Nothing in life will invite us to more regret than parenting. There are so many times, that no matter how it plays out, you and I will be tempted to think about the 3 million other ways we could have gone. But what happens when you know you really made a mistake? I address that situation in this video.
I have a serious question for you.
If you had a friend that talked to you like you talk to you, would you still be friends?
I've talked and written in the past about the importance of talking to yourself over listening to yourself. It's imperative that you take an active role in directing the thoughts that run your through your head. My friend and colleague, Marissa Stevens (Nae Freyling) wrote a post about that quote here regarding her journey with cancer and life.
Which brings me back to my questions for you.
Q. What do you say to yourself when you do something silly like drop a container of laundry soap? Is it, "I'm such an idiot!" or some other disparaging remark?
Q. What do you say to yourself when opportunity for success and therefore failure presents itself?
Q. What do you way to yourself when you dream?
Q. What do you say to yourself when someone pays you a compliment? Do you mentally catalogue all of your shortcomings?
Q. What do you say to yourself when someone offers you criticism? Do you flat out reject as hate or do you pile on top of it moving well beyond the original thought of the person ?
Your answers matter because your life will be driven by your thoughts. Like a hidden steering wheel, our brain controls much of how our body responds to the world around us.
This is not a post about some Pollyanna like false talk. It is not a post about some sort of false pie in the sky hope.
You're not an idiot because something bad happened like you lost $100 that you can't afford to lose. You're not shameful because someone molested or raped you as a child. You didn't deserve to be raped because you were drunk at a party. Your worth isn't diminished because your father didn't know how to adequately love you. You're not worthless because your mom took every chance she could to remind you that you were an accident that wasn't planned.
I do not believe you are an accident. I do believe you have worth.
And at least part of my mission to convince you of the same thing. Our world seems caught between unfettered narcissism and overwhelming self loathing.
Troubles come for us all, but they do not have to define any of us.
Which brings me back to my first question. Would you be friends with someone who talked to you like you talk to yourself?
If they answer to that is no, why do you talk to yourself that way?
What would happen if you started to talking to yourself in a different way? What would happen if you started talking to yourself in an honest and encouraging way?
Why not run an experiment and find out?
I believe this book can change your life and your relationships. It's full of the information and methods that I use in session with my clients. I know other therapists that have adopted these methods with their clients and they have reported an increase in their clients progress. I want to share chapter one with you today.
If you like what you read and think that it can help you in your own relationship, you can buy the book on Amazon by clicking here.
Chapter 1: What If?
Derek sat on the couch in my office. His Adam’s apple moved up and down in rhythm with his labored breathing. He was obviously distressed. The first few moments of the first session are like a dance: the two partners don’t know how to act without any music to guide them. Therapist and client must listen for the music that is not there and end up in synchrony.
Derek looked at me and said, “My wife and I just can’t get on the same page. Forget communication—we can’t even agree on what we need to communicate!”
I said, “But what if I could teach you how to talk to her and how she could talk to you and move you through your conflict? What if you could engage conflict in a way that improved your relationship? What if you and your wife could actually repair your marriage?”
Derek and Ruby had been married for a few years when they walked into my office. Things started to fall apart quickly. Derek moved out and into an apartment. Ruby begged him to come home. Derek stayed away. She begged some more.
Until she stopped.
After begging, she became incensed. First, she was hurt. Then she was angry. Rage and bitterness followed next. Finally, she flirted with contempt. Overarching these emotions was numbness.
She clung to numbness to protect her heart. At a different time, Ruby sat in my office and told me, “I’m not mad at Derek. I’m not. I’m not angry, I’m not sad; I’m not . . . anything. I’m just really tired.”
If I were going to help them, I would have to challenge her numbness and teach them both a way to talk that moved their relationship forward. I worried that I would run out of time before I could help them.
And I almost did.
One day, Derek walked in and told me that Ruby had decided she was done. She wanted a divorce. “The worst part is that she thinks I was drunk, and I swear to you I wasn’t. I hadn’t even had three beers in two days!”
Derek was angry. I asked him how he responded to Ruby.
“Respond? I just kind of walked away.”
“What if you could change that?” I asked.
What if, indeed!
About a week later, Derek and Ruby walked into my office and she told me, “I want to make our relationship work.”
