Soul-Care Articles: Christ-centered, Spirit-led, Biblically-based, Clinically-sound, Truth-oriented

Archive for the ‘Conflict’ Category

3 Ways Your Childhood Impacts Your Relationship

SOURCE:  Ann Malmberg

Let’s go back in time. Think about when you were a kid. Are there things your family did that you were later surprised to learn was not how everyone else did it?

Did you keep butter in the fridge or on the table? Were birthdays a week-long celebration or not that big of a deal? Did you sit down at the dinner table every night at 6:00pm on the dot? Are there things you do a certain way today simply because that’s how it was always done in your home growing up?

The fact is, what we experience in our family of origin (which is the people who raise us and who we spend most of our childhood with) often does show up in your couple relationship in one way or another. How so? The following scenarios demonstrate three ways family of origin experiences can manifest in your relationship:

How strongly you adhere to traditions
Scenario A: On Christmas Eve, you always drink hot chocolate out of your special Christmas mug and open one present, saving the rest for Christmas morning, when you practice patience and build your anticipation by always opening stockings first. It’s just how things are done—it wouldn’t feel like Christmas otherwise.

Scenario B: On Christmas Eve, sometimes you celebrate at home, some years you travel to your aunt and uncle’s house a few hours away, and a couple years you even got to celebrate in Florida with your grandparents! Your family went with the flow – being together was the main goal.

Whether you identify more with the first or second scenario, chances are you’ll carry these tendencies with you as an adult and into your relationship. As you begin to form your own family unit, you’ll likely think about the role traditions will play and how important it is to you to carry on the ones you grew up with or create your own. If you grew up in a more go-with-the-flow family, you’ll probably have a similar attitude.

How you handle a major stressful event
Your grandfather was just admitted to the hospital after suffering a heart attack. Your mother needs to go to see him and be with your grandmother at the hospital – she’ll be gone for three days.

Scenario A: Your family goes into emergency mode. You and your siblings each have specific chores you’re in charge of, and everyone is expected to step up and help out. There are specific “dad’s-in-charge” rules that everyone knows and is expected to follow.

Scenario B: Your family goes into chaos mode. The house is a mess and homework isn’t getting done, but hey, McDonald’s for dinner! (You never get that when Mom’s home.) Dad just does his best making sure you’re getting off to school in the morning fully dressed.

It might not have been this black or white, but you likely have a general sense of how your family reacted to out-of-the-ordinary events. You might have actually felt a sense of rigid order or disorganized chaos during those times, or you just felt like this is how it must be for everyone.

Have you gone through stressful life events with your partner? What tendencies do you fall back on? If they are the opposite of your partner’s, you might experience some conflict, especially if you don’t have an understanding of where each other is coming from (and sometimes even if you do.)

How you deal with conflict and emotions
Your older sister has been skipping school – and your parents just found out about it.

Scenario A: The dinner table is icily silent except for the clinking of silverware on plates. You look nervously from your parents to your sister as both sides seethe silently. Your mom says, “Please pass the rolls,” and with those four words you know your sister is so in for it later.

Scenario B: The dinner table is silent for exactly one minute before the yelling begins. There is no mistaking the fact that your parents are pissed, and your sister is defiant. Punishment is dealt out amidst tearful protests and the whole thing ends with a dramatic stomping exit and slamming bedroom door. “Please pass the rolls,” your mom says chipperly.

What is your natural inclination when handling high emotions or addressing a conflict? Do you display your emotions clearly and confront the issue/person head on in the heat of the moment? Or do you maintain a reserved exterior subscribing to the notion that emotions are best tempered and kept to yourself while conflict is dealt with quietly? Neither is really ideal, but the behavior you were accustomed to growing up has likely etched itself into your psyche in some way. Perhaps you’ve learned to lower your voice instead of yelling when you’re angry or your logical side knows not to bury your emotions, but when you’re tired or stressed, these natural, knee-jerk tendencies can still bubble up.

So what does all of this mean for your relationship?

Takeaway #1: Your family of origin experience does have an effect on your couple relationship, whether you’d like it to or not.

Takeaway #2: Understanding differences and similarities between you and your partner’s family of origin can give you a lot of insight into certain dynamics of your relationship.

Takeaway #3: Communication is key. Talking to each other about your family of origin experiences not only increases intimacy and mutual understanding, it also gives you the opportunity to reflect on what each of you wants to carry forward or leave behind. What is most important to you? What are possible benefits and pitfalls of your similarities and differences? Where might you have to compromise? Discussing expectations now can prevent conflict and hurt feelings later.

Four Promises of Forgiveness

Adapted from The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict
by Ken Sande, Updated Edition (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2003) p. 207.

“As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” Psalm 103:12

I once heard a joke that described a frequent failure in forgiving. A woman went to her pastor for advice on improving her marriage. When the pastor asked what her greatest complaint was, she replied, “Every time we get into a fight, my husband gets historical.” When her pastor said, “You must mean hysterical,” she responded, “I mean exactly what I said; he keeps a mental record of everything I’ve done wrong, and whenever he’s mad, I get a history lesson!”

Food for Thought

Take a moment today to remember the Four Promises of Forgiveness:

1. I will not dwell on this incident.
2. I will not bring up this incident again and use it against you.
3. I will not talk to others about this incident.
4. I will not let this incident stand between us or hinder our personal relationship.

Then take a moment to remember something else: This is the way God forgives you.

It’s natural for us to read the Four Promises of Forgiveness as another set of laws to which we’re presently failing to live up; however, the gospel reminds us that they should be read first and foremost as God’s commitment to us because of the sacrifice of his Son. That commitment says that he will never “get historical” in bringing up sins for which we have been forgiven!

Is there an area in life where you feel condemned even though you’ve genuinely repented before God? Take a moment to hear God speaking the Four Promises of Forgiveness to you with regard to that particular issue. As you read them again, try adding your name to the beginning of each promise as a reminder that God speaks them personally to you. Remember Romans 8:1 applies to you, not just other Christians: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

When you accept this and apply it to your own life, prepare to be pleasantly surprised how much easier it will become to apply the Four Promises of Forgiveness to others who have hurt you.

15 Effective Ways Clever People Handle Toxic People

SOURCE:  /Lifehack Magazine

Dealing with toxic people is something we all have to confront in our lives at one point or another.

Narcissists, compulsive liars, sociopaths, manipulators, gossipers, and those wallowing in self-pity are just a few examples of toxic people. Toxic people always find a way of worming their way into people’s lives and creating drama and anarchy in order to manipulate a social circle to suit their needs. Often they will apply a ‘divide and conquer’ strategy, in which they sow the seeds of instability, in order to make themselves seem essential to a social group. The actions of toxic people usually stem from innate insecurity that compels them to drag people around them into their vacuous hole of insecurity and instability; not only can toxic people ruin your life and hinder your progress, but they can put you at risk of dragging you down to their level and turning you into a toxic person as well.

Luckily, there are a number of ways to avoid letting toxic people rule your life, employed by clever people who have usually dealt with toxic people in the past.

1. They ignore attention seekers

Often toxic people compulsively seek attention at all costs. Even if it’s somebody’s birthday, toxic people will always find a way of making everything about them. It usually begins with small actions, interrupting people or talking over them, being unnecessarily loud or obnoxious, or acting out. Usually, if they do not get the attention they crave, their actions become more drastic, starting arguments, throwing a tantrum, or acting destructively. Good social cohesion relies on everybody getting their chance to talk, joke, and have fun. A social circle should never revolve around one person. If this is the case, the best course of action is to pay little or no attention to that person, and instead spend more time with the quieter and more reserved members of the group.

2. They do not trust or share secrets with gossipers

Toxic people will share deep secrets with people just to seem momentarily interesting and they will frequently judge or gossip about people behind their backs. If you meet somebody who does this, do not be fooled into thinking that they are gossiping with you because they like you or trust you. They will just as easily betray your trust. Toxic people will often talk behind somebody’s back to you in the hopes that they will agree with them. They will then go and tell the other person what you said. This creates friction between two people, leaving the toxic person in the middle holding all the cards. It’s a divisive and manipulative method of gaining friends or power in a social group. Do not take the bait.

3. They spend a lot of time with trustworthy and loyal friends

In contrast to the point made previously, clever people will develop a strong support network of loyal and trustworthy people. They know that they do not have to be everybody’s friend, and not everybody is deserving of their friendship. In turn, they reward their friends’ loyalty and trust by showing that it works both ways. Clever people know that true friendship and fidelity is one of the rarest and most valuable commodities you will ever have in life, and they will not allow this to be corrupted by toxic, negative and untrustworthy people.

4. They avoid manipulative people

Manipulative people will ruin your life. They will callously manipulate your feelings in order to make you act in a certain way to further their goals. Compulsively manipulative people often have few redeemable qualities, so it is worth avoiding them altogether. In order to avoid them, however, you must first recognize the signs of a manipulative person. Do you find yourself constantly feeling strong or unstable emotions when they are around; anger, irritation, sadness, or inadequacy? Do you often question why they might have said something? Do you get the suspicion that you’re being deceived? If so, it is likely that the person is trying to toy with your emotions, and are best avoided.

5. They allow liars to trip themselves up

Toxic people will often lie compulsively, not just to others, but to themselves. They will often perform mental gymnastics to convince themselves that their lies are reality. Unfortunately, lies are actually very hard to keep up. Recounting a true event is relatively easy, but keeping track of a bunch of made-up stories is difficult. Liars end up exposing themselves over time, by contradicting themselves with other lies.

6. They do not get involved in petty feuds and drama

Most people like to keep arguments solely in the realms of themselves, and whoever they are arguing with. Toxic people aren’t like that, they love to air their dirty laundry in public, and when an argument breaks out, they want everybody to pick a side. It doesn’t matter if you’re involved or not, it barely matters if you even know the two people involved, a toxic person will not allow you to remain neutral. Often fights between one or more toxic people can be cataclysmic, and it’s the innocent bystanders caught in the crossfire that will suffer the most. There are six words that will save you from being sucked into the storm in a teacup that comes when toxic people argue; “It’s nothing to do with me”.

7. They stand up to bullies

This is perhaps the most important way of handling a toxic person. Standing up to bullying wherever you see it. Most decent people will help the helpless, defend the vulnerable and assist those who need it. Toxic people prey on anybody they consider to be weak. It could be somebody who’s a little shy, socially awkward, or even somebody who lacks physical prowess. Toxic people will bully and take advantage of anybody who they think won’t stand up to them, which is why it’s so important to stand up to toxic people, not just for yourself, but for others around you.

8. They ignore insults

Insults come in many forms, but the most cleverly-disguised insults are actually disguised as compliments. “I’d never have the confidence to wear that.” “You’re so funny, and you don’t even realize it!” “You’re such a nice person.” These are just a few thinly veiled insults that will leave you wondering what they actually meant, which in turn leaves you seeking approval, and ultimately

9. They do not indulge self-pitying people

Toxic people will often put on a mask of helplessness in order to trick and manipulate people, or emancipate themselves from responsibility. You’ll often hear a toxic person saying that they can’t pay you back because they can’t find a job, and they can’t find a job because they haven’t got any qualifications, and they haven’t got any qualifications because their teachers mistreated them at school, etc. There is always a reason for their failure which is out of their hands, and it is always up to you to sort it out. And if you don’t, well, then you’re just the same as everybody else who’s mistreated them throughout the terrible ordeal that is their life.

Some level of self-pity is totally healthy, after a nasty breakup, a death in the family or something similar, but there is always a point where you have to grow up and accept responsibility for your own destiny, because it’s nobody else’s job but yours. Self-pitying people live in a vacuous maelstrom of misery, and make absolutely no effort to effect any change in their lives. Avoiding self-pitying people and refusing to justify their apathy is not only good for them, but will stop you from being sucked into their depressing world of self-perpetuating failure.

10. They demand straight answers to their questions

Toxic people will often go out of their way to give arbitrary, vague, non-committal, or misleading answers to questions. Just ask anybody whose ever been involved in the criminal justice system. The lengths a toxic person will go to avoid giving a satisfactory answer are incredible. This is done not just to withhold information, but also to prevent anybody from telling them they’ve backtracked later. The trick to getting around this is to present them with only closed questions, that is, a question with a yes or no answer. This will force them to make their intentions clear, and prevent them from playing mind games with you or others.

11. They do not indulge narcissists

Narcissists love themselves. Or perhaps more accurately, they love the idea of themselves. They are often so deluded in their own favor that they genuinely lose touch with reality. Narcissists will often fish for compliments, often by pretending that they do not feel so highly about themselves. They will often take numerous pictures of themselves and constantly seek comment on them. The best way to deal with a narcissist is to simply ignore their insatiable appetite for gratification. You do not have to criticize them or try to make them feel bad, but by simply ignoring them, you will help to remind them that we are all human, and our lives are all equally meaningful.

12. They will tell them when they are at fault

Toxic people will do almost anything to absolve themselves from blame. Even if they are clearly at fault, they will justify their actions by bringing up something somebody else has done. Handling toxic people cleverly means telling them they are at fault and refusing to accept their excuses. This can be difficult to do when they are being evasive, but ultimately it will help them to grow.

13. They are not won over by false kindness

There is an old African saying “Beware of a naked man who offers you a shirt.”
Effectively, it means that you cannot accept something from somebody who is in no position to give it. Namely, compliments and gestures of love. Toxic people will often try to win over certain people by showering them with compliments. This is often done because they want something from you, or you present some kind of a threat to them. You may notice that they are not nearly so complimentary of others around them, perhaps they are rude to customer service staff or abrasive towards strangers. Do not be fooled into believing that this person genuinely likes you, or that they are actually a nice person. They are just trying to get something from you.

14. They are in control of their own emotions

Toxic people will try to manipulate people’s emotions to engineer a social group to suit their needs. In order to avoid this, clever people make sure that they are aware of the emotions they are feeling, and the root causes of why they are feeling them, in order to ensure that they are the only person in control of them. This is easier said than done. Controlling one’s emotions takes years of mental discipline, so for the majority of us, it is better to avoid situations that may cause us to act irrationally, or feel emotionally unstable. For example, an argument or discussion which flares your emotions may be best carried out through written -rather than spoken- word. This gives you a chance to properly process what is being said, and provide a coherent and controlled reply, rather than an emotional outburst.

15. They focus on solutions, not problems

Toxic people are often the first to place blame when something goes wrong. They do this to emancipate themselves from having to make an effort to right the wrong. It’s very easy to hate stuff and to blame people, but it’s much harder to make it change. Clever people will circumvent the power of a toxic person by looking for a solution to a problem, rather than just focusing on the guilty party. They will help to put something right, whether they had any part in it or not. This shows that they are compassionate, protective, and loyal, and on a long enough timescale, this will always beat toxic people. Blaming somebody for a problem shows that you are afraid of confronting it; helping to resolve a problem shows real leadership.

The 5 Don’ts of Dysfunctional Family Communication

SOURCE:  Eric Scalise, Ph.D.

Every family has its own unique set of rules.

They are typically established by parents and set the tone for communication, decision-making, and conflict resolution, as well as defining the parameters for how relationships are supposed to function within the home environment. Sometimes these rules are written, perhaps even posted; however, in most cases, they are of the unspoken variety, yet clearly understood as the “norms” of the household.

Here are five such rules I have seen over the course of working with hundreds of families—rules that often create chaos, hurt, and confusion—though you will never see them attached to the refrigerator with a magnet. Their impact often leaves family members, especially children, too afraid to try anything, too hurt to love anybody and too angry to obey.

Let’s unpack them one at a time:

Rule #1 – Don’t Talk

This rule implies that you are not really allowed to share your thoughts, concerns or ideas on almost any matter.

Conflicts, differences of opinion, problem behaviors, etc., are all either completely ignored or quickly silenced. There are no “family” conferences or pow-wows whenever a crisis occurs and avoidance is the name of the game. Take for example, a father who drinks too much. Everyone knows Dad is drinking. Everyone knows Dad comes home drunk sometimes, gets rough with Mom or the kids, but no one talks about what’s going on. It’s like having the proverbial elephant right in the living room. Everyone clearly sees it; everyone can smell it and everyone knows what it’s doing to the carpet. Yet, no one talks about the elephant. Instead, they tiptoe around it, pretending there are no obstacles in the way. Of course, the big “no-no” is that you are not permitted to talk with anyone outside the family circle. This is viewed as being disloyal, even treasonous. Maintaining the “secret” becomes the status quo. Kids who grow up with this rule often have difficulty being open and honest or are timid and unsure of themselves whenever a decision needs to be made.

Rule #2 – Don’t Feel

With this rule, family members are not permitted to express their true feelings and if they attempt to do so, their efforts are usually met with resistance and disdain.

Feelings are shut down, excused away, minimized, made fun of, misinterpreted, or simply discarded as illegitimate. After a while, family members just give up, concluding others don’t honestly care anyway, so why bother putting forth the necessary time and/or emotional labor. Their feelings don’t count in the long run and the thought of transparency becomes too large of a risk, especially when combined with Rule #1. This dynamic results in people who grow up more defensive, suspicious and guarded in their relationships. When asked how they are doing in life, the answer is almost always, “Fine… everything is fine,” even when the world is falling apart all around them. Suffering in silence feels less disappointing or traumatic than rejection by someone who once again may be saying all the right words and using socially acceptable protocols, but isn’t truly interested in having an authentic relationship.

Rule #3 – Don’t Touch

In some families, there is no healthy sense of touch, or the touch that is experienced is hurtful and abusive.

Statistics indicate one out of every 3-4 girls and one out of every 4-5 boys will suffer some form of abuse before they graduate from high school. However, this rule is not exclusively the domain of physical touch. Emotional and verbal forms of touch are just as critical. When I grew up, there was a saying that went like this, “Sticks and stones will break your bones, but words will never kill you.” Baloney! Long after the physical bruises are gone, the emotional devastation of hurtful words and emotional responses can linger well into adulthood. The research on this subject reveals that for every negative, critical or abusive message someone takes in on a personal level, he or she needs 17 positives before “balance” is perceived once again. Imagine how buried in negativity some people really are. Numerous clients have told me things like, “I can’t ever remember my Dad or my Mom hugging me or saying they loved me. We just didn’t do that in our home.”

Rule #4 – Don’t Resolve

This rule typically leaves individuals stuck in a crisis mode or with the hurtful aftermath of a confrontation that did not play out very well.

