Five Minute Sherpa

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Listen twice

There’s a invaluable rule in construction: Measure twice, cut once. If you’ve ever made the mistake of not following this advice, you understand how important it is. One mis cut piece of material can vastly alter the overall structure and finished product.

It takes a little extra time, focus, and energy to do the same thing repeatedly, but when dealing with a $300 piece of wood, it’s well worth the time.

This idea is true for relationships as well … with a little adaptation: Listen twice, respond once. Our response is like taking a saw out and making a cut. It’s putting action to what is being heard and communicated. Yes, it will take some extra time and energy to listen twice, but this will surely save you unnecessary heartache.

Most of us only listen once, biding our time until we can get a word in edgewise. Listening twice might include asking open-ended questions out of a genuine place of curiosity, not to lead the witness. If you don’t feel this genuineness, take a step back until you can be. The great thing is the universality of this concept. It works in all relationships. Try it at work, with friends, or your kids. You might hear someone’s truth instead of responding based on your assumptions.

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The Power of Words

We all remember those times in middle school, around the age of 13, when friends could become enemies in an instant. There was one such time for me in eighth grade. As a shy, do-gooder, and socially conservative kid, I was rarely seen by my friends as a threat or a bother. However, one of my supposed good friends accused me of back-stabbing him by ratting him out to another friend. I had done no such thing, and was quite taken aback when this friend shoved me into a trash can and called me a rat.

I was devastated. It was the first fight I’d gotten in (and it wasn’t much of a fight), and the first time and I’d been accused of being someone I wasn’t. Eighth grade is a cruel time of life, and this was my wakeup call. To this day, I can still remember the feeling of being shoved, called a name, and laughed at by those surrounding me. It’s not painful today, but it is still etched in my memory.

Kids are especially susceptible to taking on the influence of name-calling as they are still in the formative years of their development, both physically and emotionally. The reality is that even though adults are out of their formational years, name-calling is still just as painful.

I’ve never understood the saying “sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” When I said it as a kid, it always felt hollow despite the promise of immunity from an older friend. The truth is that sticks and stones AND words will hurt me.

Words can be as sharp as a two-edged sword, as pointed as a dagger; they are as deadly to the soul as any weapon. The great news is that just as words can be used to cause harm, so too can they be used to heal.

For instance, name-calling is one way that we can inflict harm upon someone else. Saying that someone is stupid, an idiot, or other names that I won’t mention here, is in effect an act of violence. Sometimes being hurt by someone is so painful that we resort to name-calling. In effect, we use derogative names to get the other person to feel as hurt as we do.

Harmful words from someone who professes love to us is like a friend offering poisoned water to a thirsty person. It’s a violation of trust, love, and respect. It’s also immature. Children call each other names; not adults.

In the same way that names can be harmful, they can also be healing. We have all been called names by those from our past. Some of us even refer to those names as the gold-standard in our lives. We’re a living library catalogue of words and names people have given us. Some of these names deeply affect our present lives.Trusted friends or a partner can help us to rename ourselves.

Some questions to ask yourself, and a loved one, as you consider this topic.

  • In what ways have I been named, helpfully and/or harmfully?
  • In what ways have I named others, helpfully and/or harmfully? Do I need to make amends for this?
  • What needs do I have from those closest to me in this area?
  • What needs do those closest to me have for me?

One final thought. When the fall happened to Adam and Eve many years ago, nothing was left unaffected. Words are some of the most precious gifts we have in life because it is how we explain and tell others who we are and what we need. One day the brokenness of words, and specifically of names, will also be redeemed. This is the day that we look forward to as a beacon for how to be present today. Be mindful of this and the impact on your choice of words.

(article originally published at Start Marriage Right)

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Introverts and Marriage

Introverts have long received the label of “misunderstood.” Some estimate that at least a third or more of the population are introverts. While this is a subjective estimation (everyone has some extroverted and introverted parts), it’s safe to say that most marriages will have one person who is more introverted than the other.

If the term “introvert” is an unfamiliar one, let me give a brief background to this personality type. Introverts tend to be more concerned with the quality of relationships, as opposed to the quantity. They also are more interested in the depth of understanding, not the breadth. Introverts are people oriented but usually require time away from large groups of people to re-energize. Whereas an extrovert would have more energy after a social outing, an introvert would likely be left feeling a bit depleted.

