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12 entries from February 2013

Three things you'll learn at Hopes and Dreams

Registration for our marriage conference called Hopes and Dreams is now open. I would like to personally invite you to attend.

My goal with Hopes and Dreams is to change the world. Sounds somewhat naive, right? Let me explain. I think that the world can change through stronger and better relationships. Hopes and Dreams is my attempt to help every couple, no matter where they are at in the relationship arch to improve their relationship.

This conference will help you no matter what state your relationship is in. At a Hopes and Dreams conference you will learn a new way to look at conflict. The question is not "Will there be conflict?", rather the true question of every couple is, "How do we positively process our conflict?"

This conference will help couples who are caught in a bad narrative (counselor speak for stuff's going bad) by helping them to examine the frames that they are using to view the relationship and how they can change those frames. It will also help them to truly understand how they can guarantee change in the relationship.

It will help couples who are in a good narrative by offering them ways to reinforce the foundation of their marriage and proven techniques by which they can continue to build their relationship.

Everyone at the conference will learn:

  1. The three core questions that everyone asks of their spouse and how the answers to these questions shapes everything.
  2. The three pillars that every healthy relationship rests on. How to build these three pillars up in your own relationship.
  3. Learn how to examine y9our fights and stress moments so that you can actually solve the problem as opposed to just repeating the same fight over and over again.

Attendees will learn these three truths and more! Everyone who comes will also have the chance to win a new golf driver valued at almost $500.00 and other great gifts.

I would really like to see you there. You can register by clicking on the tab underneath my banner, entitled Hopes and Dreams.


Relational Equity part 5

This part of a continuing series on Relational Equity.

Part 1 can be found here

Part 2 can be found here

Part 3 can be found here

Part 4 can be found here

How is relational equity built?

There are a myriad of ways that couples can build equity into their relationship. Being intentional with their time is certainly one of them. Spending a quantity of time together is important. I know we often hear that quality matters more than quantity and for a season of life I agree with that. Certainly, there are times where by and large we have to limit the amount of time that we can spend together. But over the long haul for most couples, quantity will be just as important as quality.

A great exercise to do is to ask your spouse, "What can I do to built equity into our relationship? What are the things I could do that help you to know that I love you and value our relationship?" The trick is then to go and do those things. For Danielle earlier in the chapter, it was helping her with chores around the house. For my wife, it's listening. Doing things that causes the person to be heard, valued and safe is doing things that builds equity into a relationship.

What I’m not saying

I can already hear some guy saying, “See you have to stay with me no matter what I do!” No you don’t. You can choose to leave. If he’s hitting you, leave. Leave right now. Come back to this book. But leave. If your children are being hit, leave. If your partner is flaunting their affairs, leave. If they have an addiction that is terrorizing your family. Leave.

You don’t have to live with someone in order to commit to love them unconditionally. People who are being abused should leave. They do not have to live in that Hell. Sometimes, it is the cold wake up call of someone saying, “That’s it, you can’t do this anymore” that causes people to actually change. I cannot say this strongly enough, if you are in danger, leave.

This concludes this series for now. This material will change over the course of time a little, I imagine.

Sundays with Friends. (Other people's thoughts) #1

Sundays with friends is a recurring segment of blog posts by friends of mine. They can be on any topic and will always be around 500 words. I may or may not agree with what  is written. Each post is entirely the work of my friend. Some will be religious, others will not. Maybe these posts will create conversations and maybe they won't. That's the beauty of experiments. :) This post is by my friend Amy Radford.

Amy writes:

There is an elephant in the room that the church is avoiding even though it has parked itself dead center in the middle of the center aisle.  It is something many live out on a day to day basis.  He is not cute and cuddly but big and gray and imposing.  It is mental un-health.  It is a stigma with much misunderstanding and generalizations.  Yet, in every church I have been in, I have met people on medication for various struggles with depression, OCD, anxiety or chemical imbalances.