Over time, family members become convinced there are no helpful or significant resolutions for family “business.” Forgiveness over hurts, heartaches and misunderstandings, are nonexistent or fleeting at best. The issues keep getting dragged back into the forefront, often used to shore up an accusation, defend a point of view or bludgeon someone into silence or submission. In other words, problems are not only avoided and left unaddressed in most cases, they are rarely—if ever—solved. Like a scab that keeps getting picked, the desire for healing and restoration is shoved to the back burner. The wound bleeds once again and eventually, leaves a scar; only in this case, the consequences are potentially carried into the next generation. This difficulty in navigating the daily pressures of life using core problem solving skills, impacts a person’s emotional, psychological, relational and spiritual well-being.

Rule #5 – Don’t Trust

The last rule is based on the previous four.

If you are never allowed to talk about anything of substance; if you are never permitted to share or display your feelings, if there is no healthy sense of touch; and if problems and issues are never fully resolved…then the sad conclusion is that you cannot and must not trust anyone. No one is deemed to be safe or trustworthy, not even God. Trust, along with honesty, represents the glue that holds any relationship together. Without them, the trials and pressures of life, even everyday stress, may result in the relationship being torn asunder, leaving it ripped and shredded in small detached pieces. Ultimately, and when combined with the first four rules, a person’s journey through this kind of family system weakens and compromises the formation of a well-adjusted self-identity.

So what then is the antidote to these dysfunctional family rules?

The first step is to have an honest conversation with yourself—especially if you are a mom or dad—and determine if any of these describe the unwritten rules of your home. If so, here are a few brief thoughts worth considering:

Do Invite – Send the message to your children that they are welcome (and expected) to be fully engaged in the life of the family, encouraging them to take ownership and personal responsibility. Their opinions matter, their ideas will be given a fair hearing and they can do so in an atmosphere of safety, mutual love and respect. There is nothing they should ever be anxious, embarrassed or too afraid to talk with you about—“Come now and let us reason together” (Is. 1:18).

Do Express – Model your feelings with honesty, genuineness, transparency, and in such a manner that honors Christ. God gave us emotions, even the strong ones, and they are what make us human. Teach your children balance and decency when it comes to self-expression. If they are never allowed to show emotion, they will dry up. If they only show emotion, they will blow up. However, if there is a healthy balance between the two, they will grow up—“The Joy of the Lord is your strength” – (Neh. 8:10).

Do Affirm – Love can be communicated in many ways and forms—physically, verbally, spiritually, etc., in word and in deed. Employ all of them—frequently, consistently and with a determined initiative. The blessing of affirmation has the power to touch deep into the soul and releases our children with confidence to a future that is more secure—“God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work” – (2 Cor. 2:8-9).

Do Forgive – Closure is an important element in moving past relational pain and the hurts and disappointments that are normal within any family. The goal is not the avoidance of all conflict, but how to effectively resolve issues and restore relationships that is essential. Helping family members work through a problem, employing Christ-like forgiveness, is better in the long run than simply letting them work their way out of a problem—“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” – (2 Cor. 5:17).

Do Empower – When a home is filled with the invitation to be engaged, with consistent expressions of love and affirmation, and a strong belief problems can and will be successfully addressed and resolved, then an environment of trust is created, one that brings hope and empowers family members. Children understand and experience what it means to be given a blessing for a hopeful future, to step out in faith and embrace all that God has for them—“Those who know Your name will put their trust in You, for You, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek You” – (Ps. 9:10).

18 TEXTS THAT SAY “I’M SORRY”

SOURCE:  Marriage 365

While it’s important to give a formal apology in person when you’ve messed up, it’s also good to follow up with a phone call or text to remind your spouse how sorry you really are.

Sending “I’m sorry” texts shows that you’re trying to rebuild trust and repair your relationship. Now, these texts are to help inspire a more in-depth conversation, and please make them personal… make them your own.

  • I am sorry for arguing with you. I want us to be a team. Please forgive me, babe.
  • I’m sorry for avoiding our issues. I’m sorry for not showing up and working on our marriage, especially when you’ve needed me. I’m sorry for neglecting your feelings.

  • I want you to know that I love you and take responsibility for the words I said. I promise I’ll work on thinking before I speak.

  • Angry is ugly, forgiveness is sexiness. Forgive me, please?

  • I’m apologizing because I value our relationship more than my ego. I’m so sorry my love.

  • I am extremely sorry for hurting you yesterday and want your forgiveness. I love you.

  • I don’t know what to say but to apologize for being such a jerk. I hope you can eventually look beyond this mistake and forgive me.

  • I feel like the worst person in the whole world. I’m truly sorry and want you to know that you didn’t deserve that.

  • I want you to know that I am willing to get help for our marriage. I will do whatever it takes to make sure we are happy and thriving.

  • I need you in my life and I’m very sorry about last night.

  • If I could, I would take back all the things I did to hurt you. But since I can’t, please consider forgiving me. I want us to work on healing our marriage.

  • You need to know that I was a fool. I allowed my pride to get the best of me. I forgot that you are on my side. That you are my best friend. I love you so much.

    I want to validate how you’re feeling. You are completely justified in feeling that way.

  • I love that you help me become a better person. I need you in my life. You are my everything.

  • You are the kindest person I have met. Forgive this fool who can’t live without you.

  • I know forgiving me will take time and is a process. I am waiting patiently. You’re worth it. We’re worth it.

  • You mean the world to me and I want to do everything I can to make up to you for last week. Let me know if there’s anything I can do or say that will show you how much I am sorry.

  • I’m sorry for putting work before our marriage. It’s not healthy and it’s making you feel unimportant. Please forgive me.

Book Review — With These Words: Five Communication Tools For Marriage And Life

SOURCE:  Bill Bellican

As a Counseling Pastor and a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, I continually am on the outlook for solid resources to help marriages grow and improve. After counseling couples for 24 years, I am convinced that learned communication skills promote effective communication practices.  When effective communication practices are employed, healthy marital outcomes are achieved evidenced by marriages that work well and honor God.

Marriage communication is like oxygen is to the body. Generally, if there is a healthy flow of oxygen, the body tends to be healthy.  If the oxygen flow is compromised or cut-off, the body is in trouble.  Even if there are other medical issues to address, the oxygen flow must be considered first or all else is a moot point.  This is the way it is in marriage.  Without healthy communication, a marriage is in trouble and won’t function as God intended.

Rob Flood’s book, With These Words, helps to ensure a marriage has a healthy flow of the right words, tone, attitudes, and techniques allowing spouses to work together to work out what needs to be accomplished in a way that honors each other and honors God.

While With These Words stresses how important healthy communication is to a strong and healthy relationship between husband and wife, it achieves something more foundational.  More than just achieving a better marriage, it is clearly outlined in this book that all communication is designed to glorify God and reflect his image through how our words are used. God is to be glorified in all things including the way communication is successfully handled within marriage.  That is the real motivation to reach a higher level of communication.  A better marriage is the outcome of being conformed to the image of Christ through the way spouses communicate and work through life and marriage challenges.  Flood emphasizes that this motivation becomes practical and fruitful as a couple walks with Jesus seeking and allowing him to influence each moment of their lives.  Therein lies the power for growth and change that makes a marriage a delight to the Lord and increasingly joyful for each other.

Once the rationale is established for better communication and the source of true Power for genuine change is known, Flood outlines the practical tools for crafting more effective and honoring communication skills that work within the marriage.

As Flood highlights, whether a marriage functions wonderfully or is beset by troubles, healthy communication is a fundamental part of a strong relationship between husband and wife.  And, a marriage like this brings glory to God!

Image result for rob flood with these words

New Growth Press

Be the Change You Wish to See in Your Relationship

SOURCE:  Terry Gaspard/Gottman Institute

Ben and Alicia are both waiting for the other person to change. I see it all the time in my private practice.

“I’ve been miserable for years,” complains Ben. “I’ve asked Alicia to give me space, but things don’t appear to be changing. It feels like I can’t breathe.”

“Ben has his friends over every weekend,” Alicia reflects. “He doesn’t consider my needs and I feel so alone.”

If you want your partner to change, start by accepting them for who they are. In The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, Dr. John Gottman says, “People can change only if they feel that they are basically liked and accepted the way they are. When people feel criticized, disliked, and unappreciated they are unable to change. Instead, they feel under siege and dig in to protect themselves.”

Instead of criticizing your partner, remind yourself of all of the things you appreciate about them, and share those things with them. Be genuinely interested in learning about why they see or do something differently than you, and be open to respecting and even celebrating what makes each of you unique.

Of course, there are some things that should never be tolerated in a relationship, like abuse, addiction, or infidelity. These behaviors should be addressed in a loving and direct way with the help of a professional. Even in those cases, it is possible to accept the person even if you do not accept their behavior.

Vulnerability and intimacy go hand in hand

What Ben and Alicia don’t realize is that they aren’t really arguing about the amount of time they spend together. The underlying issue in their marriage is that neither partner is able to express their needs in a non-blameful way.

They had never discussed what alone time and time together meant to each of them. By talking about this in my office, Ben finally understood Alicia’s fear of being alone. His understanding led him to carve out time to spend together on the weekends.

Couples seeking a deeper emotional connection need to understand that vulnerability and intimacy go hand in hand. In other words, intimacy can only occur when partners are vulnerable enough to share their deepest hopes, fears, and dreams without judgement.

Change starts with you

Do you spend more time questioning your partner’s words or actions than examining your own? Blaming your partner can feel good in the moment, but it’s dangerous because it can lead to anger and resentment.

Conflict is not a bad thing in relationships. After watching thousands of couples in his lab for over 40 years, Dr. Gottman discovered a simple truth: all couples argue. The difference between the couples that stay together and the ones who divorce is the way they repair after conflict. The Masters of relationships take responsibility for their role in the issue and change their own behavior.

Dr. Gottman explains, “The couples that don’t repair those hurts end up with festering wounds that grow bigger day by day, the month, and the year until they finally break the couple apart. Repair is absolutely crucial in any kind of relationship, particularly intimate relationships.”

Here are four things you can do instead of trying to change your partner that can change your relationship for the better.

1. Be a better partner
Many people stay in bad relationships with the desire to change their partner. In Marriage Rules, Dr. Harriet Lerner writes, “If you don’t change your part in a stuck pattern, no change will occur. Change comes from the bottom up: that is from the person who is in the most pain, or who has the least power, or who has lost or compromised too much in the relationship.”

2. Focus on the issues at hand
When you focus on changing your partner, you miss the opportunity to work together to come up with a solution. You’re no longer on the same team. Instead, focus on the issues at hand to meet both of your needs.

Anger is usually a symptom of underlying hurt, fear, and frustration, so speak in I statements and focus on expressing your feelings in a vulnerable way that invites your partner to understand your pain, rather than pushes them away.

3. Take responsibility
We are responsible for how our words and actions make our partner feel. Apologize to your partner by taking responsibility for the problem, even just a small piece, and this will validate their feelings, promote forgiveness, and allow you both to move on.

4. Complain without blame
In Why Marriages Succeed or Fail, Dr. Gottman explains that criticizing your partner is one of The Four Horsemen that predicts divorce. It is different from offering a critique or voicing a complaint. A criticism attacks the core of a person’s character while a complaint focuses on a specific behavior.

Successful couples remember to give each other the benefit of the doubt and consider that they are both doing the best they can. In The Science of Trust, Dr. Gottman advices couples to talk about their feelings in terms of a positive need, instead of what they do not need. By being good friends, you can build a healthy bond that will help you repair and navigate challenging moments together.

There is a saying to be the change you wish to see in the world. Gandhi advises us, “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him.” I believe this to be true in relationships as well.

Instead of trying to change your partner, be the change you wish to see in your relationship.

Healthy Relationships Will Have Conflict

SOURCE:  Rick Warren

You’ll never have a strong relationship without conflict. It’s impossible. Open and frank conversations are a bridge every relationship must cross to reach relational depth.

Proverbs 24:26 says, “An honest answer is a sign of true friendship” (GNT). Being candid and connected go together; you can’t have one without the other. That’s why a true friend doesn’t use flattery. Empty encouragement is a sign of a manipulator, not of someone who sincerely cares about you.

It sounds counterintuitive, but all healthy relationships must allow for the opportunity to express frustration and anger. Out-of-control anger isn’t good, but anger is part of a loving relationship. If you don’t get angry, you don’t care. If you don’t care, you don’t love.

Many people are too afraid of showing any anger in their relationships. They run from conflict. As a result, they’re always masking the issues and refusing to deal with them. That may lead to a 20-year-old friendship with hidden conflict that could have been resolved 10 years ago.

Going through the tunnel of conflict

You won’t have a genuine friendship without going through what I call “the tunnel of conflict.” This truth relates to your marriage, friendships, and all of your other significant relationships. I’ve told this truth to countless married couples throughout the years.

On one side of the tunnel you have superficial intimacy, where you’re acquainted with someone and you like them, but that’s as far as it goes without conflict. You might go to a movie or sit in a Bible study with the person (or even be married to the person for years), but you’re not ready to share your deepest, darkest secrets with them. You’re not dealing with the gut issues of the relationship: your faults, their faults, and what’s causing both of you pain. You’re ignoring the tough parts of the relationship, as well as the greater connection that comes from them.

On the other side of the tunnel is genuine, deep intimacy. It’s a place where you’re fully understood by another person in a way that you never thought was possible on this planet. Every person craves to reach this level in their relationships.

How do you get from a superficial relationship to genuine, soul-satisfying intimacy with another human being? There’s no smooth path to the other side. You must go through the tunnel of conflict—it’s the only way.

Moving toward intimacy

Conflict is painful, which means it isn’t easy; this often leads to poor decisions. Conflict is necessary for intimacy, but don’t make the conflict harder than it needs to be. Here are three guidelines that will help conflict bring your relationships closer rather than pulling them apart:

  1. Compliment in public, correct in private. This statement is true regardless of the relationship. You need to do this with your children, your spouse, your best friend, and so on. Save your criticism for a time when others aren’t around. It’ll increase the chances that the other person will hear and respond to your concerns.
  2. Correct when they’re up and not down. Nobody handles correction well when they’re fatigued or depressed. My wife has always given me great feedback on my sermons, but she never gives me constructive criticism immediately after the service. She knows that after preaching multiple services, I’m out of energy. I can handle almost any correction when I’m feeling strong but not when I’m worn out. Timing is everything in candidness.
  3. Never offer correction until you’ve proven that you’re open to it. This is an area of relationships where you need to lead by example. Demonstrate that you are able to receive correction before you start giving correction. You must open up your life before you expect others to open up theirs.

You’ve got to be candid and honest and genuine if you want healthy relationships—and you won’t grow if you’re missing those kinds of relationships. Go through that tunnel of conflict and move toward greater intimacy, and watch your life change.

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

Marriage: ‘I Stayed’

There’s power in knowing you and your spouse are in it for the long haul.

Source:  Christy Scannell

One of the advantages of living in San Diego, aside from the fantastic weather, is that we have two theaters that stage Broadway-bound shows, both to test how they fare with audiences and to get out the kinks before hitting the Great White Way.  In the last few years I’ve seen several of these big productions, some winners (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) and others not (The Full Monty).

A few years ago, my husband, Rich, and I zipped over to the Old Globe Theatre to take in A Catered Affair.  We agreed the musical had its plusses and minuses, but one of the standouts was Tom Wopat (yes, that guy from the Dukes of Hazzard) singing a lump-in-the-throat-inducing number, “I Stayed.”

To understand the impact of this song, you have to know that Wopat plays a 1950s middle-aged husband whose wife, among other issues, is accusing Wopat’s character of having never really loved her.  They married because she was pregnant, so she always suspected he rather would have been anywhere but with her.  Now that their daughter is marrying and moving out of their home, she frets over what kind of life she will have with this man who only tolerates her.

In response to her anxiety, Wopat angrily belts out, “I stayed.”   The song goes on to explain how perhaps she wasn’t his first choice, but he is confident he did the right thing by marrying her.  And most importantly—he stayed.  In other words, his loyalty to her, he felt, was his way of showing he loved her.  It might not have been a storybook romance, but theirs was a solid, faithful marriage that produced two children and, one would assume, a lot of family memories.

Needless to say, Wopat’s powerful song produced many tears in the audience (even from Faith Prince, who plays his wife).  I think that is because most of us know the value of “staying.”  Regardless of how a marriage comes about—from love at first sight to a shotgun ceremony—it’s more than anything a decision to say, “No matter what happens, I’m sticking with you—I’ll stay.”  And to say it over and over again.

I’m reminded of this commitment’s influence every week when I read in our Sunday newspaper the feature on a local couple celebrating a notable anniversary.  Somewhere in the piece the couple is asked some form of, “How on earth did you stay married for 50 (or more) years?”  Without fail, the couple responds in the fashion of, “We stuck out the bad times and celebrated the good ones.”  In other words, they stayed.

When Rich and I married, we agreed it was for life.  Regardless of what the church teaches, we all know Christians get divorced at the same rate as the rest of the American population.  We knew we couldn’t go into a marriage with that as a looming option.  So we looked each other in the eye weeks before our wedding and made a pact that we would work out whatever problems came our way.  There would be no “growing apart,” no “irreconcilable differences,” no “dissolution.”  While we agreed to the same things in our marriage vows a few months later, I’ll never forget the muscle of our plain language that day when we said, in essence, “Whatever happens, we will stay.”

Lest you think this understanding moves us beyond the occasional squabble, may I point out that he is Irish and I am Scottish?  Yes, we fight.  We accuse.  We toss a few barbs.  I slam doors and he raises his voice.  Sometimes we go a whole day without talking.

But it’s all for naught.  Even when we’re at the height of an argument, eyes narrowed and faces flushed, deep down we know it all will end peacefully.  There won’t be any moving out or filing papers.  Within hours, or sometimes minutes, there are tears and hugs and “sorrys” and weak smiles.  Later, it’s almost as if the disagreement never happened. Life goes on.

Someday when our fiftieth anniversary approaches, I hope the newspaper (if such a thing still exists!) interviews us.  When the reporter asks the requisite “How did you do it?”  I’ll reach my wrinkled hand over to clasp Rich’s and say, “Because—we stayed.”

 

 

 

 

Conflict is a Normal and Natural Part of Your “Happily Ever After”

SOURCE:  Aaron & April Jacob/Gottman Institute

When Sara and Ryan were newly married, they experienced a handful of frustrating conversations that evolved into emotionally-charged disputes.

Sara was devastated.

She thought that their relationship was in a bad place and that they were, perhaps even worse, doomed for divorce.

That’s because Sara loathes conflict. Like, really, really loathes it. And so, whenever things aren’t going perfectly well in her relationship, she’s a total mess.

