Five Minute Sherpa

an espresso shot of thoughtful guidance

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Myth #3: Miserable and Married

This post is part of a series in response to an article about reasons not to be afraid of a divorce. The bolded first sentence/statement are the words from the author in the linked article. The following comments are my opinions in response. Read the introduction to this series of posts here first.

Previous Posts in This Series: 
Myth #1: Divorce Pain is Temporary
Myth#2: Society Says Divorce is Bad


Myth #3. “The same people judging you for getting divorced are probably part of the Miserable & Married crowd.”

The Author’s point is pretty clear: Don’t stay married just because people will judge you out of their own jealousy. If it were as simple of an explanation as this, I would agree with her. Staying married just so you don’t get judged isn’t all that great of a great idea. However, staying married doesn’t mean you have to be a card carrying member of the “miserable and married” club.

There are a lot of members in this club, mainly because it’s an easy club to join. To do marriage well is beyond hard. Saying that it takes work is an understatement, and it’s easy to dismiss this work in favor of expectations that the spouse should meet. The misery people experience in marriage is usually about these unmet expectations.

My clients that are lonely in their relationships tend to experience more difficulty than someone who is single and lonely. The main reason for this is the expectations. Having a ring on your finger is a constant reminder of “what could be” in your life. In some seasons of life, this feeling can be incredibly hopeful. For other seasons, this same expectation can be incredibly hopeless because of what’s lacking.

It may seem like it, but divorce is not the only option for a marriage that is miserable. One of my suggestions for an individual or couple who are miserable and married is to engage in a therapeutic separation. I usually suggest taking 3 to 6 months to therapeutically slow the quickening decline of the marriage.

This idea is often scary because it feels like divorce is the only logical resolution to the separation. Quite the opposite is true. In my experience, if a couple is trending towards divorce and they don’t separate, they are more likely to end up divorced than those who do a separation. Sometimes the stress of an intimate relationship is too much to deal with without intentional space to allow for changes in habits, relational patterns, and assumptions about the other person.

A therapeutic separation provides a set time and space that allows for the destructive patterns of the relationship to slow down. When this slow-down happens, a new dialogue and pattern of relating can emerge that gives hope to an otherwise hopeless relationship.

A final word about separations. Don’t do this on your own. Find a counselor who can help guide you through this process. There are lots of issues that need to be agreed upon (money, dating, time together, length, kids/schedules, communication, etc), and trying to do so on your own without help will likely be too much. Something to consider: Perhaps the fear of external judgement is actually a hopeful part of you that wants out of the pain, not necessarily out of the marriage.

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Are you Hopeless in Marriage?

Most people who have not done significant spiritual or relational work do not know how to do conflict well. Invariably, we will unconsciously adapt our conflict styles to what we were exposed to in our childhood homes. The saying “the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree” is true here, how are we to know a different way of being without the help of someone else to show us another place?

Marriage provides the context for taking another person to another place. It offers hope that I can live alongside someone who will help me to become a better person, and I can do the same for them. The reality is that once the newness wears off (which happens at different rates of time for different people), couples often lose sight of the purpose of marriage.

I often hear, “I just want to be happy and live in peace” when asking people what they desire in their marriages. Generally this is in reaction to the growing disconnect and conflict that exists between husband and wife. However, when you don’t do the necessary maintenance and work, It decays and begins to break down. This is true of the material world just as it is for relationships.

Cleaning up and fixing something that has been neglected for a long time takes more energy and effort than the time it would have taken to maintain. In relationships, if you do not spend the time proactively working and engaging the faulty issues in your marriage, when it comes time to “fix it” or “buy a new one”, it’s going to feel overwhelming.

This overwhelming feeling coupled with the already everyday needs and demands of life make it even more difficult to find the courage, energy, and hope to dig out of the mess. If you’re at this place of hopelessness in your marriage, seek out a counselor. If you’re afraid you’re on the road to hopelessness, here are some suggestions to work on:

Do go on regular dates with your spouse.
Do monthly budget meetings to review and plan financial concerns and needs
Do yearly/bi-yearly marriage enrichment activities (counseling, retreats, books, etc)
Do not turn on the ’screen’ (tv, phone, computer/tablet) at least 2 nights per week
Do not blame your spouse for anything, ever. Take responsibility for your actions.
Do not use the word divorce unless you are filing.
Do not have an affair with work, alcohol, Facebook, video games, food, or the TV.
Do practice non-sexual touch without it leading to sex.
Do not hide behind your kids activities to avoid conflict.
Do not use your kids to fulfill your loneliness.

No relationship is beyond repair. I have seen couples dealing with multiple layers of betrayal, lies, and brokenness work diligently on repairing their relationship. When you married your spouse, they became the right one, don’t buy into the lie that there is someone better out there for you. If you’re willing to do the hard work, your hopelessness can be healed.

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Habits to combat anxiety and depression

Last week I spoke to a group of people about developing healthy habits to combat the effects of anxiety and depression in our lives. Everyone experiences both anxiety and depression at some point in our lives, usually on a fairly regular basis. Below are the notes from my talk.

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A man who suffers before it is necessary, suffers more than is necessary.  ~ Seneca

When we feel that our fears are too big for our own capacity, we begin shutting down. Our creativity, resourcefulness and ability to make decisions are all sabotaged by the anxiety or depression we feel about our lives. This is the essence of shutting down.
As with anything in life, we can generally take some kind of behavior and do it in such a way that makes it unhealthy. The following are a few ways that I have found to reduce stress and increase our ability to cope with the anxieties of our lives.

