible or even talk to their answering machine if personal communication erupts into arguments.  Use email or faxes when possible.  Keep children from being exposed to negative interaction when it’s within your power.

4.      Use a script to help you through negotiations.  This strategy has helped thousands of parents.  Before making a phone call, take the time to write out your thoughts including what you’ll say and not say.  Also, anticipate what the other might say that will hurt or anger you.  Stick to the business at hand and don’t get hooked into old arguments that won’t be solved with another fight.  (For more on how to do this, see the “Be Prepared by Borrowing a Script and Sticking to It” section of the free Common Steps for Co-Parents e-booklet.)

5.      Whenever possible, agree with some aspect of what you ex-spouse is suggesting.  This good business principle applies in parenting as well.  Even if you disagree with the main point, find some common ground.

6.      Manage conversations by staying on matters of parenting.  It is common for the conversations of “angry associate” co-parents to gravitate back toward negative personal matters of the past.  Actively work to keep conversations focused on the children.  If the conversation digresses to “old marital junk,” say something like, “I’d rather we discuss the schedule for this weekend.  Where would you like to meet?”   If the other continues to shift the conversation back to hurtful matters assertively say, “I’m sorry.  I’m not interested in discussing us again.  Let’s try this again later when we can focus on the weekend schedule.”  Then, politely hang up the phone or walk away.  Come back later and try again to stay on the parenting subject at hand.

7.      When children have confusing or angry feelings toward your ex, don’t capitalize on their hurt and berate the other parent.  Listen and help them explore their hurt feelings.  If you can’t make positive statements about the other parent, strive for neutral ones.  Let God’s statutes offer any necessary indictments on a parent’s behavior.

8.      Remember that for children, choosing sides stinks!   Children don’t want to compare their parents or choose one over the other.  They simply want your permission to love each of you.  This is especially important when the two of you can’t get along.

9.      Wrestle with forgiveness.  Hurt feelings from the past are the number one reason your ex—and you—overreact with one another.  Do your part by striving to forgive them for the offenses of the past (and present).  This will help you manage your emotions when dealing with them in the present.

10. Work hard to respect the other parent and his or her household.  For your kid’s sake, find ways of being respectable even if you honestly can’t respect your ex-spouses lifestyle or choices.  Do not personally criticize them, but don’t make excuses for their behavior either.

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Ron L. Deal is the author The Smart Stepfamily: Seven Steps to a Healthy Family and President of www.SmartStepfamilies.com.  He is a licensed marriage and family therapist and licensed professional counselor who specializes in stepfamily education and therapy.  He presents conferences around the country and equips churches to minister to stepfamilies.

Seven Reasons You’re Probably Unhappy

Source:  Dr. Henry Cloud/Dr. John Townsend

Consciously or unconsciously, we are all driven to grow. We see a future that we want to live in, and we are either able to intentionally get there, or we cannot. A major determinant of whether you will get there or not is simply that you actually believe that you can.

We carry around a huge amount of personal baggage from our past experiences that forms our attitudes about the future. In many cases we develop a sense of learned helplessness that causes us to believe that we will never be able to get the future we want. This self-defeating logic is reinforced by our own inaction toward overcoming this baggage from our past. It becomes a pattern.

We get used to not getting what we want. We come to believe that it’s normal. That it’s simply the way things are.

Before we can overcome these issues, we have to understand what they are. This is by no means an all encompassing list of issues that characterize bad past experiences that can prevent you from realizing your own ability to move toward your desired future, but if you recognize yourself in any of these, it’s time to get to work.

1. You have historically associated closely with, and strongly feel a part of a group of people who are not finding success in love, life or work.

2. You have been so focused on simply getting by that you felt like you were unable to actually learn new ways to be better.

3. You were brought up in a religious tradition or other circumstance that instilled you with strong feelings of guilt and shame, but never focused on positive qualities like love, intimacy, vulnerability and learning.

4. All of your past relationships have caused tremendous pain and ended badly, leading you to believe that is simply an inherent quality of all relationships.

5. You have plateaued when pursuing your goals, and you come to believe that you are simply not the kind of person who is capable of achieving the success you want, incapable of understanding why others are able to reach their goals.

6. You have believed that you are just not trying hard enough when it comes to your goals, and later when you do try to commit stronger to achieving your goals with the same mindset and more effort, you expect things to turn out differently.

