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Posts tagged ‘willingness to change’

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.

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Q&A: Help, I’m The Toxic Person In The Relationship, How Do I Change?

SOURCE:  Taken from an article by Leslie Vernick

Question: How does someone who realizes THEY are the critical/toxic person in the family/relationship begin to heal? I don’t like who I am & struggle against it, but it gets the best of me SO often!!

Answer: First of all let me applaud you for acknowledging that you are not the person you want to be and you want to heal and change. That takes a huge step of courage. Most destructive individuals fail in this very first step of change, which is admitting the truth. Usually they remain blind to their problem. Instead, they blame others, make excuses, minimize the pain they cause, or flat out deny the reality of their behaviors.

Now that you’re aware that the way you treat people is toxic and critical, your next step is to confess, out loud to God and the people you’ve hurt, that you are aware that your behaviors and attitudes are destructive and you want to heal, grow, and change. A public confession commits you to a course of action and a posture of humility which is absolutely crucial if any real change is going to happen. You can’t do it alone. You need God’s help as well as the help of wise and trusted others. 

At the very least you will need some good friends who will encourage you toward wholeness and hold you accountable. In addition, you may want to speak with your pastor, hire a coach and/or seek a professional counselor who has expertise in this area.

Ideally you would give these people permission to speak with your family members so that they can hear from more than you on how you are doing.

When we invite trusted people to walk along with us in our journey, it is much more likely that we will gain the self-awareness, skills and support necessary to make significant personal changes.

It is also crucial that you invite those you have deeply wounded to give you feedback whenever they experience your critical attitudes or toxicity. When my children were little and I became aware of how much I yelled at them, I invited them to give me feedback anytime they felt scared or I raised my voice. It was humbling to hear them say again and again, “Mommy I’m scared, or you’re yelling at me”.

When they did speak up I would stop, remind myself that this was not the person I wanted to be and then apologize and do what I needed to do to calm down and be the mother I wanted to be. If I didn’t’ know how to do that, then that became the next thing I had to learn. My children’s feedback was good for me because self-control (one of the fruit of the Spirit) is absolutely critical to one’s mental and emotional health. Second, inviting their feedback helped my children trust that I meant business that I really wanted to change. Even when I blew it in the moment, they saw that I would receive their feedback and humbly self-correct or call a time out on myself.

Receiving feedback from others is difficult because it wounds our ego. Plus, in the heat of our anger we are often self-deceived and blind to the log in our own eye. When we’re enraged, it’s much easier to see the flaws in everybody else. Allowing those who love you most to become a mirror to you is immensely helpful in your growth and change.

For healing, it’s also important to explore some things in your own childhood that may be negatively impacting you now. There is a saying “hurt people, hurt people”. In other words, we often lash out at others when we are in pain ourselves. When that pain is outside our conscious awareness, our negative reactions to life seem automatic and outside our ability to change or control.

Below are some questions you need to ask yourself. Pray and ask God to shed the light of truth on some things from your past.

What are some of the events from your past that have significantly shaped your life – good and bad?

After you’ve identified an incident or event ask yourself these questions. What happened? Why did it happen? How did I feel? What did it do to me? What did it mean to me? What decisions or vows did I make? How and where has this old feeling or experience reared itself in my present life?

Remember, self-awareness leads to self-reflection (Why do I do what I do? Why do I feel the way I feel?) Self-reflection leads to greater self-awareness and self-correction.

When that fails, the feedback from others can lead us to greater self-awareness and self-correction.

Awareness can lead to new choices and healing, and self-correction leads to new habits and ways of being.

Marriage Is for Holiness — Not Just Happiness

SOURCE:  Paul and Halee Scott

How our marriage has made us better people

Neither of us “needed” to get married.

Both of us were independent and for the most part, content in our singleness.

Paul dreamed of living alone on a boat off the coast of Newport Beach, California; Halee had plans to travel the world teaching English overseas. Yet there we were, barefoot on a sandy beach outside Santa Barbara, making our vows to the sound of rushing waves crashing on the shore.

Make no mistake, we were (and still are) head over heels for one another, but neither of us needed marriage to make us happy because we were already happy in our singleness. We understood—even then—that our marriage was ultimately more about our moral development than personal satisfaction and contentment. And that day, we washed each other’s feet in the surf to symbolize our commitment to serve each other to that end.

For most of human history and in most societies, the goal of marriage was to provide economic security through family alliances and to serve as a context for procreation. To marry for personal happiness (or love) was considered a selfish act that disregarded the needs of the broader community. It wasn’t until the 12th century that the troubadours (a group of traveling poets) introduced the concept of courtly love as we know it today.

Still other groups have emphasized the spiritual goals of marriage. The Catholic church believes marriage is a sacrament because the relationship between husband and wife represents the union of Christ to his bride, believers. In 1930, Pope Pius XI proposed that the primary purpose for Christian marriage was not procreation or sacrament, but to serve as a context for moral development. He writes, “This mutual molding of [spouses], this determined effort to perfect each other, can in a very real sense, as the Roman Catechism teaches, be said to be the chief reason and purpose of matrimony.”

The trouble—even for contemporary Christians—is that we often approach marital issues in an individualistic way.

