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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.

Adult Children Dealing With Toxic Parents

SOURCE:  Based on an article at Psychology Today/Karyl McBride, Ph.D

Recognizing, understanding and overcoming the debilitating impact of maternal narcissism.

The most frequently asked question from adult children of narcissistic parents is whether or not to remain in contact with that parent and/or the rest of the dysfunctional family nest.

It goes deep and is difficult to know what’s best.

Your family roots, your very beginnings, and subsequent history are all a significant part of you. We are who we are based on where we’ve been. Juggling decisions for sound mental health can be packed with arduous cognitive and emotional machinations that create distress. Sometimes these imminent decisions become paramount to every day life. Our hearts can be wrapped with it. The question and the struggle are not to be underestimated.

In loving recovery with self, decisions can be made that feel right to the heart. Without recovery work, however, those decisions may steer in wrong directions. If you simply detach and remove yourself from your narcissistic parent without doing your own work, you will not diminish your pain and your true self cannot emerge to the peacefulness that you desire. As Dr. Murray Bowen reminds us in Family Therapy in Clinical Practice, “Less-differentiated people are moved about like pawns by emotional tensions. Better-differentiated people are less vulnerable to tension.” If you take yourself out of the situation without completing your internal growth, you have accomplished less and can remain troubled.

It is important for adult children of narcissistic parents to know that there are truly some parents who are too toxic and are what I call the “untreatables.” If someone is abusive and cruel and continues to be without remorse or empathy, it cannot be healthy for anyone to be around that person. That’s ok and important to know. Full-blown narcissists do not change, do not realize the need to change, are not accountable or receptive to input from their children.

Because narcissism is a spectrum disorder on a continuum, there are many people who have narcissistic traits but are not full blown narcissists. Many of these people can move in therapeutic directions if they choose. Your decision regarding contact with the toxic untreatable or the highly-traited narcissist can best be made by working your own recovery and taking adequate time to allow the healing to happen. When developing my five-step recovery model, I found that the decisions about contact should not be made until step four. That means you are working acceptance, grief, separation, and building a stronger sense of self before deciding what kind of contact you will continue to have with your narcissistic parent. The five-step model can be found in Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers and is too complicated to fully explain in a blog post.

In short, however, I usually recommend taking a temporary separation to work your own recovery first. This means you simply explain a need for some space from the parent so you can sort out the issues and keep the clear focus on self. When you get to step four, you will know if it is best to make a decision of Therapeutic Resolution, No Contact, or Civil Connection with that parent.

Let’s take a look at each possible decision.

Therapeutic Resolution:
Some parents with less narcissistic traits are open to family therapy and this can be very effective with the right therapist. It can only be done if the parent is accountable and wants to work through family issues and childhood pain. For those who are lucky to have parents like this, a seasoned family therapist can provide wonderful healing for the entire family.

No Contact:
The decision to go “No Contact” is a big one but is made when the parent is too toxic and never accountable and continues to be abusive to the adult child. It’s a sad but necessary solution in many cases. This decision can only be made in sound mind when the adult child has really worked the internal recovery model. Without this internal healing, guilt may be over-burdensome to the adult child and pain not diminished. Sometimes, with recovery, the decision becomes a desire for a civil connect instead.

Civil Connection:
A decision to have a civil connection is really the most common. This is an educated place where the adult child knows and accepts that the connection with the narcissistic parent will not be an emotional bond or relationship. It will be civil, polite, light, and not emotionally close. Because of the internal work done by the adult child, this place of understanding allows the superficial relationship to be ok without expectations. Because the adult child has completed separation, acceptance and grief, and has developed sound boundaries, it is possible then to be “apart of and apart from” at the same time. It is possible to keep your solid sense of self and not get sucked into the family dysfunction that has not changed.

If you are struggling with contact decisions regarding your narcissistic parent or family, please know that recovery does work and makes it all so much easier.  We are accountable for our own growth and it takes time and effort to accomplish. As the late child psychiatrist, Margaret Mahler points out, “Insofar as the infant’s development of the sense of self takes place in the context of the dependency on the mother, the sense of self that results will bear the imprint of her caregiving.” That imprint of maternal or paternal narcissism can be re-drawn when the authentic self is brought to the surface and given proper nourishment for re-parenting and growth.

What could be more important? This newfound self is what we joyfully give back in the form of true love. The legacy of distorted love is then uprooted and authentic unconditional compassion takes its place. I remain a “hopeaholic” for the sisterhood and brotherhood out there.

Love restored that begins within is worth the journey.

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.

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)

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.

Addressing the Fear of Confronting a Toxic Person

SOURCE:  Dr. Henry Cloud

The following was written to address general unsafe behavior and may not be applicable for situations where abuse is/was present. If you have been in a relationship where abuse was present, please seek the help of a counselor and/or law enforcement.

As any psychologist will tell you, fear is stronger when we fear becoming afraid. This is called fear of fear. Suppose you need to confront a toxic person about their attitude, but you’re afraid they might retaliate. So you stay happy and positive on the outside but remain dissatisfied on the inside.

The longer you ignore the fear, the more you will activate it. And since the fear is associated with an uncomfortable outcome, having it burrow around in your mind naturally gives you an uncomfortable feeling. Eventually, you learn to avoid thinking about the fearful situation so you won’t have to keep feeling the fear. And the more you avoid feeling that fear, the more afraid of it you become. It’s a vicious cycle, and it doesn’t help you reach freedom and fulfillment you desire for your life.

If you’re experiencing this downward spiral, begin allowing yourself to tolerate fear. Let yourself feel the anxiety and scared feelings you have about the wrath of this toxic person. The more you do this, the more you will realize that things might get unpleasant, but you can make it through their anger.

Another aspect of fear is that the less control and power you feel, the greater the fear. Fear is a danger signal. It says, “Protect yourself! Run!” And if you don’t feel any sense of control or power over your life and choices, you experience yourself as powerless, unsafe and vulnerable. You are at the mercy of the danger, and you can’t protect yourself. It’s a horrible feeling, and it gives fear a strength it shouldn’t have.

The antidotes are to see the reality that you are not helpless. You have choices, all the choices that a mature adult has. You’re not someone’s slave, victim or little child. You can relate to them, talk to them as an adult, and if you have to, protect yourself from any toxicity that might be thrown at you. Remind yourself that you have choices. This will give you access to all the control and power that you need.

How Some People Get Stuck in the Same Toxic Patterns

SOURCE:  Dr. Henry Cloud

In my work as a clinician, a leadership consultant, and a fellow sojourner, I have found something to be true: in both our personal and professional lives, it is often the exact same issues that can hold us back, or even derail us. Find a control freak at home, and chances are that their co-workers have the same complaints that the spouse has. Or, if someone is an enabler in their love life, they are also a boss who doesn’t confront poor performance. In short, we usually don’t have personal issues vs. work issues. What we really have are “me” issues. And they show up wherever we are.

In both the personal and professional life, there are times when reality dictates that a person must stand up and “end” something. Either its time has passed, its season is over, or worse, continuing it would be destructive in some way. The situation requires someone to:

• Fire an employee who should be fired
• End a dating relationship that is not going to go where they need to go
• Shut down a product line or a business unit
• Get out of social ties and activities whose “season has passed”
• Letting go of a dream that is not going to materialize and moving on
• Leave a job or a career that they know is not right, or is even toxic for them
• End a marriage with repeated unfaithfulness that is not changing
• Admit that something is failing and waving the white flag
• Unplug from toxic friendships or family ties
• Give up on an addict who does not want to change

But too many times, with clear evidence staring them in the face, people find it difficult to pull the trigger. Why is that?

The reasons are varied, but understandable, especially in light of developmental psychology, our understanding of trauma, and cognitive mapping. Some people’s developmental path has not equipped them to stand up and let go of something. For example, if they did not develop what psychologists refer to as secure attachment or emotional object constancy, the separation and loss that ending a relationship triggers for them is too much, so they avoid it. In addition, in their development they may not have been taught the skills to confront situations like these.

Or, if they have had traumatic losses in life, another ending represents a replay of those, and they shy away or frantically try to mend whatever is wrong, way past reason. Or they have internal maps that tell them that ending something is “mean” or will cause someone harm. In any case, fears dominate their functioning, and they find themselves unable to do a “necessary ending.” See if you can relate to any of these fears or inabilities that can cause people to hang on or stay somewhere too long:

• You can’t tell if an ending is actually necessary, or if “it” or “he” is fixable
• Being afraid of the loss and the sadness
• Fearing the confrontation
• Fearing the unknown
• Lacking the skills to execute the ending
• You lack the right words to use
• You fear hurting the person
• You have had too many painful endings in your personal history and don’t want another one
• You’ve blown endings before, and don’t want to repeat it one more time

Probably all of us can relate to something on that list. But even so, here is the issue: endings are necessary. They are an essential part of life. Everything has seasons, and we have to be able to recognize that something’s time has passed and be able to move to the next season. And, everything that is alive requires pruning as well, which is a great metaphor for endings. Gardeners prune a rose bush for three reasons:

1. The bush produces more buds than it can sustain, and some good ones have to go so the best ones can have the resources of the bush
2. There are some branches and buds that are sick and not going to get well
3. There are some that are already dead and are taking up space

So, let’s apply that to life:

1. Over time, you gather more activities, relationships, work, interests, etc. than you can really feed with the best of your time and energy. You have to realize that you cannot go deep with everything, and figure out which ones you are going to invest in.

2. Face it, there are people who you have tried everything with to get them to “get it,” or businesses/strategies where you have also tried everything and there is no reason to keep throwing good money after bad.

3. And, there are people, places and things around which have been dead for a long time, and it is past time to let go.

Therefore, we have a dilemma: life and success require “necessary endings,” and we are afraid to execute them. That equals a conflict worth solving. So, what to do?

Let’s start with a few thoughts:

• Consider how you look at endings in general. Do you perceive them as natural? Do you have a world view that everything has its season and life cycle, or do you think that if something comes to an end it means that “something must be wrong?”
• When you see that you need to let go of something, or a person, what happens inside? What fears emerge? How paralyzing are they? What can you do to address them?
• Have you really thought about the fact that if you don’t do the pruning in that area that is needed, then you won’t get what you ultimately want? For example, if you keep that employee then that department will never perform well? Or if you stay in that dating relationship you will not find the one that fulfills? Play the movie forward a year or two and see if you like the results of not making a decision.
• If you are holding on to hope, what is the basis for that? Is it rational and objective? Or is it just a defense against facing the issue?

Endings are a part of life, and we are actually wired to be able to execute them. But because of trauma, developmental failures and other reasons, we shy away from taking the steps that could open up whole new worlds of development and growth. Take an inventory of the areas of life that may need some pruning, and begin to take the steps that you need to face the fears that are getting in the way. If you do, you might find yourself getting unstuck and entering into a whole new season of life.

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Necessary Endings

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.

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.

5 Indicators of an Evil Heart

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

As Christian counselors, pastors and people helpers we often have a hard time discerning between an evil heart and an ordinary sinner who messes up, who isn’t perfect, and full of weakness and sin.

I think one of the reasons we don’t “see” evil is because we find it so difficult to believe that evil individuals actually exist. We can’t imagine someone deceiving us with no conscience, hurting others with no remorse, spinning outrageous fabrications to ruin someone’s reputation, or pretending he or she is spiritually committed yet has no fear of God before his or her eyes.

The Bible clearly tells us that among God’s people there are wolves that wear sheep’s clothing (Jeremiah 23:14Titus 1:10Revelations 2:2). It’s true that every human heart is inclined toward sin (Romans 3:23), and that includes evil (Genesis 8:21James 1:4). We all miss God’ mark of moral perfection. However, most ordinary sinners do not happily indulge evil urges, nor do we feel good about having them. We feel ashamed and guilty, rightly so (Romans 7:19–21). These things are not true of the evil heart.

Below are five indicators that you may be dealing with an evil heart rather than an ordinary sinful heart.  If so, it requires a radically different treatment approach.

They twist the facts, mislead, lie, avoid taking responsibility, deny reality, make up stories, and withhold information. (Psalms 5:810:758:3109:2–5140:2Proverbs 6:13,146:18,1912:1316:2016:27, 2830:14Job 15:35Jeremiah 18:18Nehemiah 6:8Micah 2:1Matthew 12:34,35Acts 6:11–132 Peter 3:16)

2. Evil hearts are experts at fooling others with their smooth speech and flattering words.

But if you look at the fruit of their lives or the follow through of their words, you will find no real evidence of godly growth or change. It’s all smoke and mirrors. (Psalms 50:1952:2,357:459:7101:7Proverbs 12:526:23–2626:28Job 20:12Jeremiah 12:6Matthew 26:59Acts 6:11–13Romans 16:17,182 Corinthians 11:13,142 Timothy 3:2–53:13Titus 1:10,16).

3. Evil hearts crave and demand control, and their highest authority is their own self-reference.

They reject feedback, real accountability, and make up their own rules to live by. They use Scripture to their own advantage but ignore and reject passages that might require self-correction and repentance. (Romans 2:8Psalms 1036:1–450:16–2254:5,673:6–9Proverbs 21:24Jude 1:8–16).

4. Evil hearts play on the sympathies of good-willed people, often trumping the grace card.

They demand mercy but give none themselves. They demand warmth, forgiveness, and intimacy from those they have harmed with no empathy for the pain they have caused and no real intention of making amends or working hard to rebuild broken trust. (Proverbs 21:101 Peter 2:16Jude 1:4).

5. Evil hearts have no conscience, no remorse.

They do not struggle against sin or evil—they delight in it—all the while masquerading as someone of noble character. (Proverbs 2:14–1510:2312:1021:27,29Isaiah 32:6Romans 1:302 Corinthians 11:13–15)

If you are working with someone who exhibits these characteristics, it’s important that you confront them head on. You must name evil for what it is. The longer you try to reason with them or show mercy towards them, the more you, as the Christian counselor, will become a pawn in his or her game.

They want you to believe that:

1. Their horrible actions should have no serious or painful consequences.

When they say “I’m sorry,” they look to you as the pastor or Christian counselor to be their advocate for amnesty with the person he or she has harmed. They believe grace means they are immediately granted immunity from the relational fallout of their serious sin. They believe forgiveness entitles them to full reconciliation and will pressure you and their victim to comply.

The Bible warns us saying, “But when grace is shown to the wicked, they do not learn righteousness; even in a land of uprightness they go on doing evil and do not regard the majesty of the Lord (Isaiah 26:10).

