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Archive for the ‘Relationships’ Category

How Boundaries Give You Choices Against Toxic People

SOURCE:  Dr. Henry Cloud

When I was still doing my radio show, a woman called into our program and said that she was going to visit her family for Christmas. She was depressed because she knew her grandfather would make things miserable, just as he always did. She dreaded hearing his criticism of her and her lifestyle. We asked her why she had to listen to that, and she responded, “I just have to, that’s all. I have no choice. That is what he does.”

This woman lost her freedom the minute she walked in the door of that family gathering. She didn’t realize that no one can take away your freedom: she chose to give it up. She was letting her grandfather have power over her, but what she didn’t realize is that she didn’t have to give him permission. She felt that the pressure from her family to just “take it” was so strong, that this is the place where she lost her choices.

As we kept talking, we quickly thought of several choices she could make:

  • She could choose not to attend.
  • She could choose to accept that he would be who he is, but she could give up the desire for his approval. That would empower her to ignore his remarks.
  • She could empathize with him, “Grandfather, it seems like it’s frustrating to you to have me be like I am. That sounds hard.” She did not need to get hooked into convincing him of anything.
  • She could steer clear of the grandfather at the gathering.
  • She could call a friend throughout the gathering and give reports on how crazy he was, and they could laugh it off together.
  • She could call him beforehand and ask if he planned to put her down this year as he had before. If he said yes, she could inform him that she might just go in another room when he started his put-downs. She wanted him to understand this beforehand, so he would not be surprised at her action.

The caller actually began to feel relief. Just the reminder that she did always have choices made her feel better.

We were designed to be free, and in some ways, life is a continual struggle to gain, regain and live out our freedom from internal and external forces that would take our freedom away.

Find out where your circle of freedom ends and take steps to enlarge it until you can feel free, no matter where you care, by remembering one thing: you always have choices! Ultimately, no person, or no circumstance, has control of you – that control belongs to you and only you.

Are You Helping or Enabling Your Spouse?

SOURCE:  Mark Merrill

Does your spouse want or need to change something in their life? If so, it’s critical to know the difference between helping and enabling them through that change.

The change they want or need could be something serious like an addiction to prescription drugs, alcohol, food, or pornography. Or it could be something simpler like eating healthier, exercising more, or changing an annoying habit. They may talk about it, they may whine about it, they may pretend it doesn’t exist, but being their spouse, you see it better than most anyone.

In general, helping your spouse is doing something right and healthy for them that they cannot do for themselves. Enabling is doing for them what they can and need to do for themselves, allowing them to live an irresponsible life.

A recent reality show my friend was watching about a severely obese person illustrates both helping and enabling. A woman needed to lose hundreds of pounds or she would die. Her relatives had been going to the store for her every day (since she couldn’t go herself), but they bought only the unhealthy food that was killing her. That was not helping; that was enabling her obesity. Later, the relatives saw the reality of what they were doing, moved in with her, and helped her change her eating and cooking habits by cooking only healthy foods for her for several months. That was helping. She learned to choose healthier options, and successfully lived alone again, with a radically different lifestyle and weight loss that gave her hope.

Here’s what enabling looks like:

  • You do for your spouse the things they can and should do for themselves.
  • You cover up for your spouse when their issues create problems for them and others.
  • You make excuses for their behavior with others.
  • You lie to them, to yourself, and to others about the extent and eventual consequences of their issue.
  • You protect your spouse from the normal consequences of their problem.
  • You ignore your spouse or their issue altogether. Ignoring is enabling.
  • You blame others or indulge your spouse blaming others, for their issue.
  • You make empty threats related to the consequences of their choices and don’t follow through.
  • You avoid being around your spouse. Sometimes, this is necessary for a dangerous situation but usually, it only allows the spouse to wallow in the problem.
  • You repeatedly get your spouse out of the trouble their issue creates, usually at a high cost to yourself.

Here’s what helping looks like:

  • You do for your spouse the things that they cannot do for themselves.
  • You are honest with them about the consequences of inaction.
  • You don’t lie for them, and you don’t lie to them.
  • You don’t create excuses to others to cover up for their problems or issues.
  • You don’t clean up the messes their struggles or issues create.
  • You love them unconditionally, just as they are, yet you also love them enough to hope they choose to change.
  • You help them focus on the goal, without dwelling on any missteps or failures along the way.
  • You cheer them on and celebrate even small steps towards their goals.
  • You accept that you cannot change them, that they will not change unless they want to change. This may feel like giving up, but accepting this truth gives them freedom to own the change.
  • You refuse to take responsibility for their bad choices.

These are just some of the ways you can check yourself to see if you are truly helping them or enabling their destructive choices. But these are not exhaustive checklists. Don’t delay to seek out professional counsel for yourself if you have a serious situation. Don’t give up hope, but don’t give in to the temptation to indulge them in keeping the peace. And remember, your spouse can only experience true change when they want true change.