I grew up in a "pray about it and get over it" culture.  The sufficiency of scripture was held to an almost unbalanced level.  Do not get me wrong!  I firmly believe in the power of prayer and the sufficiency of scripture but I also believe God gives us resources such as solid biblical Christian counselors and medical professionals. 

I also believe our current environment really impacts our emotional health.  Our fast paced society has increased stress and an overwhelming amount of information bombarding us every day.  Also, since the Industrial Revolution, the American diet and the amount of chemicals we are exposed to are making and impact not only on our physical health but our mental health as well.  A bible verse alone cannot "heal" it all.

I think it's time for an open dialogue.  This is not going away.  For people who are struggling, the church should be the first place they can find refuge. Instead they often find judgement or absolute silence. 

God created us to be a community.  It is the institution He created to represent himself on earth.  We are His hands and His feet so how are we using them in the lives of those who need it most?

You may ask, "Who are you to talk about this subject?"

I am not a medical professional or a certified counselor.  I do not have all the answers.  But, I have my story and my experiences.  I know how lonely it is to feel like you carry around a dirty little secret that you can't talk about.  I am a ministry kid, a pastor's wife, and almost twenty years ago I was diagnosed with Cyclothymia.  It is a battle I have lived for a long time.

You can find Amy on her blog here. She lives in NY with her family.

If you would like to submit a post please contact me through the contact me page.

Relational Equity part 4

This part of a continuing series on Relational Equity.

Part 1 can be found here

Part 2 can be found here

Part 3 can be found here

The Problem is the word Eventually

An obvious question is doesn’t that make it impossible? I mean, who’s going to do something and not expect anything in return? That’s why it’s a paradox. The husband who commits to loving his wife no matter what, for as long as it takes will often win her over…eventually. The wife who commits to loving her husband regardless of how he acts for as long as it takes, well eventually melt the ice around his heart.

One of the biggest factors in the ice not melting is the truth that we don’t usually give it time. We take years to build up hurts, wounds and scars that all coalesce into this numb frozen blob of ice called an emotional heart. Then we get mad when it doesn’t change in days or weeks. We need a renewal of the words commitment and endurance.

We have to stop thinking that we have to feel something in order to do it. This is patently false in almost every other area of our life. We don’t always feel like going to work, but we do. Why? Because we want that paycheck. The idea that we have to want to do something in order to do it is really a terrible way to live our lives. There are many things we force ourselves to do before it becomes something we want to do.

When we allow ourselves believe the insidious lie that we have to want to be loving with our spouse before we will actually be loving we enslave ourselves to a fate that is almost guaranteed. We literally take the option of our changing out of the equation. We create the opportunity for us to talk any way that we want; to act in any manner that we would like to act because that's how we feel.

Think about this with children. Would we allow our children to throw a temper tantrum simply because they felt like it? We expect our children to act in a certain manner in spite of how they feel. I believe this ability is key to a marriage turning around from a negative and destructive narrative to a healthy and positive one. We have to be willing to approach our spouse in a way that is completely loving, despite how we feel. This intentionality literally builds relational equity because it tells your spouse that you are someone who can trusted. It tells them that you care about the relationship first and foremost. When they truly believe this, they know that for the most part, you are going to do what is best for the both of you,not just yourself.

When we build relational equity we create a space where bad things can happen but not define the relationship. We create space for a fight to occur and no one has to pay. We move back to a time where differences are celebrated.

Do you remember that time? Probably when you were dating, you actually celebrated the differences between you and your spouse. Whatever was different was cute and adorable and proof that you were "meant to be." If you're caught in a bad narrative, those same differences are now lamented.

If you're not caught in a bad narrative but want to improve your relationship, you still need to consider being intentional to build relational equity. Why? Because relational equity is either growing or it is shrinking, there is rarely an in-between. When we have relational equity, we can go through a fight because we filter the idea of the fight not through a lens of anger but through a more balanced lens of anger in the moment but of true caring for the totality of the relationship.