The Bible tells us that talking doesn’t wake up evil people, but painful consequences might. Jesus didn’t wake up the Pharisee’s with his talk nor did God’s counsel impact Cain (Genesis 4). In addition, the Bible shows us that when someone is truly sorry for the pain they have caused, he or she is eager to make amends to those they have harmed by their sin (see Zacchaeus’ response when he repented of his greed in Luke 19).

Tim Keller writes, “If you have been the victim of a heinous crime. If you have suffered violence, and the perpetrator (or even the judge) says, ‘Sorry, can’t we just let it go?’ You would say, ‘No, that would be an injustice.’ Your refusal would rightly have nothing to do with bitterness or vengeance. If you have been badly wronged, you know that saying sorry is never enough. Something else is required—some kind of costly payment must be made to put things right.”1

As Biblical counselors let’s not collude with the evil one by turning our attention to the victim, requiring her to forgive, to forget, to trust again when there has been no evidence of inner change. Proverbs says, “Trusting in a treacherous man in time of trouble is like a bad tooth or a foot that slips” (Proverbs. 25:19). It’s foolishness.

The evil person will also try to get you to believe

2. That if I talk like a gospel-believing Christian I am one, even if my actions don’t line up with my talk.

Remember, Satan masquerades as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:13–15). He knows more true doctrine than you or I will ever know, but his heart is wicked. Why? Because although he knows the truth, he does not believe it or live it.

The Bible has some strong words for those whose actions do not match their talk (1 John 3:17,18Jeremiah 7:8,10James 1:22, 26). John the Baptist said it best when he admonished the religious leaders, “Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God” (Luke 3:8).

If week after week you hear the talk but there is no change in the walk, you have every reason to question someone’s relationship with God.

Part of our maturity as spiritual leaders is that we have been trained to discern between good and evil. Why is that so important? It’s important because evil usually pretends to be good, and without discernment we can be easily fooled (Hebrews 5:14).

When you confront evil, chances are good that the evil heart will stop counseling with you because the darkness hates the light (John 3:20) and the foolish and evil heart reject correction (Proverbs 9:7,8). But that outcome is far better than allowing the evil heart to believe you are on his or her side, or that “he’s not that bad” or “that he’s really sorry” or “that he’s changing” when, in fact, he is not.

Daniel says, “[T]he wicked will continue to be wicked” (Daniel 12:10), which begs the question, do you think an evil person can really change?

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?

Communication: Arrows of Appreciation

SOURCE:  Taken from the Prepare-Enrich blog

When there is tension or conflict in a relationship, we are encouraged to speak using “I” statements—“I get worried when I don’t know you’re working late,” or “I wish we could make more of an effort to spend quality time alone.” “I” statements attribute responsibility to the speaker for his/her own perceptions and feelings.

“You” statements, such as, “You never let me know when you’re going to be home late,” or “You spend too much time with your friends,” can put the listener on the defensive from the start. In a way, a “you” statement is like shooting an arrow right at your partner. If it precedes negative, accusatory, or blaming words, they are going to feel the sting and likely react in just as prickly a manner.

But what if you were to lace that arrow with words of appreciation, affirmation, and gratitude instead?

“You always know what to say to make me laugh.”

“You are such a great husband/wife/listener/friend.”

“You are beautiful/handsome/amazing/loved.”

How do you think your partner would react? How would you react to such direct praise?

We asked our Facebook followers to tell us what appreciation means to them (in one word), and here are their responses: valued, empowered, thankful, important, motivated, needed, respected, validated, healed, understood, heard, cherished, and loved.

With the hustle and bustle of everyday life, we can sometimes take each other for granted; don’t underestimate the power of small statements of appreciation and affirmation.

Dr. Richard Marks, Ph.D., MFT, and PREPARE/ENRICH Seminar Director agrees:

“Research shows that people who hear frequent appreciations feel better about themselves, produce more, and serve more. Feeling appreciated is important to healthy relationships and work teams. It is also important to one’s sense of being valued. Whenever you share an appreciation with another, their brain hears the appreciation and releases dopamine. Dopamine is a neurochemical that, when released, produces a feeling of pleasure. How many dopamine ‘shots’ do you give your employees, colleagues, spouse, and children each day? May we begin to value not just being appreciated, but [the act of] appreciating.”

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.

 

4 Steps Every Couple Needs to Take When Trust Is Broken

SOURCE:  MARISSA GOLD/Women’s Day

How to Rebuild Broken Trust:  Experts Share a Four-Step Plan

When trust is broken in a relationship, it can seem impossible to repair. But many couples have dealt with dishonesty—from financial problems to infidelity—and made it through to a happier, more honest place. Here, experts share the exact steps to take to get back on track.

We may enter a relationship with high hopes and rose-colored glasses, but nobody’s perfect. Most couples will run into a trust issue of some sort over the course of their relationship. The most common? “Cheating,” says M. Gary Neuman, LMHC, creator of the Neuman Method. But that doesn’t necessarily mean catching your husband in bed with another woman is the only thing that can cause a rift between you and your partner. “Trust is broken whenever there is lying that creates a shift in the couple’s life,” says Neuman. “Gambling, drug use, and even emotional and online infidelity often lead to severe trust issues.”

The fact is, all of the phones, laptops, and social networks we’re glued to 24/7 provide ample opportunity for foul play. “It’s more common now for affairs to be emotional—on social media, reconnecting with a high school sweetheart—or using office chat apps or email accounts to carry on a flirtation,” says Dr. Vagdevi Meunier, PsyD, a Gottman Institute master therapist. “As Shirley Glass, author of Not Just Friends, has said, affairs are about access and opportunity.”

If trust has been broken between you and your partner, whether it was a physical affair, an emotional affair, or a gambling or drug habit, we’ve asked relationship experts to outline the exact steps you need to take if you want to work on rebuilding your relationship.

Step One: Confrontation

First things first (and no, we’re not talking about yelling and screaming): Have the confrontation in person. “Once you’ve discovered the infidelity, you need to evaluate your partner’s response,” says Neuman. “Is he apologetic and remorseful, or confused and ‘in love’ with this other person?” Don’t assume anything, fight via text or email, or make decisions about your future before having a face-to-face conversation.

In addition to talking to your partner, “you’ll feel a need to tell some people what happened because you’ll need to vent,” says Neuman. “But try to limit this sharing to those who will really be there for you and give you a safe space to share—NOT a lot of advice.” The idea is to get support without being swayed one way or another. You also don’t want to be sitting around the Thanksgiving table a year from now knowing that everyone in your family knows your dirty laundry. So be careful about who you tell, and how much you tell them.

Finally, watch out for urges to “even the score” or make some questionable decisions of your own. “Don’t create a toxic relationship by taking revenge, being vindictive, or bringing other people in,” warns Meunier. In other words, reconnecting with your own high school sweetheart for comfort is not the best idea, nor is recruiting your in-laws to chastise your partner about what he did.

Step Two: Atonement

This is a time for full transparency: “The person who made the choice to commit the act of betrayal should take time to understand the impact of his or her actions, tell the full story of the betrayal, and answer any questions their partner has,” says Meunier. “Your spouse has to want to make this relationship work, be apologetic and—in the case of an affair—be willing to completely end it with the other woman,” stresses Neuman.

It’s also a time for emotional support. It’s not uncommon to lose sleep, stop eating, or even have trouble functioning after discovering an infidelity, so Meunier encourages the offending partner to “be available to support and comfort the hurt partner.” Translation: He needs to be patient and kind and cater to you for a bit, not pop off angrily every time you want to talk about the issue.

You also need to give yourself some extra love right now: “Practicing meditation, daily gratitude, reading books on affair recovery (the ones based on scientific research are best) yoga, and journaling are all good techniques,” says Meunier. “I also encourage both partners to engage in light and easy activities that preserves a sense of continuity, fun, and a feeling of family. This can be as simple as having breakfast or dinner, watching a show on the couch together, or going grocery shopping. If there are children present, this is even more important.”

Step Three: Reconnecting

 

Once you’ve talked through all the details of the betrayal and have decided to recommit to one another, it’s time to start limiting how often you bring up the infidelity. “I encourage couples to only talk about the betrayal in the counselor’s office, or to set a scheduled meeting, like lunch, to do this,” says Meunier. “Avoid talking about it in closed intense environments such as the car or in the bedroom. Instead, go out on the porch—the fear of neighbors hearing will make both of you behave better.”

After you eliminate the constant “threat” environment that comes with discussing the issue, you can begin to learn how to be more connected and emotionally present with each other. How do you do that, exactly? “Once broken, trust has to be earned by small things each person does every day,” says Meunier. It’s about consistency and kindness: Be home when you say you will, avoid that work event where you know the affair partner might be, and give regular, sincere compliments to build back your partner’s self-esteem. It may take time, but if your partner is willing to show you he is committed and consistent in his actions, he’ll slowly earn back your trust. This isn’t always easy—the betraying partner has more of a burden during this time, explains Meunier—but if he sticks it out, you’ll see results. And remember, the effort shouldn’t feel one-sided: “Eventually both people need to be making small gestures of kindness,” adds Meunier.

Step Four: Building a New Relationship

At this point, you’re building a brand new emotional, physical, and social contract for the relationship. You’re connecting in a more honest way, asking for what you really need, and, “Doing whatever is necessary to affair-proof your relationship going forward,” says Meunier.

The key here on out is positive responses: “We use a term developed by Dr. Gottman called turning towards,” says Meunier. “Intimacy is built by repeated experiences of one partner bidding for their partner’s attention or affection and receiving a positive response,” says Meunier. When you receive consistent, positive reactions from one another in everyday life, trust returns. Here’s an example: “If the betraying spouse says ‘Will you watch Real Housewives with me?’ I want the hurt partner to say ‘yes’ not because they suddenly forgive their partner or love the show, but because they recognize that it costs nothing to sit quietly next to someone and watch a television show, and that doing so gives them points in the emotional bank account. Similarly, if the hurt spouse calls while you’re apart and says ‘Can you turn on Facetime and show me who is in the room with you?’ I encourage the betraying partner to do that whenever possible. Not ignoring your partner, not rejecting each other, and being kind are all ways we build a sense of normalcy and safety, which in turn builds trust.”

Ten Abilities of Emotionally Healthy People

SOURCE:  Jimmy Evans/Marriage Today

I teach pastors that a church cannot grow beyond the emotional health of its pastor, and I believe the same is true for a marriage: Your relationship with your spouse will never exceed your individual emotional health.

Karen and I entered marriage with deep emotional wounds and dysfunction. We were like two porcupines trying to love each other. The closer we got, the more we hurt each other.

Thankfully, God healed us of our emotional scars. Today we have the ability to do things that our emotional wounds once prevented.

There are ten things you should be able to do if you are emotionally healthy:

1. Openly express both physical and verbal affection to the satisfaction of your spouse. This means hugs and gentle touch as well as praise.

2. Empathize with others and focus on their needs and desires—especially those of your spouse. This means listening, as well as putting yourself in another’s shoes.

3. Communicate honestly and openly in a gracious manner. This means being able to talk about your feelings.

4. Confront your spouse or others with complaints in a timely and gracious manner. In other words, communicating with honesty about something that has gone wrong, rather than being angry, withdrawn, or passive-aggressive.

5. Receive complaints or corrections without being defensive or hostile.This means you are open to input from someone else.

6. Take responsibility for your behavior and apologize, when necessary, with sincerity and grace. This means accepting that you can be wrong.

7. Serve and give to others—including your spouse—without expecting anything in return. This means you are able to do something for others even if it’s never reciprocated.

8. Process anger, offenses, and disappointments in a timely and gracious manner. Bad things happen. When they do, you can deal with being imperfect people in an imperfect world. You can work through it.

9. Be vulnerable and reveal weakness without fear or shame. This means being able to pray with your spouse. It means admitting when you need help.

10. Be joyful and faith-filled in the midst of difficulty. This means seeing the good in opportunities, circumstances, and people. It means trusting God rather than becoming cynical, fatalistic, or depressed.

Do these abilities describe you? If not, you may have some emotionally unhealthy areas in your heart. Honestly, I didn’t have any of those abilities when Karen and I were first married—and it damaged our relationship.

Until God restored me to good health, our marriage would never have grown beyond my limitations.

The Holy Spirit is powerful and can repair the places that are broken inside us. He knows exactly what’s wrong. When we understand that we’re damaged and give Him permission to fix us, He does. That’s exceedingly good news.

If you need to improve your emotional health, ask God to begin healing you. He’ll help you grow into a place where you can claim all ten of the abilities above. It will result in a stronger, healthier marriage.

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

Loving the Prodigal Child

SOURCE:  Dennis Rainey/Family Life

A crisis with a child means your family is headed into a period of testing … and of growth.

According to some estimates, every American is responsible each year for an average of two tons of waste material. That’s 4,000 pounds per person!

But there is another type of waste that weighs more heavily on many parents than several truckloads of garbage—the life of a prodigal child.

The core meaning of the word prodigal is “waste.” The famous prodigal son from Jesus’ parable in Luke 15:11-32 not only wasted the material possessions of his inheritance and much of his life, but he also did much worse. He wasted, through rebellion and foolishness, his precious relationship with his father.

Let’s be candid.

All of us Christian parents, no matter what our background, parenting style, or level of spiritual maturity, share a common fear—that a child will become a prodigal. There is no jolt of agony that compares to the child who says with his words and his behavior, “I reject you, your values, your lifestyle, your God.”

We desperately desire that this will never happen in our homes. But it can and does. And for those who must come to grips with a prodigal child, it can seem like the world is coming to an end.

What is a prodigal child?

First, it’s important to realize that many children may exhibit troubling or rebellious behavior, but are not full-blown prodigals. If your child wears a different hairstyle, gets a piercing, is moody or depressed, comes home with Cs on his report card, or becomes angry when told to empty the dishwasher, that doesn’t make him a prodigal. I count these part of the norm for preteens and teenagers.

A true prodigal child will show extreme defiance and rebellion as a pattern over an extended period of time. In fact, the word “defiance” catches it all—a stubborn, rebellious spirit that challenges authority, refuses to acknowledge responsibility for faults, and doesn’t embrace the truth. Here are some signs suggesting the presence of a prodigal:

  • A prodigal child consistently, flagrantly disobeys rules and crosses boundaries.
  • A prodigal child shows ongoing active or passive disrespect for authority.
  • A prodigal child is unteachable and refuses to accept responsibility.
  • A prodigal child persists in self-destructive behavior (drugs, drinking, sexual activity, stealing, violence).
  • A prodigal child lies and continues a pattern of deceit, even after being caught red-handed.
  • A prodigal child’s life is disintegrating in many areas and is out of control.

Those who work professionally with such teenagers often mention a few root causes.

Selfishness. We are all self-centered by nature, but selfishness becomes an art form in the prodigal’s life.