I asked why she had changed her mind. Derek responded for her.
Derek had gone over to her house and rather than shrinking in the face of her typical haze-and-raze approach to their conflict, he engaged her. He used the same principles that I’ve written in this book to begin the healing process of their relationship. He wasn’t mean. He wasn’t caustic. He was direct. He told her how he felt. He engaged his feelings while validating hers. He told her that he loved her, but he gave her the freedom to leave and walk away. For maybe the first time in their life as a married couple, he stopped trying to control her and gave their relationship the opportunity to grow or fail.
This is one of the keys to a healthy relationship: allowing it the opportunity to fail. We’ll talk more about this later, but for Derek, it was revolutionary. It saved his marriage. And you’ll need to embrace it to create the relationship you want.
I’ll ask you the same question: What if you didn’t have to go through Derek’s situation? What if you could create habits in your life that would create a healthy relationship as a byproduct? What if you could learn new strategies to create a healthy marriage?
I believe you can do exactly that, and this book is my attempt to help you create those habits.
We will come back to Derek and Ruby later to see how they navigated these habits. By the way, as of the writing of this book, they are expecting their first baby.
Are You Contributing?
Eric and Emily had called my office and had asked to meet with me at a coffee shop. I agreed. Their relationship was in real trouble.
They knew it.
Sadly, no one else knew.
From the outside, they had done everything right. They had been friends before dating. They dated for almost a year before he proposed. A year later, they were married.
Twenty months later, they were sitting in that coffee shop with me surrounded by a throng of hipsters listening to indie music while wearing knit hats in the summer.
Both had great jobs. Both wanted their relationship to work—at least in the beginning.
Tears flowed down Emily’s face as she told her side of the story. Eric sat with a face carved from granite as she talked about her infidelity. She cried. He withdrew. She stressed that no sexual activity happened—besides a few light kisses and the occasional hug. Her assurances did nothing to thaw Eric’s face or emotions. “It just happened. I wasn’t looking for it,” she implored.
At that line, I saw my first glimpse of Eric’s emotions. He was angry. Of course, that’s understandable. What I was about to ask him, though, would start a fire in our conversation.
“Eric, what do you think you did to contribute to this situation?”
Raw, white anger boiled across his face.
“He was just never home. He just wasn’t . . . there.” Emily slowly and deliberately pushed the words out for me. Eric’s response told me that this was not the first time they had had this conversation. His shoulders rolled and his head shook, his face screaming contempt without a word escaping his mouth.
Both had come from homes where their parents and grandparents had divorced and remarried, with one parent on both sides being remarried multiple times. Emily was the result of her mom’s first affair.
She was horrified at the prospect of having become a cheater. Despite whatever reasons she had to justify her actions, she felt as though she had become the very thing she always wanted to avoid.
Eric’s father was a good provider but was never present emotionally.
Perhaps this was the hardest pill for them to swallow: they had become the parent they most struggled with in their own childhood. This is, of course, very common. Children learn what they live, and live what they learn.
As with most things in couples counseling, this principle seems to be so plain, so obvious that it almost seems not to warrant utterance.
And yet, often the most basic things are the ones we overlook the most. Our parents, or primary caregivers as children, blueprint us for how we will interact emotionally as adults. They give us the plan that we utilize, often without us realizing that we are repeating what they do.
We often default to the patterns of living we learned in childhood. This is true even if we have intellectually rejected them. Rejecting them without replacing them only creates a vacuum that we often don’t know how to fill, so we return to what we know.
Eric and Emily had been taught how to save money, take care of a home, and provide all of life’s basic necessities. They had never been taught how to answer the core questions that haunt us all.
They had never been taught how to best pursue each other. Neither had ever been asked what it would mean for them to sell out to the idea of making their marriage work.
Neither had ever asked what they would be willing to pay or risk to get what they want out of their marriage.
They had never actually considered what the point of their marriage was or should be.
I told Eric and Emily, “It is my belief that any couple can come back from anything. They simply need to learn how to build the most important ingredient into their relationship and answer some basic questions every day.”
The Other Side of Pain
I’ve worked with couples who had multiple affairs—with pens ready to sign divorce papers—and they came back from those terrible situations. One husband cheated on his wife with one of her best friends while she was in the hospital with their newborn baby.
