44 posts categorized "Family" Feed

Dealing with the loss of loved ones. Grief hope and our mired mess of emotions

It was a Sunday. I was sweeping the living room floor. Our phone rang, and it was a landline. Eighteen years ago was the last time that I talked to my mom.

Thirty-seven days after that phone conversation, my mom passed away. Grief and Loss2

A few days after that we would bury her in the ground.

And now, every year I have that same very short time. To be reminded of my grief. Then, of course, there is the grief that comes around the holidays or when I'm cooking, or when I'm driving down the road.

I think there's a lie that we tell ourselves about grief. I think that lie is that somehow it's supposed to go away. That over time, which is supposed to heal all wounds-whatever the heck that means, will somehow make the pain go away.

I heard a song the other day that had lyrics that with something to the effect of "we tell ourselves that what we found is what we wanted." I found these lyrics to be somewhat profound. Our capacity to lie to ourselves in order to avoid pain knows very few limits.

Because there's an inherent problem with grief that surrounds death; it never goes away. I wish you could've met my mom. It doesn't matter who you are, your life would've been better for having known her.

My mom's life story was a hard one. She experienced trauma in almost every stage of life. Looking back now, with a professional degree in counseling and a decade's worth of experience, I realize that she had a lot of anxiety-driven behaviors and probably struggled with clinical depression.

I have so many good memories of things that she did. She and my dad were married for almost 33 years when she passed away

And yet, I also have regrets. Things that I did that limited my time with her. If I'm really honest with you, I have no idea when the grief will come. I rarely know what will bring tears. I only know grief and tears will come.

And what happens, as many people often feel such pain and decide that they are done loving. They decide that they are done taking a risk.

Or, they decide that they can't admit the pain. They pretend that it isn't there. They feel it, but they try to cover it up with toughness or anger or work or pot or depression. The list of the things that we try to cover the pain up with is long.

But the problem with that approach is that it diminishes our humanity. It reduces our human experience. I believe that death was never supposed to be a part of our story, but it is. And when we try to avoid the pain of death we have to limit our opportunity for love.

Mom and Dad
An undated picture of my parents

When we try to avoid grief we are actually the ones that lose. I can't lie to you, there is a profound sense of grief that runs through late May and almost all of June for me. And yet I truly believe that that profound sense of grief helps me to love my wife and children better.

It helps me to love my friend Joe, who lost his 24-year-old son last summer in a deeper and fuller way. Because our emotions or a mired mess of complicatedness  (is that even a word?).

Life is a risk. I sometimes think that half of my job and helping couples who are in a bad place is to convince them to risk again with their partner that hurt them. Love is a risk. Someday, everyone I love will die, or I will die.  As uplifting of a thought as that is, it is reality.

But here's what I'm hoping for. I'm hoping that that reality will spur us to love more deeply. I'm desperately optimistic that reality will motivate us to want to work at reconciling more.

Because we are always going to struggle with pain. And we will always be at our best when we are loving others and being loved by others. My mom loved to do things for other people. She loved to help people. She gave herself in service to others.

That's probably a pretty good model for us. That is probably a recipe for a successful life.

There was an ancient writer who once wrote that it is better to go to a funeral than to a party. Because when we go to a funeral we are more likely to take account of our lives. At a funeral we are more likely to measure the number of days that we have which of the same writer wrote is a great way to get wisdom.

If you'd like to hear more of my thoughts on this topic, I made a podcast about it. Click on the word podcast in the banner above. It's episode 103.

May you, my friend reconcile with those from whom you are distant.

May you find love and suck every morsel of opportunity out of it.

May you give love with reckless abandon.

May you accept the pain that comes with the joy.

May you take great risks.

May you experience a love that opens you up to the opportunity of great pain.

Because without the opportunity of great pain, there is probably no great love.

May you live well, my friends.






Do you give yourself a hall pass

Relationships are hard

They can have painful experiences. Those painful experiences from past experiences can cast shadows into our current relationships. People are complicated messes. Even, perhaps especially, the people we love. 

Often, when I'm working with a couple I will see a phenomenon I call "Hall Pass." Hallpass

When they are feeling their loved ones behavior is painful, they will give themselves a hall pass to do bad behavior. Let's say that Rose approaches Jack with something that has been bothering her. She starts out well matching facts and feelings. She follows the six rules of communication.


But then things go sideways. Jack starts talking about this one time she could have shared the floating door with him and he starts to raise his voice...

...and he starts to raise his voice...