Relational equity must be built intentionally. We must control our tongue when we are talking to our spouse. When we are in a stress moment we must control what we say, how say it and how we hear what is said.

You read that right. I believe that a person must control how they hear what is said. This doesn't mean that act as though we didn't hear what they said, it means we make sure that we know what they said before we respond. Think about how many arguments you've had because you answered a question before you actually knew the question being asked. Later in this book, I'm going to teach you some simple communication techniques that can transform your relationship. They are simple but not easy. They will build equity in your relationship. Communication is not the only way to build relational equity.

Relational Equity part 3

Part one can be found here.

Part two can be found here.

Focus on the positives

If you are fighting with your spouse a lot, chances are good that you are focusing on the negatives. Let’s say that your husband has been promising to get something done in the backyard for months. You keep bringing it up and he doesn’t do it! Finally, you resort to little comments. Still no movement on the project! This was exactly the case with a couple I’ll call Davi and Denise. Denise needed a kids fort built in the backyard and Davi had said that he would do it but never did.

When I asked Denise if she knew why Davi wouldn’t do it, she said that she didn’t but she assumed it was because it wasn’t as important to him as it was to her. I looked at Davi and asked him if this were true. He told me that it was not true, he believed the kids fort needed built as much as Denise though it needed built.

This left two other potential reasons. Either Davi felt inadequate to build the kids fort. If this were true, I was going to have a rough road in front of me seeing if I could help them get any traction on this issue. We tend to avoid the areas where we feel inadequate as though they are plague producing. In truth, I didn’t think that this was the issue for Davi. As near as I could tell, he was a very competent carpenter.

The second possibilty was the one that I thought was far more likely. Davi figured that Denise would tear his building apart. She would find things that she didn’t like about it and complain. She would move from one negative to another and then she would eventually just start complaining about the next project that he wasn’t going to do. In Davi’s mind there was no pay-off to building this fort because it would just go bad.

Davi and Denise had negative relational equity. When Davi thought about doing something for Denise his immediate thought was that it would go badly. That’s negative equity.

I asked him if I was right in my guess. He confirmed that I was. What followed was a pretty common conversation. Denise denied that she did that and asked for examples. Before she could finish that question, he rattled off at least three different examples. Before he could finish those, she denied then dismissed them. Then she discounted that she had actually tore his work apart. He looked at me and simply said, “See.”

Both Davi and Denise had stopped building relational equity into their lives. I asked Denise what she thought would happen if she just said thank you and praised Davi when he built the kid’s fort. She laughed and said, “He’d probably pass out.”

I asked Davi what he thought would happen if he just built it and then made the changes that Denise brought up afterwards. He laughed and said, “I’d be at it forever.”

That’s the part I can’t deny. Intentionally building relational equity takes time. It’s long. But then again so is fighting. Divorce is expensive both financially and emotionally. Instead of being around to hear his wife’s comments, Davi started just bailing. He went fishing. He went to his buddy’s house to work on their race car. He simply bailed.

Those actions made him feel temporarily safe. But they made him feel completely insecure in the long run. He focused on the negatives and he lost.

So did Denise. She focused on what Davi didn’t do. She failed to focus on what he did do. Consequently, he did less. Because they both refused to actually build into the relationship, it withered. It shrank to the point, where they felt like strangers when they were around each other. They fought about everything.

She’d ask him to fold clothes

He’d fold the clothes.

She’d complain because he didn’t do it the way she wanted him to fold them.

So he stopped folding the clothes.

Then she complained because he stopped folding the clothes.

She asked him to clean the house.

He did.

Because he cleaned the house, he figured she’d want to have sex.

She didn’t want to have sex.

He became angry because she didn’t want to have sex and then blustered and yelled.

Now she really didn’t want to have sex.

That is a fairly common pattern to a relationship where relational equity has been lost. But it doesn’t have to be that way. A couple doesn’t have to be stuck in a pattern of doing in order to get. I often to suggest to couples to commit to the idea of giving without expecting anything in return. The problem with my suggestion is that it goes directly against why we got into the relationship in the first place. Most of us got into our relationship for what we were getting out of it. It’s easy to see how this creates problems for us in the future.