Her husband, Ryan, has always been okay with conflict and doesn’t feel a need for things to be resolved immediately. While Sara is the type of person who never wants to go to bed angry, Ryan is a firm believer that going to bed angry is sometimes the best option.

You see for Sara, conflict breeds stress and the false assumption that her marriage is terrible, irreparable, and that it might end in divorce even though she and her husband are both deeply committed to making it work and staying together through thick and thin.

What Sara didn’t realize as a young love-struck newlywed is an important lesson for all married couples: conflict in marriage is inevitable.

One more time: conflict in marriage is inevitable.

In fact, not only is conflict in marriage inevitable, but it’s also perfectly normal. It’s a part of life. Why do you think wedding vows include phrases like “for better for worse,” “for richer for poorer,” “in sickness and health,” and “through thick and thin?”

They include those phrases because a) the people who wrote those vows are pretty smart and have experienced this thing we call “marriage” and b) conflict is an unavoidable part of life, and therefore, an unavoidable, and even important part of your “happily ever after” — even though it’s not something you see in the movies!

In reality, Sara was in error over the years by believing that if there was conflict in her marriage, she couldn’t be truly happy since conflict was a clear sign that her marriage was doomed to fail. Sara was in error by thinking that a happy marriage was synonymous with the absolute extinguishment of all conflict. So. Not. True.

Sara was wrong. Way wrong! And perhaps that’s because Sara and Ryan had limited conflict-management skills and sometimes even used The Four Horsemen. Gasp!

To Sara, and others like her, it’s time to realize this truth taught by Dr. Gottman:

“It’s a myth that if you solve your problems you’ll automatically be happy. We need to teach couples that they’ll never solve most of their problems.”

Really? Sara and Ryan will never solve most of their problems? Yup, that’s right.

Thankfully, the key to a happy marriage isn’t to eliminate all conflict. Mind-blowing!

Dr. Gottman says, “Although we tend to equate a low level of conflict with happiness, a lasting relationship results from a couple’s ability to manage the conflicts that are inevitable in any relationship.”

Did you catch that? Being happy now and living happily ever after comes “from a couple’s ability to manage the conflicts that are INEVITABLE in any relationship.”

Conflict is inevitable — no matter who you marry. Please don’t fall for the fallacy that you wouldn’t be dealing with X conflict if you had married Bob, because Bob would have come with his own set of problems. You know it’s true.

Because of this, gaining the skills and developing the ability to successfully navigate conflict becomes critical in creating happiness and harmony in your marriage.

So, what are those specific skills that will lead to happiness now and to your “happily ever after” in the future?

Dr. Gottman has provided the following six skills to help couples learn how to manage conflict and live happily ever after:

  1. Practice physiological self-soothing

Take a timeout when conflict arises. Go for a walk, take a bath, read a book, do whatever it takes to breathe, calm down, and return to a better frame of mind. How long is the perfect amount of time for a break? According to Dr. Gottman, it’s 20 minutes.

  1. Use a softened startup

It’s true that conversations usually end on the same note they began, so start softly. Don’t blame. Use “I” statements. Describe what is happening. And be polite.

  1. Repair and de-escalate

Use scripted phrases like “Let me try again,” “I don’t feel like you are understanding me right now,” and “I’m sorry” to help de-escalate and begin making repair attempts.

  1. Listen to your partner’s underlying feelings and dreams

Perpetual gridlocked problems between you and your partner often conceal underlying feelings and dreams that aren’t getting communicated. So, start by contemplating what your dreams are and how you can communicate them more clearly to your partner. Second, become a better listener and seek to discover your partner’s deepest feelings and dreams. The purpose of this skill is to truly understand who your partner is deep down inside in order to accept influence and compromise together.

  1. Accept influence

Recognize that your partner has good ideas and important opinions (shocker — your way isn’t always the best way or the right way). Show respect for those opinions and find something you can learn from your partner. Take this quiz to see where you most need to improve when it comes to accepting influence.

  1. Compromise

Compromise is an art. What’s Dr. Gottman’s advice? “Compromise never feels perfect. Everyone gains something and everyone loses something… the important thing is feeling understood, respected, and honored in your dreams.” So work together with your partner to find common ground and compromise that will leave you both feeling valued, respected, and supported.

If you practice these six skills from Dr. Gottman and learn to manage conflict in positive and healthy ways, then happily ever after can be yours today and everyday as you recognize conflict for what it is — an opportunity to learn, grow, progress, and live a full and meaningful life now.

 

Four Lies About Anger

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

Anger is a normal part of being a human being, but it can be a dangerous emotion and has the potential to wreck our relationships and our lives.

Here are the four most common lies about anger.

1.   When I feel angry, I must let it all out.

Too much damage has been done to people we love by blurting out angry feelings in the moment of their greatest intensity. Doing this might provide some sort of relief but it is never beneficial to the hearer or the relationship.  I liken it to vomiting.  You do feel better getting it out, but vomit belongs in the toilet, not on another person.

Proverbs 12:18 says, Reckless words pierce like a sword and Proverbs 29:11 warns us that, “Only a fool gives full vent to his anger.”

Better ways to get some relief from intense anger is to journal or pray your honest emotions to God.  In the process, you might find some perspective on what to do with them and how to express them constructively.

2.    Other people or provoking situations make me angry. 

We all believe this lie at times. We say things like, “You make me so mad!” or “If you wouldn’t have done that, then I wouldn’t have reacted that way.”

Difficult people or situations don’t MAKE us angry, although they do tempt us. What really happens when we encounter these kinds of people is that they expose us.   Jesus tells us, “It is out of the overflow of your heart, your mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45).

What comes up and out of your mouth when you are angry exposes what’s in your heart. Often our heart is filled with self-centered lies or desires.

Start to listen to your internal self-talk when you feel angry. For example, “I can’t believe this is happening to me” or “it’s not fair, why me?” or “I need to teach him/her a lesson” or “they can’t get away with this.”

Instead of blaming others or the situation we’re in, we can start to understand what the real problem is that’s causing our anger to escalate. Our own thought life.

Then we can work to calm ourselves down (with different self-talk and God’s Word) instead of demanding that life always go our way or that everyone do what we want or make us feel better.

 3.    I’m entitled to use my anger to get what I want if what I want is a good thing.

Anger motivates us and helps us to speak up against wrong, as well as take action to fight against injustice and evil in our world. Because it is such a powerful force, however, the apostle Paul warns us not to sin in our anger (Ephesians 4:26).

Most of the time what we want is permeated with self-centered desires. We WANT our way. We want to be right. We want to be first or catered to. We want our needs met. And we’re angry because we’re not getting what we want.

James 4:1 asks us what is the source of quarrels and conflicts among us?  He says it comes because we’re not getting what we want.

Part of spiritual maturity is to learn to accept that we don’t always get what we want, even if what we want is a good thing.  Living peaceably with other people involves realizing that what I want and what someone else might want may be very different. The Bible tells us not to merely look out for our own interests (what we want), but also the interests of others. (Philippians 2:4).

The truth is anger is a powerful emotion that deceives us into using it to demand our own way.

4.    I have always had a bad temper and this is just the way I am. I can’t change.

The good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that he not only redeems us but he restores us. He changes us.

If you want to get a handle on your anger, anger is not the problem you must address. Your temper is a symptom of what’s going on in your heart. If you gain self-control over your temper that’s great, but the deeper problem that causes your anger is what needs to change.

Romans 8:5 says, “Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.”

How we act and live flows from what is in our heart – what we desire or want the most. God wants to rearrange the desires of our heart so that we no longer want our own way the MOST, but rather we want to please him and love him and others.

When God changes our heart it’s not that we never get angry, but we no longer want to use our anger as a weapon to demand our own way, prove our point or make sure everyone knows we’re right. We don’t want to hold onto grudges, nurse resentment or harbor bitterness in our heart. Instead, we want to forgive and reconcile.

When Jesus changes our heart, instead of only wanting MY way, I want to look out for the interests of others because I care about them and therefore I hold my anger in check when I’m not getting what I want and weigh that with what other’s might want or need.

How?  I’ve had a change of heart and I no longer see myself as the most important person. I am no longer at the center of my life, Jesus is.

Becoming more and more like Jesus is not just trying to do the right thing, but wanting to do the right thing and then learning how.

James tells us to be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for a man’s anger (or a woman’s anger) does not produce the righteous life that God desires. (James 1:19,20)

10 Marriage & Relationship Busters

SOURCE:   /PsychCentral

No relationship is perfect and problem-free.

It’s clear that all marriages take work, commitment, and effective communication of needs, expectations and desires. Marriage isn’t hard necessarily, but it becomes harder when people “go stupid.” Essentially, when one or both partners behave out of anger, anxiety, hurt, defensiveness, or maliciousness, the problems escalate quickly.

Overall, there are common issues in most marriages where conflict is higher:

  • One partner is trying to change the other. The more one partner tries to “perfect” the other, the less perfect that person will become as the struggles grow. The truth is that the best you can do is change who you are, your approach to the relationship, and how you respond to your partner. After all, you married them for who they are, right?
  • Talking at – as opposed to talking with – your partner. Simply talking does not translate into effective communication. Constant complaints, repeated criticisms, playing the victim, trying to create guilt, yelling, telling your partner what to do, etc., are not communication openers. At best, they are communication roadblocks and barriers. Listening (i.e., being present to the other) and speaking with intent are two of the deepest forms of intimacy in any relationship.
  • Loss or decrease in emotional and sexual intimacy. A partner who is emotionally absent, disengaged, and not caring or concerned can lead to a drop in emotional and sexual intimacy.
  • Loss of focus and awareness or being mindful of your partner due to issues with finances, in-laws, a newborn, work pressures, and a mental health condition or addiction can lead to emotional distancing and loss of connection.
  • Emotional or physical affair. Even a micro-affair (when one partner behaves in secrecy and deception with someone outside the relationship) can lead to damage and long-term strain on a relationship. Most affairs begin harmlessly, but soon escalate.
  • Difficulty letting go of the past or not forgiving past behaviors. Many marital and relationship problems stem from one or both partners refusing (even if subconsciously) to let go of the past. Letting go does not mean ignoring or sweeping issues under the rug; it does mean not carrying these issues into future arguments.
  • Finances. Different values and spending habits occur in 10-20% of relationships. One partner wants to save, the other feels compelled to spend. One partner wants to spend the annual bonus on a new car, the other on the kitchen or living room.
  • Ignoring the little things that make the relationship special. Not appreciating each other, focusing on work or money or the kids, not attending to the romantic part of the relationship, not listening, and not acknowledging how much you value the other person.
  • Spending too much time and emotional energy plugged in to social media and technology in general, at the expense of spending time with your partner.
  • Constantly looking for the negative or for what is not working. This is similar to high criticism, but more generalized in that the partner approaches the relationship with a negative attitude, is emotionally dry and vacant, and through this lens sees mostly what is wrong in the relationship.

Don’t Get Caught in the Triangulation Trap

SOURCE:  Dr. Henry Cloud

You’re probably familiar with the term “triangulation” as it relates to issues in communication. Let’s break down what it really does and how it affects our relationships.

Triangulation sets up something called the “Victim-Persecutor-Rescuer Triad.”  It works like this.

Let’s say you have some issue with me, maybe even for a good reason. So, you give me some feedback, or disagree with me, or do something that I either don’t like or don’t want to hear. In any case, I feel like an innocent “Victim” and feel like you are somehow hurting me unfairly, in my mind seeing you as the “Persecutor.” Then, instead of talking through the slight, or the issue, directly with you, I take my hurt feelings and go to a sympathetic third person, and I gripe about you. I do not say to them, “He mentioned this to me, I am sure to help me, and I would like to get your perspective on it as well to see what you think … whether there might be something to learn that I am not seeing ….or maybe not.” If that were the motivation to talk to the third person, that would be a different story.

But in the VPR (victim-persecutor-rescue) scenario, I am not looking for truth or growth in my conversation with them. I am instead looking for that person to “rescue” me from this mean person (you) or what you said or did, and talk about you, saying “he was so mean … can you believe he treated me that way? What right does he have to tell me that, judge me like that?” or whatever else I might say to them about you. I am using that person to join me (agree with me and rescue me) in my hurt and anger about what you did or said. Said another way, I am getting that person to be “on my side” against you. I am looking for validation for my position, not resolution or growth.

Ever seen this happen? Say there is a meeting, topics are discussed, talked about, perspectives or feedback is given. Then, instead of saying what someone should say right there in the room to whomever they disagree with, the person waits and discusses it after the meeting, in what is referred to as “the meeting after the meeting.” They say what they would not say directly to someone, to their face, but say it to someone else “after the meeting.” So, they get the third person on their side, and never take the issue back to the room, with everyone there.

This is destructive for several reasons. First and foremost, as we said is the obvious point, the issue does not get addressed and is allowed to remain unsaid and thus unresolved. If I am mad at you, or hurt by you, or disagree with you, I (and you) really need me to talk directly to you in order to resolve it. That is the only way we are going to get to some resolution of the matter, hear each other out, gain understanding, receive the feedback or at least discuss it, or whatever is needed. Instead, it just festers, and goes into the darkness.

Second, I have now created division between you and the person I went to for rescuing. Now they have a very one-sided perspective about you and what you said or did, and I have biased them and did not properly represent you or your intent, or even whatever truth might have been in what you said. I might not tell them accurately the part I played in the problem as well. In essence, I have now turned them against you for my benefit.

Third, the original person might have actually been wrong, or hurtful, but because the “victim” did not talk to them directly, they never had a chance to own their behavior, use the feedback and change. Telling them directly might be the best thing that ever happened to them, but the “victim” went to the “rescuer” instead, and never gave them a chance.

Fourth, and maybe the worst, I now feel absolutely zero inclination or motivation to look at my part in the conflict, or the idea, or issue and ask how I might be wrong or could do better. The third person has “rescued” me from that possibility by agreeing with me about how bad you are instead. I am totally innocent, according to the rescuer, and have no impetus to examine myself. I am now “fixed” in my position, and even feeling more morally superior in the meantime.

This is so destructive. Not only do things not get resolved, but division happens. Divisiveness is probably the most destructive force in teams, companies, families, marriages, friendships and any other relational system. It not only prevents resolution, growth and forward movement, but worse, it makes problems worse by using one person against another and creating further splits throughout the team, family, organization or whatever.

This is how boards, teams, companies, marriages, circles of friends, extended families and other relational systems get sideways with each other, and ultimately often split or divide. The victim and the rescuer leave to form another company, or church, or organization. The spouse who feels they are not being treated well in the marriage, “victimized,” finds a listening, agreeable ear at the office or marketplace or social circle. Then that person makes them feel listened to and understood and agreed with in a way the “persecuting” spouse did not, and an affair begins. Or they are supported in thinking the other spouse is a bad person, and the divorce ensues. It happens all the time.

Then, predictably, sometime later the love dyad between the victim and the rescuer goes bad as well, as soon as one of them feels “victimized” by the other, and finds another rescuer. Because neither one of them has developed any more conflict resolution skills, they jump from relationship to relationship, job to job, business partner to business partner, church to church, community to community and so forth and so on. So, with one simple pattern, triangulation, they have managed to keep issues from getting resolved, turn people against each other, prevent individual growth and change, divide organizations and then infect other situations with that same pattern.

Relational Conflict: The Four Horsemen — The Antidotes

SOURCE:  Ellie Lisitsa/The Gottman Institute

All relationships, even the most successful ones, have conflict. It is unavoidable. Fortunately, our research shows that it’s not the appearance of conflict, but rather how it’s managed that predicts the success or failure of a relationship. We say “manage” conflict rather than “resolve,” because relationship conflict is natural and has functional, positive aspects that provide opportunities for growth and understanding.

And there are problems that you just won’t solve due to natural personality differences between you and your partner, but if you can learn to manage those problems in a healthy way, then your relationship will succeed.

The first step in effectively managing conflict is to identify and counteract The Four Horsemen when they arrive in your conflict discussions. If you don’t, you risk serious problems in the future of your relationship. But, like Newton’s Third Law, for every horseman there is an antidote, and you can learn how and when to use them below.

You can download a free PDF version of the The Four Horsemen and Their Antidotes here.

The Antidote to Criticism: Gentle Start-Up

A complaint focuses on a specific behavior, but criticism attacks a person’s very character. The antidote for criticism is to complain without blame by using a soft or gentle start-up. Avoid saying “you,” which can indicate blame, and instead talk about your feelings using “I” statements and express what you need in a positive way.

To put it simply, think of these two things to formulate your soft start-up: What do I feel? What do I need?

Criticism: “You always talk about yourself. Why are you always so selfish?”

Antidote: “I’m feeling left out of our talk tonight and I need to vent. Can we please talk about my day?”

Notice that the antidote starts with “I feel,” leads into “I need,” and then respectfully asks to fulfill that need. There’s no blame or criticism, which prevents the discussion from escalating into an argument.

The Antidote to Contempt: Build a Culture of Appreciation and Respect

Contempt shows up in statements that come from a position of moral superiority. Some examples of contempt include sarcasm, cynicism, name-calling, eye-rolling, sneering, mockery, and hostile humor. Contempt is destructive and defeating. It is the greatest predictor of divorce, and it must be avoided at all costs.

The antidote to contempt is to build a culture of appreciation and respect in your relationship, and there are a few ways to do that. One of our mottos is Small Things Often: if you regularly express appreciation, gratitude, affection, and respect for your partner, you’ll create a positive perspective in your relationship that acts as a buffer for negative feelings. The more positive you feel, the less likely that you’ll feel or express contempt!

Another way that we explain this is our discovery of the 5:1 “magic ratio” of positive to negative interactions that a relationship must have to succeed. If you have five or more positive interactions for every one negative interaction, then you’re making regular deposits into your emotional bank account, which keeps your relationship in the green.

Contempt: “You forgot to load the dishwasher again? Ugh. You are so incredibly lazy.” (Rolls eyes.)

Antidote: “I understand that you’ve been busy lately, but could you please remember to load the dishwasher when I work late? I’d appreciate it.”

The antidote here works so well because it expresses understanding right off the bat. This partner shows how they know that the lack of cleanliness isn’t out of laziness or malice, and so they do not make a contemptuous statement about their partner or take any position of moral superiority.

Instead, this antidote is a respectful request, and it ends with a statement of appreciation.

The Antidote to Defensiveness: Take Responsibility

Defensiveness is defined as self-protection in the form of righteous indignation or innocent victimhood in an attempt to ward off a perceived attack. Many people become defensive when they are being criticized, but the problem is that being defensive never helps to solve the problem at hand.