Not only are they together today, but they will tell you that they are best friends.
How does that happen?
How does a couple caught in the deepest hurt move from the most significant pain of feeling the widest gulf between them to being best friends? It happens by both individuals being committed to healing and hope. When both people are willing to move toward each other and invite the other person to walk beside them, healing occurs.
But this process is painful. It doesn’t feel good. I cannot tell you how many times someone has said to me, “But I don’t feel like it should be this hard!” or “I don’t feel like I should have to endure this pain.”
Eric and Emily both said that to me. I told them the same thing I always say at those moments: “This hard” is subjective and they are correct in believing that they do not have to endure the pain. But no matter what they choose to do, there will be pain, especially if kids are involved. And if they want their marriage to work, they have to walk through the pain. One of the biggest lies we allow our brains to tell us is that we do not have a choice in a situation. Whenever people tell me they “shouldn’t have to endure pain” or “they don’t have to go through the pain,” I tell them I agree with them. They can always choose to exclude a particular pain from their life. There is a catch, though.
Everything in life that is worth having is almost always on the other side of pain. By avoiding the thing that scares us, we avoid the things we want to be in our life. We succeed in avoiding one pain only to invite and welcome another pain into our life. There is always pain.
Eric and Emily had what many would consider to be a big problem in their marriage. There was infidelity—emotionally, if not physically—and it was this giant life-sucking hole that permeated every area of their relationship. They had a much bigger problem, though. This giant problem would allow them to ignore the many smaller problems that had led them to this point.
Emily was not being completely honest that day, and there was more to the story (there often is). And Eric had some secrets of his own to share. They were both holding onto their secrets because they had failed to create a safe place to share the hard things about their life.
We all have these traumas in our relationships. Our screw-ups sit in the back corner of our brain, taunting us. They expose our shame and demand we hide it. They bark loudly and obnoxiously until we acquiesce and hide them. In hiding our shame, we hide ourselves. We retreat our true inner being to the shadows where the shame can grow into its own dragon, seeking to slay us.
Then we try to soothe our pain. We try to soothe it by working out or making millions of dollars or getting involved in church. We try to outdo our shame, falsely believing that we can outrun it through activity. The net result becomes a heaping of shame on top of shame. Our activity does not do away with our shame; instead, it numbs our response to it. A numb soul tends to be numb to everything. This causes us to pick activities that keep us from connecting with someone else, which causes us to experience more shame.
Sometimes, maybe often, we try to deny our shame by simply retreating and not doing anything. This can lead to clinical depression. We keep the blinds in the house down and lose all sense of meaning for life. Our zest fades like the dying light of late autumn.
Most of the time, we strike an uneasy balance between those two extremes and we still fail to heal. Our world spins faster and faster as we scramble to catch up. We don’t find satisfaction in what should be our deepest and most significant relationship, all the while failing to realize that one of the biggest contributing factors to a failed marriage is overlooking a truly safe place to be all-in with our whole body.
This book will give you the tools to be able to create such a space for your loved ones. A space where complete safety can grow and blossom. The challenge for you will be engaging your greatest fears as you seek that which you desire the most.
Unfortunately, in my line of work I see a lot of people who have affairs. I see people on all parts of parts of the spectrum as they move toward an affair.
Many people think they can engage in activity that moves them toward an affair and not be effected. This is nearly impossible.
The following list is adopted from a list that my pastor shared in a talk he gave this weekend. I've added a few of my own thoughts. They are found in blue.
The Subtle Stages of An Affair:
1. Feeling like you’re under-appreciated and overlooked
2. Sensing a dissatisfaction or an emotional vulnerability
--->The complaining intensifies and their becomes no way for the other person to do much right.
3. Loss of verbal communication and sexual connection
--->A quiet peace will often descend over the couple at this point as they disengage from each other. The absence of conlict becomes the goal, rather than goal of a healthy relationship.
4. Fantasizing about relational or romantic encounters with others
--->The person begins to lie to themselves about how much happier they'll be and why they "deserve" what they are seeking.
5. Overly friendly (flirtatious) behavior around opposite sex
--->Say hello to dopamine and other brain "happy" drugs.
6. Seeking out attention and affirmation from the opposite sex
--->Say hello to dopamine and other brain "happy" drugs.