Committing to loving the other person regardless of what they do builds relational equity. It’s also probably the hardest thing you will ever try to do. When relationships are stuck in a particularly nasty and severely negative narrative, the heart of each partner is numb as if it has been encased in ice. Layer upon layer of ice. Each act of love that doesn’t come with an expectation in return is an attempt to melt that ice just a little bit at a time.

That’s the rub isn’t it? An act of love done with an expectation of return isn’t love.

Folding clothes expecting to get sex isn’t love.

Cooking dinner expecting to get a foot rub isn’t love.

Love has to be given without an expectation of return. Love has to be free in order to be love. It comes without guile or a price. But when we try to repair relationships that have little to no relational equity we tend to do just that. We demand love be recognized. We give love, but we want it to be lauded and recompensed.

The minute that happens, it stops being love and becomes a transaction. It is no longer love. It is some less. It is often hurtful and continues the cycle of pain, fights and exasperation. Relational equity is built by giving love without expecting anything in return.

We will continue this series tomorrow looking at part 4.

Relational Equity part 2

This is a continuation of a series on relational equity.

Part 1 can be found here.

Stop Manipulating

I’m suggesting you should stop attempting to manipulate your spouse into doing what you want them to do. In fact, my assumption is that you can never manipulate someone into doing something and have a long term healthy relationship with them. Seriously think about the people you know and have known over the years, how many of them had manipulation be a part of the story and it actually went well? How many of them ended in divorce. One of the sad truths of being a counselor focusing on relationships is the fact that most often people are resistant too the idea of changing their own behavior in order to change the relationship. Every time, you manipulate, even if you get what you wanted you lose relational equity. If your relational equity hits zero, you destroy emotional security. It’s that simple.

Our view of our relationship made in a day. Our spouses view of the painting that is our relationship is not made in a day. It’s a compilation of a thousand brush strokes. Those brush strokes either build or take down relational equity. One of the arenas where we make really large deposits or withdrawals is in the arena of conflict with our spouse. Think about how many hurtful things typically get said in a fight. Consider how many sentences are never given the opportunity to be finished before the speaker is cut off and is told why the thought that they were not able to finish is not only wrong but they are also stupid. This is the pattern we must change. We must change it in how we fight, how we communicate when we’re not angry and how we do life together.

If you’re a yeller and you purposely don’t yell, your spouse can’t help but notice. If you are a sarcasmer (yes, I made that word up) and you refrain from using sarcasm, your partner will take notice and it will register. If you are a shut down withdrawer and you purposely engage…well, I think you get the idea.

It will be messy. Life is messy. Love is messy. When we enter into a marriage relationship, we are trying to build both. It’s bound to be incredibly messy, but also worth it. The problem is that usually we expect our spouse to notice and respond immediately. We expect the equity to build on one shot. So the yeller doesn’t yell and his spouse still attacks. That’s it! Back to yelling for him.

Imagine, buying a house and then being angry because the equity didn’t go up significantly the next day. That would be ridiculous and most people would laugh at a person who reacted that way. But that is exactly what we do, when we get upset because our spouses “didn’t notice that we’ve changed after one or two disagreements.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at part three.

Relational Equity. Guaranteed to help your relationship.

This is the first part in a series on relational equity. This is actually a chapter directly out of my book that I’m working on. I imagine some of the things I have to say in this section will be somewhat controversial. That is not my intent. This is a key to a healthy relationship. Please keep all correspondence and comments polite. Thanks.

I was relating a story to someone about how my wife and I had not had a real tear your hair out fight where we were just lobbing emotional bombs at each other in over a year. Then we did. My wife hadn’t been sleeping much and I was under a lot of stress. We had a true blue fight. There was no use of the techniques I’ll write about later. It was simple marriage warfare.

My friend said, “Now you gotta pay.”

