Five Minute Sherpa

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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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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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Myth #1: Divorce Pain is Temporary

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.

Myth #1 – ”Divorce pain is temporary.

Temporary pain means that whatever causes the pain wasn’t that significant to begin with. We make pain temporary by escaping and numbing ourselves. Ultimately the pain resulting from a divorce does not just affect the couple, it affects an entire community.

Marriages are an essential building block of how our communities were formed. Yet we are increasingly viewing marriage like it’s shopping mall. When we don’t get the desired product, we return it, go to another store and get different one. Disposable relationships cannot hold love for long, thus they cannot hold pain for long either. Find me someone who has lost a child that says the pain is no longer there. It’s just not true. Marriage has been reduced to a pursuit of happiness, which creates an untenable position: ‘If you don’t make me happy, someone else will.’

Marriage is an unseen fabric that binds our homes, restaurants, businesses, and community together. Without the marriage fabric there would be a chaotic “free-for-all,” making every man, woman, and child available for whatever pursuit the moment called for. Marriage provides the safety and protection for a community. By staying, loving, and committing to my marriage, I am allowing and asking for you to do the same.


Typically, a marriage happens before friends and family allowing for new friendships to be forged. If that marriage ends, it fractures these relationships. It’s like two cities that have been connected by a bridge. When that bridge is destroyed, so too are the comings and goings of those cities. My people stay my people, and the same for you and your people.

Unfortunately, as divorce has become more common, the strength of our communities has deteriorated, thus leading to more divorce. I rarely hear a couple talk about what is best for “us”, instead most talk about what is best for me, and what I’m not getting. The pervasive idea is this: “I deserve to be happy. I want what I want when I want it. To hell with anyone, including my spouse, who stands in my way.”

The pain in life is temporary because we want it to be. Divorce is no different. We humans are pretty adept at finding ways to escape from our pain. Very few people actually travel the road of healing by facing the pain they feel. This reality is true for all aspects of life, not just marriage. It’s why relapse rates for addictions are so high. The more we escape pain the more entrenched we become in our habits.

Like a piece of candy, pleasure is short lived and always leaves the consumer desiring more. If the pain of a divorce is short lived, it’s because the orientation of the marriage was towards immediate gratification. We wouldn’t marry if self-gratification delivered the goodness of life we all desire.

Marriages will never thrive if happiness is the sole purpose of the relationship. The hope of marriage is that my spouse will be as oriented towards love as I am. If we can join together in that love, the pain of ending that hope would deter pursuits of divorce, not encourage it.

Next Up — Myth #2: “Society says divorce is bad, that may not be true.”

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Relationships Need an Enemy

Most couples come into my office lacking a recognizable enemy they fight together. So instead, they fight each other. We often begin our intimate relationships based on infatuation, attraction, and fairy-tale dreams. Rarely do I interact with a couple that began their relationship because two people came together to fight something they couldn’t do on their own.

We all need an enemy. Not just for our personal lives, but for our relationships, too. When we get hurt and we don’t have an enemy, we often attack the closest person to us: Our spouse. We do this because they get in the way of our lives.They mess up our routines. They disrupt our creature comforts. They put the toilet paper on the wrong way. They don’t do hundreds of things different than we do that we didn’t even know was a personal preference.

These differences become something we hate if we have no other purpose in our life than keeping our lives comfortable and manageable.

It’s the age-old question: If you knew certain death was to hit your entire family in one week, how would you interact with your spouse? I’m willing to bet lots of bananas that you’d change the way you treat your wife, or husband.

The threat of death (the enemy) would become the common focal point for the two of you. You’d want to end your days smiling at each other, not with one of you sleeping on the couch because you got in a fight for reasons neither of you can remember.

If you do not have a common enemy, you will illegitimately make your spouse out to be one. And when that happens, watch out, because contempt is a slippery slope to a lake full of other victims.

Who is your enemy? Your spouse? A cause? What propels your fights in your relationships?

 

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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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It IS a Big Deal

A few weeks ago a friend asked me for a favor. He needed help sorting through some technology issues with his phone and computer. My first career, and current hobby, was in technology so it came as no surprise that he’d asked for my help. After I’d finished the project with him, he said thank you and for the third time in that setting apologized for inconveniencing me. “Don’t be sorry, it was no trouble at all,” was my response.