Desire for control. This issue is often linked to selfishness. During adolescence, young people naturally seek greater control over their lives. Selfishly, they may ask for much more control than they can handle.

Another factor behind prodigal behavior can be a dry relationship between one or both parents and the child. If for whatever reason the parents are not securely tethered to the child and are not relationally filling the child’s emotional tank, the child will seek replenishment from peers, who may be running on empty themselves. The values of these peers may be extremely hostile to what mom and dad believe, and the war for the child’s heart is on.

Sometimes, however, there just seems to be no single identifiable cause for a child’s rebellion. And whether or not we can point to a particular reason, we can trust the Bible’s insight. Solomon commented, “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child” (Proverbs 22:15). That means every child has a bent toward foolishness, and in some children the foolishness sprouts and blooms into prodigal behavior.

A crisis with a child, and the pain that goes with it, should sound the alarm that everyone in the family, especially the adults, is heading into a period of testing and growth.

Pain is pain, but God uses difficulty to stretch and mold us, and the result is greater maturity.

Here are some priorities you should maintain as a parent:

Keep loving. No matter how broken and alienated your child may be, you always will be dad or mom—the only people in the world with the unique opportunity to love him or her without strings like no other person can. This is a powerful tool, like a huge magnet that can irresistibly draw a wayward child back to your embrace.

Pray. God is fully capable of grabbing your child’s attention. The Good Shepherd does not lose sheep. Ask, and keep asking. The apostle James wrote, “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” (James 5:16).

Connect. Your child may not even want to speak to you. And you may be weary of trying to reach out and always getting shut down. You have no choice; you must find ways to connect. Even in the face of angry words and cold body language, you can speak kind words and give hugs and tender touches. You can compliment and encourage. You can show interest. You can serve. You can pursue your child in ways that speak her language of love.

Establish boundaries. Although you will keep trying to connect, you and others in your family should not accept abusive, destructive behavior from an in-house prodigal. You have been given authority by God to draw boundaries. What will be the basic requirements for anyone living under your family’s roof? These rules must be carefully thought through and clearly communicated to your child. Your child needs to know that if boundaries are crossed, serious consequences will result.

For example, one boundary might be “no drugs or alcohol of any kind in the house.” If a prodigal child persists in violating this boundary, the consequence might be going into a regular drug-testing program or even leaving the home and living at a substance abuse treatment center. These are very severe measures. That’s why you must carefully choose and then maintain the boundaries.

Get help. You must not attempt to deal with a prodigal alone. You need prayer and emotional support. You need spiritual wisdom. You need the prayers and counsel of the leaders (elders or deacons) of your church. You may need professional counselors or other advisors. If your child is dangerously out of control or has run away, you may need to call the police. Don’t let shame, pride, fear, or anything else keep you from getting help. “Where there is no guidance, the people fall, but in abundance of counselors there is victory” (Proverbs 11:14).

I believe we can wait expectantly for a prodigal child to return, but we also need to accept the reality that this may be a wait of months and even years. Although you pray that resolution and reconciliation will come quickly, prepare for a long haul, especially if your rebelling child is in the early teenage years.

A particularly vulnerable area during a family crisis is the husband/wife relationship. A significant part of your retreating and regrouping must involve honest discussion and effort that will solidify, not divide, mom and dad. A prodigal child often seems bent on creating conflict between parents, as well as among other family members. Don’t let this happen. This is the time when you must cling to your spouse like glue.

The ultimate hope of any parent should be that God will reach down and profoundly touch His child. All of our efforts to raise our children to follow Him are in His hands. We are but stewards for a brief period of these gifts called children.

When Your Marriage Needs Help

SOURCE:  Taken from the series — When Your Marriage Needs Help/Focus on the Family

Is My Marriage Worth Saving?

Without a doubt, your marriage is worth saving!

Though all marriages can’t be saved, divorce does not typically solve personal or relational dysfunctions. For couples with children, it is important to understand that research validates the fact that most children do not want their parents to divorce, in spite of their parents’ arguments and basic problems. In fact, one of the number one fears of children in the United States, ages 4 to 16, is the fear that their parents will divorce.1

Dr. Judith Wallerstein, a psychologist and one of the nation’s premier divorce researchers, conducted a 25-year research study following 131 children of divorce. She states:

Twenty-five years after their parents’ divorce, children remembered loneliness, fear and terror! Adults like to believe that children are aware of their parents’ unhappiness, expect the divorce and are relieved when it happens. However, that is a myth; and what children actually conclude is if one parent can leave another, then they both could leave me. As a society we like to think that divorce is a transient grief, a minor upheaval in a child’s life. This is also a myth; and as divorcing parents go through transition, their children live in transition.2

Dr. John Gottman provides interesting research findings that suggest why it is important to save your marriage. He states, “The chance of a first marriage ending in divorce over a 40-year period is 67 percent. Half of all divorces will occur in the first seven years. The divorce rate for second marriages is as much as 10 percent higher than for first-timers.”

 He goes on to explain:

Numerous research projects show that happily married couples have a far lower rate for physical problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, anxiety, depression, psychosis, addictions, etc. and live four years longer than people who end their marriages. The chance of getting divorced remains so high that it makes sense for all married couples to put extra effort into their marriages to keep them strong.3

According to a national study (the National Fatherhood Initiative Marriage Survey), more than three-fifths of divorced Americans say they wish they or their spouses had worked harder to save their marriages (see fatherhood.org).

Findings from a study of unhappy marriages conducted by the Institute for American Values showed that there was no evidence that unhappily married adults who divorced were typically any happier than unhappily married people who stayed married. Even more dramatically, the researchers also found that two-thirds of unhappily married spouses who stayed together reported that their marriages were happy five years later.4

When people hear about these findings, their response typically is:

All that research is well and good; but I have tried everything I know to do, and my spouse simply will not agree to get help. I have cried, begged, threatened and pleaded, but nothing works. So what do I do? I can’t do it on my own. There is nothing else I can do.

Maybe there is.

  1. Schachter, Dr. Robert and Carole McCauley, When Your Child Is Afraid, (Simon and Schuster, 1988).
  2. Wallerstein, Judith, Julia M. Lewis and Sandra Blakeslee, The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce – The 25 Year Landmark Study, (Hyperion Publishers, 2000).
  3. The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work (Three Rivers Press, 1999).
  4. “Does Divorce Make People Happy?” (Institute for American Values, 2002).

When a Spouse Won’t Get Help

Three of the most common reasons one spouse gives the other for not seeking help in the marriage follow:

  • “We don’t have that kind of problem” or “Our problems are really not that bad.” That’s the denial response. The fact is, if your spouse requests counseling, your marriage is probably worse off than you think. Your spouse is apparently in enough pain to seek relief from it in some way. If your spouse is hurting to the point of taking this action, you need to join him or her in solving the problem. If your spouse has a problem, you have a problem.
  • “We can’t afford it.” Most Americans can afford whatever they really want. If we can afford cell phones, hobbies, cable TV, eating out, health club memberships, daily visits to Starbuck’s and designer clothes, we can afford marriage counseling or an intensive designed to save our marriage. A question to seriously consider is: “Can I/we afford not to go to counseling?” If you don’t go to counseling, what will be the outcome? Can you live for the rest of your married life with the outcome?
  • Another common reason your spouse might reject counseling is that he or she simply is not hurting as much as you are. Your spouse is not where you are on the pain scale. The typical response shown by the motivated spouse is a sense of frustration or unhealthy responses such as nagging, pouting, arguing, accusing, angry outbursts or simply being bitter. But unhealthy responses like these only cause wounds to deepen and the other spouse to move further away from the relationship. You can’t “nag” your spouse into getting help.

On the spiritual side, a possible factor that could prevent you or your spouse from getting needed help is pride. Many marriages are failing and are eventually destroyed because one or both partners are too prideful to admit that they have a problem and may be wrong. The same tenacity and stubbornness that often keeps a person in a marriage can lead to a level of pride that prevents that person from receiving the proper help when in trouble. If you think you are too proud to ask for help or feel too proud to face the embarrassment, you are too proud. Pride can stand in the way of progress like a sentry guarding a castle. Nothing can get past it or move beyond it.

One of the greatest things you can do for a troubled marriage is to be willing to say, “I’m wrong. I’m sorry and I realize this problem has a lot to do with me.” This attitude is the opposite of a prideful attitude. It says, “I know I must be willing to change if I expect my spouse to change. I will do whatever it takes to save and change my marriage.” This could mean committing time, money and energy to a counseling relationship that will hold you accountable for your growth and progress.

A heart dominated by pride says, “I would rather allow my marriage to die than admit I am wrong.” A heart driven by biblical love and commitment says:

I will do whatever it takes to salvage and rebuild my marriage. I will give up everything I own. I will change jobs. I will mortgage the house. I will do whatever it takes, because I know my marriage is that important to our children and our children’s children.

 Can You Do It Alone?

What if one spouse is willing to go to counseling and the other is not? Should the willing spouse go to counseling or seek help without the other? In most cases, the answer is definitely yes. Your marriage can be helped immensely if you initiate change.

When one spouse stops trying to change his or her partner and stops pointing fingers, making accusations, and withholding affection and attention, the energy often shifts to self-improvement. When you make positive changes, it allows positive changes to occur in your spouse.

The fact is, you cannot change your spouse, but you can change yourself. Often the most obvious point of movement in a conflicted marriage is self-movement. Changes you make to improve yourself and marriage can effectively produce healthy responses in the other spouse.

Sometimes the best way to change your spouse is to model positive change in your own life. You can encourage your spouse to communicate better by learning to communicate better yourself. You can coach your spouse to respect you by respecting him or her first. You can teach your spouse to stop complaining with a bitter spirit by breaking a pattern of complaining and developing a new spirit.

Your husband or wife may not be willing to read books, go to seminars or go to counseling at this stage; but if you take the first step, your changes may positively influence him or her.

Think of your decision in practical economic terms. Ask yourself: If I take no course of action or even pursue divorce, how economically advantageous will that be? The cost of divorce in the United States can average anywhere from $10,000 to $20,000. A majority of couples who divorce find themselves living on half of their pre-divorce income. After divorce, many single women are forced to live below the poverty line while attempting to raise their children.

Divorce is not the answer to most problems. Divorce is not the best solution to being unhappy or unfulfilled. It typically creates more problems than you can ever imagine and will have a long-term effect on your children, as well as generations to come. Therefore, the question is: “Can you afford not to go to counseling?” From a practical standpoint, it may be like asking, “Should I have heart surgery if I know that I will die if I don’t have it?” If your doctor says you will live in pain the rest of your life or that you will die, can you afford not to have the surgery?

Common Mistakes in Approaching Your Spouse

  • Showing disrespect. As Sharon realized, you can’t change a person by tearing him or her down. There’s only one response for that kind of approach: negative. Think about it. How do you feel when others treat you disrespectfully? Does it make you want to do something for them? Does it make you want to show affection? No. Showing disrespect will only alienate your spouse to the idea of seeking help.
  • Losing control of your anger. Anger is often a way of punishing your spouse when he or she does not give you what you want. It’s not only ineffective in producing a long-term change in how your spouse behaves, it also destroys any threads of love or feelings that may still be evident. Sure, if your spouse doesn’t respond to your requests, the temptation exists to respond in anger; but if you don’t get the response you want, getting angry and sparking a heated argument won’t help.
  • Blaming your spouse. Don’t accuse or point fingers. Don’t resort to exaggerated or over-generalized language such as: “You always act like this! You never do what I ask you to do. You just don’t care anymore. It’s always your fault. You always do this or always do that.” That type of language isn’t valuable in solving the problem. It only creates more issues to deal with and more wounds to heal in the future.

Approaching Your Spouse the Right Way

  • Begin by approaching your spouse at the right time and in the right manner. Choose a time when he or she is not distracted or too stressed or tired.
  • Approach your spouse in a non-confrontational manner. An angry tone of voice or condescending “parent to child” approach will only cause him or her to shut down.
  • Make sure you bring up the topic in a non-threatening way. If your communication pattern has digressed to the point that when you bring up this topic, your spouse becomes defensive and “blows up,” you may consider writing him or her a letter to be read when you are not present. This gives your spouse time to think about what was said and respond without all the emotions.
  • Don’t say, “You need counseling.” Recognize and admit that “we” have a problem, and it must be addressed as a team.

You may try statements like the following to encourage your mate to join you in getting help for your marriage:

  • I’m concerned that if we allow this problem to continue, it will only get worse. I can’t go on like we have been. I need the help more than anything. I know you are uncomfortable with this, but so am I. It’s embarrassing and even frightening to me. I realize, however, that if we keep doing the same things in our marriage, we’ll get the same results.
  • We need outside intervention and direction. It’s like being in a strange city and asking others for directions. Locals know the area. They know the correct path to take, and which roads are easy ones and which roads are dangerous and difficult. A trained Christian therapist knows the way around, has been trained and is capable of helping with issues and dangers that we can’t deal with on our own.
  • I know God wants us to do better in our marriage, and our children deserve a more stable home environment than this. It’s obvious that if we don’t get help, we are making the decision to continue in a painful marriage. I believe there is hope for us and it is possible to have a healthy marriage like we used to.
  • I love you with all my heart, but I am tired and need your help and support on this. If you won’t go for yourself, would you go with me? Let’s talk about it after dinner tonight.

These non-threatening approaches take some of the pressure and blame off the other partner. They typically open doors to the possibility of getting help instead of closing doors by using negative approaches.

Anger: Unmet Expectations

SOURCE:  Annie Chapman/Focus on the Family

As I was leaving for a four-day trip with my teen daughter and her friend, my husband, Steve, agreed to have the house in good shape when I returned, because we’d be having company on the weekend.

The trip with the girls was fun, but by the time I got home, my nerves were stretched, and I was ready for a break. As I walked into our kitchen, I struggled to process the sight and the odor. There was a stack of unwashed dishes, fish guts in the sink and the floor was sticky with some sort of marine-life slime.

Steve walked into the room. “You’re back earlier than I expected. I went fishing this morning and thought I’d have time to clean up before you got home. Then the mower needed some work, and I reckon I got sidetracked.”

Steve and I have been married for 38 years, and although I can’t say I respond correctly each time I’m angry, that particular day I chose to face the reason for my anger — my expectations had not been met.

James 4:1-2 reads, “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it.” It’s a pretty simple explanation.

I asked Steve to give me some space — alone — instead of giving him an immediate verbal lashing, and put on latex gloves to start the restoration process. While cleaning, I did a few things that helped me deal with my anger before the razor-sharp words finished forming on my tongue.

First, I avoided talking to myself about the situation.