Teaching Your Kids How to Have Hard Conversations

SOURCE:  Mark Merrill

If we want our kids to become stable, healthy, well-adjusted adults, we need to do a good job when they are young of teaching them to have hard conversations. It’s hard enough for spouses to do this, so our kids need our help before they leave the nest. The advent of social media and mobile devices has made communication easier but has also made effective communication more difficult, where messages are easily misunderstood, incomplete, or inflammatory.

So before they have to break off a relationship with someone, apologize for a wrong, ask for forgiveness, or share some difficult news with someone, make sure they have understood these important principles for having difficult conversations:

Communicate in person if at all possible, not digitally.

We need to avoid using social media, direct messages, emails, or texts for difficult conversations. We’ve become so reliant on electronic communication that we are tempted to use it at the worst times or in the most delicate situations. These tools are great and appropriate for quick info, encouragement, and brief connections, but should be used sparingly, if at all, for emotionally-filled or important situations. Here’s why:

  • You can’t fill in the emotional, relational gaps in 140-160 characters.
  • You cannot communicate nuance and context and emotion in written words.
  • People fill in the blanks without context. For example, what you meant to sound sincere may be easily misinterpreted as fake.
  • Digital communication can also lead to impulsive, and regretful, communication.
  • Digital communication is easier to ignore.
  • In digital communication, complex issues have to be reduced to unhelpful levels of simplicity. That’s not wise.
  • Digital communication tends to elicit reactive, not thoughtful, responses.

Bottom line: Nothing can replace face-to-face, especially when having hard or challenging conversations.

Practice the conversation with them.

This is a time when role-playing can be helpful. Take turns playing the role of your child, or the person they are talking to, and give it a go. Help them think through the strong emotions that come with the conversation, to anticipate the reactions, to process and respond to such a conversation, and to get through any awkwardness.

Think through the best time, place, and environment for the conversation.

We know from marriage that there are good times and very bad times to bring up sensitive issues. But our kids may not realize how important the setting and frame of mind can be. Help your child think through the best situation and environment that would be most appropriate to have the conversation.

Just by working through some of these basics, we can help our children be better at resolving conflict and relating to others.

We Don’t Need “Mother” and “Father” Anymore?

SOURCE:  Amy K. Hall/Stand to Reason

The Huffington Post celebrates the idea that non-traditional families are breaking down our understanding of gender differences: “We aren’t mother or father anymore; we’re just parents.”

Gay and lesbian couples and single moms and dads by chance or choice embody changing ideas about sex and sex roles, they are also transforming the gender based definitions of parenting. They are challenging us all to reevaluate the terms of marriage. Along with single parents raising children, they are also transforming the nature of parenting — and showing how Americans have transcended the gender-based definitions of parenting. We aren’t mother or father anymore; we’re just parents….

Yes, the terms “mother” and “father” do still usually convey a biological distinction between who inseminates and who gives birth, but the rise of donor insemination and surrogate pregnancies open debate even on that.

Whether we acknowledge it willingly or not, the differing social roles the mother-father nouns once designated are rapidly converging. Certainly, there are still things that fathers undertake more than mothers, such as teaching a child to ride a bike. Some things often seem to fall more to mothers, such as arranging childcare. But each parent can, and does, tend to everything.

The differences between the sexes are more than just biological. And they certainly go beyond preferences for particular tasks. All you have to do is reflect on your own experience to see that this is so.

Did your father tend to enforce standards? Did your mother encourage emotional intimacy?

Did your father push you to mature? Did your mother tend to nurture?

The list could go on and on because the differences between the sexes are as deep as who they are, what they value, and how they relate to people. These differences show themselves not merely in the tasks each sex chooses, but in how each approaches any particular task. Of course either parent can do any task, but what they teach their children in and through the completing of each task will be different.

Men and women are complementary. The lessons learned from both parents are valuable and unique to the strengths of each sex, and children are in desperate need of both. The obscuring of this is not something to celebrate. But it’s exactly what must be done in order to promote same-sex marriage, so you can expect to see more of it.

5 Biggest Little Ways to Improve Your Marriage

SOURCE:  Shaunti Feldhahn/Family Life

A few small actions carry surprising power in building a lasting relationship.

Not long ago, the marriage of some close friends—I’ll call them Daniel and Jessica—suddenly imploded. We did everything we could to stand with them in their crisis to speak hope for their future together. Unfortunately, their marriage didn’t survive.

I’ll never forget a conversation I had with Jessica one day. Through her sobs, she said, “He worked so hard for a year to take us on that amazing vacation to Hawaii. But all I really wanted was for him to put his arm around me at church!”

Huh? Do you think in the midst of all her pain that she was thinking clearly? Actually, I do.