7. Sharing with them disappointment with your current marriage
--->Blatant gossip and complaining commences. This often comes with an added feeling of having found a "confidant." The "happy" drugs in the brain begin to flow like a fire hydrant on a hot summer day that has been opened for kids to play in.
8. Getting specific with them about unmet needs and nagging frustrations.
9. Feeling like they listen to and relate to you…they understand and care
--->At this point the spouse is "competing" with someone they don't even know exists in a game they can't possibly win. The object of the affair lust doesn't have to deal with real life. The relationship feels real, but it is not.
10. Going out of your way to have more contact with them
--->Chasing what feels good, the person racing down the affair path begins to think about what they'll wear to work, can they go left when normally they would go right so that they can see the person who triggers their happy drugs? They are fully in the infatuation stage of the destruction. They rarely stop to think about what real life would be like, and when they do, they only see fantasy life. They discount anything the other person does that they dislike, while simultaneously magnifying the thing their spouse does that they dislike.
11. Letting them know that they make you feel special and valued.
--->Initial blatant overtures about romantic activity are beginning to occur.
12. (Waiting to see if they reciprocate emotional attraction)
--->The fake dance continues.
13. If they do, making a bold move either physically or verbally.
--->The fake dance culminates quickly moving toward climax.
14. Playfully talking about what you wish could happen with them
--->Justification for moving beyond the "next" line begins to be verbalized.
15. Setting up times to get together outside normal rhythms of life
--->"She's just helping me be a better husband." "He's just helping me to better understand my husband." Lies begin to be told inward and outwardly.
16. The romance moves from emotional to verbal to physical to sexual.
--->People here talk about how they would have never had sex or done whatever the next step would have been while ignoring that they have already done things that they said they would never have done. The most powerful lies are the ones we tell ourselves.
17. The physical act of sex occurs and the last of a thousand lines is crossed.
Few people are actually chasing an affair at first, they are often chasing other things that lead to the affair. But few people, if they are honest with the themselves, will deny that they knew where it was heading when they jumped on the path.
If you saw yourself in any of these steps, I can't encourage you enough to seek counseling.
Affairs are terrible storms that leave dark and deep swaths of destruction in their wake.
Counseling can help.
It's been an interesting couple of weeks at my house. It seems almost every area of our life is in some sort of transition. The start of the year has been somewhat hard.
So last Saturday, we decided on a whim to go to a local eatery for wings.
The food was good, the service was extremely slow. This lead to a continuing conversation about conflict, fear and life.
My wife commented that she sees so many people who become the things they most said they didn't want to become in life.
In other words, the person focused on not being their mom, will often become their mom. My kids asked if I agreed with her and I told them that I did, without reservation.
They wanted to know why I thought this was so. I told them that I thought focusing purely on what you don't want to become is not enough.
You need something more than what you don't want to become. You need to know what you want to become, and why you want to become it.
If you have pain from someone else (and invariably, almost all of us do), you need to process it.
Ignoring it. Glossing over it. Embellishing it. Worshiping it. Getting comfort from it.
Anything other than processing it, will lead to becoming someone who transmits the same types of pain to others.
So, let's say a person focuses on not being their Dad and they choose behaviors that are the exact opposite of their Dad, but never forgive their Dad and process through the pain he caused them, that person will transmit that pain to those they love.
You need focus and forgiveness.
Without forgiveness, there will be little process. Without process, there will be little forgiveness.
You have to engage in both to truly experience change.
Forgiveness helps us deal with the past.
Process allows us to the focus on the future.
In focusing on the future, we shape our present. This is why we must examine what we are focusing on. If you don't focus on what you want to become (your future), you will become whatever you are focusing on.
Often, that is our past. Especially, when our past has unprocessed hurts.
So what about you? What hurts from your past have you not processed? Who do you need to forgive? What are you focusing on? Who do you want to become?
Have you ever been frustrated with someone doing something that you didn't want them to do?
Have you ever searched every crevice of your brain to try and figure out a way to say something to someone so that they wouldn't act in a certain way toward you?
Maybe you wanted your parents to understand how they hurt you.
Whatever it is, if it didn't work, I'm guessing, you were frustrated. I want to share with you something that may help alleviate that frustration.