I was a bit surprised by how quickly these words came out of my mouth. One of my pet peeves is when people apologize for things that need no apology. It wasn’t true. I’d taken time out of my day to help him with an issue that didn’t concern me. The truth was, it was an inconvenience. But it was an inconvenience that I was willing to give because I care about my friend. I wanted to serve him and our friendship.

After realizing this wasn’t the truth, which wasn’t more than a couple of seconds later, I corrected myself.

“Actually,” I said, “it was an inconvenience.” I paused to let those words linger for a moment and continued. “Saying otherwise isn’t truth, nor is it honoring to you and our friendship for me to pretend it wasn’t a big deal. Me giving you some of me, my time and energy, is one way I’m able to show you that I value our friendship.”

This led to a different conversation about self-worth, value, and why it’s difficult to accept love/care from others. It was a conversation that never would have occurred had we both remained nice towards each other.

Our conversation highlights a challenge in relationships: telling the truth about the minor things in life is hard. “It’s no big deal…” is such a simple, polite, and well meaning statement that all of us have made to another person. Too often saying something isn’t a big deal sabotages giving the gift of love and acceptance.

Telling someone “you’re not bothering me,” or “It’s no trouble at all” communicates that the request they are making is easy for you to accomplish. Spoken in regards to a task or to-do list, perhaps “no trouble at all” has some truth to it (especially if the request of you is something you’re gifted at doing). The limitation of this statement is that we deny showing the other person their importance in our lives.

We’re selfish people by nature. We want what we want, when we want it. As we mature, it takes discipline and proaction to act contrary to this natural tendency. So when someone asks something of us, we have to sacrifice our selfish desires for the benefit of the other—this is love. It may be minor in the sacrifice, such as helping a friend with a technology problem, but it is still a sacrifice. In order for trust and relationships to grow, we need to know that someone is willing to sacrifice themselves on our behalf. Without this understanding and experience, and we’re left to wonder if the other really sacrifices anything for us.

Letting someone know that we’re willingly choosing to sacrifice, be inconvenienced, and not passively hold it over their heads deepens relational intimacy. Little things piled together makes a big thing. Be proactive in your relationship to intentionally build a big thing of trust by making mention of the little things.

(originally published at Start Marriage Right)

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Choosing Curiosity over Judgment

Recently I was playing golf with a friend. At the tee box on the 8th hole we were lectured and scolded by an older player about course and golf etiquette. We had a good reason for the accused action, which was not harmful to anyone or the course, but was evidently offensive to this other golfing tandem. The interaction was unsettling to me, and after finishing our round, I spent the car ride home considering what had happened. Ultimately, I felt judged by a complete stranger. Normally judgement from a stranger wouldn’t illicit much of a reaction, but it was the way this man judged me that was difficult. What I do want to suggest, though, is the weight of our actions and words on those around us.

I suspect that if this man would have approached us with a spirit of curiosity, opposed to one of condemnation, that our conversation would have played out very differently. But as it was, the interaction was quite hostile. I don’t know his story or what led him to lecture me, but I do know that his accusations and judgement were obtuse and very offensive. Were it a different setting, I would have liked to return to the conversation and re-engage with what had happened. But it wasn’t a situation conducive for this, nor are many situations in life.

Another setting that one-way judgements are plentiful is in a vehicle on the road. There are countless opportunities in 30 minutes of driving for judgement to be dished out. Again, it’s nearly impossible (nor suggested) to interact/engage with those we have confrontations with on the road (as an aside, road rage is a serious issue that is potentially very dangerous). If drivers would drive with an understanding that all of those around him are facing some difficult life situation, our responses would look very different.

I think we do this because judging others on their poor, or offensive, behaviors is second nature. It’s easy to point out the faults in/with someone else than it is to explore the reasons for the faults or actions.

Curiosity is key.
There’s a spot on the interstate on my afternoon commute that merges from 3 lanes to 2. During heavy traffic situations, the 3rd lane is used by drivers to get as far down the road as possible to prevent sitting in traffic. It’s also used by drivers who are exiting the interstate at the next exit. There are times that this lane will be blocked by another driver who will intentionally position their car in such a manner that prevents others from “cutting in line,” as it were. Almost every time, I chuckle at the sophomoric activity by seemingly grown adults. But this activity highlights my point: Judging others actions without first being curious results is harmful interactions.

