Five Minute Sherpa

an espresso shot of thoughtful guidance

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Nine Powerful Words for Preventing Relationship Wars

via Flickr user Moisuer J. https://www.flickr.com/photos/jblndl/283365812/in/photolist-r3jMs-5sRGHP-njCh3-eSUGjE-eKBfkL-9smjfA-8SMsiN-pRN6Bw-9UJ6Gp-7XNfeC-9RVMBg-8QSCVZ-fu57be-9UMcSy-9ULPDW-eDmWUC-9UJ6qZ-7T2DaQ-9ULYm5-pVfPwB-tYaGp-7LVXb1-qSc5uH-dsY76X-4hxSUV-7sX1tC-9ULL8u-8a6MDw-8SJot4-4XMkHt-e4yzyQ-6RfEbc-cZdHk1-8SJo4n-dEk6VG-9QvyW5-9UM94S-fKkBA3-8QgxKx-9ULY79-hKs6LB-9UMd6Q-9ULNxS-7keA6j-9UHZVB-bbud8c-9UHWfX-e7TneH-9UJaga-7enP1m

A couple recently asked me a question about fighting: “We’ve been together for almost 2 years and have not had a fight. What do you think about this?” My response was two-fold. First, what is your definition of a fight? Some of us think of a fight as yelling, screaming, throwing things, etc. A fight for others might be stonewalling, silent punishment, or ignoring the other person. The second part of my answer is that someone, most likely both of them, is lying. Maybe not overtly lying about something, but not fully telling the truth about where they’ve been hurt in the relationship. You can’t be in relationships for any extended period of time without hurting them, or without being hurt.

We can’t avoid hurting people, but we can prevent these hurts from turning into harms, and relationship wars. Want to know how to avoid war? Say these 9 words to the people that matter the most to you:

“I was wrong. How can I make this right?”

That’s it.

Don’t text it. Say it out loud. (As a side note, don’t text anything of substance — texting is too easy, impersonal, and non-vulnerable to say something important)

Don’t try to substitute those 9 words with the generic phrase: “I’m sorry” (which is usually not an apology, but a request for the offended party to be quiet. The word “sorry” means to be “sorrowful.” When we say “I’m sorry,” if it’s true, it needs to mean that “I am full of sorrow for my actions.”). Sorry is a watered down word that rarely means much in intimate relationships.

Don’t judge or shame the offended party’s hurt by telling them what you did wasn’t that big of a deal, or that they shouldn’t feel hurt.

Don’t defend your actions. Let me say that again with emphasis: DO NOT DEFEND. The moment you enter into a defense about why what you said/did wasn’t intended to hurt/be interpreted/etc, you begin the process of declaring war on the other party. The war becomes about figuring out who’s right, and who’s wrong. Defending is the quickest way to escalate a potentially peaceable situation into an all out battle.

Sometimes we people do things that are so hurtful, or harmful, that there isn’t anything we can do to make it right. Those are the situations that need patience, time, grace, and many many conversations. For example, an affair in a marriage cannot be made right in any short amount of time. But over an extended period of time, forgiveness can occur and then reconciliation happens. It is never the offender’s prerogative to dictate the amount of time forgiveness takes.

As with anything in life, if our intention (known or unknown) is control, manipulation, or self-protection, we can abuse the goodness of a phrase like “I was wrong, how can I make it right” and turn it into a way to get something we want.

Admitting you’re wrong is humbling, but it is endearing to the person your have wronged. Asking how you can, if possible, make right the wrong makes you an ally of the person you’ve hurt, not an enemy.

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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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4 Things Women Need to Know About Their Husbands Porn Use

Men often seek help in dealing with their porn use, yet many times their wives do not seek their own help. Though the issue with porn is not a new problem, the access with technology has made it so much more available in it’s different mediums. Here are the 4 things women need to know about their husbands porn use:

1. It’s not about the wife.

In young marriages, women need to know that their husbands porn use is almost always something they brought with them into marriage. It’s less about the wife “not being enough” and more about the man’s inability to have an intimate and close relationships with a women. Porn use is easy because it requires nothing from a man beyond what his body is naturally programmed to do.

It is hard for men to develop a healthy view of women that is apart from the notion that women are sex objects. Over and over again the modern culture tells both sexes that women are sex objects. It’s why so many men are unable to have close relationships with their daughters as they go through puberty — it’s difficult to see a woman as anything other than an object. Porn distorts the reality of a woman’s value.

2. Porn use is about shame.

Shame is certainly felt by the use of porn, but I think shame is the real reason that porn is used. Shame says “I’m not enough” which can easily be felt sexually and non-sexually alike. In this reality, women need to know that though the use of porn is unacceptable, their husbands, as a man in a broken and faulty world, are acceptable and good enough. If a wife catches her spouse using porn and condemns both the act and the man himself, this will lead to more problems. Hate the act, not the person.

Shame doesn’t last very long in an environment with grace and empathy. But here’s the problem: Wives often can’t give the gift of grace and empathy to their husbands because of their own stories. These young women have been sexually abused (to varying degrees) and they have their own wounded sexuality. Without doing her own work of recovery and healing, she will not be able to offer empathy and acceptance because the husbands use of porn will always make him like “all the others who have harmed me.”

3. Having more sex can cause more harm.

This is a delicate topic as withholding sex can be harmful just as the use of porn is. Some errant advice given to wives of porn addicts is that they need to make themselves more available sexually and this will keep the husband from acting-out. This is almost always harmful advice because it invites the fantasy life of porn into the marriage bed.

Women do not need to be more sexual for their husband to keep him from fulfilling his needs elsewhere, this can be enabling an addiction. Most would not want the affair partner in their marriage bed with them, but this is exactly what the advice to “become more sexual for him” is doing. It’s bringing a fractured sense of intimacy into a sacred space meant to be shared by husband and wife.

There needs to be hard work and conversations about the harm that porn has caused in a relationship before sex can be trusted as an expression of love and commitment. This does not mean that couples need to stop having sex altogether if porn is present, rather that the purposes of sex be talked about, perhaps with a professionals help, to establish healthy boundaries. Taking this one step further; limitations in sex need never to be used as a form of punishment or control.

4. Porn use is cheating.

Though men are resistant in accepting this, porn use is an affair. It is taking the most trusted and vulnerable act that a couple can share together, and giving it to someone else. Yes, it’s a “one-way” relationship as the images provide no relational feedback, but it is still taking the sexual embrace outside of the marriage bed.

All affairs are a result of a breakdown of trust and intimacy. Affairs are a passive “screw you” stance to the spouse. Instead of working out the issues of the relationship in the context of the relationship, fulfillment of sexual needs are being done outside the context of the relationship.

It’ll be helpful in dealing with these issues to seek the guidance of a counselor or pastor. It’s not an easy topic to address, but it’s not impossible to heal from. Be patient, take your time, and work hard to find reconciliation.

For some statistics about porn, click here for a 2014 report: http://www.covenanteyes.com/pornstats/

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Thriving the Holidays

Raise your hand if you don’t feel some twinge of anxiety about the family dynamics during the holidays.

If you’re honest, you feel pretty conflicted about having your parents or siblings over for Thanksgiving dinner, much less visiting your childhood home. And you likely feel somewhat reluctant about going to your in-laws or some other place than what is normal.

Surviving the holiday season is all about eating more food, drinking more wine, and watching more football. Basically, if you want to just make it through the holidays without rocking the boat, spend as little time sober around your family as possible. And by sober, I don’t mean alcohol and food inebriation, rather I mean that you not engage with what you really think and feel. Alcohol and Food provide great buffers to numb out the pain that so many of our family situations trigger. Surviving is about just getting by, Thriving is about being present and not letting the old patterns and behaviors become the go-to actions.

Here’s some ideas on thriving this holiday season:

1. Don’t expect changes to have occurred in any of your family of origin relationships. This isn’t to say that you need to expect them to have not changed, but be available for surprise if that has happened. You’ll build resentments if you have unrealistic expectations.

2. Practice not saying all that you have to say. It’s easy to get triggered and have a flood of old emotions come sweeping in during time with family. Use caution about what you say, and who you say it to.

3. Plan your exit strategy ahead of time. Set boundaries for how much time you will spend, and where. Don’t let big decisions be made on the spot, make those proactively.

4. Be mindful of eating and drinking indulgently. There is always copious amounts of food and drink during holiday celebrations, and it’s easy to numb out to excessive caloric intake or alcohol.

5. Don’t completely deviate from your normal routine. Take some of your normal non-vacation habits with you. Bedtime, morning, mealtime, etc. The more familiar you are with what the day holds the healthier you will be able to respond to challenging situations.

Above all, be honest with yourself and those that are committed to truth and vulnerability. The holidays can provide some great contexts for healing, but that doesn’t mean that everyone has to be involved in that process.

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Jesse Take the Wheel

If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a hundred times: Wives are terrified of their husbands driving behaviors. Just a few months ago a couple sat in my office and the wife was almost in tears about the trip from their home to my office. They were running a few minutes late, the husband was upset with his wife for not being ready on time, and thus drove in a very careless manner. He, of course, did not see it this way.

The most common rebuttal I hear men use to defend their driving ability: How many times have I gotten in a wreck? This was the exact response the husband said to his wife during their drive to my office after she asked him to slow down. He was not going to change his ways. The message was clear: I will continue driving this way regardless of how you feel about it.

I’ve been guilty of this behavior, and of using this excuse. My rationale is that Stephanie, my wife, should have no reason to be afraid of me driving because I’ve got an incredibly glowing record on the road. During our 12 years together, I’ve gotten 1 ticket and only been in one minor fender bender (I’ll refrain from defending either occurrence).

The problem is, despite my great driving record, I’m paying more attention to my perceived abilities than I am her fears. This is the definition of arrogance. Sure, some of her fears are bigger than what I’m causing, but the moment that I began to slow down a bit and not drive so close to other cars is about the same time that she began to relax on our trips together. It’s no coincidence that her fears are near zero now that I’ve chilled out driving.

Our call as husbands is to love and care for the places in our wives that are insecure. I’m not sure why it is this way, but driving fast excites men and terrifies women. This is a perfect setup for there to be conflict.

We men are driving precious cargo: Our kids, wife, and ourselves. The way we drive is a direct connection to how well we care for that cargo. If we are driving carelessly, we are placing a judgment of little value on those we claim to love the most.

The majority of the time we are driving alone. No one is there to tell us to slow down, stop texting, checking ESPN, or reading twitter. But these are the moments that we need to be the most aware of the impact our lives have on those around us. If you end up in a coma or six feet under, her fears will be confirmed. All it takes is one accident to nullify your illustrious driving career.

I’m constantly on the lookout for the ideas around relationships that make logical sense and have a high rate of return. Sometimes in my search for the ever elusive “easy button” (I blame Staples) I miss out on the true easy opportunities to love my wife. Surprising, I know. When I realized that the way I drive is like me writing a love letter to my wife, I began paying very close attention.

There are hundreds of practical ways that we men can love our wives. Some of these efforts take hours, some only take a few moments. Changing your driving habits might cost you 4-5 minutes per day. Spending these 4-5 minutes as an extra investment of love will yield great results.

(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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Marriage & Separation

Oil and water, separate

It may be that the only way to truly identify and understand the depths to which one goes to get their way in marriage is to separate. Marriages are too codependent to allow for the truth of control and manipulation to be seen. Consistently doing life together and the closeness of this life doesn’t lend itself to self-correcting behaviors. It’s not that every marriage requires separation, but those that are separated have a unique ability to view and judge their own efforts in marriage apart from the obvious and usually clearer failures of their spouse.

Separation is the exercise of putting distance between two selfish people so that they can each address the log in their own eye without be able to see the speck in the others’ eye. In short, if allowed, separation is one giant mirror.

Unfortunately, most separations happen as a bridge, rather than a stop-gap, to divorce. Divorce is the easy, and by  no means is it easy, way to step outside of the inevitable and difficult pain that exists in marriage. The biggest issue  is divorce is an exit that rarely solves the problem. Sure, the pain will lessen and cease to be as it was, but it doesn’t circumvent selfishness or the reality that life doesn’t look like fantasy.

 So, if you’re separated or considering separation, get someone to walk through the process with you. Invite someone who will guide and help you to understand your own control issues, how your woundedness is influencing your relationship, or where you need help grieving the loss of your idea of marriage. Divorce may be inevitable, but don’t let it dictate personal growth.

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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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Q&A About Marriage

Last week I participated as a virtual panelist on a Facebook page for an organization where I’m a contributing writer. This discussion was posted as a Question (below) and then was commented on by myself and the “fans” of the Facebook page. It was a really good discussion, and I wanted to share my responses (which were separate comments, so they don’t necessarily read as a article would) to the questions asked of me. Here they are in no particular order. Chime in if you have additions to these questions.

 

What does it mean to be “one flesh” in marriage?

– For one, it means to put aside living life for oneself for the sake of the other. You cannot thrive in your marriage if you are in it for you. It just won’t work. Becoming one flesh is a lifelong process that will cost you your life, which is why not many marriages make it “till death.” The death of the relationship is far easier than the death of oneself.

– Another way is that it means that together, we create new life. A relationship is the first child of a marriage. It’s birthed the day you meet, and takes the same care and attention that a baby would need. Becoming one flesh means that I bring all of myself and combine it with all of you, creating a wholly new life, a relationship.

– A word of caution about this idea of “one flesh.” When we marry, it’s very easy to “lose oneself” in the context of an intimate relationship. It’s somewhat of a paradox, but it takes two people being fully who God created them to be for a marriage to thrive. By becoming one flesh, we are doing away with selfish ideas, and replacing them with “soul-fish” ideas. Our soul is the place God resides, and that place needs to be protected and offered to the marriage as a gift.

– Sex, the sexual embrace, is far more encompassing than just the physical act. The act of being “one flesh” is celebrated, not created, by the sexual union.

 

What if I get annoyed with my spouse and don’t want to be around him/her?

– There are a couple of ways to look at this. One, to be annoyed could mean that you wouldn’t do “x” the way your spouse does “x”. This might mean that you’re not annoyed, rather you don’t like being out of control or that someone does something different than you. Another way to look at it is that your spouse’s behavior is a coverup for you feeling cramped, trapped, or “shut in.”

– What does the word “annoyed” mean to you? Does it stir up a stronger emotion? My wife has many “isms” about her that have been annoying to me in the past. Most of the time though, I’m not annoyed, I’m feeling something else: Resentment, anger, hurt, lonely, etc. Annoyed, frustrated, disappointed, and some other commonly used words are often vague cover-ups for what’s really going on inside us.

– Also, It’s not uncommon to feel trapped early in marriage, and if we’re not being honest about this, we will find ways to express this trapped feeling. Enter things that annoy us about the other person. It’s not really that they annoy us, but that they are in our space and we don’t know how to live in that space with them.

– If the way you address the annoyance is with an angry or spiteful, sarcastic, or critical spirit, more than likely you were feeling anger and not annoyed.

 

What do we do if family and friends don’t agree with our engagement? 

– Assuming that your family and friends are looking out for your best interest (they love you) then I’d encourage you to give serious consideration to what they have to say. Ask them questions and explore why they don’t agree with your engagement. Is it a moral issue, an opinion, a “sixth sense”? Again, assuming that they love you, ask them to let you know if there are red flags, or just yellow ones. Some other questions to consider: Do they see something in him/her they don’t like, is it a matter of how you’re being treated by your fiance, and what is their solution to their concerns?

– I agree that prayer is a much needed part of this process. And, I would say that the insight your friends and family have to you is unique and needs to be considered. Obviously this is a difficult thing to do when you’re clearly wanting to marry someone, and your family/friends are opposed.

– There are plenty of family systems that do not want their children to “fly the coop.” If this is your family, kindly thank them for their concern and advice, and move along.

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Autobiography in Five Short Chapters

Autobiography in Five Short Chapters

 

Chapter 1

 

I walk down the street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I fall in.

I am lost … I am helpless.

It isn’t my fault.

It takes forever to find a way out.

 

Chapter 2

 

I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I pretend I don’t see it.

I fall in again.

I can’t believe I am in the same place.

But it isn’t my fault.

It still takes a long time to get out.

 

Chapter 3

 

I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I see it is there.

I still fall in … it’s a habit.

My eyes are open.

I know where I am.

It is my fault.

I get out immediately.

 

Chapter 4

 

I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I walk around it.

 

Chapter 5

 

I walk down another street.

 

 

~ Portia Nelson ~