I have a friend who says that when she gets angry with her husband, she takes a walk and talks to herself about it. While that may work for her, it doesn’t work for me. The one time I tried the “walk and talk” idea, all I did was practice throwing verbal spears at Steve.

Then, instead of ranting to myself about Steve’s fish-gut gaffe, I talked to God about it.

James 4:6 says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” I’ve learned that when I humble myself before God and respectfully talk to Him about a matter, He really does give me grace. It’s a grace that prevents a small gust of anger from turning into a destructive tornado of emotion.

After I talked to God, I was better prepared to talk to my husband.

Talking humbly, yet frankly with God about my anger, seemed to put me in a more civil state of mind. As a result, I was able to respectfully and candidly talk to Steve.

By recognizing that not getting what I wanted was the true source of my anger, I created an environment in my marriage that allowed Steve to apologize without the fear of getting lambasted — and I was in a better place to accept his apology.

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Annie Chapman is a musician, speaker and author of several books, including Letting Go of Anger.

Living With A Narcissist

SOURCE:  Taken from an article by Les Carter/CareLeader

Helping those living with a narcissist

What is narcissism?

Narcissism is defined as a personality so consumed with self that the individual is unable to consistently relate to the feelings, needs, and perceptions of others.

Why is it so difficult for someone to live with a narcissist?

It is quite challenging to live with a narcissist since chronically controlling and exploitive behavior is at the core of this personality, and over time narcissists have a knack for generating exasperation in those who simply want to relate with equality and respect.

Anyone can be self-centered. What makes a person a narcissist?

When we refer to a narcissistic personality, we acknowledge that self-absorption is not just present, but it is the defining feature. Even when they appear helpful or friendly, narcissists eventually illustrate that their good behavior has a self-serving hook on the end of it. (“Now you owe me.”)

What are some indicators that someone is a narcissist?

Key indicators of a full-blown narcissistic personality include an inability to empathize; expecting special favors; an attitude of entitlement; manipulative or exploitive behaviors; hypersensitivity when confronted; being loose with “facts”; extremes in emotional reactions, both positive and negative; idealism; an unwillingness to deal with reality; an insatiable need for control; the need to be in the superior or favored position; and an ability to make initial positive impressions.

How can someone have a healthy relationship with a narcissist?

I know it seems pessimistic for me to state this, but when someone engages with a narcissist, he or she cannot afford to think “normally.” Normal relationships have an ebb and flow of cooperation, something a narcissist knows little about. (Keep in mind, the narcissist thinks he or she is unique, meaning above the standards of everyone else.)

Is it wise to try and reform the narcissist?

While it is tempting to plead or debate with the narcissist, such efforts will only increase one’s aggravation. The narcissist has no interest speaking as one equal to another. The narcissist must win, meaning the other person must lose. There is a very small probability that person will respond to another person’s good comments with, “I really needed to hear that. Thanks for the input.” Don’t waste emotional energies by bargaining, insisting, or convincing.

How should someone communicate with a narcissist?

A very predictable tactic of the narcissist is to argue the merits of one’s beliefs or needs. This strategy draws a person into a debate that will never end well for the person (Prov. 26:4). The good news is that the hurting spouse is not required to be a master debater, and in fact, after the spouse has explained his or her thoughts and feelings once, those words do not need to be repeated. For instance, when the narcissist continues to argue, instead of being sucked in, a person can say something like, “I know we differ, but I’m comfortable with my decision.” When receiving the predictable pushback, he or she can say, “I’m comfortable with my decision, so I’ll stick with my plans.” No debate, no needless justification.

Why is it important for those living with a narcissist to demonstrate a belief in their own dignity?

Someone may often feel poorly about him- or herself since a narcissist so readily discounts that person, leaving the person to wonder, “What’s so awful about me?” Encourage the person not to fall into that trap. Contrary to the narcissist’s assumption, one’s dignity is a God-given gift, and it does not vary due to the narcissistic person’s invalidations (Ps. 139:13–14). Encourage the person who feels poorly to connect with friends and associates who understand how relationships can be anchored in mutual regard.

What can a person do to stay at peace with a narcissist?

Narcissists can stubbornly persuade and coerce, telling others how to think and behave. Being inebriated with correctness, they quickly turn discussions into a battle for dominance. The best way for a person to be in control of him- or herself is to drop the illusion that he or she can control the narcissist, and also to remember that sometimes there’s only so much one can do to keep the peace (Rom. 12:18).


Additional resources

For more detailed instruction on how to live with a narcissistic/self-centered spouse, see Brad Hambrick’s free online resource Marriage with a Chronically Self-Centered Spouse. It’s a helpful guide you can use to help spouses develop Christ-centered strategies to deal with a narcissist. The resource is also designed for self-study.

Q&A: What To Do When Receiving The “Silent Treatment”

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

Question: What is the proper response to the silent treatment when it has been 10 days and no matter what, you will be blamed? Do you distance yourself or move toward reconciliation?

Answer:  First, it’s important to distinguish between the silent treatment and a time out. A timeout is a good thing and is taken when a couple is arguing in a non-productive or destructive manner and one or both parties call a timeout in order to calm down, rest, regroup, pray, or do what it takes to come back and talk constructively about the topic or problem. Ideally, a time-out should last no longer than 24 hours and the one who called the time-out initiates the reconnect with the other spouse to say when he or she would be prepared to resume the discussion.

The silent treatment is not helpful and is a passive aggressive form of punishment. One person is angry or unhappy with something you have done or not done and instead of talking it through, there is a withdrawal of communication, attention, and care as a means of punishment. I remember one woman I worked with whose spouse did not speak with her for over a year despite her pleas to discuss things.

I’m answering this question from a woman who has a husband who gives her the silent treatment, but I’m aware that women can also be guilty of giving their husband’s the silent treatment.

The person who chooses the silent treatment as a pattern of behavior operates out of a victim mindset. A victim mindset believes he  is powerless to bring about change and blames circumstances (or other people) for how he feels. He  is hurt or angry about something but refuses, to be honest, and talk about what’s bothering him. He will not do the work of expressing his feelings, stating his needs, negotiating a compromise, understanding another person’s perspective and moving towards a solution and reconciliation of the relationship or even of ending the relationship. Instead, he manipulates, punishes and attempts to control the other person through protracted silence.

Deep down, the silent partner wants two things. He wants to make you pay for upsetting him and he wants you to take full responsibility (blame) for his emotional state and rescue him out of his funk by attempting relationship repairs. Sadly, even when you attempt to do so, the silent spouse often resists your attempts and further rejects you through continued silence (more punishment). Somehow you are supposed to figure out what you did wrong, make amends, and beg this person back into relationship with you, without him having to take any responsibility for communicating or working towards a mutual solution.

But your question was, what should you do when you are on the receiving end of the silent treatment? First, you need to work on not reacting to his passive form of aggression towards you. He tempts you to step into two unhealthy roles if you are not vigilant. You will either start the rescuing process as I’ve already described, or you will get angry and lean into the persecutor role, which will shame and attack him. And be careful, you may go back and forth between the two. Either way, he gets to stay the innocent, blameless, victim and continue to see you as the bad guy–the one to blame for everything wrong in his life.

Instead of dancing that old dance again, just go about your life while he’s brooding in silence. Get out with your friends and try not to take his rejection personally. Instead, see it as a very immature response to being unhappy with something and being unable to deal with his feelings. What you can do is continue to invite him (not beg) to take responsibility for himself, to discuss what’s wrong.

So you might say something like, “I am happy to discuss what’s wrong when you are ready to talk about this, just let me know.” And then go about your life. Hopefully, this will signal to your husband that his tactic isn’t working to control or punish you. You will no longer rescue, beg or badger. In this moment, you will function as a healthy adult who invites another adult into a discussion about “what’s wrong.”

Understand this new approach doesn’t come without risk. He may sink more into a victim mentality, feel rejected and that you don’t care about him because you aren’t knocking yourself out to “fix and rescue” the relationship. Or, his aggression might switch from passive to more active and he may start to talk but it usually isn’t constructive conversation but blaming, accusing, and attacking words, blaming you for everything that’s wrong with his life and your marriage.

In that moment it’s important for you to stay in CORE strength and really see what’s happening so that you can find some compassion for him. How? Remember, he is unable to express himself in a good way, so his typical way is to shut down and be silent. When that doesn’t work, he explodes and vomits out his ugly feelings. Yes, that is hurtful, but it’s clear that he doesn’t know how to handle his emotions any better than he is doing.

If he explodes, then you can compassionately say, “I see you are very upset and hurt or angry and I’m glad you are ready to tell me what’s bothering you but the way you’re talking right now is destructive and I can’t listen to you when you are attacking me. I’m going to give you some time to calm down and figure out how to tell me what’s wrong in a more constructive way.” Then walk away. Again, you are inviting him to mature, to grow, to learn how to express himself, but in healthier ways in order to actually resolve the issue and not just allow him to attack you.

In the end, sadly, nothing may change with him, but if you don’t get drawn into the destructive pattern, a lot can change with you.

Tough Questions: Do I Have The Right to Cut Off Sex

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

Question: I often see you suggesting withholding sex as a consequence for a spouse’s abusive behavior as a way to perhaps invite them to change.

However, I keep seeing this action described as abusive itself in literature I’ve been reading and so I’m confused.  Is withholding a legitimate option for a consequence in a marital relationship?

Answer: Actually I don’t suggest withholding sex merely as a consequence for an abusive spouse’s behavior or as a way to invite change any more than I would suggest the silent treatment for a spouse that is verbally abusive as a means to invite him or her to stop.

Talk and touch are both important in marriage and the primary way a couple builds intimacy. However, when the talk or touch is consistently ugly and cruel, sexual touch is usually the last thing a woman desires.

I think the literature that you are referencing is not talking about abusive relationships but rather ordinary marital spats where a woman may use withholding sex in order to have power over her husband so she can get what she wants. That is abusive and a misuse of the sexual relationship that God intended.

However, what I do talk about is that when your husband repeatedly abuses you, doesn’t stop and doesn’t care how it impacts you, having a healthy sexual relationship is impossible.

When a woman allows herself to be treated as a sex object, whether she is married or not, she will feel sicker and sicker. Why? Because God never intended human beings to have sex without the safety and security of a loving, committed relationship – marriage. When there is a legal marriage but a consistent lack of commitment, security, and safety, the sexual relationship also suffers

In addition, this blog has shared horrific stories of sexual abuse where a woman’s voice or choice regarding sexual activity within marriage has been silenced by her own husband. The very person God put in place to love and protect her treats her as an object to use rather than a person to love.

What’s is a Christian wife to do when she faces that reality?

Much of her choice will depend on how being a treated this way affects her. For example, if continuing to have an active sex life with your husband isn’t hurting you and you both can enjoy it despite the overall picture of your marriage, then that is your choice.

However, what I do have a problem with is when church leaders, pastors or counselors tell a woman she MUST provide sex to her spouse regardless of how he treats her.  What that message says to her is that God values a man’s sexual needs more than a woman’s need for protection and safety within the marital bond. And that theology is just not true. That too is a misuse of the sexual relationship as God intended.

Therefore, what is a wife’s Biblical responsibility to her spouse in this kind of situation? Is she to prop up the broken marriage, silence her own repulsion and pretend that all is well, deadening her soul and body to what’s happening at home? Or, does that approach enable her husband to continue to be self-deceived believing he can act selfishly and sinfully towards her with no relational fallout?

God’s word clearly tells us that we should not retaliate when we are sinned against, but that does not mean we should be passive. Instead, we are to overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21). What does that look like in your marriage?

First, we know it is good for you to forgive your husband and deal with your own anger and bitterness towards him for abusing you. However, as I have said numerous times, forgiveness does not guarantee reconciliation of the relationship especially when there has been no repentance.

We also know it is good for you to love your husband, as God calls us to love even our enemies. But what does biblical love look like for an abusive husband? Biblical love isn’t necessarily feelings of affection, warmth, or sexual attraction, but actions that are directed toward our husband’s good or long-term best interests.

So let me ask you a question. Is it in your husband’s good and long-term best interests for you to continue to be available to him so that his sexual needs are met regardless of what it costs you or how he treats you? If your answer is yes, then keep in mind this still does not address your marital problem, it is only a solution to his sexual frustration.

Your Biblical role as a wife is to be your husband’s helpmate. As his partner, you can love him best by helping him become the man God designed him to beAs his wife, you are not a second-class citizen with no power or no say. That kind of wife was biblically called a concubine wife and clearly not God’s intent for marriage.

In marriages where there is repeated abuse, it is always in your husband’s best interest for him to repent of his selfishness, pride, and to submit to God (James 4:7). It would also be in his best interest and in the best interests of your marriage for him to learn to control his tongue (James 1:19James 3:10-12) and become more thoughtful and considerate of your feelings (Philippians 2:3-4).

When pastors or other people helpers tell a woman that no matter how her husband treats her God says she must have sex with him, what they are saying is that God cares more about the fact that her husband is sexually hungry than the fact that her husband is hurting her and their marriage relationship. And, that’s not biblical.

You don’t invite change by cutting sex off but by having the courage to have an honest talk with your husband. You might want to say something like: 

“No, I can’t have sex with you in a godly way because of the way you treat me. I can’t feel affectionate toward you when I feel afraid. When you curse at me, scream at me, and call me horrible names it breaks my heart. I am God’s image bearer, not an object be used for sex and then discarded when you’re finished. With God’s help, I choose to forgive you but I can’t reconcile with you in a loving relationship until you begin to see the damage you’re doing to me and to our marriage and change.”

Your words of truth spoken in love and humility are a potent medicine that could wake your spouse up to the fact that he can’t expect the perks of a good marriage without changing his ways and be putting in work. The Bible is full of examples of God’s law of consequences. What you sow, you reap (Galatians 6:7). If your husband wants a good marriage and not just a concubine, he will need to stop sowing thorns and thistles into your heart.

By following God’s word and working to overcome evil with good, you are empowered to take constructive action that may lead to the restoration of your marriage. That would be good for him, good for you and good for your marriage.

And if he doesn’t want a good marriage but just a body in bed, then you’ll have to decide what that means to you. But for many women, it is way too painful to be reduced to simply an object to meet his sexual needs.

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5 Things to Remember when Someone Keeps Letting You Down

SOURCE:  Wendy Redden/Lifehack Magazine

If you have ever experienced disappointment from another person, here are 5 things to remember when someone keeps letting you down. It could be a friend, a parent, a son or daughter. It could even be your significant other or a co-worker.

It is often hard to not harbor sadness, anger or resentment when someone keeps saying they will do one thing and then does another. The situation could be someone that you just cannot count on for any help or requests you may need.