The car blocking the lane has zero ability to know or understand what’s happening with the person in the car behind him (or 10 cars back, for that matter), yet her policing the lane is done so assuming that all the other people are just trying to cheat or cut in line. In the same way, the golfer who approached me had no idea, nor concern, about my situation. The end result of these two moral judgements is a displacement of peace. Which, I suppose, is very similar to how wars begin.

So, what can we learn about drive-by judgements?
1. It’s difficult to live a life of curiosity. At some point we all suffer the loss of our innocence, be it in childhood or later on, and with this loss goes the ease of being curious. We usually replace our broken spirit of being curious with contempt, judgement, and mistrust. These, unfortunately, come very easily, perhaps as easily as curiosity once came for us as children. It is much easier to react out of judgement than out of curiosity.

2. We arrogantly assume we know what is best, for ourselves and others. Though if you really consider it, the reality is we never know what’s best, for ourselves or others. We can have ideas of what’s best, but we’ll never know for sure until the benefit of hindsight is available. This is what makes relationships (parenting, marriage, friendships, etc) so difficult. At times we must act on a belief that we know what’s best, but hold fast to a teachable spirit that our decisions may or may not be right.

3. By judging first, we miss out on giving and receiving of a gift. Sometimes these gifts are ones we do not know we have, nor do we know when we give them. This is a great mystery of life: We have no idea what affect the words or actions we choose will have on another person.

The next time you find yourself dishing out a complaint or critique to someone, first ask yourself the question:

“Do I know the whole story, or just a part of it?”

Your answer to this question just might create a different, and encouraging, outcome to a normally difficult situation.

(article was originally published at Start Marriage Right)

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The Marriage Ascent

Tanya and Daniel had been married for 3 years when they returned to my office for some help on a few conflicts they were having. I wasn’t surprised to hear they were having some issues. Marriage is a struggle. However, with this particular couple, during pre-marriage counseling, I’d highlighted 3-4 key themes they would need to watch for that would likely cause some hefty conflict in marriage. They, like most couples in pre-marital counseling, couldn’t simulate the reality of marriage and thus couldn’t see the full effect of these areas of conflict.

One of the difficulties in pre-marriage counseling is that it’s nearly impossible to simulate what marriage will look like. The result is a challenge to arouse enough honesty from the individuals to fight about before their married. I suspect one big reason for this is due to the fear of rejection and losing the other person. Both acute and very real fears in relationships.

This was one of the challenges I experienced with Tanya and Daniel: Neither one was willing to risk opposing the other, which resulted in very clean, nice, and polite counseling sessions. I challenged them to speak up about offenses, hurts, or issues that felt too difficult to talk about. Each session was like the last, both explaining in different ways that everything between the two of them was perfect.

At our last of six session, I encouraged them (as I do with every pre-married couple): Don’t lose heart when your marriage doesn’t go according to plan. Keep your head up, stay engaged with each other, and call me if you run into something that feels hopeless or never-ending.

They returned for six months of really difficult, yet very fruitful marriage counseling. A number of different themes arouse through their time in my office, and I want to share these with you.

Marriage as a journey, not a Destination

A mistake that Tanya and Daniel admitted to making was their view about the status of “being married.” They thought marriage would be a place they could arrive at together, and this arrival would alleviate the problems they were facing separately as single people. They saw marriage as being the solution to their problems, not the incubator for more problems. Over the first 3 years of their lives together, they realized that the problems they had as single people were now intensified. His problems were with hiding shameful activities such as porn and the occasional pot use. Hers were mainly about body image and self-esteem issues.

Tanya and Daniel were right—Marriage intensifies existing problems, it does not alleviate them. This is a hard trap to not fall into as an engaged couple, and is very common. A change in perspective might help to keep this from happening in your marriage. Marriage is a journey, and on this journey there are high and low points, happy and sad times, finding and losing, and full of life. To consider this lifelong journey as anything other would be a disservice to the institution of marriage.