A common misconception is that introverts only like to be alone. Certainly this is sometimes the case, it’s more likely that introverts are more limited in their social energies than of their counterpart, the extrovert. “Intro” refers to inside, which means that processing happens internally. The Myers-Briggs personality test is a great resource for helping to shed light on which personality types best describe people.

So what happens in marriage when an introvert, one who tends to be quieter, slower, and more internal in their processing, marries an extrovert? A feeling of being overwhelmed with all the stimulation of having another person inside in their world.

As an introvert with four young kids (at this time, 10 years old and under), I’m continually faced with people getting in my business. Sometimes, it’s too much for me. Two of my older kids are extroverts, as is my wife, so I’m definitely in the minority. Prior to getting married, I used to journal 4-5 times per week. It was my therapy as I processed the ups and downs in life through written word. I used to fill up journals of content every year, but when I got married, I stopped journaling. Part of this is because I didn’t have any words left for my journal. I used them all with my wife. The other part was that I really didn’t know what to do with someone else in my world on a constant basis.

I was confused. I loved Stephanie, my wife, being there, but I wanted space. I battled guilt for sometimes wanting to be away from her, but at the same time I resented her. It was an odd time. You or your spouse might face a similar situation. Here are some suggestions about navigating this area of your relationship.

First, be forthright about the emotional and/or relational needs that each of you have. How much time do you need apart or where there is enough space to recharge? How often do social gatherings need to take place? What about travel to family events, or weekend plans? All of these questions will address the needs of both the introvert and extrovert. Because introverts tend to be slower processors, they need space to think and consider what is happening in life. Talk about the specific needs you or your spouse have, and agree together how to go about accomplishing these needs.

Secondly, don’t be afraid to split up on any given event. You both don’t have to be together at every social gathering. If the setup is that both go together or not at all, one is going to be susceptible to resentment. If one of you does stay behind, make sure to check in with one another after the event, or the following day. As with all things, keep short accounts with each other.

Lastly, trade off leadership responsibilities in regards to date night or social gatherings. This is a great practice to do outside of the conversation about introversion/extroversion. The helpful aspect of this is the chance to invite the other into your world and what it is that you enjoy doing. By trading the leadership in this way, both partners will be given freedom to express themselves to their spouse.

Introverts help us to slow down, to think things through, and to settle into helpful rhythms. Without a sense of care, an introvert will shut down and become removed from the relationship. Care well for the introvert in you and in your marriage, and enjoy the fruits of a deeper relationship.

(Article originally published at Start Marriage Right)

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Show Me the Money

Sex get’s most of the hype as the big conversation topic prior to getting married. This is probably because, in general, sex is a lot more enjoyable to practice than any of the other issues a couple might face. With that said, the issue of money will usually be a more divisive topic than sex throughout a couples’ marriage.

Money will usually come up more than sex because we deal with it every day. The limitations placed on us in life are generally most evident when we look at our checking register.

So, what needs to be discussed about money prior to getting married? I’m glad you asked, because there’s plenty to cover. Before this conversation is had with your significant other, agree to be curious and graceful with one another. This is not a light-hearted topic. The below list is not an exhaustive list of questions and topics, but is meant to set the table for which to have an ongoing conversation about money.

Family history of money

What were the financial aspects of growing up? Everyone comes from someone, and everyone is shaped by the way that their family of origin handled their money. Some questions to consider here: What was important for your family? What or Where did they spend their money? What was their philosophy on saving, giving, and debt? Did you ever feel pressured to spend or not spend mom/dad’s money? Did money get talked about, and was this appropriate?

Purpose of money

Believe it or not, we all have very different ideas about what money is to be used for. Some view money as a security blanket, shielding them from the harsh realities of life. Some might view it as a fleeting object, to be spent when you have it. Can money buy happiness? What is the purpose and meaning of money?

Personal stories with money

What are the three to five most influential acts you’ve done that have had to do with money.? This could be a poor decision that resulted in a hardship (like the time I bought a pager when I was 16 so that my work, a shoe store, could get a hold of me — I spent hundreds of dollars on that pager and maybe received a total of 10 pages). On the other side, this could be a gift made to someone in need. Regardless, we all have stories about how and what we have done with money that reflect some of who we are.