It is not easy when dealing with someone that is unreliable, or someone that could possibly be over committing themselves. Here are 5 things to remember when someone keeps letting you down so that you can protect yourself from further harm and also maintain your peace.

1. Avoid Assumptions

You might have someone in your life who often says they want to do certain things with you and you invite them, but then at the last minute they cancel or do not show up at all. It is easy to go into a flutter of thoughts as to why that person did what they did. It is also really easy to take it personally and believe they didn’t show up to intentionally hurt you. The truth is we will never fully know what is going on with someone else’s thoughts or motives. That person could be one that doesn’t like to say no to anyone but in reality they do more damage because the ultimately become an unintentional liar.

That person could be a people pleaser and they want to make everyone happy but they cannot so they end up being out of integrity. When we avoid assumptions it’s easier to stop ourselves from forming resentment and anger at the person or situation. We don’t know the truth as to what the other person is truly experiencing. In my past when I was going through some pretty serious personal issues, I became so wrapped up in my own life, I was not very reliable to my friends and family. Once I became more aware of that fact myself, I was able to reset my priorities and not over commit myself to others.

2. Accept the Other Person for Where They Are

Once we accept that someone is not consistent in their words or actions and we realize that a sporadic relationship exists, we learn to take it for what it is. We can’t control others or somehow force them to be in integrity, even though the thought of that new reality would be nice. We also can’t expect them to all of a sudden change or believe that the next time will be any different from the last disappointment. Once we accept the other person for where they are in life, it’s easier as the broken promises and inconsistent behavior we do not take personally any longer.

If we also have no expectation of future outcomes, it is so much easier to accept the disappointment. The broken promises will still end up hurting our feelings, but we have the choice whether to allow them to hurt us or allow them to turn into bitterness and negative feelings. Once we stop taking things personally, we can still maintain our peace even when others disappoint us.

3. Let Them Know How You Feel

It is never easy to talk about serious things. I was a severe conflict avoider in my past because I did not want to hurt other people’s feelings. I would rarely talk about what bothered me which caused me to live a very unhappy and chaotic life for a while. Now I welcome others to come to me with the hard topics because that means the other person desires conflict resolution and really wants their feelings to be made known. My best friends are those I can trust to come to me with issues so we can quickly resolve conflict if we have an issue.

I now reach out and share my hurts with people I care about. I want the relationship to become better if possible so I am willing to talk about the hard issues. If we do not tell someone that what they are doing hurts our feelings, how would they know? It is our responsibility to confront the issue without anger or emotion involved so that the other person is aware of our feelings. We need to let them know that we feel unimportant when they say they will commit to something but never actually show up or follow through.

4. Stop the Bleeding

Once you have shared your feelings with the other person and let them know their actions are hurting you, and nothing changes – it’s time to stop the bleeding. Why would we keep allowing more let downs and disappointments to occur when we have made our feelings known? If you still want to maintain the relationship, it is time to set boundaries. If you truly care about the person, you can let them know you are no longer extending invitations. If they would like to maintain a relationship with you – it is now their responsibility to make the effort.

That way you can still be involved in their lives but you can choose whether to accept their invitation or not. If the new situation does work for all that are involved then a compromise or solution has been made and we can maintain our peace. We are still able to continue the relationship even though the dynamic has changed a little. If the person never contacts you again after boundaries were set or feelings were made known, at least you know it was a forced relationship and one that needed to end.

5. Move On

If you have made your feelings known and nothing has changed, then it is time to move on. If the relationship is unsafe or abusive, it is definitely time to end it. Regardless of who the person is (it could be a loved one or close family member), it is never alright to stay in a relationship that causes you emotional or physical harm. Sometimes, we need to compromise to maintain a relationship with a family member and sometimes we need to stop seeing someone altogether because there is too much hurt surrounding that relationship.

Ultimately, we can somewhat control how we allow others to treat us by setting firm boundaries and knowing when to move on. If there are a few relationships in your life that are strained or causing you emotional turmoil, it’s time to evaluate them. Then you can decide what you are willing to accept in those relationships. What we allow in any relationship is what will continue. Life is short and it is exhausting to try and maintain a forced relationship that is not mutually beneficial.

Surround yourself with people that encourage, lift up and support you in all that you do. Real friends will bring up the hard issues and will work together to resolve conflict with you quickly so that you can maintain a lasting and authentic relationship with them.

How to Help Your Young Adult Build Their Own Life

SOURCE:  Taken from an article by Carey Casey/Charisma Magazine

You know that fatherhood doesn’t end when a child turns 20, right?

We recently heard from a distraught mom. She and her husband have a son in college who lives at home, and he basically takes the approach that since he’s an “adult” now, he can pretty much do what he wants. And he isn’t doing much, which makes things very tense.

This son is lazy and sloppy and doesn’t show any respect when his dad asks him to help out around the house. Mom and Dad don’t want to upset him or make things worse, so they pretty much put up with it. This mom says she cleans up after her son because she wants her home to be orderly for the rest of the family.

These are such difficult situations because all parents want their children to be happy. But sometimes doing what’s best for them will cause some discomfort and unhappiness, at least for a while. But bottom line, parents can’t let their adult children wreck their households. When they are irresponsible and living at home, it puts strain on everyone. They should not be allowed to act like children when they need to be transitioning to adulthood. If a child in his 20s isn’t forced to take on more responsibility for his own life, there’s no motivation for him to become an independent, self-reliant adult who can handle the “real world.”

If he’s disrespecting his parents along with it, there definitely needs to be a change. He needs some motivation to step up and take on responsibility.

How does that look, exactly? Well, let me warn you: The ideas I have might sound a lot like “tough love,” which can leave a child angry and upset for a time. In some scenarios, he may leave and say he never wants to see you again, and you might not hear from him for weeks. But chances are good that eventually he’ll come around, and maybe even thank you for giving him the “kick” he needed to get going.

Think about birds teaching their young to fly. Often they nudge them out of the nest. And in some cases, that’s how it is with young adult kids.

So how can parents handle this?

One suggestion is to draw up an agreement with your young-adult child in writing. The details depend on the specifics of the situation, but a good general rule comes from the authors of the Love and Logic books. It’s called the “good neighbor policy.”

If a friendly neighbor needed a place to stay for a while, you’d probably help him out. But if he wanted to stay longer, you would likely draw up an agreement. He’d need to obey your house rules and pay something for room and board—on time, each month. Of course, if he didn’t like the rent amount or the rules, he’d be free to find another situation.

If necessary, you would take action to move him out of your home.

That might sound cruel. Maybe you could never imagine doing that to your own child. But that might be exactly what he needs to get his life on track.

Let me quickly add, while pushing, it’s important to communicate in several different ways, “We love you, and we want you to learn to be responsible, independent and content.” That could include encouraging words, regular invitations for home-cooked meals back home and financial help related to the transition itself. For example, you may want to help cover the security deposit on an apartment lease. Or something like a gift certificate to a men’s clothing store for your son to pick out a new interview suit.

Also, understand that even a bird doesn’t do this until the young one is ready. So, not all situations call for the same approach.

But if you’re in this situation, get with your wife and do some research, maybe talk with other parents, and figure out an approach you both believe in. You need to be on the same page and not let any issues with your child come between the two of you.

Explaining Your Convictions About Homosexuality

SOURCE:  Adam Barr and Ron Citlau/Family Life

In the next year you can bet at least one of these things will happen in your life:

  • A family member will come out of the closet and expect you to be okay with it. If you are not, family members may call you unloving and judgmental.
  • You’ll be invited to a cousin’s “wedding” . . . to someone of the same gender.
  • You’ll show up for one of your kid’s soccer games and discover that the woman who comes to every game with little Billy’s mom is not his aunt.
  • You will encounter someone who says the gospel cannot bring healing to our sexual identity or orientation.
  • You’ll have a conversation with your college-age child and learn she thinks your view on homosexuality is bigoted, a twenty-first-century version of 1960s racism.
  • You will read about a nationally recognized church leader endorsing the idea of same-sex marriage.

Are you ready to answer the tough questions your friends are asking you about your beliefs? Are you ready to reply to the wedding invitation from your gay cousin? Are you ready to deal with your daughter’s new friend and her two mommies, and the invitation for a sleepover? Are you ready to show someone that you can really, truly love people and still believe that sin is sin?

Are you ready, or are you panicking?

Chances are you would answer in the affirmative if someone asked you, “Is homosexual behavior a sin?” But consider three follow-up questions:

First, why do you believe this? Is it simply because “that’s how I was raised”? Is it because you find “those people” kind of “gross” and “weird”? Reality check: If our convictions are that shallow, then how can we respond with Christ-like compassion to people Jesus died to save? How will you be a real witness to the gospel? How will your faith survive when one of “those people” turns out to be someone you know and love? People gripped by the gospel are able to reach out toanyone in a way that balances truth and love.

Second, have you taken time to really explore what the Bible teaches about sexuality? You might (correctly) believe that Scripture says homosexual activity is a sin, but are you prepared to help someone else see that? Are you ready to defend your beliefs when someone persuasively argues that the Bible does not really condemn loving, committed same-sex relationships? Simply responding, “It’s what I’ve always believed” will not help you be a faithful witness. It will not help you when smart people ask hard questions.

Third, if your convictions on this issue are not well founded on rock-solid truth, do you really think they will stand the test of a hard storm? Jesus said that someone who hears His Word and obeys it is like a person who has built his house on a solid rock. The rain comes, the wind rages, but the house stands. If our stated convictions are not undergirded by solid foundations, they can be quickly swept aside. On this issue, Christians who faithfully speak the truth will increasingly stand in the minority. In the last decade alone, our culture has experienced a revolution of thought when it comes to homosexuality. The pressure to conform will be intense.

Are you ready?

Or are you panicking?

Here are a couple common questions we hear from Christians about talking with others about their convictions on this issue. Something important to remember as you read through these: Real-life people stand behind each of these questions. Relationships. Personal stories. Each of these questions and answers needs to be worked out in a Spirit-led context of relationship.

Question: How can I have a meaningful conversation about this issue without getting into an argument? How can I turn an argument into a meaningful conversation?

Paul was no stranger to difficult conversations. Sometimes, they ended with incredible conversions. Sometimes, they ended with his being stoned. His words to the Colossian church are relevant:

[P]ray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison—that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak. Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. (Colossians 4:2-6)

Here are five simple applications we can draw from this passage:

1. Have the right mindset: If you enter a conversation with a win-lose mentality, you’ve lost already. Our goal is not to win a debate, but to open a door. Creative questions are one of the best ways to do that. “What do you believe? What has led you to care so much about this issue?”

2. Speak your convictions clearly: We’re convinced God has revealed truth in His Word. In some ways, that removes the pressure—this isn’t just our private hobbyhorse. It is what the Bible, God’s Word, teaches.

3. Pay attention to the conversational context: Paul said we should “walk in wisdom.” Wisdom is applied righteousness—knowing the right steps in the real world.

  • Don’t “yell in the library”: Are you at work, in a Bible study, on the street? These factors will determine just how the conversation proceeds.
  • Discern whom you are speaking to: Is he gay? Does she have an ideological ax to grind? Has he just learned his daughter is lesbian?
  • Control the thermostat: What is their emotional temperature (1 = calm; 10 = screaming mad)? If it starts to get hot, acknowledge it and take a step back. What is your emotional temperature? Your conversation should be “gracious, seasoned with salt.”

4. Don’t expect agreement every time: In this passage, Paul basically asks God for the chance to say again, with clarity, what got him imprisoned in the first place! This isn’t a popularity contest.

5. Pray. Pray. Pray: Enough said. Just pray. A lot.

Question: My neighbors are a lesbian couple. We occasionally converse and have a cordial relationship. I’ve never out-and-out told them that I think their lifestyle is sinful. Am I just being a coward? Or is it okay not to mention this and just try to be a good neighbor to them?

1. Be a good neighbor! Build relationship. Be friendly, invite them to your home, go to their house, live some life with them. Don’t be overly concerned with being the moral police. Let your Christian witness shine through your actions. This isn’t being cowardly, it is just simple kindness. From my point of view, you can be more direct and honest the better friends you become.

2. But don’t be afraid of speaking the truth. Seek opportunities to share the gospel of Jesus. The best way to do this is by sharing what Jesus has done for you. Don’t make it academic; make it personal. This vulnerability is a nonthreatening way to share the good news of Jesus. And when the time is right, don’t be afraid to invite them to church.

3. If things get heated, remind them that friends can disagree. It is so silly that we have to walk on eggshells with those we don’t agree with. If it is a real friendship, then there will be several areas of disagreement. This is okay. What is needed are respect, a listening ear, and a bit of humility.

4. Become very aware of what God is doing in the life of this couple. A good prayer to pray is this: Lord, use me for what you want to do. Do you want me to serve them? Share biblical truth? And then, as you are with them, seek to discern why God has you in a relationship with them. And as God opens doors, walk through them!

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Adapted from Compassion Without Compromise, Copyright © 2014 by Adam T. Barr and Ron Citlau, Bethany House Publishers, a division of Baker Publishing Group. 

When Your Spouse Lets You Down

SOURCE:  Dr. Dave Currie with Glen Hoos/Family Life Ministry

Seven steps to letting go of hurt and disappointment.

“Forgive and forget.” It’s a well-worn cliché—one that is easier to say than to practice.

If you’re married, you’ve been there. Your spouse has said or done something that has wounded you. It may be something small, or it may be a major betrayal. Either way, your pride screams at you to take revenge. If you don’t strike back immediately, you at least want to keep this “guilt card” in your pocket, to be pulled out at a later date: “Oh yeah, well what about the time when you …”

When we’ve been offended, the last thing we want to do is to let it go. And yet, if our desire is to have a healthy, lasting marriage, that is exactly what we’ve got to do. Here are seven suggestions to keep in mind when your spouse lets you down:

1. Agree on a time to talk. If you need to talk to your spouse about something, don’t just corner him or her and launch in unexpectedly. That is a recipe for hostility. Instead, agree together on a time to discuss the issue. That gives each of you a chance to think about it in advance, which will result in a more productive discussion.

2. Handle negative emotions responsibly. When we react emotionally, we often say and do things that we later regret. In many cases, it is best to delay the discussion until you’ve settled down, gained a proper perspective, and prayed about your attitude. This will allow you to go into it looking for a solution, rather than just being consumed with your own hurt.

As partners, you need to respect each other’s need to “take five.” If your spouse needs to wait a few minutes, or even a day or two, to cool down, don’t press the issue. This should not be used as an excuse to avoid the discussion entirely, but it is better to take some time to clear your head than to allow your emotions to take you somewhere that you don’t want to go.

