Five Minute Sherpa

an espresso shot of thoughtful guidance

By

Myth #4: Forever is a Long Freaking Time

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: Miserable and Married


 

Myth #4: “Forever is a long freaking time.”

Depending on your perspective, forever can be an excruciatingly long time. No one wants to live forever in misery. Although, I would suggest that for most relationships, the very notion of “forever” was originally seen as “not long enough.” Most romanticized spending their lives together, forever. And let’s face it, the euphoria of young love is intoxicating. Staying in that place forever sounds pretty awesome.

People often marry thinking that the love they share will outlast time, and that this love will conquer the greatest of challenges. We marry under the auspice that time will not assail the relationship. Until unresolved conflict begins to grow the weeds of resentment, couples can continue with the fantasy that time is their ally.

Several years ago a couple sat on my couch to talk through some issues that threatened their relationship. They were to be married in 9 months when they came to see me. The woman was extremely anxious about their upcoming marriage. The man sat next to her convinced that the issues they faced were no big deal. He kept telling his finance’ not to worry, that everything would be ok. His responses had the opposite impact on her that he wanted. She actually got more afraid of marrying him. At one point in the session I interrupted him and said, “I’m sorry, you can’t tell her not to worry. That is not the reality of the culture we live in.”

I told him that because divorce ends over half of all marriages, telling his finance’ not to worry was like telling someone that sharks are swimming near the beach but it’s ok to get into the water. Sharks are dangerous and telling someone not to worry about a clear and imminent threat would be foolish and unloving. Yes they loved each other, but love won’t save someone from an attack in shark infested waters.

Because of divorce, our culture believes forever might be too long, so let’s hedge our bets. Relationships formed in this culture are disadvantaged because of the ease at which it can be dissolved. A couple, or individual like the one I mentioned above, can think they are above getting divorced but this does not save them from the pervasive gravity of what the culture says is ok. Culture’s message is pretty clear: “When you stop being satisfied in marriage, get out.” This is an impossible message to escape in our current day and age. Couples that think they are immune to this message are living in a fairy tale.

We pledge forever to our spouse because we imagine “forever” being as easy and pleasurable as it was to fall in love. Unfortunately that is not true, and never will be true. Building love and commitment with another person doesn’t stop once the ring is placed on the finger. In fact, it’s the beginning of that building process.

Our culture sees marriage as an all-you-can-eat buffet. You go to these because you’re hungry and want a limitless supply of food, not because the food has been carefully prepared and/or is all that high in quality. It’s easy to go to marriage because we’re hungry and want to be fed. But let’s think about this for a moment, can you imagine being stuck at an all-you-can-eat buffet for … forever? That would be awful (unless it were sushi!).

On the other hand, what would it be like to be united as a co-participant (i.e. non-consumer) in a great building project where all the materials, blueprints, and resources were made available to you? Would that feel like an interminable prison? That is the picture that needs to be imagined as couples stand on the stage and pledge forever to one another. Furthermore, it’s the picture that needs to be reimagined by couples currently facing seemingly impossible hardships.

This is the picture of two willing participants coming together to build something that neither one of them could build on their own. This is the strange but hopeful phenomenon that the whole (the couple) is greater than the sum of it’s parts. Maybe it’s time to for you and your spouse to redefine what the goal of marriage is instead of trying to fit a god-like fantasy into a human-sized relationship.

As I mentioned in my last post in this series, being miserable in marriage is not an enviable position. No one wants to be miserable, much less miserable forever. If I can pull back for a moment, my whole motivation for writing these articles is to provide thoughts and counterpoints to the pervasive cultural belief that if a marriage is headed downhill, it’s time to bail. We can’t expect others, ourselves included, to be immune to the idea that bailing is the best option. Because we are all susceptible to these messages, no marriage is inherently safe. It takes work to create a safe marriage. Assuming your marriage (or anyone else’s) is “doing ok” is a major blindspot. This assumption is usually shattered with the discovery of an affair, divorce papers, or an intervention for substance abuse.

If you’re afraid that forever is too long, keep heart. It is too long to do forever in it’s current situation, but you can do it for one day. The 12-step process is fantastic at helping addicts approach life one day, one hour, one situation at a time. Seek help, find ways to remind yourself and your spouse of the reason you married in the first place. Find a good counselor. Begin to take care of each other again, it’s what likely happened at the beginning of your relationship. Be intentional with the time and energy you give and take from one another. Move away from the all-you-can-eat buffet. Forever is a long freaking time to sit next to one another in silence as you watch yet another rerun on HGTV or the History Channel.