I could fill in lots of other details, but ultimately the pattern is a sadly common one. You may have seen it too. Daniel was a godly, well-intentioned husband who showed his love in several ways, including working long hours to provide for his family and to do nice things for them. You see, for him, providing is love.

Unfortunately, he didn’t realize that what he was working so hard for wasn’t what Jessica most needed—and in some ways was actually robbing her of the closeness she needed the most. (And of course there were ways she didn’t know she was hurting him.) What she needed most, more than all the expensive vacations in the world, were a few simple, specific day-to-day actions.

But as simple as loving gestures in public? you wonder.

Yes! My research on happy couples showed that an extraordinarily high percentage of them were (often without realizing it!) doing a few little specific actions that were making their spouses feel deeply cared for. Jessica, as it turns out, is like nearly all other men and women in her deep rooted desire for these surprisingly meaningful gestures.

Day-to-day actions

Clearly, a few small actions won’t fix deep relationship problems. But for most of us, a handful of simple day-to-day actions increase the likelihood that our spouse feels that we care deeply about them, instead of feeling that we don’t. There’s just enormous power in that!

For nearly every man or woman, the same few small, gender-specific actions not only matter but have a huge impact on a couple’s level of happiness. But these little actions take on even more power when accompanied by those that matter to your spouse individually.

Let’s begin with the few small actions that the surveys indicate matter a lot to almost every man or woman—what we might call the Fantastic Five.

When individuals were asked on the survey if a particular action made them happy, the affirmative response numbers were staggeringly high for five specific actions for each gender, even among the struggling couples. Close to 100 percent of all husbands and wives said these actions mattered, with between 65 and 90 percent of all husbands and wives saying these actions would deeply please them.

In other words, you are very likely to make your spouse feel deeply cared for if you make a habit of doing the same five things consistently.

The Fantastic Five for him

A wife will have a big impact on her husband’s happiness when she does the following:

1. Notices his effort and sincerely thanks him for it. (For example, she says, “Thank you for mowing the lawn even though it was so hot outside.” Or, “Thanks for playing with the kids, even when you were so tired from work.”) This deeply pleases 72 percent of all men.

2. Says “You did a great job at __________.” This deeply pleases 69 percent of all men.

3. Mentions in front of others something he did well. This deeply pleases 72 percent of all men.

4. Shows that she desires him sexually and that he pleases her sexually. This deeply pleases 85 percent of all men.

5. Makes it clear to him that he makes her happy. (For example, she expresses appreciation for something he did for her with a smile, words, a big hug, etc.) This deeply pleases 88 percent of all men.

The Fantastic Five for her

On his side, a husband will have a big impact on his wife when he does the following:

1. Takes her hand. (For example, when walking through a parking lot or sitting together at the movies.) This deeply pleases 82 percent of all women.

2. Leaves her a message by voice mail, e-mail, or text during the day to say he loves and is thinking about her. This deeply pleases 75 percent of all women.

3. Puts his arm around her or lays his hand on her knee when they are sitting next to each other in public (at church, at a restaurant with friends, etc.). This deeply pleases 74 percent of all women.

4. Tells her sincerely, “You are beautiful.” This deeply pleases 76 percent of all women.

5. Pulls himself out of a funk when he’s morose, grumpy, or upset about something, instead of withdrawing. (This doesn’t mean he doesn’t get angry or need space; it means he tries to pull himself out of it.) This deeply pleases 72 percent of all women.

Keys that unlock any door

Did you notice that all these happiness-inducing actions are simple, learnable, and doable by any wife or any husband? If you put each of the five biggest little things to work every day, I’m betting your marriage will improve—in some cases, radically.

And here’s more great news: All these small but powerful actions matter regardless of what the person’s love language is. For example, most wives (82 percent) are affected when her husband reaches out and takes her hand, regardless of whether physical touch is her thing.

There’s no looking back for our friends Jessica and Daniel. But I’m so thankful that God is good. He is always at work to redeem our broken hearts—and I know He’ll do it for our friends. Still, a corner of my heart mourns the heartbreak that might have been prevented if they had truly understood the power of doing these best little things.

We all know that small, thoughtful acts are not a magic cure-all for every marriage problem. But having talked to so many who nurtured much happiness with simple but powerful actions, I know all of us can build that all-important foundation that helps us believe that our mate notices and cares.

Because as it turns out, believing that the other person cares is far more important to building a happy marriage than most of us ever realized.

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Adapted from The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages, by Shaunti Feldhahn

Strengthen Your Relationship Roots

SOURCE:  Prepare-Enrich

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

My frustration levels grew instantaneously.

My heart started beating faster.

Angry emotions gripped me.

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

Bad choice.

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

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

 

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

What relationship roots are you and your partner growing?

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

6 Ways To Argue And Not End Up Divorced

SOURCE:   Brittany Wong/The Huffington Post

Marriage counselors share how to argue the smart way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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