How is she to respond? Well, she can yell and be mean and say whatever feels good in the moment. That's the power of a hall pass. You get to do what you want because you feel threatened.

Of course, that's incredibly damaging to relationships. It feels safe in the moment but in reality, it's destructive and painful to relationships. 

So how should she respond?

Well, first of all, it is good to recognize that Jack's behavior or not acceptable. She can tell him that it's not OK for him to be yelling at her or calling him names.

If can't control himself, she can tell him that she is not going to talk to him until they can talk in a productive way.

She might say, "Jack, I don't think we're being very productive right now, let's take an hour to calm down. Could we talk in one hour?"

She might say, "Jack, I don't appreciate being yelled at and I'd like to solve this problem with you but I can't be in this conversation if you're going to call me names or yell. Can we take a few moments to step back and calm down?"

What if Jack isn't doing those things but Rose can see that he's bothered by her statements. He's doing that thing he does with this jaw line when he's upset.

He's not violating the six rules. He's not calling her names. He's not even yelling. But she knows! Because she knows him!.

So she starts yelling. She gives herself a hall pass.

He could respond as listed above. He could even admit his frustration with her and he could kindly point out that while he is frustrated, he's not violating any of their ground rules for communication.

In this scenario, Rose is caught in a place where she's reacting to his emotions and not his actions. That's a dangerous and damaging place to be. 

I think almost everyone knows the right and wrong way to communicate. I find that most people just give themselves a hall pass when they feel distressed or in pain.

Please note that saying, "let's take a step back" is not the same as just shutting down to avoid the pain. One is intentionally taking a step back to move the relationship forward, the other is done to avoid discomfort and for the benefit of the individual only.

That's the rub in relationships (and I know there are plenty of people who disagree with me on this) but a healthy relationship requires an unfaltering commitment to what is best for the relationship. We have to set aside our own individual fears and pain and engage our partner in a healthy manner. 

Here is a list of some ways you might engage while keeping safe boundaries and move the relationship forward.

1. Follow good rules of communication

2. Do what is right regardless of what the other person is doing.

3. Do not call names or attack the other person. 

4. Deal with what happened and how you felt about it.

5. If necessary, take a step back but set a time to re-engage the topic.


Above all, don't allow your behavior to be dictated by someone else. Do what's right regardless of what they do.

Grief for People We have Never Met

This past Sunday I was taking my daughter to practice driving. We were driving down the main road here in town and my wife and I were texting (my daughter was driving) and she sent me a text, "Did you hear Kobe Bryant died this morning in a helicopter crash?"

At first, I thought maybe she fell victim to an internet hoax. As a side note, what does it say about our society that we actually live in a world where we have to consider the possibility that someone may have purposely started a fake story just to see if it would go viral?

image from en.wikipedia.orgUpon checking the news, I realized it wasn't a hoax. It felt like a kick to the gut.  A man I never knew, never met, never even saw play in person and it took my breath away.

I am a firm believer that if we're going to make sports players our heroes, they should be second tier heroes. Elevating someone simply because they can put a ball through a hoop or use a piece of wood to send a leather ball over a fence seems inherently tricky to me.

But, there is something transcendent about sports. Something that many connect with on a visceral level.

The responses were interesting as always to me, when a celebrity passes away. There is always someone willing to tell someone else why they shouldn't be grieving the passing of a celebrity.

That seems beyond silly to me, it seems downright unhealthy.

Because in grieving someone we never met, we are afforded the opportunity to remember those we have met and lost. We are given the opportunity to grapple with our own mortality.

We all only get so many trips around the sun (thank you, Kenny Chesney) and we don't know when the last trip has started or ended until it's done.

Someone once wrote that if we number our days we will have a heart of wisdom.

Even as I type these words, I feel a level of sadness for Kobe and his daughter. For his family. Maybe you don't.  I think that's probably OK too. I'm not sure it's healthy if you're telling other people that they shouldn't be mourning.

And for the many, many people that do, that's OK too. In fact, it's an opportunity.

It's an opportunity to examine our own life. I once read that it is better to go to a house of mourning than to a party. I couldn't understand what I was reading at the time. As I have aged, I think I understand it better. Mourning the loss of someone else helps us to all realize that death is coming for us all.

We will all die.

What we do between that day and this day is completely up to us. 

It's an opportunity to reconcile broken relationships. The idea of reconciliation is something that many people give up on. I hope that changes. We can attempt to reconcile, of course it takes two people and maybe the other person isn't ready or willing but at moments like this. Moments where in all of the business, and chaos of every day life, we are given the chance to stop, pause and reflect are a great time to consider what broken relationships we might be able to mend.