By

Stop Trying to be Normal

There is no great genius without some touch of madness. ~ Seneca

The more normal you try to be (or the more like others you try to parrot) the less of you we will see. The move away from genius leads to people wanting to be normal, to not have to risk their necks with some dream, idea, or stroke of genius.

Normal is depressing. Normal is just plain vanilla, no toppings. Normal is the path of no resistance. Not least resistance, no resistance. Normal is normal, and more and more people are looking for the supposed feel-good nature of being normal. Let others define what normal is, then jump on the bandwagon to feel accepted, part of the team. But you’re not accepted or connected. You’re a drone that parrots what you think others want to hear, what you think others value as popular or normal.

The problem is, normal doesn’t feel good for long. It’s cheap. Like plastic forks. Good for the occasional use, but rely on it for too long and it’ll break. It’ll let you down. And then you’ll try another version of normal. Wash, rinse, and repeat. Trying to be normal is really about a misguided search for meaning. For purpose. For life.

Normal is death. It’s death to the soul. To the creative part of you that only you know, that only you see, and that only you choose to hide or show. Trying to be normal is self-rejection. It’s death.

It’s crazy to enter into and commit oneself to another person for life… It’s even crazier to become parents. Yet we put aside stats, conventional wisdom, and follow our hearts into some of the scariest, most dangerous, and land-mine-filled area called marriage. Over 50% of marriages fail today. Yet people still get married. Why? Because they’re in love. Because their heart believes that they cannot go on without the other person. That, my friends, is madness. Ignoring logic and going with you’re heart is madness.

And it’s genius. Pure creative genius. Picasso wasn’t a genius because of what he painted, he was a genius for when and how he painted.

The same is true for you. You’re not a genius for what idea you come up with, or what decision you make. You’re a genius for taking the risk to fulfill your dream. In putting your neck on the line and risk being called a fool. And trust me, those who will call you a fool are envious, because they’re normal and you’re not.

By

Letting Jealousy Help

Growing up, I always understood jealousy as something to be avoided like the plague. It was a sin, and we weren’t supposed to feel it. The message I remember hearing from church/parents/adults was: If you’re jealous, something’s wrong.

As an adult what I’ve found is that I cannot prevent feeling jealous. Jealousy is not a feeling that is insignificant enough for our human minds to be able to outsmart or control. If there was nothing else to it, jealousy is not a helpful feeling in life, but I stop at the idea that jealousy makes you a bad person. It really can limit (sometimes destroy) a relationship because jealousy is always about lacking something in comparison to others.

The intensity of our jealousy is equal to the intensity of our own desires to have what others have. Instead of shaming the jealous feelings — by trying to ignore, numb, or shut them out — pay attention to what the jealous feelings are actually about.

For instance, let’s say I’m jealous that a friend is starting a hat-making business. It may be that I want to start a business (not necessarily a hat-making one), or that I just want out of the corporate world where I’m working for/on someone else’s schedule or money. If I shut down the jealousy because it’s a bad thing to feel, I’m going to miss out on facing up to the truth of my own desire to start a business. I see this in my own story, but also in so many other people’s lives as well: We get too caught up in the shame of what we feel that we miss out on truth.

The best way that we can eliminate our jealousy is to act on the desires that are hidden behind feeling jealous. Create something. Start small. Don’t overthink it. Pursue the relationship, or get your idea/product out into the world in a first edition/version, then revise and edit. Don’t let jealousy stop you, let it help you.

By

Two Stances in Building Relationships

Sometimes I consider myself a golfer, and regardless of how well I play, I really enjoy the sport. I’ll play 10-15 times a year, and there are occasional holes where I think that I am a decent player. One of my main complaints about this as a hobby is the amount of time that it takes away from my wife and kids. I’m typically limited to vacation golf, 9-holes after work, or the rare tee time early Saturday morning with a friend.

A few weeks ago I asked Stephanie, my wife, to go play golf with me for our weekly date. She is not a golfer, but she got really excited about getting to drive a golf cart, and doing something different on our date night. We had a blast together. I felt loved that she’d want to spend time with me doing something I really enjoy, she felt loved that we’d been adventurous on our date night. It was a win-win.

It later occurred to me how important it is for us to have something we can do together that is beyond our day-to-day lifestyle. We had kids within the first 2 years of marriage, and our normal interactions quickly swayed to become kid-centric. Part of what was so nice about playing golf that evening was that we were able to spend time together in a very different setting. We usually relate and date face-to-face, but playing golf was a shoulder-to-shoulder experience.