Training and preparing

If you’ve ever trained for a major sporting event such as a long-distance run, climbing a challenging mountain, a triathlon, or other event that requires preparation, then you understand that to perform well in crunch time, you have to practice and train well ahead of time. Culturally, Americans tend to believe that we ought to be able to do things on our own, without help. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work in marriage.

Marriage is the ultimate long-distance sport, and requires the necessary time and attention that one would give for such an event. To be successful in marriage, we need to train and prepare with input from outsiders. This comes in the form of counseling, reading books, attending retreats or seminars, and getting involved with community of others. Without a commitment to training, marriages will not flourish when tested.

Follow through.

One of the most hopeless moments in Tanya’s life came when Daniel calmly, yet detached, said: “I’m done with you and this relationship. I want a divorce.”

This event was the imputes in her seeking out help. The reality for Daniel was that he was done with how the relationship was functioning, not with Tanya and their marriage. At the time he spoke these words, he truly believed he was being honest with her. Unfortunately, these were words he’d uttered many times before in fits of rage as empty threats.

These words were used as partial truth. As we explored what Daniel meant, we found out that he was intensely disappointed in marriage and didn’t see a way out. He admitted to using the word “divorce” as a way to shut her up and get from her what he wanted. This manipulation was understood by Tanya, but never named as such. Early on in their counseling, I challenged them to never use the word divorce unless they were willing (together or separately) to follow through with such a statement.

The lesson here: If you say you’re going to do something, do it. The best gift you can give your spouse is trust. Trust is built on the foundation of follow through. This was a hard concept for Daniel to understand because he felt like I was giving him freedom to divorce Tanya if that’s what he wanted. The reality is that I was asking him to be accountable to the words and desires he had for their marriage. If divorce was what he wanted, he needed to follow through with it. This “freedom” that I gave him was a bind. He either needed to step up and file, or stop using that word as an escape from their problems. Both were difficult scenarios and both required him to engage honestly. He chose to re-engage with Tanya, and their marriage grew because of this.

Tanya and Daniel realized they were unprepared for marriage, just like 100% of other couples entering their first marriage. They admitted to each other that their vows towards each other were intended to bring happiness, but what they needed was to mature and grow up in their capacity for love and respect. Marriage is an ascent up and down rugged terrain that only promises to make you stronger and less self-centered if you stay the course. It’s not possible to serve two masters, serving the self and marriage cannot coexist—each spouse has to chose one. That is the challenge, and ascent, of marriage.

(authors note: This article was originally published at Start Marriage Right. Due to issues of confidentiality, names and identifying information in vignettes have been changed)

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Truth and Truthfulness

Truthfulness is a principal that most would agree is a valuable and worthwhile virtue. Most courses of therapy challenge the client to engage in his/her true self and live out of that core in a truthful way. But the conversation takes a dramatic turn when truthfulness is pitted up against the truth. A lot of religions will espouse that the truth is the way to live, regardless of what ones individual truthfulness is or is not.

More often than not, what I’ve noticed is truth comes at the expense of being truthful. This is the stance of losing sight of what’s inside because the external is more robust and valuable. The pursuit of the truth (and this applies to issues beyond theology or spirituality) can lend itself to an biased way of living that places more emphasis on the external than the internal.

For some, when the external truth is more important (by their own doing, I might add), they begin to feel lost, flustered, and confused. Ultimately this leads to looking for external validation and rightness, which results in a constant state of deficit or need. There’s not enough external validation in the entire world to satisfy these needs. The internal truth, being truthful, is what needs focus and attention. This doesn’t mean that external truths don’t have merit or are at all times subordinate to internal wishes and desires, in fact it’s quite the opposite. It takes a lot of maturity, courage, and honesty to live life in exploring oneself — to be truthful.

A man considering marriage might say he doesn’t feel old enough to get married, even though he’s 28 years old. The truth, that adulthood comes sometime around the age of 18-21, is seen as more true (acceptable) than one being truthful about feeling inadequate about getting married. Saying it’s ridiculous to feel inadequate about getting married is not a truthful comment.

Being one who values truthfulness and truth means allowing for both the internal and external worlds to co-exist, letting neither become more important or more valuable than the other. Growth is enlarging the capacity for tension to exist — in this case, the internal and external truths that often conflict with one another.