In the cornucopia of Christian marriage self-help books, the guiding questions seem to be along the lines of “What can I get out of this?” or “How can I cope in this marriage?” rather than “What are we forging together?” or “How can our marriage make us each more like Christ?”

It’s not that God doesn’t want our marriages to bring us deep satisfaction and happiness, it’s just that marriage is bursting with opportunities for deeper spiritual growth—opportunities we may be missing if we’re not asking all the right questions.

But what do these opportunities look like in everyday life? How exactly can marriage make us more holy? Here are a few small, specific ways God has used marriage to carve virtue into our character.

Prudence.   Often translated “wisdom,” the word prudence comes from the word providence, which means “to see ahead.” I (Halee) can be candid to a fault. I’ve always had a knack for saying exactly what I think at the very moment I think it—regardless of the impact it has on the hearer. Early in life I’d seen how damaging it was to bury emotions, so in an effort to avoid that mistake, I made the equal and opposite error of expressing myself without a great deal of forethought.

But when we married, I noticed that my honesty was more divisive than it was beneficial to our marriage. I saw the impact my words had upon Paul, and I started to pay attention to how he communicated with me and with others. Paul knew what to say and the right moment to say it. He spoke thoughtfully, ensuring that his words contributed to the well-being of others. The truth didn’t always have to be painful.

Because of his daily influence, I’ve learned how to be more tactful in the way I say things. It was a difficult transition, especially in the beginning. During this period, Paul taught me his “three-day rule.” When I was tempted to respond to someone quickly and brashly, I took three days to think it through and pray. Eventually, I didn’t need to practice the three-day rule in order to exercise prudence in my daily interactions with Paul and others. I was able to “see ahead” and discern what words would best build up the other person.

Courage.   C.S. Lewis called courage “the form of every virtue at the testing point.” Courage isn’t the absence of fear as much as it is the willingness to move forward despite fear. Throughout our marriage, I (Paul) have seen Halee demonstrate courage over and over. She applied (and was hired) for jobs I thought she needed more experience for. She speaks regularly in front of hundreds of people even though she’s terrified of public speaking. The night our daughter was born, I caught her crying for a single minute (when she thought I wasn’t looking) as the labor pains intensified. She went on to brave 16 hours of labor to bring our daughter into the world.

I don’t like to get out of my comfort zone, but seeing Halee exercise courage over the years gave me the courage to quit my job in the middle of the recession. I’d been working for the company for 14 years, and I’d known God was calling me to leave the company for a long time, but I couldn’t imagine leaving after all the years I’d put into the company. I was afraid, wondering how I would be able to provide for my family. But eventually, I did quit and moved into the work that God had called me to.

Temperance.   St. Augustine wrote, “Complete abstinence is easier than perfect moderation.” Temperance is the ability to practice moderation in action, thought, or feeling. I (Halee) have never been good at moderation; I always seem to operate in extremes, whether in work or play. It wasn’t enough to have one job while going to school when I had time enough for two (or three). It wasn’t enough to run three miles when my daily goal was five. It wasn’t adequate to pick up the clutter around the house when the floors needed to be mopped and the baseboards scrubbed.

It wasn’t long into our marriage when I discovered Paul didn’t share this “value.” He was a diligent worker, but he didn’t feel compelled to put in excessively long hours. When we took the same course in graduate school, he was content with an A- (or even a B+!) while I sweated it out for an A+. When he cleaned the house, he didn’t always dust or mop or polish the leather couches. When we climbed mountains, he didn’t need to go to the top—he was content with going halfway. For him, it wasn’t so much about the destination as it was the journey along the way.

Believe it or not, this difference in our approaches to things was one of the biggest sources of conflict in our marriage. But more often than not, his temperate approach was the better way, and even if it doesn’t always come naturally, I’ve learned to practice moderation in various areas of my life.

Charity.   Charity is the highest, the most important of the three theological virtues (faith, hope, charity). Charity is agape love, unconditional, self-sacrificing love. Thomas Aquinas describes it as “the most excellent of virtues … the habit of charity extends not only to the love of God, but also to the love of our neighbor.” A mistake many people make in marriage is fighting for their “rights” when charity—or love—requires that we lay down our “rights” for God or for the sake of others.

For example, guys sometimes think they have a “right” to their own space or their own time (like a night out with the guys), but I (Paul) realized that the perceived “rights” I had were really selfish aspects of my character that God wanted to change through our marriage. When I surrendered my rights—like cutting short a night out with friends to take care of Halee when I knew she’d had a long day at school or work—I became more diligent, motivated, and sensitive to others’ needs.

Marriage provides a daily context for spiritual growth because it gives us opportunities to put away sinful tendencies and practice more virtuous behaviors. The Roman lyric poet Horace wrote, “To flee vice is the beginning of virtue.” Every action we take has a consequence for our character. Our actions become habits and habits, like grooves on a well-worn path, become our character.

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Paul Scott is a registered therapist specializing in drug, alcohol, and sexual addition. Prior to this role, he served in leadership for Every Man’s Battle for 13 years. Dr. Halee Gray Scott is an author, independent scholar, and researcher.

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