Ways to limit anxiety/depression effects:
1. Limit your intake of information. 
     – facebook, social media
     – tv, other ‘screens’ (computer, phone, etc)
Our phones, screens, are devilish little creatures. They promise productivity but really only add an additional layer of distraction from what we all say is most important in our lives: relationships.
We are not made to be alone, yet so much anxiety comes about because we feel so alone.
2. Start a journal
Storytelling has been the language of healing since the beginning of time. We all have a story to tell, despite most of our beliefs that our stories aren’t really that interesting. Movies and music are so popular because they are short stories that take us to the places we can’t go on our own.
Journaling is one of the most therapeutic exercises that I know of.
Write about life, thoughts, feelings, emotions, loves, hates, indifferences. When you begin to write, you invite healing and restoration.
3. Exercise regularly
We’re a health conscious society. A lot of this is for reasons of vanity, but deep down we all long to be cared for and loved. Unfortunately we usually go about getting that care and love through unhealthy ways, including working out.
But, working out because it is kind to your soul, body, and mind is a great way to reduce the effects of stress, anxiety and depression.
When you work out, you are telling your body that you care, and a funny thing happens when you begin caring about something: you treat it better. It’s not rocket science, yet most of us behave as though going to the gym and eating well is akin to building our own space rocket.
4. Make and set goals
If you aim for nothing, you will hit it every time.
Goals are like the tracks on a railroad … they guide you to your destination. They themselves are not the destination, rather they are the boundaries and help you need to get where you are going.
If you are a neurotic goal setter, try limiting yourself to the number of goals that you set so that the goals themselves don’t become the way that you judge yourself. If you don’t normally set goals, try to be as specific as possible.
Set attainable goals. If you want to run a 10k, give yourself time to train so that you’re not forcing yourself to get too fast to the starting line.
5. Read enriching material
I have a insatiable appetite for reading, but not everything I read is worthwhile. I spend a lot of time reading articles and other random hubs of information that can sometimes border on an addiction. I love historical fiction and will generally read 5-6 of these books a year, usually in succession to each other.
I get bored easily with non-fiction and I rarely find a book that is so good that I read every word. Most books I put down after reading the first few chapters and skim the remainder. I learn a lot this way, but I used to feel shame about this being the way I read.
Someone said that the only thing different about you in 20 years will be the people you meet and the books you read. This is a great mantra to live by. Set a goal to read x number of books a year, go out and learn about something. This will do a couple things for you.
 — ONE, it will expand your world. We live in a bubble here in the USA, even more so here in middle TN. The majority of the worlds problems happen here, but we are very insulated from them. This is one of the biggest factors that I see in people struggling with their identity, anxiety, is that we know at a core level that the world is not a safe place, yet so much of our ways of life here in the US are about safety.
David Brooks, the editor for the NYT, says that America is a secularized version of Heaven. We have tried to create a place that is free: Free from violence, pain, suffering, poverty, and difficulty. In a lot of ways, we can’t handle the freedom that we are afforded here in the States.
— SECONDLY, reading books will help you to get outside of yourself. One of the big struggles people have is that our culture is too me-centric. We are not meant to live in such a narcissistic way, and our anxiety is telling us that this is a problem.
Reading forces you to confront your own biases, meet new ideas, and wrestle with your dogmatic ways of living life.
6. Reflection time in morning or at night
What we fear, we hate. And what we hate, we avoid.
We can’t manufacture feelings. What we can do is to set aside time and space for processing so that when we do feel what we feel, we can have a place to feel these things. If we are constantly trying to escape our feelings, through people of things, then we will not be comfortable feeling what we feel.
Tell the story of the boy going to the desert. He’s afraid. Rightfully so. Only by going to the desert with a trusted guide will he learn to face the fears on his own. We can’t expect to handle situations that we’ve never faced before.

The U.S. is a culture that values doing more than being. We don’t rest well, which means that most spaces and places of our lives are filled up. We are a culture of performers, of doers. Unfortunately, when cultures are driven by performance, doing, addictions and life controlling habits flourish. Said another way: We fill our lives up with stuff. Shopping, Toys, Food, alcohol, internet, reality (not really) TV shows, porn, and drugs are all ways that we medicate the reality that we don’t have enough capacity to get what we want.

It’s impossible to live life for long as a human doer. We are human beings. We’re finite creatures with needs that sometimes defy age, logic, and reason. We’re not the great conquerors and rulers of life that we want to believe we are. As the poet and songwriter Lenoard Cohen once said, “there is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”

Living life with spaces, pauses, takes great discipline. It also takes acceptance about our limitations and finitude. We cannot perform as though we are whole creatures and value brokenness and faults. Not all spaces — in all aspects of life, physical, emotional, relational, mental — are meant, or need, to be filled. Rhythms create space. What rhythms are you practicing?

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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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Peace

This season is so full.

Holiday parties, shopping, Christmas cards, kids activities all dot the calendar landscape. It’s only 30 days or so between Thanksgiving and Christmas, but it might as well be one week. It sure feels that way.

Too much the antithesis of what I want this season to be about, though I realize I’ve dug my own hole and booked myself and family too much. Each year I anticipate the peace that the Christmas season promises, and each year am saddened with how busy it becomes.

It’s loud. Too loud. People shouting, shoving, and posturing on Black Friday. Others leaving notes on cars because they weren’t parked “correctly” in the mall parking lot. So much of the busyness is self-inflicted … and yet I wonder if this is an age-old dilemma.

I wonder if the fullness of the “holidays” are akin to what God-fearing people felt as they waited and anticipated the coming of Christ. Perhaps they too felt full and maxed out. They needed the Savior to come and relieve the tension, anxiety, and worry. To save them from themselves. To save them from trying to buy happiness, contentment, or fairness. They needed Christ in the same way we do.

Maybe that’s why Christmas day is about the only day of the year when many of us stop our normal comings and goings and accept peace. Accept the truth that we don’t have what it takes, but someone does and he came. For us.

I’m glad He came.