I replied, “No, not really. We both apologized and owned our own mistakes. It’s over now.” He didn’t believe me. I assured him that I wasn’t lying to him. It truly was over. We would probably joke about it for a while, but the actual fighting part was over. No more emotional damage.

The obvious question is how does a couple get there. I think everyone can get there. They need to work on their relational equity. You do that by actually living by your vows. You remember those? Those pesky promises where you promised to love your spouse more than anyone else including yourself?

What happens when we actually live that way? We build relational equity. When your spouse knows that you are upset, or hurt and you purposely choose words that are loving instead of hurtful, you build relational equity. When your spouse knows that you purposely work at your communication skills you build relational equity. There are a myriad of ways to build equity. We will not touch on all of them in this book, but any time you put your spouse and the health of your relationship ahead of your own desires, you build equity. It’s like making a deposit into a bank.

In the same way, every time you throw a temper tantrum or act childish, you chip away at your relational equity. You make a withdraw. When you try to manipulate your spouse into doing what you want them to do either through punishment (I’m not talking to him/her) or reward (Jim, just knows that if he wants sex he better do what I want him to do) we are chipping away at the well of relational equity our spouse has stored up for us.

We also add to our own equity. Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it? I’m suggesting that telling your wife you love her, will actually increase your love for her. I’m suggesting that if you don’t want to have sex with your husband, you should because that will increase your desire to have sex with him.

Relational equity occurs when we build into the relationship.

On roles of men and women, a question.

Recently, I was contacted by another therapist regarding a consultation. This is what she said to me in almost verbatim.

In the past, we’ve had too much of men being able to judge women and make them feel… “less” but today we’re encouraging it in women. Rather than solving the problem, we’re just teaching women to respond in kind. Especially, in religious circles. We’re just exacerbating the problem.

So many men feel judged because they can’t be “enough” for their women. But the truth is that it has nothing to do with the husband. Nothing could be enough for many of the women because they have to deal with what it is inside of themselves. We’re teaching women that because their feelings are hurt that the husband must have been wrong. We’re sending mixed signals of what we want from our men and it is destroying relationships and men. It’s just as wrong as when men were allowed to treat women any way that they wanted to treat them.

I’m curious, do you agree with this therapist or not? I certainly see a lot of this showing up in sessions. What are your thoughts?

Points to Ponder (<100words)

A great tragedy of our day is that we have no framework with which to process bad things. We do not process difficult things.

We ignore and soothe them.

Because we can’t process it, we become cynical and jaded. No longer is life a series of seasons where some are good and some are bad, now life is out to get me.

This is perhaps, the worst possible way to live.

It makes us reactive.

We must choose how we want to live and expect that difficulties will come in our pursuit of that goal.

(95 words)

There is a difference between trials and consequences

When difficult things happen, people often lump all of them into trials or bad things happening. But the truth is often much more complicated than that.

Too often, we reap consequences that are difficult.

Those consequences are the result of something we did.

That’s not a trial.

That’s life.

If I blow all of my money on racing equipment, I’m not going through a trial when I can’t buy groceries, I’m living with a consequence.

This distinction is important because it sets up our mindset for how we are going approach the difficulty. It drives our assumptions about the problem. It moves the difficulty from something that happened to us to something that we did.

That’s actually good news, if we talk a hold of it.

We don’t have to repeat the process. We don’t have to follow that choice up with other bad choices.

We can make different choices.

Too many people mope about the terrible trial they’re in, when in reality they are living in the situation they created. There’s a difference in life handing me lemons and me running through the orchard grabbing lemons and then complaining that I have lemons and not oranges.

The next time life is hard and you’re tempted to lump it into the trials or life is hard box, ask yourself some of the following questions.

  1. Did I create this problem?
  2. If not, what did I do that did contribute to it?
  3. How do I move forward from this problem?

These questions will help you to be empowered to create real change in your life. They will keep you from getting stuck in a problem.

What strategies have you found to be helpful when you encounter a problem? Tell me in the comments.