3. Deal with one issue at a time. Remember that “guilt card” we mentioned earlier? Once you’re into the discussion, you will be tempted to pull it out. Soon, your conversation has deteriorated into a long list of offenses, as you try to outdo one another with everything that the other person has ever done wrong. This only intensifies the conflict and deepens the divide between you. It can also be overwhelming to be presented with a massive list of things that need to change. Instead of being motivating, it’s discouraging.

Instead, be content to solve one problem at a time. It is much better to make serious headway in one area of your relationship than to simply rehearse everything that needs fixing.

4. Be clear about your perspective. Give each other some uninterrupted time to share your concerns. If you are just trading barbs back and forth, neither of you will really be hearing the other—you’ll be too busy thinking about your next comeback.

When it is your time to talk, try to help your mate understand your hurt or frustration. Help them to see why their actions and words had the impact that they did. Likewise, the offending spouse should have the opportunity to explain their words or behavior. It could be that you have misinterpreted their motives, and when this is cleared up it goes a long way toward solving the problem.

5. Hold your relationship more dear than this issue. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our feelings or our “rights” that we lose sight of the bigger picture. People joke about marriages breaking up over toothpaste and toilet paper disputes, but it really happens! Remember that your relationship is the primary concern. You may have some issues to sort out, but you still love one another—and loving one another often means letting the other person be right.

6. Walk in an attitude of forgiveness. If you are going to live with this person for the next 20 … 30 … 50 years, you are going to have to forgive one another many times. You cannot afford not to forgive. Unforgiveness not only hurts your spouse, it also hurts you! As Corrie ten Boom said, “Forgiveness is setting the prisoner free, only to find out that the prisoner was me.”

This brings us back to the issue of forgiving and forgetting. In truth, there are some hurts that you will never be able to forget. What is more important is that we choose to let it go. Proverbs 17:9 says, “He who conceals a transgression seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates intimate friends.” Forgiveness entails giving up your right to punish your spouse—whether through direct retaliation or just letting bitterness fester.

Over the past year, I have discovered the value of “advance forgiveness.” I make a conscious decision that, the next time my wife, Donalyn, offends me, I am going to forgive her. Then, when it happens, I remember that I have already decided to forgive her, so there is no point in making a big deal out of it now. This really helps to take my critical edge off.

7. Forgive as Christ forgave you. Colossians 3:13 says, “[Bear] one another, and [forgive] each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.”

And just how does the Lord forgive us? Fully. Unconditionally. Willingly. Time and time again.

This kind of forgiveness is supernatural; it is more than we can do on our own. Particularly if your spouse has betrayed you in a major way, you may need to ask God for the ability to let go of the hurt and forgive them from your heart. But as you trust God to give you His strength and love, He will help you to forgive … even when your spouse has really let you down.

If you have never experienced God’s complete, unconditional forgiveness, know this: God loves you deeply. There is no sin that is so great that He is unwilling to forgive you, if you would just come to Him. If this is the desire of your heart, pray this prayer:

Dear God, I need You in my marriage, and in my life. I acknowledge that I have sinned against You by directing my own life, and that I cannot go on any further without Your help and guidance—and above all, Your forgiveness. I thank You for sending Your Son, Jesus, to die on the cross to pay for my sins. I now accept that sacrifice and invite Jesus to take His place on the throne of my life. Fill me with Your Holy Spirit and empower me to live the life You have called me to. Thank You for forgiving me. Amen.

Q&A: Stop Accepting “Non-Apology” Apologies

SOURCE:   Taken from an article by Leslie Vernick

QUESTION:  My husband has had two affairs, he throws things when he’s angry, abandons me for days at a time after an argument and now has just completely detached himself from our family. He also lies about his whereabouts. I want to be the wife God has called me to but I can’t continue this way. My husband always says he is sorry and will change but these behaviors continue to resurface. Please help.

ANSWER: I think the first question you must settle is what kind of wife do you think God wants you to be for your husband? Is it a wife that allows herself to be abused, abandoned, lied to, and cheated on with no consequences?

You say I can’t continue this way. I don’t blame you. No one would want to be married this way. But I think your dilemma is that although you can, with God’s help, be the wife that God wants you to be, that doesn’t guarantee that your husband will become the husband God wants him to be or that you want him to be.

But the question remains, what kind of wife do you think God wants you to be here?

Do you think he wants you to be passive and continue to live with a man who lies to you, cheats on you, leaves you and scares you when he’s angry? Or, might God be calling you to love your husband in such a courageous way that you boldly confront his sinfulness, refuse to accept his excuses, and if he wants to remain married to you, require him to show that he’s repentant and truly wants to change. His words are meaningless. He repeatedly lies. If he wants to be married, it’s time that he take specific and consistent actions steps that demonstrate that he’s serious and willing to work hard to change.

What might that look like?

For starters he needs to get some accountability partners that will help him stay honest, engaged, and sexually faithful. He needs a plan to help him learn how to manage his emotions when he’s angry or hurt so he doesn’t get destructive, deceitful, or disengage for long periods of time. Obviously he hasn’t been able to change these habits by himself so he will need to get professional or competent pastoral help to learn how to deal with his emotions and understand why he does the things he does. These changes do not happen quickly or painlessly, but with God’s help, are possible for the person who is committed and teachable.

I think you fear that if you hold your husband to these necessary changes and he refuses, then what? I’m going to tell you the unvarnished truth. Your relationship is broken. You may stay legally married, you may even still live together but you cannot have a good marriage if your husband will not change.

Hear me. You can make a bad marriage better all by yourself (by not retaliating or repaying evil for evil), but you cannot make a bad marriage a good marriage all by yourself no matter how good a wife you are. 

We only have to read through the book of Jeremiah to see how God longed for Israel to repent, to come to her senses and change, but she would not. God loved Israel, but He could not and would not have a close and intimate relationship with her until she was willing to change her sinful, adulterous, deceitful ways.

God knows what you’re going through. Let him empower you to be the wife he wants you to be and the wife your husband most desperately needs, which might be totally different than you think. You don’t have to live this way anymore.

Scripture Support For Separation From A Destructive Spouse

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

The Scripture that most people use to discuss grounds for Biblical separation is 1 Corinthians 7:10 where Paul writes, “To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord), the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife.”

Separation between a husband and wife should not be done for trivial reasons. It is a grave decision, but when necessary, there is biblical support.

When one spouse biblically separates from his/her spouse it is usually for one or two primary reasons:

1.  Separation as a consequence of serious unrepentant and/or repetitive sin: The spouse who chooses to separate does so for the purpose of waking her unrepentant destructive spouse up to the destructiveness of his ways. In most cases (with the exception of physical/sexual abuse or adultery) she has already had numerous conversations about his actions and attitudes that she find destructive and hurtful, with little change to their relationship. The destructive pattern continues. Separation is the only consequence she knows that has the power to jolt her spouse awake with the message that “I will not pretend that we can have a good, safe, or healthy marriage when you continue to ___________ .”

Where there is physical/sexual abuse or adultery, separation may be the first and immediate consequence in order to send a clear message to the offending spouse that his behavior is completely unacceptable and damaging to their marriage. In cases of physical/sexual abuse, in addition to separation, legal consequences should be implemented.

Biblical justification for implementing separation as a consequence.

Below are some examples from Scripture that supports the necessity of confronting serious sin (rather than forbearing) as well as implementing consequences.

1 Corinthians 5:9 “I wrote you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people – not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindles, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler – not even to each with such a one…..Purge the evil person from among you.”

James 5:19  “If anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins. (is a wife to be an enabler of sin or a champion of truth and righteousness?”

Proverbs 1:30,31  They rejected my advice and paid no attention when I corrected them. Therefore, they must eat the bitter fruit of living their own way, choking on their own schemes.

Proverbs 6:26,27  For a prostitute will bring you to poverty, but sleeping with another man’s wife will cost you your life. Can a man scoop a flame into his lap and not have his clothes catch on fire? Can he walk on hot coals and not blister his feet?

Proverbs 18:21  “The tongue can bring death or life; those who love to talk will reap the consequences.”

Proverbs 19:3 “People ruin their lives by their own foolishness and then are angry at the Lord.”

Proverbs 19:19 “A man of great wrath will suffer punishment; for if you rescue him, you will have to do it again.” Consequences are the best teacher

Proverbs 20:4 “Those too lazy to plow in the right season will have no food at the harvest.” (You can’t expect the blessings of a good marriage if you’ve been too lazy to do the work of maintenance and repair).

Proverbs 29:1 “He who is often reproved, yet stiffens his neck, will suddenly be broken beyond healing.”

Jeremiah 4:18  “Your own conduct and actions have brought this upon you. This is your punishment. How bitter it is. How it pierces to the heart.”

Galatians 6:7  “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.”

Ephesians 5:11 “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.”

Colossians 3:25  “But if you do what is wrong, you will be paid back for the wrong you have done. For God has no favorites.”

2.  Safety and Sanity as a reason for separation: The second reason a spouse may decide separation is necessary because to continue living in the home with her destructive spouse is unsafe and taking a serious toll on her (and/or her children’s) physical, emotional, mental, financial, relational, and spiritual health.

God values the sanctity of marriage but not more than the safety and sanity of the individuals in it.

Below are some examples from Scripture that support safety and sanity goals in the body of Christ and in relationship with one another.

Safety:

1 Samuel 18-31 For example, in spite of God’s general instructions to submit to the laws of the land and to higher authorities, when David feared for his life because of King Saul’s jealous rages, God didn’t instruct David to “submit to the King and trust me to take care of you.” Instead, David fled, always respecting the position of King Saul, but not allowing himself to be abused by him.

Matthew 2:13-15 When Jesus was born and King Herod sought to exterminate all the Jewish babies two years old and younger, God told Joseph in a dream to flee to Egypt until it was safe to return.

Hebrews 11:31 When Rehab hid the Jewish spies, she lied to keep them safe and God commended her.

Luke 14:5 Jesus himself valued safety and said even the well-being of an ox was a higher value to God than legalistically keeping the Sabbath by not working.

Proverbs 27:12 teaches us, “The prudent see danger and take refuge.”

Safety is an important component of trust, especially in marriage. There can be no freedom or honest communication if someone feels afraid or is threatened, either physically and/or emotionally, or has a price to pay whenever they honestly share their thoughts and feelings.

Women (and sometimes men) fear taking measures to protect themselves because they’ve been taught it’s unbiblical or ungodly. They suffer endlessly with verbal battering, even physical abuse, believing that by doing so, they’re being godly martyrs.  Keeping the family together at all costs is seen as God’s highest value.

Psalm 12:6  “I will place him in the safety for which he longs.”

Psalm 120:1,2  “I took my troubles to the Lord; I cried out to him, and he answered my prayer. Rescue me, O Lord, from liars and from all deceitful people.”

Jeremiah 9:8  “Their tongue is a deadly arrow; it speaks deceitfully; with his mouth each speaks peace to his neighbor but in his heart he plans an ambush for him.”

Sanity:

The scriptures are clear. People influence and impact us, both for good and for evil. When we live with an abusive, destructive, manipulative, deceitful person, it definitely takes its toll on our mental, spiritual, emotional, physical and spiritual health. Often separation is not only good, it’s necessary for one’s emotional, physical and spiritual health.

Proverbs 2:12  “Wisdom will save you from evil people, from those whose words are twisted. These men turn from the right way to walk down dark paths, they take pleasure in doing wrong, and they enjoy the twisted ways of evil. Their actions are crooked and their ways are wrong.”

Proverbs 3:5,6,7  “Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and turn away from evil. It will be healing for your flesh and refreshment to your bones.”

Proverbs 4:14,15  “Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not walk in the way of the evil. Avoid it, do not go on it, turn away from it and pass on it.”

Proverbs 4:23  “Keep your heart with all vigilance for from it flow the springs of life.”

Proverbs 12:4  “A worthy wife is a crown for her husband, but a disgraceful woman is like cancer in his bones.” (The same health consequences would be applicable to a wife’s bones when her husband is disgraceful).

Proverbs 12:5  “The plans of the godly are just; the advice of the wicked is treacherous.” (So how is a wife to submit to treacherous advice without serious harm to herself and her children?)

Proverbs 14:7  “Go from the presence of a foolish man, when you do not perceive in him the lips of knowledge.”

Proverbs 14:11 “The house of the wicked will be destroyed…”

Proverbs 16: 27-29  “A worthless man plots evil, and his speech is like a scorching fire. A dishonest man spreads strife, and a whisperer separates close friends. A man of violence entices his neighbor and leads him in a way that is not good.”

Proverbs 22:10 “Drive out a scoffer and strife will go out and quarreling and abuse will cease.”

Proverbs 22:24-25  “Make no friendship with a man given to anger, nor go with a wrathful man”

Proverbs 29:9  “If a wise man contends with a foolish man, whether the fool rages or laughs, there is no peace.”

Psalm 1:1  “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers.”

Psalm 26:4,5 “I do not sit with men of falsehood nor do I consort with hypocrites. I hate the assembly of evildoers and I will not sit with the wicked.”

Psalm 51:6 “Behold you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.”

Psalm 120: 6,7  “My soul has dwelt too long with one who hates peace. I am for peace; but when I speak, they are for war.”

Psalm 123:3,4  “Our soul is exceedingly filled with the scorn of those who are at ease with the contempt of the proud.”

Romans 16:13  Watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naïve.

1 Corinthians 15:33  “Do not be deceived: Bad company ruins good morals.”

2 Thessalonians 2:3  “Don’t let anyone deceive you.”

2 Peter 3:16  “…There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do other Scriptures. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability.”

2 Timothy 3:1-5  “For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self- control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.”

2 Thessalonians 3:6  “Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us.”

Titus 3:10  “As for the person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.”

When does reconciliation take place? A spouse may choose to stay separated from a destructive spouse when she sees no evidence of genuine change (in heart or in habit) despite the offender’s pleas to the contrary. John the Baptist said it best when he challenged the Pharisees “Prove by the way that you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God” (Luke 3:8).

Genesis 42-46  Joseph forgave his brothers before they ever came to Egypt seeking to buy bread. He was kind to them in meeting some of their needs for food, but he did not trust them nor did he reconcile with them until he tested their hearts to see if they had truly changed.

Proverbs 20:11 “Even children are known by the way they act, whether their conduct is pure and whether it is right.”

1 John 1:6  If we say that we have fellowship with Him and walk in darkness, we lie and do not PRACTICE the truth. (Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:22)

1 John 1:8  If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. (Talk is cheap and deceiving)

1 John 2:3  Now by this we know that we know Him. If we keep His commandments. He who says, “I know Him, and does not keep His commands, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”

Jeremiah 7:4  Do not trust in deceptive words and say…If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the alien the fatherless or the widow and do not shed….THEN I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your forefathers….But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless.

Jeremiah 9:4 “Let everyone beware of his neighbor and put no trust in any brother, for every brother is a deceiver and every neighbor goes about as a slanderer. Everyone deceives his neighbor, and no one speaks the truth; they have taught their tongue to speak lies; they weary themselves committing iniquity. Heaping oppression upon oppression, and deceit upon deceit, they refuse to know me, declares the Lord”

Jeremiah 12:6 “For even your brothers and the house of your father, even they have dealt treacherously with you; they are in full cry after you; do not believe them; though they speak friendly words to you.”

Psalm 55:19  “For my enemies refuse to change their ways, they do not fear God.”

Psalm 55:21  “His words are as smooth as butter, but in his heart is war. His words are as soothing as lotion, but underneath are daggers!”

Jeremiah 7  In numerous verse throughout this chapter we are told not to trust in deceptive words.

Accepting People As They Are

SOURCE:  Jan Johnson

Some of us have an “inner judge” who notices when others don’t do what we think they should do.

Maybe they’re not doing their “fair share” or not following through as promised or they’re promoting political policies that we dislike. What do we do with that “inner judge”? I’m on a learning curve of accepting people as they are. (I’m mindful that your journey might be different – that of speaking up – but I think this will still make sense!)

Here’s what my progress has looked like so far: I’m part of a group that highly values accepting others as they are, but I’ve noticed that group members aren’t very welcoming toward a certain person in the group who might be described as “socially disabled.”

  • Long ago: I would have quit the group in disgust.
  • A few years ago: I would have thought I wasn’t condemning them, but would have found myself judging each of the group members’ missteps.
  • Recently: I accept the group members as they are and am befriending the socially disabled person myself.

Before I continue, let me assure you that accepting people as they are does not mean that we agree with them, approve of their behavior, allow ourselves to be walked on, or pretend that their behavior is what is best for all. We still take appropriate actions to protect ourselves or others.  In other words, we still maintain healthy boundaries.

Here’s what I’m learning.

  • Talking to people about their disturbing behavior or opinion doesn’t always work. No matter how skilled or respectfully I communicate, they may not “hear” me. In fact, my experience is that “talking it out” is overrated. The other person typically walks away feeling they were attacked. For such as conversation to work, we both have to have open, receptive hearts.
  • Even if the conversation seems to go well, I need to keep my expectations in check. Why? Because expectations are the early stages of resentment. The longer expectations take root, the deeper the resentment can go.
  • Sometimes I have been appalled that a Christian leader does certain things. I need to get over it and be realistic. This is who they are at this moment (and this may not be their best moment). I may not like their behavior; I may even feel sad or angry about it, but at a deeper level, I need to be at peace within myself. Their behavior is their decision, not mine.
  • Accepting people as they are keeps me from tipping into self-righteousness, irritation, fault-finding, and badgering. These are not attitudes and actions I want to encourage in myself.

I’m learning to create space for God’s glory to happen: “So accept each other just as Christ has accepted you; then God will be glorified” (Rom 15:7 New Living Translation).When God is glorified, God’s goodness, beauty, strength and power are made obvious. I was recently told that if we have respect for people as they are and come alongside them as equals in life, their behavior is more likely to change for the good.

And so I have remained in the group I mentioned above. God continues to use these flawed people (like me) to benefit me. Whether I benefit the others is largely dependent on my having an accepting and loving heart.

Marriage Q&A: Choosing To Live With A Very Difficult Spouse

SOURCE:  Taken from an article by Leslie Vernick

How Do I Live With A Basically Good Man Who Is A Tyrant?

QuestionMy husband is basically a good man.   He is a school teacher and the music director/organist of our Church.  He can be patient, kind, loving and always deeply spiritual.  He can also be demanding, tyrannical and irrational.

He blames everyone and anyone for any problems that arise. It is a knee-jerk reaction to even the slightest, most inconsequential of events. If one of our children falls down, his first reaction is to scream an “I told you so” at them- never is his first reaction one of concern for their well-being or safety.  He expects our older children- living away from our home with lives of their own- to always be at his beck and call.  If he wants them to do something for him, it does not matter that they have jobs, plans, etc.  He refuses to be told no.  And, everyone cow-tows to him just to keep him on an even keel and avoid the rants and literal rages that he has demonstrated.

While he is a school teacher, his passion is the piano and he is an accomplished pianist and composer- just not as revered and accomplished as he would like to be.  Whose fault is that?  His parents. His father for having a health crisis when he was younger or his mother for not knowing or doing enough to promote his career.  The children and I are also to blame because he has to work a “meaningless” job to put food on the table.

He takes no responsibility for any failure, real or imagined, in his life.  He doesn’t seem to have any concept that not everyone’s life revolves around him and that people are allowed their own lives and opinions.  He is negative in all aspects of his life- except, of course, if it relates to music.   While I could write pages about this aspect of his personality, suffice it to say that he will always see the dark cloud around the silver lining.   He is also very vocal about his negative thoughts and when he’s challenged, he plays the victim and accuses the challenger of attacking him.  It’s to the point where conversation with him is seldom initiated because we all know what his reaction will be.  Want his opinion?  Just think of the most irrational response, and go with that.

He is like a petulant two-year-old who demands his own way and nothing is ever right for him.  Even if you do something considerate to try and make life easier for him or take care of something that he hadn’t time to do, his reaction is never one of gratitude- there is always, always, always a negative reaction.  Things are still done or taken care of for him, but it’s never brought up to him and, if he does notice, it’s never mentioned.

While we all love him, he is driving a wide and very deep wedge between himself and the rest of our family.  It is very difficult to live with someone when you are walking on eggshells at all times.  I am not looking to leave him or my marriage.  I am looking for help in how to live with him and how to help my children live with him.  I do not want my children to grow up like their father.

Answer:  I feel a little confused. You say that your husband is basically a good man, patient, kind, loving and always deeply spiritual.  Then you go on for several paragraphs listing all the ways he is not patient, loving, good or spiritual.  Perhaps what you mean is that your husband can be charming and act loving when everything is going his way and everyone meets his needs and expectations in exactly the way he wants.  When that doesn’t happen, (which is real life) watch out!

Now your question, how do you live with someone like that and how do you help your children live with someone like that?  The best answer I can offer you is you can only live with this (if you choose to) with a good support system and lots of grace and truth, with no expectations of a meaningful relationship or mutual give and take.

I am reluctant to put a label on anyone but your description of your husband’s behavior is typical of someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder.  A craving for admiration, an attitude of entitlement and lack of empathy for anyone else’s needs are usually the big red flags.   You can google it and read more information on it if you want to see if it fits.

Let’s start with grace. In order to live with someone like this you will need to learn to lean hard into God’s loving grace, knowing that when your husband doesn’t treat you well or love you like you wished he did, you are still deeply loved and valued by God.  You will need God’s grace to continually forgive your husband and keep a clean slate of the wrongs he does against you so that you don’t become hardened by bitterness and resentment. Your husband will never apologize or take responsibility for the wrong’s he’s done which makes it that much harder to forgive and let things go so your strength must come from outside yourself. It can only be from God.

You will need God’s grace to biblically love your husband when you feel like screaming at him and grace to not repay evil for evil. Jesus calls us to love our enemies but we rarely have to live with our enemies day in and day out.  To live in a relatively conflict-free relationship with your husband you will need to accept that you will always be more the giver. God sees how much you give whether or not your husband notices or appreciates it.  You will need His eternal perspective on your marital loneliness and suffering because you will feel unheard, unloved and unvalued much of the time, which may tempt you to seek other male companionship.

You will need grace to not judge your husband and have contempt for him as a man or as a person, even though truth tells you his attitudes and actions are sinful.  Grace keeps us humble, reminding us that we too are sinful and have our own brokenness.  Grace keeps us mindful of the logs in our own eyes before trying to remove the speck in our spouse’s.

You will also need to stay focused on God’s truth to stay healthy emotionally, spiritually and mentally.  Your husband blames and shames everyone around him and it’s tempting to believe his harsh words.  Don’t do it. Listen to what God says about who you are and not your husband’s words.  You will need God’s truth to explain to yourself and even your children that sometimes their father acts selfishly and it’s not wrong of them to say “no” or to ask him to consider their needs, and not just think of his own (Philippians 2:4).

Truth will help you know when boundaries are important and how to set them. For example, when he begins his angry tirade you might stop talking, turn around and walk away. If he continues, leave the house.  When you return you can say something like, “I can’t listen to you when you scream at me. You would do the same if I talked to you that way”  Keep it short and simple.  Or “I don’t want to feel angry and hateful toward you so I’m leaving until you can cool down.”  Then do it.

You will also need truth to guide you when to confront your husband’s sinful behavior and how.  There may be a strategic or teachable moment where you could say something that may cause him to press pause and think about his actions and you want to look for those moments and ask God to give you an anointed tongue.

We are to speak the truth in love to one another but it’s tempting to either to placate this kind of person or eventually get sick of it and blow up, only to later feel guilty, regretting your reaction which only adds more fuel to his fire.  Wear truth as a necklace and she will teach you when the time is right to speak. Hard words need not be harsh words.

For example, when he’s inconsiderate of your needs or your schedule, you could say, “I know this is important to you, but this is important to me so I have to do this first.”  Your goal in this kind of statement is to remind him that you are a separate PERSON with your own needs, feelings and thoughts.  You are not just a slave or a robot or a “wife” but a person and even if he doesn’t value you, you are going to value yourself.

You said you don’t’ want your children growing up to be like their father.  Children do learn a lot from their parents, but their father isn’t their only influencer.  You have a huge impact on your children and the way you interact with their father will say a lot to them about not only who he is, but who you are.  If you act as if he’s right and he’s entitled to act this way, they get the picture that men (fathers, husbands) get to have their way all the time that’s “normal”.  Therefore it’s important to speak truthfully to your children about things such as, “I think sometimes your father can be self-absorbed and not realize that you have your own plans. It’s okay to remind him that you can’t always accommodate him and stick to what you need to do for yourself.”

You say your husband is deeply spiritual. Galatians 5:16-26 speaks about the person who lives in the spirit and one who lives in the flesh.  Perhaps in a moment when your husband seems open or more in tune with God, you could ask him which one he inhabits most often?  Or when he is most negative or critical say, “You don’t seem to experience God’s joy or peace very much.  Why do you think that is?”  Your words will have little impact on him but God tells us that His words are powerful and don’t return void. They have the power to cut right to the heart (Hebrews 4:12). Ask God to use His Word, even those in the lyrics of the music he plays each week at church, to cause him to see the truth about why he is so critical, so miserable and so unhappy.

Lastly, don’t forget you do need good relationships, even if it’s not in your marriage. Seek out healthy girlfriends that can encourage you, love on you, pray for you and hold you accountable to be the kind of person you want to be while living in this difficult marriage.

Marriage Q&A: How Do I Stay Distant Without Being Cold Hearted?

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick/Kim Caloca

How Do I Stay Distant Without Being Cold Hearted?

by Kim Caloca

Question:  This is a follow up question from the blog two weeks ago on Four Ways To Create Emotional Distance in a Destructive Relationship.

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She asks:  How do you detach or distance without becoming cold or hard-hearted? It seems the more I pull away, the tighter my husband tries to hold on. It is so exhausting, playing this tug of war.

Also, how do I differentiate between acts of kindness that are the shaky beginnings of real change and being fooled by token acts of kindness that are deflections from working on the real issues? My husband has also told me that I don’t ever give him the benefit of the doubt or acknowledge his changes. I try but sometimes I just don’t see it or it doesn’t seem to last. Then it’s my fault because I wouldn’t give him a break. I also really liked the “Stay Well, not bitterly” advice. Very wise and encouraging but can you give me a few more tips on how to do it?

Answer:  First I want to take the pressure off.  Not everyone can stay well and that’s why we must not dictate an identical biblical path of change that every person in a destructive marriage must walk.  As I said in last weeks’ blog, living with a destructive and angry individual can take a huge toll on you physically, mentally, emotionally, relationally and spiritually.

I’ve worked with women who could barely get out of bed due to severe autoimmune disease like fibromyalgia  and when they finally had the opportunity , support, or resources to leave their spouse, their body began to heal.

Sometimes the price is too high to stay, or it is not possible for you or your children to stay well. Your body is breaking down. Your spirit feels depressed or suicidal. You are given no freedom to be separate, to grow, or to thrive on your own.  Perhaps you’re drinking too much or popping pills just to be able to live in the same house with a destructive person. In those situations for your own safety and sanity and that of your children, you may need to consider your other healthy option  — to leave well.

For many people in destructive marriages, how much they can handle and how bad is it are not easily discerned. Therefore most people’s first choice is to try to stay well, but your question is how to do it? You also asked how do you emotionally distance yourself from your spouse without becoming hard-hearted or cold?  That is the essential component of being able to stay well.

Many women do not use their words and body language effectively to communicate clear and consistent boundaries.  They’re uncomfortable using their voice or when they’ve tried, they’re dismissed, mocked, or overruled.  Sometimes when they speak up for themselves they’re told they’re being mean, selfish, or sinful.

When this happens again and again we feel angry and it’s tempting to stop talking, shut down and become resentful and bitter.  Our heart gets cold and hard. We no longer use words, but our body language communicates loud and clear, “Don’t’ mess with me!”

The other problem a woman experiences when she doesn’t express strong negative body language is that often her husband starts to think everything is better between them.  He tries to get affectionate, expects sex, and can’t understand what’s wrong? Why have you pulled away?

Therefore if you want to stay well, AND not get stuck in bitterness and hard heartedness yet you do want to emotionally distance yourself, you will need to practice living from your CORE – so that you are:

– Committed to honesty – no pretending

– Open to the Holy Spirit and wise others to help you grow

– Responsible for yourself and your own responses and respectful towards others without dishonoring yourself

– Empathetic and compassionate (where appropriate) without enabling destructive behavior to continue.

To do that successfully you will need to continue to use your words to communicate why things aren’t better between the two of you.  You will need to use your words when you don’t’ want to engage and why you have emotionally distanced yourself.  I know – this grows tiring because he’s used to ignoring your words or discounting them. It may feel easier just to look angry and get cold and resentful.

To not do that you will need to stay focused on your CORE, no pretending, responsible for yourself, respectful towards others, and empathetic and compassionate without enabling.  Here’s an example of what you might say with your words.