Defensiveness is really a way of blaming your partner. You’re saying that the problem isn’t me, it’s you. As a result, the problem is not resolved and the conflict escalates further. The antidote is to accept responsibility, even if only for part of the conflict.

Defensiveness: “It’s not my fault that we’re going to be late. It’s your fault since you always get dressed at the last second.”

Antidote: “I don’t like being late, but you’re right. We don’t always have to leave so early. I can be a little more flexible.”

By taking responsibility for part of the conflict (trying to leave too early), even while asserting that they don’t like to be late, this partner prevents the conflict from escalating by admitting their role in the conflict. From here, this couple can work towards a compromise.

The Antidote to Stonewalling: Physiological Self-Soothing

Stonewalling is when someone completely withdraws from a conflict discussion and no longer responds to their partner. It usually happens when you’re feeling flooded or emotionally overwhelmed, so your reaction is to shut down, stop talking, and disengage. And when couples stonewall, they’re under a lot of emotional pressure, which increases heart rates, releases stress hormones into the bloodstream, and can even trigger a fight-or-flight response.

In one of our longitudinal research studies, we interrupted couples after fifteen minutes of an argument and told them we needed to adjust the equipment. We asked them not to talk about their issue, but just to read magazines for half an hour. When they started talking again, their heart rates were significantly lower and their interaction was more positive and productive.

What happened during that half hour? Each partner, without even knowing it, physiologically soothed themselves by reading and avoiding discussion. They calmed down, and once they felt calm, they were able to return to the discussion in a respectful and rational way.

Therefore, the antidote to stonewalling is to practice physiological self-soothing, and the first step of self-soothing is to stop the conflict discussion and call a timeout:

“Look, we’ve been through this over and over again. I’m tired of reminding you—”

“Honey, I’m sorry to interrupt you, but I’m feeling overwhelmed and I need to take a break. Can you give me twenty minutes and then we can talk?”

If you don’t take a break, you’ll find yourself either stonewalling and bottling up your emotions, or you’ll end up exploding at your partner, or both, and neither will get you anywhere good.

So, when you take a break, it should last at least twenty minutes because it will take that long before your body physiologically calms down. It’s crucial that during this time you avoid thoughts of righteous indignation (“I don’t have to take this anymore”) and innocent victimhood (“Why is he always picking on me?”). Spend your time doing something soothing and distracting, like listening to music, reading, or exercising. It doesn’t really matter what you do, as long as it helps you to calm down.

You’ve got the skills. Use them!

Now that you know what the Four Horsemen are and how to counteract them with their proven antidotes, you’ve got the essential tools to manage conflict in a healthy way. As soon as you see criticism or contempt galloping in, remember their antidotes. Be vigilant. The more you can keep the Four Horsemen at bay, the more likely you are to have a stable and happy relationship.

The Four Horsemen: Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling

SOURCE:  Ellie Lisitsa /The Gottman Institute

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse is a metaphor depicting the end of times in the New Testament. They describe conquest, war, hunger, and death respectively. We use this metaphor to describe communication styles that, according to our research, can predict the end of a relationship.

Criticism

The first horseman is criticism. Criticizing your partner is different than offering a critique or voicing a complaint. The latter two are about specific issues, whereas the former is an ad hominem attack. It is an attack on your partner at the core of their character. In effect, you are dismantling their whole being when you criticize.

The important thing is to learn the difference between expressing a complaint and criticizing:

  • Complaint: “I was scared when you were running late and didn’t call me. I thought we had agreed that we would do that for each other.”
  • Criticism: “You never think about how your behavior is affecting other people. I don’t believe you are that forgetful, you’re just selfish. You never think of others! You never think of me!”

If you find that you are your partner are critical of each other, don’t assume your relationship is doomed to fail. The problem with criticism is that, when it becomes pervasive, it paves the way for the other, far deadlier horsemen to follow. It makes the victim feel assaulted, rejected, and hurt, and often causes the perpetrator and victim to fall into an escalating pattern where the first horseman reappears with greater and greater frequency and intensity, which eventually leads to contempt.

Contempt

The second horseman is contempt. When we communicate in this state, we are truly mean—we treat others with disrespect, mock them with sarcasm, ridicule, call them names, and mimic or use body language such as eye-rolling or scoffing. The target of contempt is made to feel despised and worthless.

Contempt goes far beyond criticism. While criticism attacks your partner’s character, contempt assumes a position of moral superiority over them:

“You’re ‘tired?’ Cry me a river. I’ve been with the kids all day, running around like mad to keep this house going and all you do when you come home from work is flop down on that sofa like a child and play those idiotic video games. I don’t have time to deal with another kid. Could you be any more pathetic?”

Research even shows that couples that are contemptuous of each other are more likely to suffer from infectious illness (colds, the flu, etc.) than others due to weakened immune systems! Contempt is fueled by long-simmering negative thoughts about the partner—which come to a head when the perpetrator attacks the accused from a position of relative superiority.

Most importantly, contempt is the single greatest predictor of divorce. It must be eliminated.

Defensiveness

The third horseman is defensiveness, and it is typically a response to criticism. We’ve all been defensive, and this horseman is nearly omnipresent when relationships are on the rocks. When we feel unjustly accused, we fish for excuses and play the innocent victim so that our partner will back off.

Unfortunately, this strategy is almost never successful. Our excuses just tell our partner that we don’t take their concerns seriously and that we won’t take responsibility for our mistakes:

  • Question: “Did you call Betty and Ralph to let them know that we’re not coming tonight as you promised this morning?”
  • Defensive response: “I was just too darn busy today. As a matter of fact, you know just how busy my schedule was. Why didn’t you just do it?”

This partner not only responds defensively, but they reverse blame in an attempt to make it the other partner’s fault. Instead, a non-defensive response can express acceptance of responsibility, admission of fault, and understanding of your partner’s perspective:

“Oops, I forgot. I should have asked you this morning to do it because I knew my day would be packed. That’s my fault. Let me call them right now.”

Although it is perfectly understandable to defend yourself if you’re stressed out and feeling attacked, this approach will not have the desired effect. Defensiveness will only escalate the conflict if the critical spouse does not back down or apologize. This is because defensiveness is really a way of blaming your partner, and it won’t allow for healthy conflict management.

Stonewalling

The fourth horseman is stonewalling, which is usually a response to contempt. Stonewalling occurs when the listener withdraws from the interaction, shuts down, and simply stops responding to their partner. Rather than confronting the issues with their partner, people who stonewall can make evasive maneuvers such as tuning out, turning away, acting busy, or engaging in obsessive or distracting behaviors.

It takes time for the negativity created by the first three horsemen to become overwhelming enough that stonewalling becomes an understandable “out,” but when it does, it frequently becomes a bad habit. And unfortunately, stonewalling isn’t easy to stop. It is a result of feeling physiologically flooded, and when we stonewall, we may not even be in a physiological state where we can discuss things rationally.

If you feel like you’re stonewalling during a conflict, stop the discussion and ask your partner to take a break:

“Alright, I’m feeling too angry to keep talking about this. Can we please take a break and come back to it in a bit? It’ll be easier to work through this after I’ve calmed down.”

Then take 20 minutes to do something alone that soothes you—read a book or magazine, take a walk, go for a run, really, just do anything that helps to stop feeling flooded—and then return to the conversation once you feel ready.

The Antidotes to the Four Horsemen

Being able to identify the Four Horsemen in your conflict discussions is a necessary first step to eliminating them, but this knowledge is not enough. To drive away destructive communication and conflict patterns, you must replace them with healthy, productive ones.

Fortunately, each horseman has a proven positive behavior that will counteract negativity. Click here to learn about the antidotes.

7 Ways to Overcome a Push-Pull Dynamic in Your Relationship

SOURCE:  Dan Neuharth, Ph.D., MFT

Intimate relationships can go south when partners get stuck in a pursue-withdraw cycle. In this push-pull dance, one partner seeks greater connection but grows increasingly critical when connection is elusive. The other partner seeks greater autonomy and increasingly withdraws in the face of complaints and pressure.

Underneath this frustrating cycle lies the differing attachment styles of partners. It’s estimated that half of all adults have an insecure attachment style that can lead to either a pursuing or distancing stance in relationships.

Pursuing partners fear rejection or abandonment, and seek reassurance from their partners through closeness and connection.

Withdrawing partners fear being controlled or crowded, and seek relief through independence and autonomy.

Here is an online quiz to help you identify if you have a pursuer-withdrawer relationship.

On some level, pursuers know that chasing a withdrawer is counterproductive. But pursuers fear that if they don’t try to increase connection it will never happen. This leaves pursuers feeling trapped in a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t dynamic which can lead them to criticize their partners.

Withdrawers know on some level that the pursuer wants closeness but it can feel overwhelming or frightening to provide it. Withdrawers fear that giving in to demands for more connection will lead to losing themselves in the relationship. The withdrawer, too, feels caught in a damned-either-way dynamic: Give in and feel trapped, or resist and receive mounting criticism.

The result can be frequent conflict, a cold-war atmosphere, chaos or drama. In time, this weakens the bonds of a relationship so much that the relationship may end.

Here are seven effective ways to deal with a pursuing-withdrawing dynamic in your relationship:

1) Recognize That the Problem is the Cycle, Not Your Partner

Withdrawers tend to deny, ignore or distance from relationship problems. Pursuers tend to magnify the focus on problems. Together, they create a push-pull dance that alienates both.

To improve your relationship it helps to recognize that this cycle, not your partner, is the enemy of your relationship.

Focus on changing the dance, not on changing your partner. It helps to view problems as happening to the relationship, not to your personally. This promotes a “we” mindset rather than a “you vs. me” mindset.

2) Reckon With the Costs of the Dance

A pursuer-withdrawer cycle is costly. It leads to stress, strain, alienation, conflict, frustration and a lack of intimacy.

Few withdrawers come closer when they feel pressured or chased. By the same token, few pursuers say positive things to a partner who they feel is depriving or rejecting them. Both stances create a self-reinforcing cycle.

While it takes time and work, you can break this costly cycle. Withdrawers need to soothe their fears of engulfment, communicate and participate more with their partner, and be more transparent. Pursuers need to soothe their fears of abandonment, reality test their worst-case scenarios, and be more self-reliant.

Both individuals need to stop seeing their partners as either the problem or potential solution.

3) Honor Each Other’s Differences and Needs

Pursuers and withdrawers in the same situation can have vastly different experiences of time. For a pursuer who is desperate to discuss relationship issues, an hour talking about a relationship may provide just a taste. But to a withdrawer, an hour may feel endless and overwhelming.

By the same token, for a withdrawer, a day without contact may feel like a breath of fresh air, while to the pursuer it may feel like torture.

It helps if withdrawers reassure pursuers that there will be time to talk and spend time together. That can allow a pursuer to self-soothe.

It helps if pursuers reassure withdrawers that they can have their space, that they won’t be criticized for it, and will be welcomed when they return. This can allow a withdrawer to feel free to move closer without fearing they will lose themselves.

4) Anxiety Is the Problem, So Managing Anxiety Is the Solution

Both pursuers and withdrawers are anxious. Pursuers fear being alone and tend to believe that if only their partner would stop distancing, their anxiety would go away. Withdrawers fear being overwhelmed and tend to believe that if only their partner would stop pressuring them, their anxiety would disappear.

Deep down, both want connection, love, and to be seen and accepted for who they are.

Anxiety can bring out the worst in us, triggering primal fears and primitive coping behaviors.  In believing that the solution to the problem lies with the other person’s actions, both partners give up their power.

In truth, pursuers need to calm their anxiety by coming to know they are sufficient and okay on their own. Withdrawers need to calm their anxiety by learning that they can get close without being destroyed. These realizations give both partners the power to manage their anxiety.

5) Share Power

One helpful exercise is to agree to take turns calling the shots. For example, a couple can designate an hour, an afternoon, or a day in which one person gets to decide what they do and whether they do it together. The next hour, afternoon or day, switch roles. This way each partner can experience knowing their time will come to have their needs met.

6) Question Your Assumptions

Over time we create a narrative about our partners and relationships and tend to gather evidence to support our viewpoint.

If we see our partner as uncaring, we may grow self-protective, critical or dismissive. But what we view as uncaring behavior may simply be our partner’s style.

For example, if a withdrawer wears a new shirt and the partner asks, “When did you buy that?” the withdrawer, who may be used to feeling criticized or interrogated, may assume judgment rather than curiosity.

Instead, a pursuer could say, “I like that shirt, is that new?” The withdrawer then knows there is positive intent in the question and can relax.

By the same token, when a pursuer hears their partner say, “I am going for a run,” they may feel rejected or unwanted. But if a withdrawing partner says, “I love you. I am going for a run now. I look forward to our evening plans,” the pursuer can feel reassured.

7) Don’t Forget the Magic of Relationships

An intimate relationship is an opportunity to share your needs, fears and longings. Sharing your vulnerabilities is one of the key reasons we seek a primary partner. Don’t let the pursuer-withdrawer dance get in the way of this.

If you were raised in a dysfunctional family with insecure attachment styles, you may have inherited a win-lose, top-bottom, zero-sum-game worldview of people and relationships.

This may feel so familiar that you know no other model. However, the template for living that you inherited is not one that you must endlessly carry out.

Magic can happen when pursuers can tell their partners: “I feel vulnerable, lonely, and afraid but I know you are not the source of those feelings.”

Magic can also happen when withdrawers can say: “I feel irritable, trapped, and smothered but I know you are not the source of those feelings.”

Your relationship can achieve a much deeper level if you own and express your feelings without making your partner responsible for causing or fixing them.

Are You in an Abusive Relationship?

SOURCE:  Justin and Lindsey Holcomb/familylife.com

Editor’s note: Although this excerpt is addressed to women, we know domestic abuse happens to both men and women. If you believe you are in an abusive relationship, please seek godly counsel from your pastor or a counselor. Depending on your particular situation, you may also need to seek legal protection and make a safety plan. For a more complete exploration of what Scripture has to say about abuse, please read the Holcombs’ entire book, Is It My Fault: Hope and Healing for Those Suffering Domestic Violence.

An abuser typically has a well-stocked arsenal of ways to exert power over you.

When the abuse first begins, many women in abusive relationships aren’t sure if what they are experiencing is abusive. In fact, one of the biggest hurdles to addressing domestic violence is that very few victims self-identify as experiencing abuse. Many think abuse happens to “those women” and don’t want to have the stigma of being one of “those women.”

The most telling sign that you are in an abusive relationship is living in fear of your spouse. If you feel like you have to walk on egg shells around him—constantly watching what you say and do in order to avoid a blowup—your relationship is unhealthy and likely abusive. Other signs include your spouse’s belittling of you, his attempts to control you, and feelings of self-loathing, helplessness, and desperation.

An abuser typically has a well-stocked arsenal of ways to exert power over you. He may employ domination, humiliation, isolation, threats, intimidation, denial, blame, and more. What’s more, he is often creative and strategic in when—and how—to put these to their most effective use.

None of this is your fault. Your abuser is the only one to blame.

And because he is so good at deceptively wielding control, it can often be difficult to discern if you are being abused. From the perspective of outside observers, these signs of abuse may be cut-and-dry. But for those trapped in the cycles of abuse, making sense of these complicated relational dynamics—especially when the relationship is intimate—can be suffocating and confusing.

If this is where you find yourself right now, here are some ways to discern if your relationship is abusive.

What the abuser does: eight common profiles

Some abuse victims may be so confused by the relational dynamics in their relationship—understandably so—that they need to hear stories and common experiences from others in order to make sense of their own. Some find it helpful to identify domestic abuse by understanding the common profiles of abusers—and recognizing their partner among them.

Since abuse is defined by an abuser’s behavior—not yours—we’ll start with identifying just that. Here are eight categories or personas abusers commonly exhibit:

  1. Bully
    • Glares
    • Shouts
    • Smashes things
    • Sulks
  2. Jailer
    • Stops you from working and seeing friends
    • Tells you what to wear
    • Keeps you in the house
    • Charms your friends and family
  3. Head worker
    • Puts you down
    • Tells you you’re too fat, too thin, ugly, stupid, useless, etc.
  4. Persuader
    • Threatens to hurt or kill you or the children
    • Cries
    • Says he loves you
    • Threatens to kill himself
    • Threatens to report you to social services
  5. Liar
    • Denies any abuse
    • Says it was “only” a slap
    • Blames drinking, drugs, stress, overwork, you, unemployment, etc.
  6. Bad father
    • Says you are a bad mother
    • Turns the children against you
    • Uses access to harass you
    • Threatens to take the children away
    • Persuades you to have “his” baby then refuses to help you care for it
  7. King of the castle
    • Treats you as a servant/slave
    • Says women are for sex, cooking, and housework
    • Expects sex on demand
    • Controls all the money
  8. Sexual controller
    • Sexually assaults you
    • Won’t accept no for an answer
    • Keeps you pregnant
    • Rejects your advances and allows sex only when he wants it rather than when you initiate

Belittling behavior

Does your spouse:

  • Yell at you?
  • Embarrass, insult, criticize you, call you names, or put you down?
  • Treat you so badly that you’re embarrassed for your family or friends to see?
  • Put you down, but then tells you that he loves you?
  • Ignore or belittle your opinions or accomplishments?
  • Blame you for his abusive behavior?
  • Use any mistakes you made in the past against you?
  • Not allow you to disagree?
  • Ignore your feelings and ideas?
  • Tell you that you are a bad parent or threaten to take away or hurt your children?
  • Act like the abuse is no big deal, tell you it is your fault, or even deny doing it?
  • See you as property or a sex object, rather than as a person?

Controlling behavior

Does your spouse:

  • Act excessively jealous or possessive?
  • Withhold affection as a way to punish you?
  • Control where you go, what you do, and demand your whereabouts?
  • Keep you from seeing your family or friends?
  • Limit your access to money, the phone, or the car?
  • Withhold basic necessities (food, clothes, medications, shelter)?
  • Make you ask for money or refuse to give you money?
  • Restrict you to an allowance?
  • Prevent you from working or sabotage your job?
  • Steal from you or take your money?
  • Constantly check up on you?
  • Control your plans and friends?
  • Stop you from seeing your family or friends?
  • Force you to drop charges?

Violent behavior or threats

Does your spouse:

  • Hit, kick, slap, choke, burn, shove, shake, drag, bite, push, punch, or physically harm you in any other way?
  • Throw things at you?
  • Have a bad and unpredictable temper?
  • Threaten to hurt or kill you?
  • Threaten to take your children away or harm them?
  • Threaten to commit suicide if you leave?
  • Intimidate you with guns, knives, or other weapons?
  • Destroy your property or belongings?
  • Threaten to kill your pet?
  • Force, threaten, or coerce you to have sex?
  • Destroy your belongings?