Men typically build relationships through doing things alongside another person. In a shoulder-to-shoulder setting, both parties are next to each other facing a common goal, problem, or activity. We usually need a sport, event, or job to make a connection with someone. Not that it always happens this way, but need shared experiences to deepen relationships. One of the reasons for this is our capacity for intimacy. While we have the same need and capacity as women, it usually takes a longer time to develop.

Patricia Love and Steven Stosny in their book How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It explain research that proves male babies have a harder time holding the gaze of their mother than do female babies. There’s an intensity to intimacy that men have a difficulty with in large doses. Women, however, typically build relationships face-to-face. This face-to-face setting means that sitting across from one another in a living room is the only context needed for relationships to happen. Experiences bring women together as well, but they don’t need an event or sport in order to connect.

It’s pretty typical, perhaps even a bit cliche’, for a couples’ date night to be dinner and a movie. The reason this works so well is that it addresses both types of relational experiences: Dinner is face-to-face, and the movie is shoulder-to-shoulder. It is really important for couples to tend to the relational needs of both the husband and the wife. This may seem like a fairly simple idea, but the practice can become challenging over time.

This is an important concept for couples to understand. Men and women process relationships and intimacy differently. The quality of time spent together needs to be rationed to both his and her relational needs. I’m a huge advocate of consistent date nights for couples. Creating experiences that allow for both the fact to face and should to shoulder will go a long way in keeping both relational needs addressed.

(Article originally published at Start Marriage Right)

By

Four Conversations to Visit Regularly

My wife, Stephanie, and I just celebrated our 12th anniversary. Some days it feels as though we’ve been married for decades, and there are still times that I look at her and wonder who she is and what she’s doing in my life. I often think that I hardly know her. During our first few years of marriage, we spent regular time asking each other important questions about life. It was part of the rhythm that we adopted to learn more about each other.

Just this past holiday season on a family trip out West, Stephanie and I spent a few hours asking and answering questions about each other during our drive (we got a “road trip” kit that provided activities for the kids and the adults alike). It was a refreshing exercise to get us back into discussing some parts about each other that have not be regular conversations we have.

Like that infamous “new car smell”, the newness and excitement in marriage can easily wear off. Without an intentional approach to pursuing the other person, couples will grow distant. As I look back on our 12 years together, there are four conversations and questions that regularly surface for us: Sex; Money; Dreams/Desires; and Love language. These are excellent and challenging topics to keep couples connected and engaged in each others lives.

Sex
Outside of the bedroom, and not always in a romantically inclined situation, ask and talk to your spouse about your sex life together. Too often we express sexual needs only in the moment, and not proactively. This is a challenging topic because there is often so much shame associated with sex. Where there is shame, there is hiding. The goal here is to first and foremost be an proactive participant in your sexual relationship. Secondly, conversing will slowly and methodically bring sex to the table as a comfortable and unashamed topic. Doing this requires that sex not be a topic that is only expressed, it also must be discussed. Talk about needs, wants, and desires. Talk about what is comfortable for you, and what isn’t. Set boundaries, and respect each others’ needs in this area.

Money
Not only is money one of the most divisive topics in marriage, but it’s also the most difficult aspects of life to handle. Money puts a spotlight on our drive and passion, desires, habits, and what we find most important. Money is tangible evidence of where our values are aimed. Spending regular time to discuss money will help to weed out the potential traps that come when money gets scarce. These conversations can take place in the form of a monthly or bi-weekly budget meeting (which I highly recommend), or they can be conversations about what to do with a windfall, if you win the lottery, or what you want to save your money for. Regardless of how you talk about it, talk about money at least once a month.

Dreams, hopes, desires
In a similar light to money, discuss the passions you have for life. Explore old childhood memories of wanting to be a pilot, astronaut, or dancer. It’s easy to get caught up in the mundane aspects of life and forget to spend time dreaming about the future. If we do not talk about what our goals and dreams are, we will become bored and numb-out to life. Everyone has a dream, the questions is will you risk going for it. These conversations are both exploratory and accountability with your spouse. Name your dreams to each other, set goals, and help each other.

Here’s a way to do this: Take a couple of hours together one night and do the following: Get 2 poster boards from the school supply section at the store, get some magazines (as a side note, play the game “what are they getting ready to say” as you flip through the magazine and see people’s picture). Go home and spend an hour putting together a “dream board.” Cut and paste pictures, words, and ideas from the magazines onto the poster board that represent things that you want to accomplish in the next 5-10 years. After each of you are done with this, talk about your board with the other person.