“I understand you are hurt that I don’t want to have sexual relations with you right now. That would be hurtful to anyone who is married (E- Empathetic without enabling). The reason I cannot return to our bedroom is because I feel distant from you. I talk and you don’t hear me. I tell you what hurts me and what bothers me and you don’t care and you don’t stop it. I am a person too.  Why would I want to be with a man who clearly shows he doesn’t care about me?  If I say yes to you, I dishonor myself and end up feeling like an object that is used rather than a wife that is loved.” (No pretending).”

You can deliver those words in a neutral voice tone with polite body language. That is emotionally and physically distancing yourself without having to be hard hearted or cold or bitter.

When he approaches you again for something wifely, you can say something similar, “I don’t know how to meet that need of yours without pretending and lying to myself and that is something I refuse to do anymore. Nothing has changed in our relationship and I am more than willing to do my part, but I cannot do your part.” 

Boundaries and consequences will show him much more clearly what the problem is between you instead of a cold and hard heart. 

The second part of your question is how do I handle it if he shows acts of kindness? Do I believe that these are small efforts toward real change or manipulative tactics to make me back down and dance to the same old dance?

Most of the time you won’t know for sure.  I would encourage you to give your spouse the benefit of the doubt and reciprocate to the measure of their effort.  So if your spouse brings you flowers, smile and say “thank you.”  That was nice of you to think of me.

Being kind towards him or even grateful he did something wonderful doesn’t mean everything is better or that there are no more problems in your marriage, or you don’t’ have to go to counseling anymore.  It just means you acknowledge that he is making an effort  to think of you and you acknowledge or appreciate that effort.  Only time will tell whether his efforts continue, especially if he expects his beginning efforts to be nicer to make huge differences in your relationship with him.  Flowers, dinner and a movie, or cleaning the toilets are wonderful gestures but they alone don’t heal years of deceit, abuse or infidelity.

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In Chapter 11 of my book, The Emotionally Destructive Marriage, I talk more about how to stay well or leave well.  You may also want to view my short videos Why Consequences Are an Important Wake Up Call for Destructive Spouses and What to Do when There is No Change.

Q&A: Four Ways To Create Emotional Distance in a Destructive Relationship

Source:  Adapted from an article by Leslie Vernick

Four Ways To Create Emotional Distance in a Destructive Relationship

by Kim Caloca

Today’s Question:  I have fully read and been studying your book, The Emotionally Destructive Marriage.  Thank you for teaching and sharing and helping me feel that I am not alone and not “going insane.”  Thank you for putting perspective on, and giving direction to, the need to rely on God and focus on my life with Him.

While I immediately began to follow your advice and work on developing my C.O.R.E. strength – it’s a process, for sure – I see that the complex situation with my husband is also going to require me to distance myself emotionally in order to survive.  I am having trouble understanding how to do that.  How to balance acts of love and kindness with distance in the same house is confusing me desperately.  I need to get off of this emotional roller coaster and stop believing that every kind gesture he makes is a step toward healing and restoration.

I dearly love my husband, and separation is not an option for me.  He says we cannot afford it financially and he also doesn’t want anyone to know there is a problem.

Answer:  You ask the million dollar question – yes you realize that you must distance yourself emotionally from your destructive spouse but how do you do it while still being the person you want to be?  Confusing indeed. It’s a tough tightrope to walk well but here are a few guidelines:

First, from your CORE – you are going to be Committed to truth – both internally (not lying to yourself) and externally (no more pretending everything is fine when it’s not fine).  Therefore one of the first steps to emotionally distance yourself from him is to acknowledge and affirm you have a right to a self, independent of the marriage. Philippians 2:4 says “Do not merely look out for your own interests but also for the interests of others.” Note that it does not say, “do not have any of your own interests,” nor does it say you may NOT look out for your own interests.

If indeed things are that bad, then you cannot comply with his desire for no one to know what’s going on between the two of you.  It is time that you get some support and that will require telling someone.  I’m not advising that you blab to everyone, but I am saying that part of emotionally distancing yourself from a destructive person is that you don’t cater to their demands or delusions anymore.  Instead, you decide what you are going to do and how you are going to respond. Your decisions are based on truth and the person you want to be (CORE) instead of based on what your husband says or your fear of rocking the boat or losing the relationship.

The second step in distancing yourself emotionally is to accept the things you cannot change, change the things you can and be wise enough to discern the difference.  You cannot change him, but you can change you.  In the R step of building CORE strength, you will be responsible for yourself (the person you want to be or want to become).  One thing that means is you will “guard your heart, above all else, for it is the well-spring of life” (Proverbs 4:23).

You said you must stop believing that every kind gesture he makes is a step toward healing and restoration.  You’re right. His sporadic gestures of love and kindness are playing with your emotions.  When his seemingly loving actions are not accompanied by sincere remorse and repentance for the hurt he’s caused don’t allow yourself to get sucked into the fantasy that “maybe he really does love me.”  Or “Maybe now he gets it and is changing.”

My hunch is that he does these token gestures to confuse you and keep you hoping he’s changing when he has no intention to do so.  This is a very common tactic seen in prisons as well as concentration camps in order to maintain control over  prisoners.  The term Stockholm Syndrome describes an emotional attachment to an abuser.  It was named after hostages in a bank heist became emotionally attached to their captures during their confinement, because the kidnappers offered small gestures of kindness mixed in with abuse.

For you to guard your heart you will need to set boundaries on what you will listen to or engage in and what you will walk away from when your spouse is destructive. When he blames you or tries to draw you in, you will tell yourself the truth, “This is not my fault, I do not make him choose to act this way and I will NOT take responsibility for his behaviors or feelings.”  When he’s charming and brings flowers, you will need to say to yourself , “Don’t be fooled.  These token gestures of kindness are meaningless when I see no change in his heart.”

To continue to distance yourself will mean that you take responsibility for your safety and sanity. When you are feeling tense or irritable or scared you will do what you need to do to calm yourself down (like breathe deeply and leave the house) even if it upsets your spouse.  Emotionally distancing yourself means that you will no longer allow your emotions to be tightly woven around his emotions or see your role as keeping him happy or calm. You are now taking care of yourself instead of expecting or hoping or waiting for him to care for you.

You will be respectful, and sometimes compassionate and empathetic (as appropriate to his suffering outside of the suffering caused by consequences of his own destructive behavior), because that’s the person you want to be.

However, living with a destructive person day in and day out takes its toll on your emotional, mental, spiritual and physical strength even when you put on the armor of God (Ephesians 6).  You often don’t sleep well.  Constant criticism or verbal assaults infect you with poison.  It’s like entering a toxic environment with a gas mask on.  You will still have limits of how much you can take without being overcome.   So be cognizant of your limitations and when you see you are running low on internal resources, remove yourself from the environment, even if only temporarily.

Last, but not least, to emotionally distance yourself you will need to let go of your dreams, hopes, and wishes for your husband to change, grieve your losses and release your husband into God’s hands.  In the Old Testament, Abigail was a woman in an emotionally destructive marriage.  She had no expectations that Nabal would ever be different than he was – a surly and foolish man (1 Samuel 25). By accepting who he was, Abigail was freed to distance herself from him emotionally.  She did what she needed to do as his wife but she held no fantasies that he would be pleased with her, thank her, approve of her, or love her.  She did what she did because it was the person she wanted to be, not because she hoped he would repent and come to his senses or change.

You said you love your husband dearly but to emotionally detach, you have to let go of your craving for him to love you back.

Managing Emotions in the Midst of Disagreement

SOURCE:  Tim Muehlhoff/Family Life

The goal of a balanced communicator is to properly manage and express both thoughts and emotions.

Many of us believe that the worst thing we can do during a disagreement is to become emotional. Emotions are unpredictable, we think, and they’ll undermine our ability to discuss an issue objectively and dispassionately; therefore we need to suppress our emotions or ignore them while seeking to resolve a disagreement.

This view has many flaws. First it’s simply not possible.

The goal of a balanced communicator is to properly manage and express both thoughts and emotions.

When the apostle Paul encourages Christians at Ephesus to pursue Christ, he doesn’t pray merely that their intellect or rationale would be enlightened by God. Rather, he prays that the “eyes of your heart may be enlightened” (Ephesians 1:18). In Hebrew the word “heart” means all of an individual—intellect, emotions, body, and will. God wants all of our selves to be engaged in our pursuit of Him.

The same is true when we approach conflict.

To deny or push aside our emotions is to enter into a conversation only partially. The surest way to inflame another person’s emotion is to belittle or ignore it. Expressing and acknowledging emotions correctly is foundational to healthy conversation.

Second, the problem with suppressing our emotions during a charged conversation is that in the process we may also suppress our motivation to resolve the conflict.

In his massive 500-page treatise On Religious Affections, the great Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards writes that the nature of human beings is to be inactive unless somehow motivated by a powerful feeling or affection. Feelings of hatred, love, passion, hopefulness, hopelessness and anger serve as a spring of action that propel us forward to duty and others. If we mistakenly suppress our emotions, we may also short-circuit the very mechanism that launches us toward resolution. Often within difficult conversations our emotions—desire to reconcile, address an injustice, resolve conflict, share Christ’s love—provide the spring of action that keeps us in the conversation.

Third, emotions are a powerful indicator that individuals still care about each other and the relationship.

I often tell my students that the opposite of love is not hate but indifference. I don’t hate individuals I’m indifferent to or who do not matter to me. Why waste the emotional effort? My anger is more likely to arise in response to people who mean something to me—a boss, spouse, co-worker, child, or other close individual.

Last, the reason we don’t suppress or deny our emotions is that God didn’t suppress His while engaging with us. In the Scriptures we encounter a God who is unchanging, powerful, holy, and emotional.

Preparing to engage

When the time comes to engage another person in a difficult conversation, what are the steps we can take to identify and express emotions? The following are some suggestions.

Take a read of your current emotional state. We’re all susceptible to having our emotions get the better of us. Foundational to expressing emotions effectively is recognizing the feelings we’re experiencing before the conversation even starts. I say “feelings” because in most situations we experience multiple emotions.

The first step in assessing your emotional state is to give words to your feelings. The difficulty is that many of us have poor emotional vocabularies. If we are angry, we simply say, “I’m mad!”

When I counsel couples I ask them to provide at least three distinct descriptors for a single emotion. If a person tells me he or she is discouraged about the relationship, I ask him or her to provide additional words. There is a significant difference between feeling disheartened and feeling disappointed. A person can feel good about the overall relationship but still feel disappointed about one particular aspect. Conversely, a person who is disheartened may view the entire relationship as hopeless. The key is to reflect on and clarify your emotional state.

Use fractionation. This odd-sounding technique is a staple for experts at the Harvard Negotiation Project and is considered the most effective way of reducing the intensity of emotion during conflict. Fractionation is the process of breaking conflict down into smaller, more manageable portions. The idea is that the smaller the conflict, the less severe the emotion. For example, statements like, “I feel unappreciated in this relationship!” or “Our communication climate is lousy” are too broad and emotionally charged. How can these feelings be broken down into a more manageable size without trivializing them?

The key is to use the simple x-y-z formula: when you do x, in situation y, I feel z. For example, a coworker feels that you are not respecting his religion and has grown increasingly defensive. Not respecting another person’s faith tradition is a serious issue, but it is too broad to negotiate. It may be helpful to ask, “What causes you to feel disrespected?” Your coworker responds, “When you ask me about my religion, you tend to only point out what’s wrong with it. You never try to find areas of agreement. So, what’s the point of even asking me about my faith?” Putting his concerns into the x-y-z formula would read like this: When you only find faults (x) when I am describing my faith (y) it makes me feel belittled and defensive (z). While this method doesn’t suggest a resolution, it helps both parties understand the source of the emotion.

After listening to your coworker’s complaint, you might summarize the difficulty as follows: “What seems to be causing our emotions to escalate is that you view my challenges to your faith as being disrespectful, rather than how I intend them, as healthy debate.” This formula can move individuals away from emotions to what scholars call this meta-communication—communication about our communication. For example, you could ask, “Would it be helpful if I didn’t interrupt while you’re describing aspects of your faith?” “Might it be more productive to start with areas of agreement rather than areas of disagreement?” “How can we structure our conversation so it comes across as healthy debate and not an attack that evokes strong emotions?”

The difference is the Holy Spirit

While these suggestions focused on managing emotions are valuable, they contain an inherent flaw. In order to clarify and manage emotions we need to be disciplined and aware of our fluctuating emotional state. Success is determined by our emotional intelligence and skill.

The apostle Paul takes a fundamentally different approach. When calling Christians in the church at Ephesus to put away powerful emotions such as rage, bitterness, and anger and to form healthy relationships, he didn’t tell them to work harder. Rather, he encouraged them to “be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). What sets apart Christian communicators is their reliance on a spiritual power outside of them.

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Taken from I Beg to Differ by Tim Muehlhoff. Copyright © 2014 by Tim Muehlhoff. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515-1426. www.ivpress.com 

 

Listening To Hard Things

SOURCE:  Taken from The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict by Ken Sande, Updated Edition (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2003) p. 168-169.

Taking Time to be Wrong

Agreeing with others, especially when they are pointing out your faults, is not easy, but it can play a crucial role in peacemaking.

 When you are talking with another person, first listen for the truth, resisting the temptation to defend yourself, blame others, or focus on points of disagreement. Ask yourself, “Is there any truth in what he or she is saying?” If your answer is “yes,” acknowledge what is true and identify your common ground before moving to your differences. Doing so is a sign of wisdom and spiritual maturity. “Let a righteous man strike me–it is a kindness; let him rebuke me–it is oil on my head. My head will not refuse it” (Ps. 141:5). “He who listens to a life-giving rebuke will be at home among the wise” (Prov. 15:31; cf. 15:5; 17:10; 25:12).

 By agreeing with the other person whenever possible, you can resolve certain issues easily and then focus profitably on matters that deserve further discussion.

Think back to arguments you’ve had. Can you recall a single instance when quickly defending yourself from the criticism of another brought peace? In contrast to a quick defense, James exhorts us to be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (Jas. 1:19). Consider the beginning of Proverbs 15:31: “He who listens to a life-giving rebuke…” Simply put, listening requires time–and reflection on what’s been said. You have literally nothing (except pride) to lose and everything to gain by listening and not responding quickly when someone points out what they believe to be a fault of yours.

The next time someone brings a rebuke your way, restrain yourself from offering your verdict on their rebuke–whether that verdict be positive or negative–until you’ve had time to check in with the Lord about it.

Tell the other person, “That’s hard for me to hear, but I know I need to be quick to listen and slow to speak. I’d like some time to think deeply about what you’ve said.” If it turns out that you still disagree with the other person, at least you’ll both have the benefit of knowing that you’re not responding at the jerk of a knee.

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