It's an opportunity to cultivate gratefulness. Take the time to remind your loved ones that you love them and that you are thankful for their presence in your life. You might not get another chance. Take stock of your life and express gratitude for all that is in it. This might be starting a gratitude journal or writing someone note. Whatever it is, do it.

We know that gratitude does many wonderful things for our brain and actually improves our quality of life.

It's an opportunity to feel like you have to be happy all of the time. I often tell clients that they need to develop an ability to experience and sit in "dark" emotions. Those feelings and emotions that are not happy and excited are also part of the human experience and are necessary for a healthy life. Give yourself to sit in them. Give yourself time to just live with them.

For reasons that I can't quite explain I feel a sense of loss with Kobe's passing. I feel grief for all of the lives lost that day and for the family members left behind with the devastating pain trying to make sense of it all. I hope that I will take this feeling of a sense of loss and grief to examine my own life and grow.

May we all.


The Subtle Stages of an Affair

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
    --->A person here will tend to start to complain loudly about their spouse. image from c2.staticflickr.com
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.

Things I Hope My Kids Learn: #31 Whenever Possible, Do Good.

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.

#31. Whenever Possible Do Good. Kidslearn1

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.

Things I Hope My Kids Learn: If you Don' Like Your Life

I consistently run into people who dislike their life #67

Usually with a passion.

And yet, they make zero changes.

They do the same things over and over again.

As if their life is written out for them and no matter what they attempt, they are stuck living a life they hate.

This is patently false.

We, you and I can always change our life.  The problem is that change is often hard

Change is often very painful. Even desired change.

Most people resist that pain choosing rather to wallow in the pain that they are familiar with over the potential pain that they do not know.  This resistance to pain of any kind becomes  muscle memory and it simply becomes easier to avoid it.

But this resistance to pain comes at a new price. The person becomes stuck in their life that they hate. But stuck is the wrong word because it implies some sort of outside force keeping them from achieving their desired outcome. Most of the time, the outside force is us. 

There are three simple questions everyone must ask of themselves if they want to experience change.

  1. What do I want? This is the most basic question. What do I really want? Often we want competing things. That is to say, we often want things that cancel each other out. We want to be heroic but face zero danger. We want to spend money indiscriminately and grow our savings account. This is why we need to make priorities.
  2. What am I willing to pay? We often want things without having to pay for them. We want to own a successful business without putting in the hours required to be successful. We want to lose weight without sacrificing foods that we like but that are bad for us. We want to get better sleep but don't want to pay the cost of going to bed earlier. So often, people get stuck because they decide the price of change is too steep without adequately measuring the cost of staying the same.
  3. What am I willing to risk? So often people want to achieve something without risk. This is impossible. The person who wants to expand her circle of friends will have to risk rejection. The man who wants to experience true love will be forced the risk the loss of that love. The person who wants to experience change, will have to risk the possibility of set backs and failures.

And so I say to my children, and you...indeed to myself, if we don't like the situation we are currently in, we are free to change it. Always.

VLOG Post #2. A Way to Improve Every Conversation

This video is from my YouTube page regarding ways every conversation can be improved. Conversations about conflict can be hard, and this won't make them easier, but it will give help you make it more productive. Watch it and let me know what you think.

Things I Hope My Kids Learn: You are not the sum of your mistakes. #66

This is the first in an ongoing series entitled, Things I hope my kids learn. This is number 66. The numbers have little significance but they do provide me a decent way to track each one.

One of the most common things I see in life is people enslaved by their mistakes. image from scontent.fdet1-1.fna.fbcdn.net

The young father with a criminal record, fears to ever take a chance because of a mistake when he was 18. The young mother who fears loving again because he baby daddy left her.

The middle aged person who over reached and now lives in fear of trying again.

The stories go on, wandering a long and meandering path.

Too often I see people who simply can't past their own mistakes. There's a guy at the gym where I work out who told me that he has been in a violent and bad relationship for 25 years because he cheated on his wife with the woman he was in relationship with now.

That's the definition of being enslaved.

I pray my children learn that their mistakes do not have to define them.

But what about you? What can you and I (and for that matter our children) do with the mistakes that have happened?

  1. Admit and own the mistake. One of the biggest things that I see people do that actually gets them trapped is that they refuse to admit that they made a mistake. Worse, they often try to deflect ownership for their mistake to someone else.
  2. Evaluate for what you can do differently. Simply because you made a mistake, that doesn't mean you have to repeat it.
  3. Gather resources. Sometimes this will require you to look for others to help. Sometimes, you'll need to wait and be patient while you gather your resources or the next semester or job opening comes along. People are often tempted to skimp on this step. Don't be one of them.
  4. Try again. I'm not sure step 4 needs explained.
  5. Repeat. Often, overcoming mistakes needs multiple attempts. You have to be willing to go back into the fray. Go back again and again.

Mistakes can rob us of hope. Instead of looking at them as something bad, I'd love for my kids to come to the place where they celebrate failure as a means to gain knowledge and wisdom. Of course, that means that I too would have to come to a place used to failure and mistakes.

That may be the greatest trick of all.


Let's End the War on Technology

The other day I was reading a pretty good article. It was about parents being better parents. Good stuff.
This is a topic that interests me. Partly, because I’m a parent and partly because I need to know about it to be good at my job.  
He talked about parents doing parenting things. It was really pretty good for about 2/3’s of the way.

And the comments underneath it!

What went wrong? He blamed technology for the parenting problems we’re seeing today.
It was too much screen time.
Blame the iPad!
Blame the gadget!
Blame the fact that we have milk in the fridge and water in faucet!
Wait? What?

Well, I mean if we’re going to blame things externally of us, why not the milk in the fridge or the water in the faucet?
Technology makes a nice new target...because it's new. I had someone tell me that there problem with it was the fact that people "don't talk to each other anymore."
I asked him to find some pictures from the earlier generations of people gathering. Turns out they were reading newspapers.
They weren't all that more engaged.

Technology isn't the reason our kids are disrespectful or disobedient today.
They are whatever they are because we have allowed them to be that way.
We have abdicated our responsibility as parents to schools, TV and devices.
And we blame technology.

Let's end the war on technology.

Let's take control of our own lives and realize that technology is just a tool.
A tool is neither good nor bad, it is simply used.
Let's not use it as a tool to jettison our own responsibility to parent.
Let's accept that our children are sentient beings with their own level of free will.
Let's stop blaming and start owning our personal responsibility.

We will never see true growth if we blame something outside of us for our problems, rather we need to examine our own motives and heart and how we use the tools that we have.

Your Marriage is Mortal, It can die. You Can Keep It Alive

I recently had a conversation with a friend of mine. I told him that all marriages are mortal. He immediately became offended and said, "No way! My marriage is not mortal!"

I laughed at him and said not only was his marriage mortal but that if he didn't recognize that fact and act accordingly it would increase the chances that his marriage could become sick or die. Of course, this was met with more angst. We ended up having a great conversation. He may or may not comment on this post, I don't know. 

Whether we want to admit it or not, our marriages are mortal. Everyone's marriage is mortal. It does not matter how much you want to say that you will never get divorced or that your marriage will never die. It could and we have less control over than we'd like to admit.

I commented to my wife the other day that it seems every time I turn around I’m learning about someone new getting divorced. Some have been married for just a few years and some have been married for many years. 

There is a hard reality about marriages. For every 100 couples that gets married this weekend better than 50 of them will end up in divorce. Every one of them thinks that it will be someone else.

I think that many people think that as long as they refuse to acknowledge the D word everything will work out. I admit I used to think this way. There is at least two problems with this type of thinking.

First of all, a marriage requires two people to work on it. A person I know once said that marriage is something you possess and do. The trick is you don't possess it or do it alone. You do it with someone else. Sadly, that person can decide to walk away and there may be nothing you can do about it.

A second problem with this line of thinking is that it does not allow you to look realistically at your marriage. To say that our marriages cannot die is a lot like saying that our bodies cannot break down. It just isn't based in reality.

When we say our marriages are not mortal, we can delude ourselves into thinking everything is OK when it is not. Worse, we can become too scared to admit that we have problems in our marriage. This fear may prohibit us from seeking professional help in counseling for our marriage.

The truth is your marriage, my friend's marriage and my marriage is mortal. They can all die, which is why we must be vigilant in protecting ouimage from scontent-iad3-1.xx.fbcdn.netr marriages. We must cultivate them.

When things are going ravishingly well, we must work at it. When dry and difficult times come we must work at it.

Admitting that our bodies are mortal does not mean that we want to die prematurely. The same is true for marriages. When I was married I made a promise to stay that way until death separated us and I meant it.

Denying that my marriage is mortal doesn't make that promise any stronger. It does not make my marriage stronger, in fact I think it makes it more vulnerable.

By admitting that it is fragile, and extremely valuable I am admitting that it is something I have to work on every day.