7. You associate change primarily with things turning out badly. Therefore change is scary and something to be avoided. You may not be happy with the way things have been, but they could likely be much worse.

What these dilemmas all have in common is that they use the past as a basis for constructing the future. They cause us to forget our own talents and abilities, to undermine our own skillfulness and resourcefulness. They squash our ambitions by prioritizing fear over risk and reward.

The experiences described above are universal. Every successful person has faced some variation or combination of these scenarios, and yet they have managed to get wherever it is that they were aiming at.

Why is that? Is it that others simply have greater abilities, or more potential? No. It is that they have not allowed the past to become a myopic lens for viewing the future. They have distilled experience into wisdom. They have recognized that failure and difficulty are necessary opportunities for stretching our abilities to enable growth.

The essential thing that you must do is to take the lessons you have learned from the past and put those lessons into practice by actually doing something. You will not overcome any one of these by letting the clock run out. There is no way forward in doing nothing. If what you have tried in the past has not worked, try something different. We are often drawn to work harder because we are choosing the more familiar path. That path is our default setting. It is often our first idea, and the one we feel most comfortable setting forward with.

But growing is not about feeling comfortable, it is about moving forward through the thick grass toward foggy vistas and breaking through all of that to discover new territory. The future does not live in the past unless you stay stuck where you are. The future is where you are going, not where you have been.

Family Systems Change

SOURCE:  Prepare/Enrich

I’ve always been interested in how my family operated.

I can remember specific times in my life where I could see how I thought my family system was about to change. As a 14 year-old, I wrote a paper about my perspective on my sister’s upcoming wedding. I clearly remember stating my point of view that I was not losing a sister, but gaining a brother. Eight years later, while in college, I lost my grandmother unexpectedly, and I watched my entire family figure out how to handle the new void in the system. And now, I write this newsletter as I await the birth of a new niece or nephew. I know this new baby will again change our family system.

The thing is, change isn’t bad. It’s inevitable though.

Family systems theory, the basis of many counseling programs, sees the family as an emotional unit. When one part of the system changes, the system needs to re-calibrate. Changes in the system also happen when the functioning of a family member changes. The connectedness and reactivity within the family unit make the functioning of family members interdependent. The same happens when a family member is added or removed from the system. Sometimes this transition happens over time such as adding family members through marriage, adoption, or birth. There are other times where it is not planned, like a death in the family.

While change is hard, it can also be beautiful.

Adding family members allows the opportunity to create new bonds and relationships that last a lifetime. But, it’s important to acknowledge that the transition can be bumpy. Some family members won’t be welcoming, some won’t like the change, and others may wish it was like the “old days.”

Don’t feel like you need to combat these feelings.

We have some tips for how to manage when your family system changes:

  • Hear them out.  Listen, listen, and listen some more to your family members who are having a hard time adapting to the “new” dynamics. Their feelings are valid and its crucial to not outcast them in the transition process.
  • Give it time.  Don’t expect your family or yourself to be completely comfortable right away. It’s natural for some time to pass before a new “normal” sets in.
  • Encourage openness.  Embrace change yourself and model for others how to be open to changes that happen in the family system.
  • Establish new bonds.  Identify new family traditions or “special” moments with that new family member. This can be as simple as an inside joke with your new brother-in-law or a special tradition you create each time you have the birth of a new baby.

 




10 Habits to Shape a Kind, Well-Adjusted Child

SOURCE:  Rebecca Eanes/ The Gottman Institute

Parenting is complicated. If we’re not careful, we become too focused on one aspect and let the others fall by the wayside.

Many times, I see parents who are intently focused on discipline, and I’m talking about the traditional use of the word here with regard to modifying behavior. Sometimes we get very caught up in “What do I do when…” or “How do I get my kid to…” and we lose sight of the bigger picture.

The truth is that there are many things that are more important in shaping our children than the methods and techniques we use to modify their behavior.

Below are 10 things that are more important than any parenting method you choose, in no particular order.

1. Your relationship with your child

The relationship that you have with your child is the single biggest influence on them. Your relationship sets an example for how relationships should be throughout the rest of their lives.

If you have a healthy relationship based on respect, empathy, and compassion, you’ve set a standard. They will grow to expect that this is what a relationship looks like and will likely not settle for less.

If, however, your relationship is based on control, coercion, and manipulation, well you see where I’m going with this.

In addition to that, your influence comes from a good relationship. Children are more likely to listen to and cooperate with an adult who they are connected to.

In other words, if you build trust and open communication when they are small, they will come to you when they are not so small. Your attachment helps wire healthy brains, and your responses set the tone for how they respond to you (they’re little mirrors).

2. Your perspective

When you look at your child, who do you see?

Do you see the positives or the negatives?

The way you think about them influences the way you treat them. Your thoughts also influence the way you feel emotionally and physically throughout the day. “He is in the terrible twos” will cause you to look for terrible things, to focus on them, and therefore try to correct them, constantly.

Try to turn these negative thoughts into positive thoughts, like, “He is inquisitive and fun!” Try to see misbehavior as a call for help rather than something that needs squashed immediately. Correction is not needed nearly as often as you might think.

Also watch your tone and language. Lori Petro of TEACH Through Love says, “Be mindful of the language you use to describe your children. They will come to see themselves through that filter you design.” Be careful not to place labels such as “naughty” or “clumsy” on your child. They will come to see themselves the way you see them.

3. Your relationship with your significant other

Your kids are watching and learning. The way you and your partner treat each other sets a standard. Happy parents make happy kids. Read How Your Marriage Affects Your Kids

“The foundation of a happy family is a strong, loving relationship between the two of you. The single, most important thing that you can do for your children is to do everything in your power to have the best possible relationship with your spouse. If they see the two of you getting along and supporting each other, they will mirror you and will likely get along with each other and their friends. Every single ounce of energy that you put into your relationship will come back to you tenfold through your children.”

4. The atmosphere of your home

All of the things mentioned above come together to create the atmosphere of your home.

If you have loving and connected relationships, you likely have a warm atmosphere in your home. If there is discord between you and your spouse, or you and your child, or your child and your other child, then the overall atmosphere will suffer. Have you ever gone to someone’s home and could just feel a negative atmosphere?

You want your home to be a haven, a safe, warm, inviting, and loving place for all family members. Dorothy Parker said, “The best way to keep children home is to make the home atmosphere pleasant—and let the air out of the tires.” You don’t have to let the air out until they’re 16 though.

5. How you relate to others

How do you treat the bank teller, the store clerk, the telemarketer? What about your parents and your in-laws? They are watching your example.

Albert Einstein once said, “Setting an example is not the main means of influencing another, it is the only means.”

6. Your community

Are you involved in your community? Aside from setting an example, there are valuable lessons to be learned from volunteering, supporting a local cause, attending church, or donating items. Seeing a bigger picture, how their acts can influence many lives, will give them a sense of responsibility and reinforce good values.

7. Their school

Whether you choose private school, public school, homeschooling, or unschooling, your choice will have an impact on your child. Choose with care. Peers have a big influence on children, but if our relationship is where it should be, our influence will still be stronger.

8. Your cup

How full is it? You have to take care of you so you can take care of them. If your cup is full, you are more patient, more empathetic, and have more energy.

Not only that, but a child who sees his parents respect themselves learns to have self-respect. Put yourself back on your list.

9. Television, video games, and social media

They are always sending messages to your kids. Now, I let my kids watch TV and play computer games, so I’m not taking a big anti-media stance here, but just be aware of what your kids are getting from what they’re watching.

My son said something out of character for him a while back that came directly from a cartoon character. I knew where he’d gotten it and we had a talk about the differences between cartoon land and the real world. I’m just glad they don’t have a Facebook account yet!

10. Their basic needs

Adequate nutrition, sleep, and exercise are not only essential for the well-being of your child but also influence behavior. Dr. Sears addresses nutrition here. Also read this article, Sleep Better for Better Behavior. Finally, exercise helps children learn to focus their attention, limit anger outburst and improve motor skills.

“If I had my child to raise all over again, I’d build self-esteem first, and the house later. I’d finger-paint more, and point the finger less. I would do less correcting and more connecting. I’d take my eyes off my watch, and watch with my eyes. I’d take more hikes and fly more kites. I’d stop playing serious, and seriously play. I would run through more fields and gaze at more stars. I’d do more hugging and less tugging.” – Diane Loomans

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