How do you feel loved
Occasionally, 2-3 times per year, on our weekly date I will ask Stephanie how she has felt loved by me lately. It’s a simple question that invites her to share with me aspects of her life that feel meaningful to me. One of my goals as a husband is for my wife to know through experience that I love and care for her. I don’t want to rely on my words as the evidence of this, rather I want her to have tangible experiences she can remember.

This question also serves as an opportunity for Stephanie to share some areas where she wants me to improve. Rarely have we gotten into a fight after these conversations because I’m ready for the feedback and critique when I ask this question. I don’t ask this when I’m not able to hear her responses.

These four conversations topics can be setup in such a way that every month you follow a similar routine. Perhaps take one of these topics per week, and make it a regular part of your lives together. Don’t let the routine of Facebook, TV, sporting events, or other ways of checking out stand in the way of growing closer together with your spouse.

(article originally published at Start Marriage Right)

By

A Father’s Redemption

IMG-20130616-00470

I was invited to be a guest speaker at Fourth Avenue Church of Christ this past Sunday on Father’s Day. I’ve spoken in many venues before, but it was a first for me to give the sermon in a church. I’m grateful for the opportunity and blessing of being able to share from my experience as a son and a dad to help cast a vision for father’s as they navigate the difficult waters of fatherhood.

There is a relational disconnect between a father and his children. For various reasons, this disconnect creates disharmony and obstacles as the children grow up to become adults. There are three roles that we as dad’s can play in our kids’ lives to not only raise them into adulthood, but also to ease the relational disconnect that exists. You can listen to the message here:

Click Here to Listen (35 minutes in length)

By

Stay Here And Feed Your People

 

One of my favorite podcasts is The Moth, a story-telling organization that hosts “story nights” around the country.  Audience members, similar to the Price is Right, are the stars of the show. They get on stage and tell a story, sometimes in reference to a theme of the evening, and they do this without notes. It’s often exciting, usually moving, and always beautiful. Stories make the world go round, and The Moth offers an intimate glimpse into some of these stories.

Last fall, The Moth hosted a “Grand Slam” event that brought 10 storytellers to the stage, and they competed against each other for the title of Grand Slam Winner. This event was in Chicago and was hosted by the Peter Sagal of the NPR show, “Wait, Wait, Don’t tell Me.” (Wait Wait is another one of my favorite podcasts.)

Towards the end of the show, Sagal was sharing a story of his own. He had a friend, Morgan, who helped to put on a develop plays in the local theater. During this time in her life, Morgan began asking questions about her own significance and place in this world. Consequently, she became a huge fan of Mother Teresa. When Mother Teresa came to town Morgan found her at her hotel and to meet her.

Morgan expressed her admiration and respect, and said she wanted to join her in Calcutta doing work in the orphanages. Morgan said, “The work you do is wonderful and important, I want to come with you to Calcutta.”

Mother Teresa replied, “No. You don’t do this work because you think it’s wonderful. You do this work because you so love the poor people of Calcutta that you can’t be away from them. That’s when you come and do this work.”

“What do you do?” Mother Teresa asked.

“What I do isn’t important,” Morgan said. “I work at a theater and I help put on plays. What use is that?”

“There are so many different kinds of famine in this world,” Mother Teresa said. “In my country, there is a famine of the body. In this country, there is a famine of the spirit. Stay here and feed your people.”

Who are ‘your people’?

By

First Half Reading

One of my goals this year is to read more books. Of the dozen-plus books I’ve read so far, here are four that I suggest everyone read:

Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction

A dad reflects on his son’s addiction to drugs (meth). As a parent, this is a terrifying read as I consider what is out there for my kids to face. But it’s a good kind of terrifying. It has forced me to face this possibility and begin conversations with my kids about addictions. Conversations won’t keep kids off of drugs, but my hope is that our relationships will give them what they need through the tumultuous years of adolescence and young adulthood.

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption

I’m sure you’ve heard of this book, or story, and rightfully so. It’s one of the best stories that I’ve ever read. It’s a story of survival, pain, suffering, tragedy, and the will of the human spirit. All stories have loss, and all stories have redemption. The story of Zamperini has loss and redemption over and over again. Read this book and ask yourself: “Where is the parallel in my story?”

The Anatomy of Peace: Resolving the Heart of Conflict

Written in a conversational format, characters discuss the nature of how war and peace interact, where does peace come from, and how do we engage it with the people around us. It’s got some powerful illustrations that help to bring the read to see that we often focus on what’s wrong with other people, but ignore the majority of what they do right. Furthermore, we often treat others more so as objects than as people and that we expect them to fully trust us even if we don’t fully trust them. This is a great book for anyone who is in any form of leadership (parents, business, marriage, church volunteers, etc — essentially anyone who deals with people in any organized fashion).