Find a piece of paper.
Draw a stick figure. This stick figure is you.
Now, draw a circle around the stick figure and a square around the circle.
Your drawing should look something like the picture embedded in this post.
Now, consider this: Everything on the square happens to you, but you have little to no control over it. When your partner does something you don't like, that's on your square. If you try to have a conversation with them about your sex life and they start to yell and get mad? That's on your square and their circle. You're not responsible for how they act or react; they are.
That's the good news.
How you act is on your circle. You are 100% responsible for how you act.
Most of the time, when you try to control something on someone else's circle (your square), you are manipulating.
This is often a great source of emotional frustration and angst for people. I will often ask clients, "Circle or Square?" when they are talking about a frustration. The question is designed to get them to explore what they control or are trying to control.
Too often, people will be at one end of two extremes.
The first end is, "I must be doing it wrong, because my husband always gets mad no matter what I do or how I say it." The opposite end is "What my husband is doing is wrong therefore I have an excuse for my poor behavior."
Both extremes are wrong.
Simply because your spouse feels angry with you or reacts poorly to something you've done does not mean that you've done anything wrong. Yes, you can and should examine how you approached the issue. You can even ask them how you might have said whatever it was you wanted to communicate in a way that they would not have been upset/angry, etc over.
But there reaction is 100% on their circle (they control it) and 100% on your square (you are not in control of it).
Conversely, if your spouse is engaging in poor behavior, that's on their circle (they're control) and your square (not your control.
Your reaction is still on your circle and their poor behavior does not ever excuse your own poor behavior.
I am always amazed at people who would never accept, "Well, they did it first" from their children and use the same excuse for why they treat their spouse poorly.
A natural question is what about feelings?
Feelings live in the place between our circle and square. We don't often control their creation. They happen faster than we can process.
But we absolutely control what we do with those emotions and feelings. We control what do after those feelings are created. Simply because we're mad, doesn't mean we have to yell or be mean. We control our actions and what we do.
So the next time you are frustrated or angry, ask yourself if you're trying to control something that's on your square or circle.
If it's out on the square, you're probably going to be stuck for as long as you try to control it.
So much of our energy is spent trying to control things we do not and cannot control that we fail to utilize the energy we do have to control our own lives.
If we want to find true satisfaction, we will have to start with controlling the things we control and accepting the fact that we don't control everything. Energy spent trying to control things we can't control is energy wasted. Energy wasted will not move us toward peace.
Find some time today, make your lists. Examine what's going on in your life. What do you control? What don't you control?
Ah, the new year.
That blessed time of year where many people set goals for the next year. The gym where I work out, will be filled with people who have set 2018 as they year where they finally get fit.
For two weeks or so, at least.
Every year, many people set goals and they typically fall to the wayside by the end of the month.
Well, for one thing, most people don't consider the cost of their goals when they make them. They make a goal that they are going to lose weight but fail to consider that they will need to give up their favorite high calorie, zero nutrition snack.
They set a savings goal without thinking about how they will need to pass the sales rack at their favorite store without actually buying anything simply because it’s on sale.
Secondly, we often set goals that are too vague. I was talking to an aspiring musician one day and I asked him one of my favorite questions, “You have 525,600 minutes to spend over the next 365 days. How will you spend them? What will be different about your life when those minutes are spent.”
That’s a start of a goal but it’s not actually a goal.
What does that mean?
I asked him how much time he was going to spend on polishing his music.
He had zero idea. I told him that I doubted he would actually change much about his music.
If goals are actually going to create change, they have to be specific and measurable.
We often fail to understand the why of our goal.
What are the specific actions we need to take in order to achieve them? If I want to write a book, how many hours a week am I going to dedicate to it?
If I am going to set a savings goal, how much am I going to transfer into savings?
If I am going to set a weight/healthy goal, how many calories should I consume? How much time should I spend exercising?
Where can I learn what I need to learn in order to accomplish these actions?
Why do you want to do what it is your doing? This is why I ask about how you will spend your minutes. The older I get, the more I am convinced that time is our most precious commodity.
Often, we spend it as if we are not in control of how we spend it. As if it just magically disappears from our life.
If you want next year to be different from last year, you must spend this present year differently.
Take some time and write down what you want to happen over the next year.