Financial truths today

What are the financial details of your current situation? What is your salary, bonuses, commissions, etc? How much money do you have in savings, retirement, checking accounts, etc? What about debts, student loans, car notes, etc? What’s your credit story (if I pulled your credit report, what story would it tell)? Is there anything that you would change about the way you deal with money today?

Financial hopes tomorrow

One of the great aspects of getting married is that we get a chance to start fresh with some areas that we might not have handled well in the past. Money is one of those opportunities.

Do you anticipate both husband and wife working outside of the home indefinitely? How do the prospect of kids influence this decision? How do you want to handle saving, spending, retirement, college, etc?

If both husband and wife are working at the beginning of marriage, how do you want to harness the power of two incomes? A lot of times couples increase their standard of living once two incomes are put into the pot. I always suggest keeping the same standard of lifestyle for the first year, and then adjust as you see fit. Having more money in the bank will generally provide a safer place from which to have discussions about money together.

Beyond these topics that help you to address the past, present, and future, I suggest putting some boundaries in place that help couples succeed in their financial marriage. Firstly, once married do not have separate checking accounts. Open a joint account as soon as possible, and begin paying everything together from that account. Secondly, have bi-weekly and monthly budget meetings. Lastly, dream big. Talk about vacations, cars, trips, and home decor. Do some fun things together with money, and make your money work for you.

Money can be an incredible force in marriage. If you begin having these conversations today, you can set the table for your marriage to have healthy views and interactions about money. Be intentional with each other in talking about money, it will pay off.

(Article originally published at Start Marriage Right)

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Two Words That Don’t Belong in Marriage

On average, women speak around 25,000 words per day. Men clock in at around 10,000 words per day on average. This is pretty fascinating in and of itself, and is great knowledge to have as you and yours navigate communication. Regardless if this is true of you and yours or not, of the thousands of words used on a daily basis, there are two that do not belong in marriage: Happy and Divorce.

These two words will erode the faith and trust that you will work so hard to establish in each other. I have worked with couples who use the word divorce like it was a trusted friend. It permeates their conversations and serves as a road block for them to ever get to the core of their marital problems.

The reason, among others, this word does not belong in relationships is that divorce is an act of destruction. There is no way to candy-coat the reality that is presented with a divorce. If you’ve ever built something and then torn it down or apart, you know that it takes a fraction of the time to tear down than it does to build. The same is true of marriage. It takes years and years of effort and energy to build a foundation of trust, love, and service but only a few moments of ill-timed action to destroy that which was built.

Don’t use “divorce.“ Too often I hear the word divorce used to manipulate and coerce. One of the couples I referenced above was so immune to the effects of this word that even the manipulation had worn off. My first advice to them: Eliminate the word divorce from their vocabulary. You cannot build something when the foundation or end result is in question.

Divorce may seem like an impossibility, but one look at the divorce rate will be sobering. As part of your marriage covenant and commitment, commit to never use the word divorce unless you are willing to follow through with what that means. By follow through, I mean to say that if you do use it you will act accordingly, and be accountable to your use. Do not use it as a threat. If you are hurt, lonely, angry, or sad, then speak to these emotions. Don’t hide behind a culturally acceptable way to escape from the pain and difficulty of life.

The other word that doesn’t belong in marriage is happy. Unlike the word divorce, happy is a word to describe a feeling and is usually not destructive in it’s use. The problem with the feeling of happy is that it’s unsustainable. There are moments and seasons of feeling happy, but it is not an attainable state of being. From a Christian standpoint, nowhere in the Bible are followers of God and Christ told that happiness is a result of faith. We are promised persecution, suffering, and sanctification, but not happiness.

Happiness is a symbol of mainstream culture and is often an idol. It’s an impaired state of joy. Happy is like being entertained and comes from consuming someone or something, whereas joy comes from the acceptance of our humanity and limitedness. Marriage is so heavily influenced by our culture that many get married with the belief, sometimes unconscious, that marriage will bring happiness.

“I’m not happy anymore” is the most common phrase I hear when couples separate and split up. It’s an epidemic. When people get married for happiness, they usually end up miserable or divorced. Disappointment on our own terms is much easier to deal with alone than with another person who was supposed to bring happiness.