The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles

Probably my favorite book so far of 2012. The first half of this book, if you let it, will call you out and challenge every part of your fear. Resistance is the main culprit to our boredom and lack of pursuit to what we want to create in life. It carries a number of little nuggets that can apply to anyone. This is a book that I will read again, and again.

 

By

On the Money

(originally published at Start Marriage Right)

The American Dream has altered over the years but still fuels our culture. Its message permeates the airwaves, social media and modern advertising. We’re promised a better body, popularity and sexier hair all promising a happy life. In the place of the white picket fence and 2.2 kids is the good looking, popular and rich homestead.

A big motivation (whether known or not) for people to make a lot of money is to buffer the realities of a life that doesn’t work. A friend shared a great line with me the other day. He said,

If we can buy our way out of a problem, it’s not really a problem.”

I hadn’t considered it that way but believe it’s true. You can’t buy happiness but you can put some margin between you and life. (Despite the studies that show you can indeed buy happiness up to making around $80,000 per year, I think money delays and buffers disappointment).

Marriages contend with this struggle for happiness and financial freedom on a daily basis.Gone are the days that your paycheck is yours and yours alone. Instead of being able to easily decide the impact of a purchase, the married person now has to consider, engage and discuss the impact of a purchase on the other person. Watching the issues of money erode marital relationships is what we have all thought about the Titanic sinking: Just slow down and heed the warning of those before you.

… continue reading over at Start Marriage Right

By

Time to Drop the F-Bomb

 

Freak. Fudge. Freaking. Farfignugen. Feck. Freaking….

Socially conservative people, not in the political sense, find plenty of ways around saying the real thing, instead substituting made-up words and sound-alike words to communicate what’s really going on in their hearts.

recent study in the UK showed that cursing is an emotional language that helps to alleviate the internal suffering or pain of a given situation. While I tend to agree with this study, and have written before about language and wisdom, I think we need to expand our understanding of what is one of, if not the most emotionally charged word in the dictionary: Failure.

Failure is the real F-Bomb.

No other word has spawned online communities dedicated to laughing at the plight of ourselves and others. No other word is the basis for which the anti-motivational series of posters and other memorabilia thrives. No other word is more present at the core of the great American dream. We wake up every day with a sense if impending failure, be it in our homes, at work, on our morning commute, at the golf course, or in church.

Perhaps the most notorious quote about failure was portrayed in the Apollo 13 movie when the flight director (Gene Kranz) in the Houston command center exclaimed, “Failure is not an option.” This message came at a pivotal moment about the survival of the 3 astronauts in the doomed Apollo 13 space craft. If you remember the movie, you’ll recall the boon of emotional energy that was created on screen, and in the viewers. Such a simple charge with overwhelmingly complex implications.

Though you and I might not be facing death in our daily lives as the astronauts were, we are facing something much worse: Being alive without a mission, going through each day just hoping to make it to the next, and the fear that if we do fail we will be scorned by our peers and perhaps even those closest to us. Make not mistake, failure is an emotional word; and it’s a bomb that left unaddressed will slowly eat away at your hope, dreams, and very sense of what you’re here on earth for.

It’s time to drop the F Bomb and get it out from festering inside and oozing apathy, self-pity, and complacency. As William Wallace said in the movie Braveheart; “every man dies, but not every man really lives.”

This is not a motivational piece intended to rah-rah you into another fast start towards that dream you’re avoiding, in fact it’s quite the opposite. Fast starts often lead to painful finishes. I remember running a mile race in 5th grade, and for the first 2/3 of the race I was smoking the hundred or so boys racing with me. I ran so hard and so fast that my lead vanished over the last 2-300 yards because I’d spent all my energy at the beginning. All of us will fail if we try to accomplish our dreams in one giant step or action. It’s a lifetime process that requires you taking steps today that will keep you able to make another step tomorrow.

Failure is an option, but it’s only failure if you do nothing or half-heartedly. Failure is actually our friend. Someone once told me that he viewed failure as a devilish looking creature that needed to hidden and kept silent. Such a wonderful description of what lives inside all of us. It’s hard to think about befriending something that looks like this picture. Who wants to invite this kind of creature to be seen?

The antidote to failure is to fail. Because inherent in failing is that we risk something. Without risk, we will not fail. As the mountain biking community says, “no falls, no balls.”