Three kinds of abuse

There are different kinds of abuse but all of them are wrong. To help you take inventory of your unique situation, let’s consider three different kinds of abuse:

Physical
When we talk about domestic violence, we are often referring to the physical abuse of a spouse or intimate partner. This means using physical force against someone in a way that injures or endangers that person. Physical assault or battering is a crime, whether it occurs inside or outside the family. The police have the power and authority to protect you from physical attack. And you have the right to protect yourself and your children, if you have them.

Sexual
Any situation in which you are forced to participate in unwanted, unsafe, or degrading sexual activity is sexual abuse. Forced sex, even by a spouse or intimate partner with whom you also have consensual sex, is an act of aggression and violence. Sexual assault includes rape, but it also includes coercion, intimidation, or manipulation to force unwanted sex. We define sexual assault as any type of sexual behavior or contact where consent is not freely given or obtained and is accomplished through force, intimidation, violence, coercion, manipulation, threat, deception, or abuse of authority.

Sexual assault is a display of power by the perpetrator against the victim. It is not a product of an “uncontrollable” sexual urge. In fact, it is not actually about sex at all; it is about violence and control. Perpetrators use sexual actions and behaviors as weapons to dominate, control, and belittle another person.

If you feel as though you are being pressured into sex or that you are doing something that you do not want in order to placate your spouse, then let us tell you now that your feelings are valid and that it is abuse.

Emotional
Most people can identify physical abuse—pushing, hitting, kicking—if it is happening in their relationship. Emotional abuse, on the other hand, is not always so easily spotted.

It’s harder to pinpoint exactly what’s wrong, and easier to minimize what’s really going on. It doesn’t leave you bleeding or bruised. The neighbors can’t hear it (not always) through the walls. But emotional abuse is no less destructive than physical abuse, and it is no less wrong.

The aim of emotional abuse is to chip away at your feelings of self-worth and independence—a violent process, in that it degrades you and your sense of God-given worth. If you’re the victim of emotional abuse, you may feel that there is no way out of the relationship, or that without your abusive partner you will have nothing.

So how can you identify if what you’re experiencing is emotional abuse? There are several ways. Emotional abuse includes verbal abuse such as yelling, name-calling, blaming, and shaming. Isolation, intimidation, and controlling behaviors are also signs of emotional abuse. Sometimes, abusers throw in threats of physical violence or other repercussions if you don’t do what they want.

Emotional abuse also includes economic abuse such as withholding money and basic necessities, restricting you to an allowance, sabotaging your job, and stealing from you or taking your money.

These are just some examples. But if you don’t see your particular experience listed here, use this as a general guide: Does your partner do something deliberately and repeatedly that puts you down or thwarts your plans? If the person who is supposed to be providing love, support, and guidance is keeping you in a situation where you are constantly made to feel inferior, you aren’t in a healthy relationship.

Your thoughts and feelings

The descriptions above are focused on your spouse’s behavior, which are all the telltale signs of abuse. These next questions are for you—to determine how you feel regarding this behavior. The more “yes” answers here, the more likely it is that you’re in an abusive relationship.

Do you:

  • Feel afraid of your spouse most of the time?
  • Avoid certain topics out of fear of angering your partner?
  • Feel afraid of your spouse’s temper?
  • Feel afraid to disagree?
  • Feel that you can’t do anything right for your spouse?
  • Believe you deserve to be hurt or mistreated?
  • Have to justify everything you do, every place you go, every person you talk to in order to avoid your spouse’s anger?
  • Feel afraid to leave or break up because your spouse has threatened to hurt you, himself, or someone else?
  • Avoid seeing family or friends because of your spouse’s jealousy?
  • Wonder if you’re the one who is crazy?
  • Feel emotionally numb or helpless?

Reflect on your spouse’s abusive behavior. Do you see him in these descriptions? Can you see evidence that the behaviors were deliberate, controlled, or planned? Does he act differently toward you when there are other people around? How has he attempted to stop your resistance to his abuse? Does he treat others with respect, while treating you with disrespect?

Take a look at your own experience to get clarity on your situation. Our hope is that as we spell out the nuances of what you may be experiencing, you will be able to call it what it is, plain and simple—abuse.

 

 

Five Ways to Avoid Overreacting in Your Relationship | Healing Together for Couples

SOURCE:   /PsychCentral

Anyone in a relationship knows that partners have the uncanny ability to bring out the best and worst in each other. Accordingly, whether newly married or celebrating many years together, partners can find themselves overreacting in a way that rarely happens anywhere else in their lives.

  • “He got me so upset that I was screaming in front of the kids.”
  • “ She doesn’t stop until I walk out and slam the door.”
  • “ How does he end up the victim, when he insulted me?”

Overreactions are like flash floods—all of a sudden they are there, be it from a deliberate or unintended provocation or the build-up of unrelated feelings that burst loose over something as simple as,

“How could you forget the milk?”

In the moment, it is very difficult to untangle what has happened, much less consider remedies to handle personal and interpersonal triggers. Here are five ways to avoid overreactions.

  1. Account for Physical Realities

Physical realities of fatigue, hunger, and pain compromise our functioning, particularly our capacity to regulate anxiety and anger. In a culture that gets too little sleep and demands multi-tasking, the stage is often set for overreaction.

  1. Self-Reflect and Disclose

“ I think if I can just unwind and change before I respond…”

“ We are exhausted and never do well discussing these issues late at night…let’s pick it up tomorrow.”

When partners can take a moment to reflect upon and disclose their needs, hear each other, and try to work together– the chance of an overreaction based on basic needs is lowered.

Sometimes that is not as easy as it sounds. Why? Anxiety

Are you the partner who feels such urgency that you cannot wait 10 minutes and insist on talking no matter how the other feels? Persisting or insisting rarely leads to a good place.

Try reducing the likelihood of an overreaction by regulating your anxiety:

  • Take 10 minutes to write down your thoughts so you don’t lose them or to do something for yourself for a short time while your partner catches his/her breath. This may actually give you a sense of mastery about waiting and improve the discussion.
  • Put words to your anxiety. If postponing discussing an issue until the morning feels like a “gag order” that fuels your anxiety, make that feeling known. Reasonable disclosure often invites a middle ground solution.
  • Sometimes, for example, simple acknowledgment of a problem offers enough relief that discussion can be postponed or becomes possible. Showing mutual respect and flexibility lowers overreactions.

“ So the boys want to drive to Maine with their friends… I am a bit nervous. Do you want to talk about it now or tomorrow?”

(If a partner chooses “tomorrow” and really follows up the next day – a big step of trust is taken for working together in future situations)

  1. Avoid Presumptions

A presumption is an act or instance of taking something to be true or adopting a particular attitude toward something, although it is not known for certain.

“ You never like spending time with my family.”

“ You have no interest in doing anything.”

Presumptions are triggers to overreactions in partners.

In most cases, they are critical and overgeneralized, leaving a partner feeling unfairly attacked and judged.

Robert Allan, author of Getting Control of Your Anger, suggests that one of the major hooks to anger is injustice.

  • It is not surprising that negative presumptions provoke partners to counterattack with anger and often a defensive screaming litany of proofs.
  • Often the accused becomes angry and feels he or she has been set up to overreact.

4. Use Assertion and Containment

If presumption is a negative pattern in your relationship, and inquiry and conversation have simply fueled the fire, believing in yourself and asserting what you know to be true is a powerful alternative to overreaction.

“ I have always enjoyed spending time with your family. They live very far away but I enjoy their company.”

Avoid Defensiveness-Stopping the back and forth with the assertion of what you know to be true is the most important thing you can do. There is power in certitude that needs no defense.

Regulate and Ignore the Bait-If your partner continues to pursue the presumption in an accusatory way – pause and use containment. Don’t take the bait. Regulate your urge to react by doing something else like getting up to make a cup of coffee or walk the dog. You are walking away from a negative pattern that hurts both you–and your partner. Come back prepared to proceed normally with the day or evening. The subliminal message is, “I am here but I will not participate in negative interactions.”

5. Evaluate How Much of Your Interaction is Overreaction

The quality of a relationship is key to mental and physical well-being. Step back and evaluate your interactions together. Is there so much shaming and blaming in a relationship that overreaction has become the painful method of interaction.

Psychologically this is a very dangerous situation for adults and children. When parents are constantly battling, children are in a storm of dysregulation without a lifeline. No one wins.

Friends and family often feel like a captive audience to a couple’s endless put-downs and blow-ups. Sometimes friends and family want to avoid the fray but stay for the children or stay to help. Not easy.

“ I no longer like who I have become.”

“ I am always angry because I feel so disrespected.”

“ I don’t know how this happened to us – We are stuck!”

  • This situation of overreactions often fueled by disdain warrants professional help for the sake of the partners and the well-being of the children.
  • Books, videos, on-line material, and groups that invite questions about co-dependency, fear of intimacy, hidden resentments, anger management and re-kindling love, can be invaluable in supporting partners who want to try to re-build or want to separate.
  • Children need their parents to be safe-so that they can be safe.

It is likely that if you are in a relationship, there will be times when you will overreact. Those times don’t have to mean the end of the relationship or the start of a war.

Looking closely at how and why you overreact, and using strategies to enhance understanding and restraint, can become a pathway to protect and expand your love and relationship.

Parental Conflict Can Cause Lasting Emotional Damage to Kids

SOURCE:  Traci Pedersen/PsychCentral

Children who regularly witness parental conflict may be sustaining lasting harm to their emotional processing abilities, potentially becoming overvigilant, anxious and vulnerable to misreading even neutral human interactions, according to a new study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.

The findings are particularly strong for children who are naturally shy and sensitive.

“The message is clear: even low-level adversity like parental conflict isn’t good for kids,” said Dr. Alice Schermerhorn, an assistant professor in the University of Vermont’s Department of Psychological Sciences and the lead author of the study.

In the study, 99 children (aged 9 to 11) were divided into two groups based on their scores from psychological tests which assessed how much parental conflict they experienced and how much they felt the conflict threatened their parents’ marriage.

Next, the children looked at a series of photographs of couples engaged in happy, angry or neutral interactions and asked to choose which category the photos fit.

Most of the children from the low-conflict homes consistently scored the photos accurately. However, children from high-conflict homes were only able to accurately identify the happy and angry couples, not those in neutral poses. These children would incorrectly perceive the neutral photos as either angry or happy, or they would say they didn’t know which category they fit into.

According to the researchers. one possible reason for the inability of those in the high-conflict group to evaluate the neutral photos could be hypervigilance. “If their perception of conflict and threat leads children to be vigilant for signs of trouble, that could lead them to interpret neutral expressions as angry ones or may simply present greater processing challenges,” said Schermerhorn.

Alternatively, it could be that neutral parental interactions may be less significant for children who feel threatened by their parents’ conflict.

“They may be more tuned into angry interactions, which could be a cue for them to retreat to their room, or happy ones, which could signal that their parents are available to them,” she said. “Neutral interactions don’t offer much information, so they may not value them or learn to recognize them.”

The study also reveals the impact of shyness on the children’s ability to process and recognize emotion. The shy children in the study, who were identified via a questionnaire completed by the subjects’ mothers, were unable to correctly identify couples in neutral poses, even if they were not from high-conflict homes.

Shyness made them more vulnerable to parental conflict. Children who were both shy and who also felt threatened by their parents’ conflict were unable to perceive photos of neutral interactions as simply neutral.

“Parents of shy children need to be especially thoughtful about how they express conflict,” Schermerhorn said.

The findings have significant implications, according to Schermerhorn, because they shed light on the impact relatively low-level adversity like parental conflict can have on children’s development. Either of her interpretations for the findings —hypervigilance or not being able to read neutral interactions — could mean trouble for children down the road.

“One the one hand, being overvigilant and anxious can be destabilizing in many different ways,” she said. “On the other, correctly reading neutral interactions may not be important for children who live in high conflict homes, but that gap in their perceptual inventory could be damaging in subsequent experiences with, for example, teachers, peers, and partners in romantic relationships.”

“No one can eliminate conflict altogether,” said Schermerhorn, “but helping children get the message that, even when they argue, parents care about each other and can work things out is important.”

Source: University of Vermont

 

Emotions: Four Ways to Defeat Hijacking

SOURCE:  Ken Sande

In last week’s blog, we considered a neurological/emotional process known as “hijacking.” This week we will look at four steps to defend yourself from this problem.

But first, let me illustrate the behavioral signs of hijacking with a short clip from the movie, Cinderella Man.

In this scene, Mae Braddock is struggling with a deep fear that her husband, James, is going to be killed in an upcoming boxing match with Max Baer, who has reportedly killed two men in the ring. Watch how Mae’s emotions overpower her in this scene (click here to view the clip).

Mae’s outburst at her children demonstrates the three classic signs of “amygdala hijacking”: (1) the sudden onset (2) of an intense emotional reaction (3) that is later regretted.

Part of this dynamic can be traced to tensions between different parts of the brain, which no longer function as seamlessly as God originally designed them.

Competition in the Brain

Last week we noted that because of the way the brain is wired, sensory impulses arrive at the limbic system, where emotions are centered, a few nanoseconds before they get to the neocortex, where rational thinking is located. This means that our emotions can get rolling before we are able to rationally process critical information.

Using functional neuroimaging, a team of neuroscientists led by Matthew Lieberman discovered another competing relationship between the amygdala (a central part of the limbic system) and the neocortex.

Picture1 - CopyThey found that when the amygdala is highly stimulated with intense emotions, it utilizes more blood and oxygen than normal, leaving less of both for the neocortex. This deficit causes a corresponding decrease in our capacity for reasoning, problem solving, and impulse control. This can lead to a temporary loss of 10 to 15 IQ points!

Yes, you really do get dumber when you’re highly emotional.

So when someone asks, “What were you thinking?” after an emotional outburst, part of your answer can be, “I was thinking with a lot less brain power than I normally have at my disposal.”

Practical Defenses Against Hijacking

Realizing that emotional hijacking makes it difficult to think clearly, our ministry has developed a few simple acrostics to make it easier for you to manage your words and actions wisely in stressful situations.

One of these acrostics is set forth in this principle: “To become more self-aware and self-engaging, READ yourself accurately.” This acrostic summarizes four key steps that can help you resist hijacking:

  • Recognize your emotions
  • Evaluate their source
  • Anticipate the consequences of following them
  • Direct them on a constructive course

Recognize – What am I feeling?

Neuroimaging, as well as practical experience, have shown that labeling emotions can help to reduce their intensity and shift more of their management back to the prefrontal cortex.

For example, in a study conducted by Dr. Lieberman, when people attached a word like “angry” to an angry-looking face, neuro-activity in the amygdala, which processes fear, panic and other strong emotions, decreased significantly. This dampening effect was accompanied by a corresponding increase of activity in the neocortex, which controls impulses.

Recognizing and labeling emotions also helps us to pull them out of the shadows and identify those that pose risks to our relationships. Just as pneumonia is a more dangerous illness than a common cold, bitterness is more dangerous than disappointment, self-pity can lead to more problems than sadness, and fear can be more crippling than concern.

So it is important to practice looking into our own hearts and accurately applying labels such as sad, discouraged, depressed, angry, lonely, embarrassed, rejected, bitter, jealous, and self-pity, to name a few.

If you’re not used to doing this, a way to practice identifying emotions is to read a novel or watch a movie and constantly ask yourself, “What is that character feeling?” As you get better at reading emotions in others, you’ll get better at reading them in yourself.

Evaluate – Why am I feeling this emotion?

The next step is to ask yourself, “Why am I feeling this way?” Asking these kinds of questions helps to move your thought process from the amygdala to the neocortex.

When I’m attempting to override a hijacking, I actually visualize grabbing my thoughts with both hands and dragging them from the back of my brain to the front of my brain, where my prefrontal cortex (and reasoning capacity) is located.

That’s also where all my sermon applications, memorized Scriptures, and lessons learned the hard way are stored, which is exactly what I need to draw on in order to defeat emotional hijacking.

More importantly, asking yourself why you’re feeling certain emotions helps to identify the circumstances and desires that are driving them, which is a crucial step toward controlling them (see James 4:1-3; Matt. 15:18).

The process looks like this: “I’m feeling angry. Why? Because Corlette just questioned my judgment. Why does that bother me so much? Because I’m proud and want her unqualified trust, respect, and support. Why else? Because I’m busy and I’m lazy and don’t want to spend more time explaining myself to her.”

Or, “What am I feeling? Self-pity. Why? Because I work my tail off for my family and make all sorts of sacrifices for them. And here when I needed just a little bit of support from them, they say they’re too busy. It’s just not fair. Really? So why have you been serving them all along, to put them in your debt?” Ouch!

As we dig into the depths of our own hearts in the middle of intense emotional times, we will often find that God is using the situation to free us from the grip of sinful desires and passions that have become controlling “idols.” (For more guidance on overcoming desires and emotions that seek to rule your life, see Getting to the Heart of Conflict.)

Anticipate – What are the likely consequences if I give in to this emotion?

Here again we are making a conscious effort to move our brain activity from the emotional zone to the reasoning zone. We draw on memories, experience, and learning by asking, “What is likely to happen if I give in to these emotions?”

It looks like this: “If I give into my anger, I’ll become defensive and say harsh things to Corlette, which will make her feel guilty and disrespected, and reluctant to voice questions or concerns in the future, which would not only hurt her but also undermine our ability to work as a team.”

Or, “If I give into self-pity, I’ll withdraw from my family and give them the cold shoulder. I’d like to label that as a defense mechanism, but the hard truth is that it’s simply a way to punish and manipulate them for not treating me the way I want. That will only build walls and distrust between us.”

“But worst of all, these reactions will offend my loving God who sent his Son to free me from these very sins.”

You’ll find equally uncomfortable but course-changing mental conversations when the emotions in question are bitterness, envy, jealously, depression, or hopelessness.

Direct – How can I channel my emotions onto a constructive course?

Although emotional hijacking can be almost instantaneous, these defense mechanisms take time. So what do we do to gain this time?

Buy some time. As I mentioned last week, one of the simplest anti-hijacking techniques is to always have a bottle of water or cup of coffee in front of you in any meetings or conversations that could become emotionally volatile. Make a firm resolution that you will not respond to an irritating or offensive comment without first taking a sip of water or coffee. The six seconds it takes to do so will usually give your neocortex time to catch up with your amygdala.

Another way to buy some time is to simply ask for it. “You know, this is really important to both of us, so I’d like to take a few minutes to walk around the block and think about our options.” Or, more simply, “We’ve been talking quite a while, and I need to take a bathroom break.”

Oxygenate. Slow down the conversation and breathe deeply. In emotional situations your brain is working intensely and using up a lot of oxygen. Be deliberate in replacing it. Your mother probably never heard of neuroimaging, but somehow she knew that counting to ten was always a good thing.

Rejoice in the Lord … and remember that he is near. This is a discipline the apostle Paul urged the Philippians to practice when they were wresting with a conflict: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand” (Phil. 4:4-5). It’s difficult to have two strong emotional experiences simultaneously, so rejoicing in God—remembering his character, works, and promises—is an excellent way to counteract strong negative feelings about another person.

Pray. Paul goes on in Philippians to teach, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:6). In addition to appropriating God’s grace, prayer moves your thoughts off of what is provoking you and centers them on God himself … which should put worldly issues in a clearer context.

Be thankful. Since it’s difficult to entertain competing emotional experiences at the same time, being thankful is another way to counter a hijack (see Phil. 4:6). While it’s especially effective to be thankful for the person you’re talking with, other kinds of thankfulness can be helpful … whether it’s thankfulness to God for his many kindnesses to you, or thankfulness for other people he’s placed in your life. As Paul told the Philippians:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things … and the God of peace will be with you (Phil. 4:8-9).

Do a 180. If you realize that our emotions are trying to lead you in a direction that is contrary to the love and character of Christ, ask him for grace to “do a 180,” that is, to do exactly the opposite of what you feel like doing (Luke 6:27-36; Rom. 12:20-21; see this blog for more specific guidance).

Learn from your mistakes. If you are hijacked, get a benefit from it. After your emotions cool, spend some time reflecting on what happened and why. Identifying the trigger for that event can help you be better prepared when you face a similar situation in the future.

There are no panaceas. Since we live in a fallen world, we will always be faced with the challenge of mastering our imperfect minds and emotions. But if you practice the spiritual principles that are summarized in the READ principle, you can steadily improve your ability to head hijacking off at the pass, and channel the power of your emotions into constructive words and actions.

This truth is beautifully illustrated in another clip from Cinderella Man, after Mae has spent time doing the kinds of things described above (in real life, Mae Braddock was a devout Christian). Watch what happens when she uses all of her mental and emotional gifts to bless her husband before he heads into the ring (click here  to view the clip).

What an excellent illustration of the simple but life-changing relational wisdom summarized in Philippians 4:4-7:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

[Emotionally] Hijacked

SOURCE:  Ken Sande

Peter, James, and John were hijacked. So was Paul.

The same was true of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, and Rachel … even David, the man after God’s own heart.

Chances are that you’ve been hijacked too. Probably within the last week.

It has nothing to do with being on an airplane. It has everything to do with having a marvelously complex and yet defective brain.

In simple terms, hijacking occurs when the emotional part of your brain (the limbic system) overpowers the rational part of your brain (the neocortex) … and gets control of your whole body along with it, including your mouth.

Think, for example, of a time when you hit your thumb with a hammer and blurted out an expletive … only to remember a moment too late that your five-year-old daughter was standing by your side.

Or a time when someone said something that offended you, so you threw a sarcastic comment back at him … only to wish later that those words had never left your mouth.

It’s bad enough when this happens in private; it’s so much worse when it’s done during a congregational meeting.

Hijacking Can Be Humorous

Sometimes hijacking is funny. Like the time my daughter wrote all over a wall and her own face with lipstick. Although the evidence against her was conclusive (and a quick confession would have been wise), when asked how the wall got all red, fear of admonishment led her to say, “I don’t know.”

We also smile when we read the account of a servant girl named Rhoda in the book of Acts. Peter had just been miraculously released from prison and was knocking on Rhoda’s door. Note how her emotions overpowered rational thinking: “Recognizing Peter’s voice, in her joy she did not open the gate but ran in and reported that Peter was standing at the gate” (Acts 12:14). So Peter kept on knocking …

Hijacking Is Often Harmful

Unfortunately, hijacking is usually not funny. When we are overtaken by sinful emotions like anger, jealousy, lust, or fear, we often respond impulsively and say or do things that hurt other people, damage our relationships, trigger long-lasting shame, and weaken our witness as followers of Christ.

Like James and John when their anger flared and they sought to bring down fire on the Samaritans because they would not welcome Jesus (Luke 9:51-55).

Or Joseph’s brothers, when jealousy drove them to sell him into slavery (Gen. 37:11; 27-28).

Or David, when lust led to seduction, pregnancy, manipulation, and murder … and eventually to civil war (2 Sam. 11:1-17; 2Sam. 12:11-15).

Or Peter, when fear compelled him to deny Jesus three times … which he deeply regretted within moments as he wept outside the gate (Luke 22:54-62).

Sin-Damaged Brains

When we read these biblical narratives, we typically explain them by simply saying, “They sinned.”

That’s true, but painting with such a broad brush robs us of a full understanding of the problem and an effective plan of action.

Sin is definitely central to these harmful dynamics, but its impact is far more nuanced than most of us realize. Let’s look at this from both a theological and neurological perspective.

At creation, God made us in his image (Gen. 1:26). Among other things, this means he designed our minds to function perfectly in every situation, no matter what kind of stress we might be feeling. The limbic part of our brain, where emotions and motivations are centered, was designed to work in perfect harmony with our neocortex, where rational thinking and decision making takes place.

But sin threw this beautifully designed system out of whack. Instead of meshing smoothly, the various parts of our brain sometimes get out of synch. Emotions, desires and passions can get so intense that they compel us to do things we know are wrong and will soon be regretted (see Rom. 7:18-19; James 4:1-3).

A Matter of Nanoseconds

Part of what goes wrong in these situations (and this is only one part) has to do with the wiring of our brains, which no longer works as perfectly as God initially designed it. So here’s what happens …

Data from our senses enter the brain through the thalamus, which relays impulses to other parts of the brain. Due to small differences in the distances to be traveled, impulses arrive at the limbic system a few nanoseconds before they get to the neocortex. This means that our emotions can get rolling before we are able to rationally process the information.

Simple illustration. My wife is terrified of snakes. If we were walking along a high mountain cliff and she saw a small garter snake beside the trail, she would probably scream and leap ten feet out into thin air before her neocortex reminded her that she can’t fly. But by then it’s too late.

Saved by a Water Bottle

Next week we’ll look at several ways to use the READ principle to guard against hijacking. But let me leave you with a simple illustration today.

I once counseled a man who frequently got himself into trouble at work by speaking impulsively during business meetings. If he was irritated, surprised, or simply wanted attention, he would throw out little sarcastic comments that steadily eroded his credibility and relationships. He wanted to stop but the little jabs just kept on coming.

Although a thorough solution would require a prayerful examination of his heart (Matt. 15:19), I gave him some immediate help simply by advising him to always take a water bottle or cup of coffee into his meetings … and to never say a word until he had raised the bottle or cup to his lips and taken a sip.

The six seconds required to take a sip gave his brain time to work around his emotional impulses and get a message up to the neocortex, where his higher reasoning powers had time to evaluate the situation and send an overriding message to his mouth: “I really don’t need to say this.”

Not very fancy, but it worked. And that little bit of progress motivated him to pursue the more comprehensive solutions we’ll look at in next week’s blog: Four Ways to Defeat Hijacking.

Ten (10) Truths Every Christian Needs to Know About Marriage

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

1. God designed marriage to be a loving and respectful partnership, not a slave/master dictatorship where one person dominates and controls the other. When one spouse seeks to gain power and control over the other and bullies or intimidates using words, finances, physical force, or the Scriptures, he or she is not only sinning against their spouse but also against God’s plan for marriage.

2. Every healthy adult relationship requires three essential ingredients to thrive. They are mutuality, reciprocity, and freedom. Mutuality means that each person brings into the relationship honesty, compassion, and respect. Reciprocity involves a give and take, where both people in the relationship share power and both people in the relationship share responsibility. Lastly, a healthy marriage needs freedom to express one’s thoughts, feelings and needs without fear as well as freedom to respectfully challenge someone’s behavior or ideas. When any of these three ingredients are missing we may be in a relationship with someone, but it is often difficult, unhealthy, and sometimes destructive.

3. All marriages experience angst, disagreement, and struggle. When a conflict arises mature people engage in conversations where they discuss, negotiate compromise, as well as respect one another’s differences, feelings and desires. They work on problem-solving, not attacking one another.

4. When a person is seriously sinned against, Jesus understands it fractures relationships. He provides instructions for relationship repair in Matthew 18. First, we are to go to the person who has sinned against us and speak to them about it. However, when that conversation does not result in repentance, no reconciliation of the relationship can take place, even if one-sided forgiveness is granted. Relationships are damaged by sin and are not repaired without repentance and restitution. Joseph forgave his brothers long before he saw them again when they came looking for food in Egypt, but he did not trust them or reconcile with them until he saw their hearts were changed (Genesis 44,45).

5. When a person or spouse respectfully speaks up against injustice and oppression in a marriage (or anywhere else for that matter), God is with them. When a spouse speaks up against the abuse and injustice in her marriage, Christians need to come alongside her, hear her, and provide church support and help. In practicing Matthew 18, she is seeking true reconciliation and is attempting biblical peacemaking. The church must not pressure her reconcile without any evidence of repentance or to be a peace at any price peacekeeper.

God does not care more about the institution of marriage than the safety and sanity of the people in it. .

6. If the abuser refuses to listen, refuses to repent or change, the blessings of a close marriage are impossible. Unconditional love does not equal unconditional relationship. God loves humankind unconditionally but does not offer unconditional relationship to everyone. Our sin separates us from God and repeated unacknowledged and unrepentant sin also separates us from one another. Marital intimacy, trust, fellowship, and warmth cannot exist where there is fear, threats, intimidation, bullying and disrespect of one’s thoughts, feelings, body, or personhood. A marriage with no boundaries or conditions It is not psychologically healthy, nor is it spiritually sound

7. One person in a difficult/destructive marriage can make the relationship better by not reacting sinfully to mistreatment, not retaliating and not repaying evil for evil, but one person in a difficult marriage cannot make a bad marriage good all by herself. It takes both people working together. Sometimes people helpers place an inordinately heavy burden on one spouse to somehow maintain fellowship and intimacy in a relationship while they are repeatedly being sinned against.

8. If the couple desires biblical change, Christian people helpers (pastors, Christian counselors, well-meaning friends) must not attempt to heal the couple’s serious marital wounds superficially by pushing premature reconciliation or promising peace when there is no true peace (Jeremiah 6:14) A Biblical peacemaker knows there is no quick fix to these difficult situations and walk this couple through the counseling stages of safety, sanity, and stability, until they reach security. There is no mutual counseling possible without first establishing some history of safety, not only physically, but emotionally and financially.

9. When trust in a marriage is broken (through deceit, infidelity, abuse, or unfaithfulness in various ways), the marriage is seriously damaged. The gift of consequences[1] can be a painful but potent reminder that the wrong-doer will not reap the benefits of a good marriage when they continue to sow discord, sin, and selfishness. Consequences may include legal ramifications, church discipline, and/or loss of relationship through separation when warranted.

10. Church and pastoral support and accountability are critical for a couple to heal from a destructive relationship pattern. Secrets destroy. An atmosphere of loving accountability and support along with zero tolerance for manipulation, abuse, or power and control over another individual, is the optimal environment for biblical peacemaking and relationship repair to take place.

10 Strategies For Responding Effectively To Criticism

SOURCE:   Rachel Fintzy, MA, LMFT/PsychCentral

It’s generally not fun to be at the receiving end of criticism. Also, there’s no doubt that some criticism is mean-spirited, hostile, and not really meant to be helpful. However, often we can learn a lot from constructive criticism. The challenge is to resist becoming defensive, which reduces our chances of actually learning something from the situation.

Some tips for receiving critical feedback in effective ways:

  1. Respond calmly. Resist the impulse to jump in and begin defending yourself with an angry tone. Instead, take a few deep, slow breaths. Don’t talk over the other person, although this can be extremely difficult. When we feel cornered, which often happens if we perceive the other person to be attacking us, we can go into lashing-out mode. Instead, try to speak with measured and respectful tones, at a relatively slow pace. Try to keep bitterness out of your tone.
  2. Manage your anxiety. Watch your inner dialogue. What are you telling yourself about what the other person is saying? Are you lambasting yourself for “horrible” behavior? Are you catastrophizing, believing that all is lost concerning the professional or personal relationship? Or can you mentally and emotionally step back just a bit and reassure yourself that the other person probably (more on this below) has the best interests of your relationship (be it personal or professional) at heart?
  3. Determine whether the criticism is constructive in nature. This sort of helpful criticism generally contains specific and productive suggestions for change, and refrains from making global statements such as “you never” or “you always”. Constructive criticism often comes in a “sandwich” format, meaning that the initial statement consists of a positive comment, followed by the critical note, and concludes with another positive or encouraging sentence.
  4. Consider the source. Is the other person generally positive? Or are they mostly critical of others and tend to complain and push blame onto other people rather than focusing on possible solutions? If it appears to you that the other person is more of the “pointing-a-finger”, angry, and/or narcissistic type, try not to take their words personally. However, you could still look for a potential grain of truth in what they say. For instance, if they state, “You always make things more difficult than they have to be”, consider if in at least one instance you might have done so. You could respond with, “Yes, I wasn’t adequately prepared for our meeting last week and took more time than usual to explain our project’s status”. Or, if you can’t think of such an example, you could respectfully ask them to provide you with one, so you can understand their criticism more clearly.
  5. If you’ve decided that the criticism is constructive and that the other person has good intentions, try to lower your guard (again, easier said than done). Try to keep in mind that the feedback is meant to improve the situation and pave the way for better times to come.
  6. Try not to defend yourself and make excuses. Certainly you’ll want to offer an explanation if you’ve been accused of something you did not do. However, even in this case it helps to hear the other person out first, before asking if you could offer your perspective. People like to feel heard, and your accusing party is no exception.
  7. Make a plan for addressing the criticism. For example, if you’ve been told that your latest report contained a number of grammatical and numerical errors, state that you will spend more time reviewing your work, and possibly run it by a colleague, if appropriate, before turning it in. You could add that you welcome further feedback.
  8. Thank the other person for their feedback, especially they’re also being kind. It’s not easy to give constructive criticism, due to the potential of the receiving party feeling hurt, demoralized, or angry. Put yourself in their shoes. Showing appreciation to them can go a long way in contributing to a congenial and cooperative atmosphere, whether further helpful discussion can take place, now and in the future.
  9. Feedback can be a gift. Most of the time there is something to learn from the situation and to therefore be grateful for. Have you previously received similar feedback? How can you use this information to improve your performance at work, enhance your relationships, grow as a person, or all three?
  10. Don’t be too hard on yourself. None of us is perfect. None of us is a mistake. When someone points out areas in which you could use some more training, where you could be a bit more diligent or detail-oriented, or more aware of other people’s feelings, this is not an attack on your character as a whole.

Finally, stay confident. You have many strengths, and a thoughtful person would point these out as well. However, even if they don’t, try to remember your strong points and thus counter all-or-nothing thinking about your value as a person.

ANGER, COMMUNICATION AND PROVERBS

SOURCE:  Compiled by Bill Bellican

The Bible has a great deal to say about anger, ineffective ways of communicating, what to avoid, and how to pursue a healthier way to communicate. The following selections of Scripture are taken from the book of Proverbs (NIV).

Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers over all wrongs. Prov. 10:12

When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise. Prov. 10:19

A kind man benefits himself, but a cruel man brings trouble on himself. Prov. 11:17

A fool shows his annoyance at once, but a prudent man overlooks an insult. Prov. 12:16

Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. Prov. 12:18

He who guards his lips guards his life, but he who speaks rashly will come to ruin. Prov. 13:3

A quick-tempered man does foolish things, and a crafty man is hated. Prov. 14:17

A patient man has great understanding, but a quick-tempered man displays folly. Prov. 14:29

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. Prov. 15:1

A hot-tempered man stirs up dissension, but a patient man calms a quarrel. Prov. 15:18

Better a patient man than warrior, a man who controls his temper than one who takes a city. Prov. 16:32

He who covers over an offense promotes love, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends. Prov. 17:9

Starting a quarrel is like breaching a dam; so drop the matter before a dispute breaks out. Prov. 17:14

He who loves a quarrel loves sin (Prov. 17:19a).

A man of knowledge uses words with restraint, and a man of understanding is even-tempered. Prov. 17:27

A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions. Prov. 18:2

He who answers before listening – that is his folly and his shame. Prov. 18:13

He who gets wisdom loves his own soul; he who cherishes understanding prospers. Prov. 19:8

A man’s wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense. Prov. 19:11

A hot-tempered man must pay the penalty; if you rescue him, you will have to do it again. Prov. 19:19

It is to a man’s honor to avoid strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel. Prov. 20:3

Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome [wife]. Prov. 21:9

Better to live in a desert than with a quarrelsome and ill-tempered [wife]. Prov. 21:19

He who guards his mouth and his tongue keeps himself from calamity. Prov. 21:23

Do not make friends with a hot-tempered man, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn his ways and get yourself ensnared. Prov. 22:24

Through patience a ruler can be persuaded, and a gentle tongue can break a bone. Prov. 25:15

Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control. Prov. 25:28

Like a madman shooting firebrands or deadly arrows is a man who deceives his neighbor and says, “I was only joking.” Prov. 26:18-19

A malicious man disguises himself with his lips, but in his heart he harbors deceit. Though his speech is charming, do not believe him (Prov. 26:24-25a).

A quarrelsome [wife] is like a constant dripping on a rainy day (Prov 27:15).

A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control. Prov. 29:11

Do you see a man who speaks in haste? There is more hope for a fool than for him. Prov. 29:20

An angry man stirs up dissension, and a hot-tempered one commits many sins. Prov. 29:22

Your Family Voyage: Discarding Resentment

SOURCE:  Adapted from Your Family Voyage by P. Roger Hillerstrom

Some of the heaviest weight to unload is that of resentment.

The object of animosity may be a parent, sibling, authority figure, or some other significant person from your past.  You attempt to “get them back” by withholding love or approval, withdrawing, being uncooperative, ruminating on your anger, or severing the relationship altogether.  You may have denied or buried your anger so long that you aren’t even aware of your bitterness, but the emotion is expressed in a variety of ways:

Unmerited explosions of anger.

Avoidance of certain individuals.

A strong desire for vengeance or retaliation.

A pessimistic or critical outlook on life.

Sarcasm, cynicism, or critical attitudes toward individuals or situations.

Over-reactions or under-reactions out of proportion to the current situation.

In harboring resentment you suffer more than anyone else – anxiety, tension, regret, and isolation as well as physical effects such as headaches, high blood pressure, and digestive problems.  The offending individual may not even be aware of or affected by your indignation.

The resolution of resentment is forgiveness.

When we choose to forgive another person, we receive the primary benefit – the freedom to choose our responses and commitments to others, to ourselves and to God.

Our model of forgiveness is God.

Each one of us has broken God’s laws and erected barriers in our relationship with him.  The offenses are ours, not Gods.  God’s forgiveness is not based on his denial of our sin; he is very aware of our offenses against him.  God’s forgiveness is not the result of his ability to pretend that we never committed any wrong.  The forgiveness our heavenly Father offers is based on his willingness to bear the cost of our sin.  Christ’s death on the cross was the payment for our sin.  Because of that payment, God is free to respond to us as a gracious loving Father rather than as a righteous judge.

When we decide to forgive someone who has offended us, we must choose to bear the cost of the wrong committed against us.  Once we forgive, we no longer require a payment for the offenses we experienced.  We cancel the debt by accepting the offense.  In essence, we pay the debt owed us.  We no longer punish the offending person through anger, silence, avoidance or criticism.  This process frees us from the burden of resentment and allows us to let go of troublesome patterns from the past.

If we are going to unload baggage from our past, it will be necessary to relinquish any bitterness we may harbor.  Forgiveness is necessary.  Without letting go of our desire for vengeance, we trap ourselves into the patterns of the past.

Does forgiveness mean I’ll forget the offense?  No.  Forgiveness isn’t a matter of blocking memories or denying the past.  You will probably always carry a memory of the offense, but your emotional response to that memory can change as you forgive.

How long does forgiveness take?  This varies a great deal.  Forgiveness is a process and seldom occurs instantly.  The process of forgiveness begins with a conscious decision.  Once you have decided to forgive, God can begin to work in you to heal your wounds and change your perspective.

How will I know when I’ve forgiven this person?  While the memory will remain, the experience of that memory will become a recalling of history rather than a current experience of anxiety, anger, or hurt.

How do I start forgiving?  Forgiveness begins with a decision.  Once you’ve decided to forgive, prayerfully ask God to soften your heart and broaden your understanding of this experience from your past.  As you sincerely look to him, he will be faithful to shape you into his image in this area.  Once you have confronted those painful memories, they lose their power.  When they “feel” real, you react emotionally.

Your painful memories may cause incredible and unpleasant discomfort the first few times you mentally walk through them.  But once you’ve confronted them, they lose their immediacy.  Conversely, as long as you expend effort trying to avoid a memory it will retain its vivid reality and negative power, even if in your dreams or in the far corner of the haunting attic you try to pretend doesn’t exist.

This One Thing is the Biggest Predictor of Divorce

SOURCE: Eva Van Prooyen/The Gottman Institute

You may know Dr. John Gottman as “the guy that can predict divorce with over 90% accuracy.” His life’s work on marital stability and divorce prediction has been well documented in the national media, and it was even featured in the #1 bestseller Blink by Malcolm Gladwell.

After watching thousands of couples argue in his lab, he was able to identify specific negative communication patterns that predict divorce. He called them The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and they are criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.

Contempt is the most destructive of The Four Horsemen because it conveys, “I’m better than you. I don’t respect you.” It’s so destructive, in fact, that couples who are contemptuous of each other are more likely to suffer from infectious illness than couples who are not contemptuous of each other. The target of contempt is made to feel despised and worthless.

Treating others with disrespect and mocking them with sarcasm are forms of contempt. So are hostile humor, name-calling, mimicking, and/or body language such as eye-rolling and sneering.

In his book Why Marriages Succeed or Fail, Dr. Gottman notes:

When contempt begins to overwhelm your relationship you tend to forget entirely your partner’s positive qualities, at least while you’re feeling upset. You can’t remember a single positive quality or act. This immediate decay of admiration is an important reason why contempt ought to be banned from marital interactions.

Contempt erodes the bond that holds a couple securely together. It’s impossible to build connection when your relationship is deprived of respect.

What does contempt look like?

Let me introduce you to a couple from my practice. After five years together, Chris and Mark (names changed for anonymity) find their marriage in a tailspin. Chris feels dismissed, shamed, and blamed by Mark.

“I can’t believe you think it’s okay to speak to me the way you do. The things you say to me make me feel awful. It’s like you constantly think I’m a dumbass,” Chris says in my office.

“What? I’m just stating facts,” justifies Mark while rolling his eyes.

“Well, the things you say are hurtful. What’s the point?” asks Chris.

“I’m constantly disappointed by things you say and do. Your logic doesn’t make sense to me,” says Mark. His unwillingness to be influenced or take responsibility for himself is unshakeable.

“If I spoke to you in the same way, you would lose your mind,” says Chris.

“Whatever,” Mark mumbles.

Chris has stopped being affectionate towards Mark, and Mark mostly ignores her complaints at this point. Contempt has totally taken over their relationship.

The antidote to contempt

Here’s the good news. Dr. Gottman’s ability to predict divorce is contingent on behaviors not changing over time. You can reverse a pattern of contempt in your relationship before it’s too late. The antidote lies in building fondness and admiration.

Dr. Gottman discovered that the best way to measure fondness and admiration is to ask couples about their past. How did they meet? What were their first impressions of each other?

If a relationship is in crisis, partners are unlikely to elicit much praise by talking about the current state of affairs. Talking about the happy events of the past, however, helps many couples reconnect.

If a couple can revive their fondness and admiration for each other, they are more likely to approach conflict resolution as a team, and the growth of their sense of “we-ness” will keep them as connected as they felt when they first met.

I witness a glimmer of hope when I ask couples how they fell in love. Partners talk about how attractive they thought their partner was. How funny they were. How nervous and excited they felt around each other.

Despite all the pain and negative feelings that have accumulated over years, there is still an ember of friendship. The key is to fan that ember back into flames, and the best way to do this is by creating a culture of appreciation and respect in the relationship.

Dr. Gottman teaches couples to look at their partner through rose-colored glasses. Instead of trying to catch them doing something wrong, catch them doing something right and appreciate them for it. Even the little things. I like how you did your hair today. Thank you for getting my favorite ice cream. I appreciate you vacuuming without me asking you to.

Identifying contempt is the first step towards getting your relationship back on track. If you and your partner need a little extra help, you may benefit from couples counseling.

Strengthen Your Relationship Roots

SOURCE:  Prepare-Enrich

After being gone almost all day I arrived at home at about 4:00pm.  The door we use to enter our house leads to the kitchen and the first thing I saw was a counter full of dishes.

My frustration levels grew instantaneously.

My heart started beating faster.

Angry emotions gripped me.

I thought, “I have been gone all day.  My husband and kids have been home all day and they left all their breakfast and lunch dishes for me to do!  How am I to cook supper with no counter space?”  I proceeded to walk into the living room and complain to my husband in front of the kids about why he didn’t do the dishes and why he left them for me to do.

Bad choice.

As you can imagine the rest of that evening was not harmonious, nor were the next few days as my husband hardly spoke to me.  This incident was a tipping point.  Brad was feeling falsely accused in front of the kids.  He thought he had been this great dad, spending the day with the kids and giving them his full attention and I came home and immediately complained about how he spent the day.  I was feeling taking advantage of.  We both needed to learn a new way to communicate our feelings.

Later that week, Brad gave me a piece of paper with three life rules, some pertaining to this instance and some pertaining to other struggles we were having.

 

While this is not a fond memory for us, it forced us to form new habits and new understandings, new relationship roots.  We are not perfect, but we seek to understand each other – not accuse each other, to talk about our frustrations with each other in private, to always speak well of each other in front of others, and to forgive each other. It was hard, yet we are better today because of it.

What relationship roots are you and your partner growing?

  • Are you allowing the tough times in your relationship to grow deep roots, shallow roots or no roots?
  • Roots need room for water to flow in and out.  Are you giving and receiving forgiveness to keep communication flowing?
  • Are you growing new roots by seeking different ways of communicating or spending time together?
  • What are you doing to listen to the old roots – the lessons you have already learned, the lessons that provide structural support to your relationship?

6 Ways To Argue And Not End Up Divorced

SOURCE:   Brittany Wong/The Huffington Post

Marriage counselors share how to argue the smart way.

There’s a right way and a wrong way to argue in a relationship. To have an effective argument, both partners need to show up and be ready to tackle the issues like grown ups. If either spouse is too wound up to talk rationally, conflict resolution isn’t likely to happen.

What else do couples need to know if they want to argue effectively? Below, couples counselors share six tips on everything from having the right tone to timing the fight. (Forget what you heard before, you can totally go to bed angry.)

How you start a conversation is likely how it will end. When you’re peeved about something your spouse did (or didn’t do), resist the urge to rant and instead use what researcher and psychologist John Gottman calls a “softened start-up.

In other words, slowly ease into the conversation with a calm, respectful tone, explained Leslie Petruk, a counselor and director of The Stone Center for Counseling and Leadership in Charlotte, North Carolina.

“If you begin the conversation with an angry attack, that is likely how it will end,” she said. “If you enter it with curiosity and compassion, the dialogue is much more likely to end that way as well,” she said.

Stop looking at your marital fights as something to win or lose. Instead, try your hardest to frame your argument as a healthy conversation between two deeply committed, mature partners, said Amy Kipp, a couples and family therapist in San Antonio, Texas.

“Instead of looking at it as a conflict, view the argument as a problem you are working on together. This allows more room for a resolution that meets the needs of everyone,” she said. “Being constantly at odds with your partner creates a you-against-me dynamic. Conversely, being able to view an issue as one that you are jointly solving creates feelings of connection and teamwork.”

Instead of stonewalling or shrugging off your spouse, try to acknowledge what they’re feelings, said Amanda Deverich, a marriage and family therapist in Williamsburg, Virginia. Simply saying “I can see why you feel that way….” or “it makes sense you thought that…” goes a very long way when you’re trying to de-escalate your emotions.

“Validating your spouse’s feelings doesn’t mean you’re giving up your own truth, it just helps you reach a compromise,” Deverich explained before offering up an example.

“Let’s say you were supposed to look after the kids when you came back from work,” she said, noting you arrived home to do this at 7 p.m. “If your spouse remembers you saying you’d be home by 6 p.m. but you don’t recall saying that, you could validate it by saying, ‘I can see why you’d be frustrated if you thought that, given how many times I’ve been late in the past.”

It may be tempting to insist you said 7 p.m. on the dot, but ultimately, what’s the point?

“That will just culminate into a fight over facts, and while facts are important, they’re a lot less important than an apology, understanding and ultimately a change in behavior,” Deverich said.

If you need to go to bed angry because you have no energy left at midnight, by all means, go to bed angry. If you need to table the conversation because it’s 7 p.m. and you’re mega hangry, do it. What matters most is tackling your problem when you’re both in the right state of mind to see it through, said Zach Brittle, a a mental health counselor who works with couples in Seattle, Washington.

“It’s not about resolving. It’s about staying connected,” he said. “Repairing the problem can occur during or after an argument.”

When you’re ready to talk, Brittle said effective repair requires three things: “Accepting responsibility for how your choices affected your spouse, expressing empathy for the impact of those choices and articulating some new commitment to change,” he explained. “None of those steps require the words ‘I’m sorry’ but each of them is a kind of repair.”

Unless your spouse explicitly told you how they feel, don’t build a case against them in your head based on what you assume they’re thinking, Petruk said.

“Couples will often say, ‘I know he or she was thinking this or that…’ and put their own spin on their partners’ behaviors or words without checking it out first,” she said. “That’s the wrong way to go about it; you have to enter the conversation with questions rather than accusations. Check in and see if what you’ve been telling yourself is accurate.”

Unfortunate as it sounds, there are some issues that will likely play out for the lifespan of your relationship, Kipp said. Once you make your peace with that, you’ll be better equipped to navigate the smaller fights you have about these issues, she explained.

“There will be issues that are just going to be unsolvable, perpetual problems in your relationship,” she said. “If you are always on time and your partner is always running late, that is likely to be an ongoing source of frustration. But learning to talk about the problem respectfully and with acceptance for one another means that no one feels attacked.”

Marital Distress: Why Do I Have to Be the One to Change?

SOURCE:  Michele Weiner-Davis/The Huffington Post

You’re really mad at your partner. You’ve explained your point of view a million times. S/he never listens. You can’t believe that a person can be so insensitive. So, you wait. You’re convinced that eventually s/he will have to see the light; that you’re right and s/he’s wrong. In the meantime, there’s silence. But the tension is so thick in your house, you can cut it with a knife. You hate the distance, but there’s nothing you can do about it because you’re mad. You’re really mad.

You try to make yourself feel better by getting involved in other things. Sometimes this even works. But you wake up every morning facing the fact that nothing’s changed at all. A feeling of dissatisfaction permeates everything you do. From time to time, you ask yourself, “Is there something I should do differently,?” but you quickly dismiss this thought because you know that, in your heart of hearts, you’re not the one to blame. So the distance between you and your partner persists.

Does any of this sound familiar? Have you and your partner been so angry with each other that you’ve gone your separate ways and stopped interacting with each other? Have you convinced yourself that, until s/he initiates making up, there will be no peace in your house? If so, I have few things I want to tell you.

You are wasting precious energy holding on to your anger. It’s exhausting to feel resentment day in and day out. It takes a toll on your body and soul. It’s bad for your health and hard on your spirit. It’s awful for your relationship. Anger imprisons you. It casts a gray cloud over your days. It prevents you from feeling real joy in any part of your life. Each day you drown yourself in resentment is another day lost out of your life. What a waste!

I have worked with so many people who live in quiet desperation because they are utterly convinced that their way of seeing things is right and their partner’s is wrong. They spend a lifetime trying to get their partners to share their views. I hear, “I’ll change if s/he changes,” a philosophy that ultimately leads to a stalemate. There are many variations of this position. For example, “I’d be nicer to her, if she were nicer to me,” or “I’d be more physical and affectionate if he were more communicative with me,” or “I’d be more considerate and tell her about my plans if she wouldn’t hound me all the time about what I do.” You get the picture… “I’ll be different if you start being different first.” Trust me when I tell you that this can be a very, very long wait.

There’s a much better way to view things when you and your partner get stuck like this. I’ve been working with couples for years and I’ve learned a lot about how change occurs in relationships. It’s like a chain reaction. If one person changes, the other one does too. It really doesn’t matter who starts first. It’s simply a matter of tipping over the first domino. Change is reciprocal. Let me give you an example.

I worked with a woman who was very distressed about her husband’s long hours at work. She felt they spent very little time together as a couple and that he was of little help at home. This infuriated her. Every evening when he returned home from work, her anger got the best of her and she criticized him for bailing out on her. Inevitably, the evening would be ruined. The last thing he wanted to do after a long day at work was to deal with problems the moment he walked in the door. Although she understood this, she was so hurt and angry about his long absences that she felt her anger was justified. She wanted a suggestion from me about how to get her husband to be more attentive and loving. She was at her wit’s end.

I told her that I could completely understand why she was frustrated and that, if I were in her shoes, I would feel exactly the same way. However, I wondered if she could imagine how her husband might feel about her nightly barrage of complaints. “He probably wishes he didn’t have to come home,” she said. “Precisely,” I thought to myself, and I knew she was ready to switch gears. I suggested that she try an experiment. “Tonight when he comes home, surprise him with an affectionate greeting. Don’t complain, just tell him you’re happy to see him. Do something kind or thoughtful that you haven’t done in a long time…even if you don’t feel like it.” “You mean like fixing him his favorite meal or giving him a warm hug? I used to do that a lot.” “That’s exactly what I mean,” I told her, and we discussed other things she might do as well. She agreed to give it a try.

Two weeks later she returned to my office and told me about the results of her “experiment.”

“That first night after I talked with you I met him at the door and, without a word, gave him a huge hug. He looked astounded, but curious. I made him his favorite pasta dish, which was heavy on the garlic, so he smelled the aroma the moment he walked in. Immediately, he commented on it and looked pleased. We had a great evening together, the first in months. I was so pleased and surprised by his positive reaction that I felt motivated to keep being ‘the new me.’ Since then things between us have been so much better, it’s amazing. He’s come home earlier and he’s even calling me from work just to say hello. I can’t believe the change in him. I’m so much happier this way.”

The moral of this story is obvious. When one partner changes, the other partner changes too. It’s a law of relationships. If you aren’t getting what you need or want from your loved one, instead of trying to convince him or her to change, why not change your approach to the situation? Why not be more pragmatic? If what you’re doing (talking to your partner about the error of his/her ways) hasn’t been working, no matter how sterling your logic, you’re not going to get very far. Be more flexible and creative. Be more strategic. Spend more time trying to figure out what might work as opposed to being hell bent on driving your point home. You might be pleasantly surprised. Remember, insanity has been defined as doing the same old thing over and over and expecting different results.

Look, life is short. We only have one go-around. Make your relationship the best it can possibly be. Stop waiting for your partner to change in order for things to be better. When you decide to change first, it will be the beginning of a solution avalanche. Try it, you’ll like it!

How to Handle Anger in Your Relationship

SOURCE:  Sanaa Hyder, M.S.Ed./Gottman Institute

Anger can be processed by going on a run, practicing yoga, or mindfully engaging in deep breathing. While these are all great tactics, what happens when your anger is directed at your partner in the heat of the moment?

Anger can overwhelm even the most self-reflective and self-aware person. When you are flooded, your pulse races and your limbic system takes over, making rational thought almost impossible.

It’s important to understand that anger is often a red herring which covers up more vulnerable feelings such as embarrassment, sadness, and hopelessness.

While deflecting anger in the moment may not be possible, it is possible to identify the feelings beneath. So how do you do this?

Consider the narrative of your anger and use those phrases as keys to unlock your underlying primary emotions.

For example, this is how Ruth feels after her husband bailed on their date night:

I am so angry at you. You always cancel on me to meet up with your friends. You make me feel so small and unimportant.

The key emotion here is feeling unimportant. Once she identifies this, she can communicate in such a way that her partner can understand her.

She can then construct a more coherent and loving start-up to their conversation:

Ruth: “Is this a good time to talk about something that’s been on my mind?”
Steve: “It is.”
Ruth: “I feel unimportant when we make plans and you cancel them. I’m sure you don’t mean to make me feel that way. Can we make time this week to do something together?”

By focusing on your feelings beneath the anger, you welcome your partner to offer empathy and make a repair instead of becoming defensive. Instead of starting a fight, you’re starting a respectful dialogue about your feelings. You are also asking your partner to be on your team.

Couples who understand that respect, kindness, and love are more effective than harshness and criticism are what Dr. John Gottman calls the Masters of Relationships.

Resisting the urge to blame

Blaming feels good in the moment, but the effects can be disastrous. Even if you feel angry at your partner, it doesn’t mean that your words should be harsh or critical. In fact, in order to get your message across, it’s vital to avoid the Four Horsemen. Here, old adages such as “you catch more flies with honey” are spot on.

While expressing anger or blame can get your point across, it will also erode your intimate bond.

If you attack with criticism, your partner will likely become defensive and blame you right back. They may also get flooded and be unable to focus on the discussion, cause it to escalate.

Conversations like this eventually create emotional distance because the more critical and contemptuous you are, the more you will chip away at your friendship. Choosing your words and emotions with care is not easy. It takes practice, but once you start using this approach, it can repair and actually strengthen your bond over time.

So the next time you get angry, stop and think about why you’re angry. Is it because you’re embarrassed? Worried? Disappointed? Tell your partner what you feel and what you need. Learning to recognize when anger isn’t really what you’re feeling is a skill used by emotionally intelligent couples.

Hurt Feelings Do Not Mean You Did Something Wrong

SOURCE:  LaVerna Wilk, M.A./Gottman Institute

I was recently visiting with a friend and she shared a story about a blowout fight she had with her husband. Being a therapist, I’ve grown used to this over the years.

The story went like this. Someone accidentally moved her chair as she was going to sit down at work, causing her to fall and hit her neck against a desk. As a result, her range of motion was limited and it was very painful for her to turn her head.

After her fall, her and her husband had been driving on the freeway and as he was trying to make a last-second lane change, he asked her to check out the passenger side window for cars. She said she felt disregarded because he knew she was in pain, and his request only made it worse.

She called him a name that I won’t repeat here.

“If the roles were reversed, I would have been in the right lane way ahead of time so that I didn’t cause him pain. I was so mad at him,” she told me.

What’s wrong with her complaint?

Not a thing, but what you’re not hearing is her history of feeling like her needs don’t matter and like she is less important than others. As the youngest child from a large family that struggled financially, decisions were always made based on what was best for the larger unit, and her needs were often ignored because the bigger picture was, at times, quite dire. So, she is sensitive to situations where her needs are not acknowledged.

I’m reminded of the quote from William Faulker: “The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.”

Triggers are normal

Here’s the kicker. This is a trigger for her. Triggers are normal, enduring vulnerabilities from moments in our past that escalate interactions in the present. They are normal because we all have them, and while their impact can be managed, they can rarely be eliminated.

Does this mean her husband did something wrong? Nope.

Is she just being overly sensitive? Nope.

It’s just not his trigger, so it didn’t occur to him that it could be an issue.

Further, when we only know what is happening in one person’s subjective reality, it is pretty easy to feel indignant on their behalf. But here’s the reality about subjective realities: all points of view are valid.

From his perspective, he grew up in a hardworking family where people worked through their pain and didn’t complain. His parents coached his sports teams, drove him to hockey at any ungodly hour of the morning, knew the names and phone numbers of all his friends, and taught him that he could be whatever he aspired to be.

They also yelled a lot and demanded what they wanted or needed. So because she had not clearly stated that being upright in a moving vehicle was causing lots of pain for her and that she really needed him to bubble wrap her in love, it didn’t occur to him that he was asking too much.

Hurt feelings are normal

In the grand scheme of life, this situation feels trivial. So why is it so important for the couple to talk about it? Because when someone’s feelings get hurt in marriage, it doesn’t automatically mean someone did something wrong. It just means feelings got hurt. It’s how couples manage it that matters.

In a perfect world, her husband would have been more careful about his driving and she would have been more clear at the beginning of the drive about her pain. But these things didn’t happen, so her feelings got hurt, then she got contemptuous towards him, and his feelings got hurt.

This is not actually an argument – it’s what we call a regrettable incident. Even the best couples have them. In our couples workshops and in session, we teach couples how to repair after an interaction like this. Can you easily list examples like this from your own relationship?

Masters of Relationships repair early and often. They remember their partner’s triggers and they respect them. You are not a Disaster because you had a regrettable incident, but you might be or become one if you don’t repair.

Dr. Julie Gottman says that “within every regrettable incident is a conversation the couple still needs to have.” We call this a recovery conversation.

All it would have taken for this couple is for one of them to say, “I can see why your feelings got hurt. That wasn’t my intention, and I am sorry it happened. Your feelings matter to me.” This is relationship repair that works.

Marriage: Opposites Attract

SOURCE:  Leslie Schmucker/Desiring God

God Draws Us in Marital Differences

My husband and I often don’t see eye to eye. After 31 years of marriage, you’d think that we would have figured out how to navigate our differences. We do love each other. We both have come to understand, by God’s grace, that love is not a feeling but a choice. People who don’t have that figured out don’t last 31 years.

My husband is a kind and generous man who I admire and love deeply. He is absolutely “respected at the city gate” (Proverbs 31:23, NIV). He and I are just wired so differently that our wires seem to cross more than they connect.

I’m an extrovert. When I’m stressed, I become re-energized by a good game night with the family, or a night out with friends. My husband is an introvert. When he is stressed, he re-energizes by catching a good documentary alone in the basement, or getting out of the house by himself for a while.

My husband is mindful of money, watching our spending closely, providing the checks and balances we need to keep from going into debt. I tend to see money as a means to bless others and enjoy new or interesting experiences. I’m the reason for the checks and balances.

The Greatest Challenge

Our differences seem endless at times. He likes a skinny Christmas tree; for me, the fatter the better. He is tidy; I am not. He is more formal; I’m more comfortable in jeans and a hoodie. He comes from a family of seven children; I have one sibling. His love language is acts of service. Mine is words of affirmation.

Perhaps the most challenging difference between my husband and me, though, is the way we handle anger. When I am angry, I need to talk about it. Often passionately. My husband goes inward with his anger. He becomes quiet and sullen. I run him over with a bulldozer of words. He shuts me out with a wall of aloofness. This has often resulted in a maddening cacophony of yelling and silence, resulting in resentment that compounds the conflict.

Still, we remain steadfast in our resolve not to divorce. In the moment, when tensions and emotions are running high, and frustration threatens to undo us, the temptation to split feels enticing. What stops us from making our lives easier (albeit temporarily) by parting ways?

In a word, Christ.

Would Divorce Be Better?

Divorcing my husband, apart from the pain it would cause us and our family, would only serve to remove the largest indicator and brightest illuminator of my principal sin: pride.  Choosing the easy road removes challenge. The removal of challenge removes the opportunity for growth. A lack of growth causes stagnation in our walk. Stagnation in our walk keeps us from Christ and everything he still has for us in this life, including in our marriages.

Romans 14:1 tells us not to quarrel over disputable matters. Here, God is speaking about the church. But this principle can be applied to marriage, as well. If God used marriage as a type of Christ’s church, should we destroy it for the sake of issues that have nothing to do with salvation (and everything to do with our selfish ambition and pride)?

Unequally Yoked?

God also admonishes us in 2 Corinthians 6:14 to “not be unequally yoked with unbelievers.” Unequal yoking of oxen leads to a lack of productivity and a lot of frustration.

Though my husband and I are equally yoked in Christ, we have felt unequally yoked in lesser things. We have more than once almost allowed ourselves to be ripped apart over opinions. However, we do not get a free pass to unyoke ourselves from each other for lesser things. We both have submitted to the easy yoke of Christ (Matthew 11:30). We are believers and, as such, we have no right to tear apart what God has joined (Mark 10:9).

What, then, do we do with our jostling and bumping within the yoke Christ has fitted us with? Christ’s yoke is easy in the sense that we can put to rest our confusion and uncertainty about our future in him. We are saved, secure, and bound to Christ eternally. But we’re still here on earth, tilling the rocky, seemingly impassable soil of our marriage.

How do we learn to walk in step with one another as sinners within the yoke?

One Love Language

Burk Parsons said, “The love language of all marriages is self-denial.” In my marriage, I often feel frustrated, hurt, tired, angry, and sometimes unloved. I know my husband feels the same at times. We regularly react to the other person’s failure to meet our expectations. He didn’t affirm me. I didn’t serve him. We have corroborated with ourselves instead of denying ourselves. And now we are unhappy.

I know what the world’s wisdom says about marriage. If I am unhappy, I should leave and find someone who will make me happy. Or I should just “eat, pray, and love” my way to happiness by pursuing endeavors that would help me find myself.

Christ, though, would have me carry my cross right up to the top of the hill of my marriage, loving my husband with no conditions, through the fiercest of storms. Why? Because my husband is my brother in Christ. He is a fellow believer, who came to Christ in 1997 right alongside me, entering into the covenant of grace, which binds us together even more than our covenant of marriage.

Reminders for the Married

In marriage counseling, Christ would have me obey Ephesians 4:29–32, which admonishes me to use my words to build up. It tells me to put away bitterness, clamor, and anger. It tells me, instead, to be kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving.

Christ has told me in John 15:12 to love my husband as Christ has loved me. And in Luke 6:31, he instructs me to treat others, especially my husband, as I would want to be treated.

Shouldn’t I be considering Colossians 3:14, which exhorts me to “put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony”?

Why do I forget these marvelous commands when I come in my front door? Why can’t I keep 1 Corinthians 13 in front of me in marriage?

I love Christ, I really do. And I love my husband. Still, I fall into sin in my marriage more times than I care to admit.

But God

But I serve the God who calmed the storm with a word (Matthew 8:26; Mark 4:39). I love the Savior who brought this world into being, watched it fall, then suffered and died to redeem it. I believe in the God who saved me while I was still a sinner (Romans 5:8). And he did these things for my husband, as well.

Last summer I typed out the words of 1 Corinthians 13, and I keep them in a frame above my desk. When I am tempted to keep a record of wrongs (see verse 5), I go to these framed words. I pray for God to remind me how much he loves my husband, and how much Christ suffered so that I could have a godly marriage. I am still very far from conquering my relentless regard for self, and I am still adamant about a fat Christmas tree, but I know that our yoke is held firm by the One who put it there.

An Affair Does Not Have to Mean the End

SOURCE:  Carrie Cole M.Ed., LPC/The Gottman Institute

Ralph and Susan had been married for 13 years with two adorable children. Their suburban life was packed with work, school, and the kids’ extra-curricular activities. Neither made their marriage a priority, but overall they felt their relationship was good.

Susan withheld her suspicion when she noticed that Ralph was on his phone more than usual. At times she couldn’t help but ask “What’s going on?” only to receive “Nothing. Just checking the news,” or “There’s a lot of drama at the office that I need to take care of.” She trusted him.

When Susan discovered that Ralph had been texting another woman, she was devastated. Her world came crashing down. In her mind, Ralph was not the kind of person to ever have an affair.

Ralph lied about it at first. He felt like he needed to protect Susan from the ugly truth. But as more evidence came out, he couldn’t lie anymore. He was having an affair.

He didn’t know how he had got involved so deeply with someone else. It just happened. He and a co-worker had become close friends over time. It felt good to have someone to talk to who listened and made him feel special. He hadn’t had that in a long time with Susan.

During the affair he had to convince himself that Susan didn’t care. He felt she wasn’t interested in him sexually anymore. They were more like roommates than soulmates.

As a Certified Gottman Therapist, I have heard many versions of this story in my couples therapy practice over the last 15 years. An affair, whether emotional or sexual, is devastating. Both partners suffer tremendous pain. But an affair does not have to mean the end.

The PTSD of an Affair

The betrayed partner experiences a tidal wave of emotion. The pain, hurt, anger, humiliation, and despair are overwhelming. After the traumatic moment the affair is realized, they become fearful, anxious, and hypervigilant, wondering where or when the next blow is going to come – not unlike symptoms of PTSD felt by military veterans.

Their mind races with thoughts of What don’t they know? What’s the whole story? Scenes of their partner with someone else appear in their mind when awake and when asleep, making life a living nightmare.

The Guilt of Betrayal

The betrayer also experiences a great deal of emotion. The hopeless feeling of witnessing your partner in pain and knowing you can do nothing to alleviate their suffering is a horrible experience. The feelings of guilt, shame, and humiliation are almost unbearable.

So, what causes an affair? Why do partners choose to cheat? The answers are complicated and may take months to unravel.

Recovering From an Affair

Is it possible to recover from an affair? The answer for most couples is yes.

Many couples I’ve worked with have actually created a stronger, more emotionally connected, and richer relationship from the ashes of an affair. However, it’s not quick or easy. As with any serious injury, it takes time to heal. And it usually takes therapy.

It’s tempting to think that it will automatically get better with time. The problem with “sweeping it under the rug” is that the anxiety, fear, anger, and guilt felt early on by the betrayed person often give way to resentment – a slow seething anger that leads to total contempt for the betrayer. Dr. John Gottman’s research has shown that contempt is deadly in relationships and very difficult to recover from.

Couples therapy can help partners explore and understand what happened. The betrayed partner needs to have their questions answered, such as:

  • When did you meet?
  • Where did you meet?
  • How long did the affair last?

The betrayed partner attempts to understand how it happened and how they can prevent it from happening again. They also seek consistency in the stories from one telling to the next. Do I know everything? Are you lying to me now? These questions are best asked and answered in the emotionally safe environment of a therapist’s office.

It is best not to ask questions about the specifics of the sexual nature of the affair. Those questions usually do more bad than good in that they conjure up images that might haunt the betrayed partner’s thoughts.

When the betrayed partner feels that they have all the answers they need, the couple can begin to work on rebuilding trust. Couples like Susan and Ralph have turned away from each other in many small ways over time, which compounds into the feelings that ultimately led Ralph astray. They neglected the relationship.

Once couples process what happened, they need to begin to tune back into each other. Susan and Ralph found that they avoided each other to avoid conflict. Tuning back in requires dialoguing about problems – both ongoing perpetual problems and past issues that might have caused some injury to the relationship.

Recognize That Conflict is Inevitable

Conflict is a natural part of your happily ever after. Every relationship has conflict due to different values, beliefs, and philosophies of life. When these differences are discussed safely, and when honored and respected, the couple will experience greater intimacy. At times this can feel uncomfortable and take some push and pull. Communication skills provided by a therapist can help the navigation of these discussions go more smoothly.

Once the couple has tuned back into each other, it will be helpful to create some meaningful rituals to stay connected. Couples can be creative about ways to do that which are special and unique to them. One couple I worked with decided to have morning coffee together for 30 minutes. They would discuss the events of the day, check in with each other emotionally, and take the time to really listen to each other’s hearts.

Another couple developed a ritual of a bubble bath after the kids were in bed. They said they did their best talking in their big round Jacuzzi tub.

Sexual and emotional betrayals are a hefty blow to a relationship, but an affair does not have to be the end. Couples who have the emotional fortitude to reach out and seek the help they need can create a much more meaningful and intimate relationship in the aftermath of infidelity.

 

This Behavior Is The #1 Predictor Of Divorce, And You’re Guilty Of It

SOURCE:  Brittany Wong/Huffington Post

Your body language speaks volumes.

Ever catch yourself rolling your eyes at your partner or getting a little too sarcastic during a conversation?

Those seemingly small behaviors are not that innocent after all.

According to renowned researcher John Gottman, contemptuous behavior like eye-rolling, sarcasm and name-calling is the number one predictor of divorce.

For 40 years, the University of Washington psychology professor and his team at the Gottman Institute have studied couples’ interactions to determine the key predictors of divorce — or as Gottman calls them, “the four horsemen of the apocalypse.”

Contempt is the number one sign, followed by criticism, defensiveness and stonewalling (emotionally withdrawing from your partner.)

So how do you curb contempt in your own marriage and stave off divorce? Below, experts share seven things you can do to keep contempt in check.

1. Realize that delivery is everything.

“Remember, it’s not what you say, but how you say it that makes all the difference. Contempt often comes in the form of name-calling, snickering, sarcasm, eye-rolling and long heavy sighs. Like a poison, it can erode the trust and safety in your relationship and bring your marriage to a slow death. Your goal is to be heard. You need to present your message in a way that makes this happen without doing damage to the relationship.” — Christine Wilke, a marriage therapist based in Easton, Pennsylvania

2. Ban the word “whatever” from your vocabulary.

“When you say ‘whatever’ to your partner, you’re basically saying you’re not going to listen to them. This sends them a message that whatever they’re talking about is unimportant and has no merit to you. This is the last thing you want your spouse to hear. Sending messages (even indirectly through contempt) that they’re not important will end a relationship pretty quickly.” — Aaron Anderson, a Denver, Colorado-based marriage and family therapist

3. Stay clear of sarcasm and mean-spirited jokes.

“Avoid sarcasm and comments like, ‘I’ll bet you do!’ or ‘Oh, that was super funny” in a rude tone of voice. While you’re at it, don’t make jokes at the expense of your partner or make universal comments about his or her gender (‘You would say that — you’re a guy’).” — LeMel Firestone-Palerm, a marriage and family therapist

4. Don’t live in the past.

“Most couples start showing contempt because they have let a lot of little things build up. To avoid contempt all together, you need to stay current in your communications along the way. If you’re unhappy about something, say it directly. Also, acknowledge the valid complaints your partner has about you — you’ll probably be less self-righteous the next time you fight.” – authors of The Heart of the Fight: A Couple’s Guide to Fifteen Common Fights, What They Really Mean, and How They Can Bring You Closer

5. Watch your body language.

“If you find yourself rolling your eyes or smirking, it is a signal that your relationship could be headed for trouble. Try taking a break from each other if things get heated, or try focusing on positive aspects that you like about your partner.” — Chelli Pumphrey, a counselor based in Denver, Colorado

6. Don’t ever tell your spouse, “you’re overreacting.”

“When you say your S.O. is overreacting, what you’re really saying is that their feelings are unimportant to you. Instead of telling your partner that they’re overreacting, listen to their point of view. Try to understand where they’re coming from and why they feel that way. They have those feelings for a reason.” — Aaron Anderson

7. If you find yourself being contemptuous, stop and take a deep breath.

“Make it your goal to become aware of what contempt is. Then find out specifically what it looks like in your marriage. When you feel the urge to go there, take a deep breath, and say ‘stop’ quietly to yourself. Find another way to make your point. Contempt is a bad habit like smoking or nail biting. With work, you can break it.” — Bonnie Ray Kennan, a psychotherapist based in Torrance, California

Tag Cloud