Like setting a boundary for the word divorce, I encourage the same with the word happy. Instead of happy, use words like content, glad, joy, alive, desire, aroused, and passion. These all describe emotions that reflect a sense of being alive and awake to what’s stirring inside of us. The fulfilled life is not found through or in any man or woman today.

If it’s happiness you seek, do not get married. You will be disappointed. If it’s real joy, redemption, healing, and sanctification you seek, then marriage might be God’s place for you.

(This article was originally published at Start Marriage Right)

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Worth Fighting For

A few years ago a couple came to see me to help with their sexual intimacy. They explained that sex was too infrequent and when they did make love, it was usually because they had been drinking. Further exploration revealed that though they had a very active sex life early in their relationship, the past two of their five married years have been very inactive. Sometimes they would go months without being sexually intimate.

I asked about what kind of disagreements and fights they have been in lately. They both looked at me, a bit confused, and exclaimed that they have never fought, nor do they want to. I wondered aloud if there was any connection between their sex life and their avoidance of conflict, to which they both said no.

It took this couple a couple of weeks to realize that the patterns of avoidance in their relationship had moved from the kitchen, to the living room, to the bedroom. It was impossible to be intimate in the bedroom because they were not being intimate in the kitchen. Intimacy on a daily, regular basis often times takes the form of conflict. When we speak up and risk exposing a desire, weakness, or vulnerability in ourselves, we are inviting another to see inside of us. This is the hard work of intimacy. For this couple, the lack of fighting created an enormous hole that slowly over time became too much to deal with on their own. Through some hard work and intentional truth-telling (sometimes conflictual), they were able to grow and learn to fight in a productive manner.

I share this story to highlight two aspects of conflict. First, everyone has an avoidance to some form of pain. For some it might be the pain of abandonment, for others it might be the pain of disapproval. Regardless of the source, conflict with a spouse will trigger this pain. Because everyone has a natural tendency to avoid pain, conflict becomes an unwelcome guest that stirs the pot.

Secondly, if conflict is not present, intimacy will not be either. It’s an unfortunate reality that intimacy requires us to show up and fight. Yet these are the vows that each and every couple commits to on their wedding day. “In sickness and in health” means that at all times I will choose to show up and be present, not just when it’s convenient.

I overheard a man telling his younger friend that he will know who he wants to marry when he is ready to crawl through ice, mud, glass, fire, and desert for 100 miles just to be with her. It’s a bit overblown as a metaphor (mainly because people do these events all the time around the US like the tough mudder, the viking race, and other crazy adaptations), but is an appropriate look at what kind of commitment it takes to be married. There will be moments in every marriage where this metaphor becomes a reality.

Fighting is a mandatory exercise to build connection and grow intimacy. Problems come when the fight gets unproductive by becoming dirty and cheap, stuck in the same cycle, or when it’s used to control and manipulate. When someone has chest congestion, a doctor wants to make sure that the coughing is productive so as to extricate the mucus and clear out the infection. This is what fighting is for in marriage: There’s an infection of personal wounds, selfishness, and other issues that need to be coughed up. Not just for the sake of coughing them up, but for the sake of the marriage and each partners’ individual growth.

Fighting, when productive, clears out the infections that we have relationally, and works to bring space and healing. Without these fights, the infection of disconnection will grow until there is no more relationship.

(article originally published at Start Marriage Right)

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3 Components of a Good Listener

 

“I need you to listen to me with your eyes,” Stephanie, my wife, says as we’re discussing our upcoming weekend plans. Truth be told, I was in the middle of a project on my computer and didn’t want to stop.

“I’m listening, just keep talking,” I reply. She continues talking and then asks me for input about making a decision about our kids sporting activity. I hesitate, trying to recall the data from the previous 30 seconds. The reality was this: I wasn’t listening, I was just hearing her voice.

I’m a pretty typical male and have a really difficult time multi-tasking. This isn’t an excuse, it’s just a fact that I failed to be aware of in this moment. It’s not that I didn’t want to discuss our weekend plans, but I didn’t want to do it right then and there. Explaining this to her would have been helpful, and could have saved us multiple offenses.