Now, write out what the emotional pay off is to those goals. I've written about this idea, here. For example, I had a friend that wanted to lose and keep off nearly 100lbs. I asked him about the payoff to his goals. He said, he wanted to be able to walk his daughter down the aisle and go hiking with his son. "Write it down!" I told him.
Change happens when we take the time to answer there key questions. What do you want? What are you willing to pay? What are you willing to risk?
Take time to explore your goals. What do you want (be specific). What are the necessary behaviors you'll need to achieve your goal? What is the emotional payoffs to your goal? If you want to lose weight, why? If you want to save money, what do you want to feel when you save that money? If you want to sponsor a child in another country, what is the emotional reason?
Lastly, we often fail to get back up when we fail. People who attempt change, who want to fight against the status quo of their lives will fail more than people who do not worry about changing. Failure is part of the process. If we are going to successfully change something, we will have to overcome that failure by getting back up and going at it again. Many times, we will need to reattempt change multiple times. *Note. The squirrel has nothing to do with the post. I just thought it was cute.
In the near future, our office will be opening an Urgent Care Mental Health Clinic. We believe it will be the first of this type of service for our area. I want to take a moment today and share with you why we are doing this and what we hope to accomplish with such a clinic.
I once heard a clinician brag about charging client's extra in order to see them on the weekend.
That is something we have never done or embraced here at JMCN. Over the years, I've seen clients in crisis whenever possible, including weekends. I know that is also true of other therapists in our network.
Just last weekend, one of our therapist came in on a Saturday morning to see a client who was in crisis.
But, we can't all be on call twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.
We want to attempt to meet that need. This clinic is our attempt to do that. The Urgent Care Center at JMCN will provide urgent care mental health therapy for people who feel they are in a mental health crisis but cannot see their normal clinician for a period of time. We also want to serve those who do not have a normal clinician and cannot get in to see their preferred clinician in a timely manner.
Take for instance, my friend Bob.* He and I were talking about this a few days ago. His wife Sarah has a regular therapist that she sees three to four times a month. She is dealing with some significant losses recently in her personal life and the grief that accompanies those losses.
Two weeks ago, a beloved pet passed away unexpectedly. Sarah was frantic to see her therapist. The only problem was that her therapist does not see client's on Mondays. On Tuesday, her therapist left for a two week vacation.
Bob felt that having some place where Sarah could have gone to talk about her grief would have been important and helpful.
Or consider for a moment, if you will Wendy and Dave.*
They've been having trouble communicating lately and late last week they had a fight that they both felt might have put their relationship over the edge into a downward death spiral from which it might never recover. As they desperately call around the area looking for a marriage or relationship therapist to help them, they discover that they have a minimum of a one week wait.
We see this Urgent Care clinic as a potential resource for all the Dave and Wendy's of the area.
And for anyone who is feeling depressed and lost...or hurt and abandoned. We want to help.
You can find more information about our Mental Health Urgent Care Clinic by clicking here.
*Not real name.
This is part of a continual series called, "Things I hope my kids learn." I currently have 150 different things written down that I hope they write. You can find the whole series of posts here.
So often little opportunities are missed. I was thinking today about the fact that sometimes life gets really complicated, really fast.
No matter how hard we try, it can get complicated. One thing that I hope my children learn and apply is to do good.
This can be something simple.
Sometimes, it will be complex. In fact, sometimes the good they see that needs to be done, they may not be able to do but I hope and pray that they will not allow those things to keep them from doing the things that they can do.
Whenever possible, do good. I hope that this won't need much explanation for my children.
This video deals with my history of sexual assault at the hands of someone in my neighborhood and the different reactions I've encountered over the years in trying to bring the conversation to light. Since I originally posted the video I have had numerous men reach out to me to tell that they were assaulted in one way or another.
I am so glad that women are finding their voice to express the oppression and assault's they have endured. I hope those who have found their voice can inspire other victims to find their own voice and cal their attackers out into the open.
I hope our society can actually engage in substantive conversation about real change.
We need to stop the message that whatever feels good is OK, without consequence. People are not conquests or objects.
If you've been victimized, you are not the sum of your assault.
It was not your fault.
You do not have to live with the shame. I promise you that's true, even if it doesn't feel that way to you now.