Good listeners know and act on their limitations.
Knowing our limitations is the work of learning our own story and makeup of who we are. By knowing ourselves, we can plan and sometimes prevent situations from occurring that will hurt, trigger, or harm someone we care about. In the above situation, just by speaking up and requesting 5 minutes to finish my project would have saved my wife and I the time and energy of an avoidable fight. My limitation was that I do not multi-task well. Instead of proactively asking for this, we spent the better part of a day recouping from a five minute problem.

Good listeners ask lots of questions.
The basis for all relationships is built on the foundation of curiosity. If we are not curious people, we will not get to know others. Asking questions is a way that we can make sure that we understand and hear what the other person is attempting to communicate.

My 8 year-old daughter has a bit of flair for the dramatic and will often exaggerate a story (she’s a fantastic story teller, by the way). Sometimes when she’s recounting an offense, she will say something to the effect of “everyone hates me!” What she’s communicating is that she’s extremely hurt. If I were to react solely to her statement about everyone hating her, I’d likely miss the truth that she’s hurting inside. By asking questions, I’m able to hear what’s happening behind the outburst and get the truth about her.

This is true for all relationships. If we respond without clarifying the content and context, we will often miss the heart of the matter. Good listening behooves us to ask questions like, “tell me more.”

Good listeners act as recording devices.
If you’ve spent any amount of time watching one of the dozens of crime scene television shows likely you’ve seen a crime solved because of a clue seen or heard in the background of a recording. Replaying what you heard the other person say is a great way to clarify what’s being communicated. This might sound something like:

What I heard you say was that you feel disrespected when I ignore you. Is that right?”

One of the best ways that we can love someone is to show them that we are truly interested in hearing what they have to say. Not what we want to hear them saying, but what they are actually saying.

Good listeners develop and fine tune a third ear. The third ear is the one that listens to what is being said and what is not being said. This is the holy grail of listening: When one is able to know their own and the other’s story (limitations, gifts, abilities, etc), pay attention to the non-verbal cues, and ask questions. Good listeners make for great partners in life.

…article originally published at Start Marriage Right

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A Year Ago on 5 Minute Sherpa

March, 2012

Seeing the Real You

It’s human nature to care what others think of us, but this nature can get us into trouble. If you care what others think, more than you think you ought to, then it’s a good chance you don’t know you. When we come to know ourselves, we come realize that we have flaws, dings, dents, and a beauty that is only possible because of those human things. Joseph Campbell says that we don’t love others because they are perfect, we love others because they are deeply flawed. Without flaws, there is nothing to love.     Continue Reading….

Run To, Not From

We’d just spent 14 of the past 15 waking hours at the baseball fields. The first two games rained out twice due to heavy storms of lightning and rain the previous evening. Instead of playing games over two days, we had one day to play at least 3 games. A lot to ask for of a group of 9 year olds. Nine and a half hours at the baseball fields on Sunday, and we didn’t sniff victory for one inning. I was deflated. So was my son.     Continue Reading…

March, 2011

The Ways We Love

Love is strong. Love is tender. Love is hard. Love is the nourishment of life. Of all the needs in life, none is more common or more core to us than love. We are all born into this world in dire and desperate need of love. In the early years of life, love was expressed to us through feedings, holding, rocking, and playing. As we grow up, we become more defined in our personalities and in who we are as individuals. And with each step of growth towards being independent, so too our need for the expressions of love we received as kids.     Continue Reading…

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Couples & Individual Intensives

I often get asked about making a referral for couples or individuals who are in need of attending an intensive counseling program. Intensives are a great way to get a jumpstart on issues that have been bottled up or that have been ignored for some time. My personal and professional opinion is that more need to experience what an intensive has to offer. Resources, mainly time and money, are often the reason folks don’t do these.

I’m offering both a couples and individual intensive program. Depending on the individual or couples need, I am available here in Nashville, or am willing to travel to your location. You can visit the intensive page on my website to learn more and see what a intensive program looks like. Please pass this on to anyone that you might know who would benefit or be interested in hearing more.

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What Motivates Us

Fantastic 10 minute video (worth your time) about the realities of what motivates us as human beings. This is a great watch for parents, marriage, businesses, and anyone who has a relationship with another human being. Take a look: