Five Minute Sherpa

an espresso shot of thoughtful guidance

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Making Peace with DMZ’s in Marriage

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I’m sure you’ve seen it in a movie, or on the news. The scene is this: Some country breaks the demilitarized zone with an aircraft or some other object. The other country interprets this as an act of war and promptly opens fire on object, destroying it before it has a chance to hurt them. You don’t step foot into the DMZ unless you’re wanting to die, or start an all-out war.

Unfortunately, many marriages are setup like warring countries. There are tragedies, betrayals, and offenses that have gone unresolved. These stories become the DMZ between the couple. As one woman said in my office last week, “he had an affair 8 years ago, we never talked about it then, and we’re not going to talk about it now.”

The bottom line is this: Marriages will not survive DMZ’s. The moment a story is placed in the “off limits” category, knowingly or unknowingly, the couple has declared war on intimacy, trust, and forgiveness — all components of thriving relationships. When a DMZ is established, the individual parties begin looking out for the best interest of themselves, and only look at the other person from a distance.

So, how do countries stabilize war and DMZ’s? I’m not all that studied on international diplomacy, but ultimately it comes down to one word: Peace. Enemies must make peace with one another for war to end.

Here’s how you start this process in marriage.

– Take your shoes off, literally. The DMZ in your marriage is holy ground. It’s where blood has been spilled, death has been seen, and hope has been lost. We bring silence and respect when entering a place of mourning. Taking your shoes off puts your feet in bare contact with the physical ground, and terrain. You’re more sensitive to what you’re walking on without your shoes.

– Drop your weapons. You don’t walk into a peace treaty meeting with a machine gun. What are the weapons you use in marriage? Contempt? Stonewalling? Name calling? Calling it like you see it? Avoidance? Manipulation? Control? Rage? Regardless of the weapon, leave it at the door.

– Unfold your arms. Our body language tells others everything they need to know to make a judgement about how we’re approaching the situation. By crossing your arms or legs, you’re signaling defensiveness and being closed off. Defensiveness is a support of DMZ’s, not a way to make peace.

– Listen twice, speak once. The reality is most of us do not listen very well. We’re generally more interested in forming our rebuttal than allowing the words, emotions, and energy to get to us. Before you respond with what you want to say, reflect back to the other person the actual words they spoke and ask if you heard everything correctly (ie- “I heard you say you feel like I don’t like you, and that I care more about work than I care about you, is that right?).

– Slow down. Take deep breaths to slow down your heart rate. This decreases the chances of your fight or flight response from taking over. Relax your jaw, your fists, and breath. It may sound hokey, but slowing your heart rate will better allow you to view the other person as a friend, not a foe.

– Listen to your senses. What do you smell, see, and feel (physically)? In fights or places of tension, we are generally being reactive to something from the past (see #4 – fight/flight). Practicing awareness of our senses brings us into the present moment, and helps to bring clarity.

– Practice offering gratitude. If you’re not offering thanks to your spouse for their efforts to bring peace, peace will not come. Be wary of how entitlement cheats gratitude (“she should know better…”, or “I shouldn’t have to tell you this…”). If you can’t find something to be thankful for, the issue is with you, not the other person.

The saying is true: “It takes two to tango,” but it only takes one person to change the way they are dancing to invite the other to do the same. I’ve seen it dozens of times where one person has offered peace to an unwilling and defensive participant, and it changes the relationship. Don’t wait for the other person to change first, they are likely waiting for the same thing.

The above picture is “a view from the Dora Observatory in Korea. The DMZ (and beyond it, North Korea) is visible through the haze. (photo via flickr user Ben Kucinski)

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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.

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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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Growing Up in Marriage

Author and speaker David Erickson recently said, “There is a child in me always seeking to destroy the man that I am.” As I sat with Josh and Katy a couple of weeks ago, I remembered what David said because it fit Josh and Katy perfectly. They had only been married a little over a year, but by the way they were treating each other one would have thought they were mortal enemies.

Just before their current argument escalated to war-like proportions in my office, I stopped them and spoke David’s words to them.”Josh and Katy,” I said. “There is a child inside both of you that is destroying this marriage.”

It’s easy to shame someone, especially when speaking about another’s immaturity or childishness, but my words to them were not about shame, they were about truth. Josh and Katy were both acting like four-year-olds who didn’t get a candy bar at the grocery store.

They were blaming each other for their unhappiness, and both were sounding like a whiny kid. They agreed with my observation and then chose to behave as adults for the remainder of the session. It was productive only because of this choice.

I recently wrote about approaching your marriage as though it is the first child. Taking this approach requires nurturing, patience, and tenderness. I want to piggyback on this idea and speak to the challenging side of seeing your marriage as a child. Children need to be taught, grown up, and loved well so that they don’t get their way. Dan Allender says that children are always asking two questions: “Am I loved, and can I get my own way?” Love means we sometimes say no, that we do what’s hard, not what’s easy. Ultimately, love will result in the greatest opportunity for growth. This is the challenge for marriages: To love the boy/girl inside each other so that the man/woman can be grown up and flourish.

Josh and Katy’s relationship is alarming to me because they are a microcosm of a larger problem for the newly married. The overarching theme I continually see in my work as a marriage counselor is couples’ inability, or outright refusal, to empathically view their spouses problems, hurts, and desires. In simple terms, this inability or refusal is childlike behavior. Adults do what is hard, children do what is easy.

I recently heard a comedian talk about the current generation of teenagers only knowing relationships through Facebook, texting, and twitter. He said, and I tend to agree, that these digital methods of relationship building are preventing empathy from being developed because there is no human face to engage. When we hurt someone, their face and body tell us before their words do. This creates challenging feelings for the person who offended their friend. These challenging feelings are what birth empathy.

Children are too consumed with their own wellbeing to want to spend much of their own energy on others. Just ask a 3 year old to share his toys with a friend … it’s not going to happen. That same 3 year old resides in each of us as adults. We are continually faced with the decision to let that inner 3 year old go on a rampage in our lives. When we do, the results are disastrous.

Our spouses need us to be adults, just as much as we need them to be adults. When we behave like children we cheat, lie, steal, call each other names, and ultimately live life for ourselves. This is the reason so many marriages are failing today. We fail to grow up and be mature adults. I want you, the reader, to consider what needs to be matured in your life. What is the child inside you doing that is threatening the marriage you want to build?

– See more at: http://www.startmarriageright.com/2013/11/growing-up-in-marriage/#sthash.E0FGnsqE.dpuf

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A Father’s Redemption

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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)

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Parenting As A Vehicle

Hordes of books dominate the shelves of bookstores, teaching you the love languages of kids, brain rules for kids, and how kids raise parents. There are classes, techniques, and even some really stringent cult-like ideas that all hope to help parents master the art of parenting.

I enjoy referring to parenting in football defensive references. If a family has two kids, it’s “man coverage,” with 3 kids they are in zone coverage, and with four or more, the all important (and most anxiety producing for a football fan) Prevent defense. It’s clever, I know. 

The truth is, no metaphor, book, technique, or principal can help to prepare someone to be a parent. And yet, we all need help to shepherd us along the way.

It’s really hard work, and mostly exhausting to deal with free-willed little people who refuse to be your robot. 

Go to bed.
Unload your dishes.
Be nice to your sister.
Pick up your clothes.
Turn off the lights. 
(The prevailing message: don’t be a kid)

If you’re a parent, you get it. Most of the time parents are directing, pointing, teaching, yelling, and ending the day praying the kids turn out ok. It’s the ultimate journey of faith, trust, and powerlessness. 

Parenting is the vehicle that gets our kids onto or nearby the launching pad for their lives. Each kid has their own unique launching pad. Sometimes parents don’t see that different kids have different needs, which produce different lifestyles, goals, and vision for their lives. If we take all our kids to the same destination, the same launching pad, only one is going to pleased. 

This vehicle is the container that provides safe travel while the journey is still in the confines of childhood. Slowly, methodically, and gradually the kids will begin to branch out and become curious about their world. More often than not, a kids curiosity will trigger a parents fear of losing control. This fear, left undressed or unexplored, leads straight to the command center of the kids’ launching pad. 

As a fearful parent, I want to be in the command center. I want to be in the control room that has the correct flight plan, path, and coordinates for my kids rocket. I want to know what is going to happen, where they are going, and that they will be ok. In reality, I just want to be ok. My kids are an extension of me (they’re still in the early journey of curiosity), and if they hurt, so do I. 

It’s easy for parents to be in the mindset of putting the kids in an auto-piloted vehicle, and retire to the control room where they can push the buttons, speak commands, and remain aloof from the reality of the kids who are in the vehicle. This is the safest form of parenting, but it’s not really parenting. It’s more like a warden, a boss, or an autocrat. 

James Masterson, therapist and author, says that the role of the therapist is to be the guardian of the true, real self. Not surprisingly, this is a lot like the role of a parent. Our role is to guard our kids from buying into the lie that posturing, faking it, or performing is what works. It’s our job to show our kids that money doesn’t buy happiness, nor does money solve the real challenges of life. 

The ultimate challenge of parenting is to cultivate a relationship, the vehicle, that allows for safe return from misplaced curiosity, foolish choices, or damaging actions. 




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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.”

 

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Sometimes the Simple Solutions are the Hardest

 

If you wish to be a writer, write. ~ Epictetus

For many years, I’ve written as a hobby. This generally means that I’d write when I was inspired, and only when I was inspired. One problem with this mentality is that I’ve missed out on many opportunities in the past because I didn’t know exactly what or how I wanted to say something. So instead of sitting down with a pen and paper (or usually a computer), I’d work on what I’d want to say in my head hoping to get it just right. Rarely did that produce something on paper. I wanted it to be perfect, or at the very least “good enough” that it’d garner rave reviews or feedback. The big lesson here is perfectionism will kill an artist, a writer.

Sometimes, the simplest solutions are the most difficult to see and take. In the case of writing, it doesn’t take hours of time or space to hammer out a few words. But that’s what I was trying to attain. This reminds me of what my dad used to say to me as a kid when I’d be in charge of unloading the dishes from the dishwasher. I’d try to do it as quickly as possible and in as few trips to the cabinets as possible. This led to me carrying 10-15 dishes precariously stacked on top of one another. His admonition to me: Don’t be lazy. Take your time, and do it without breaking things.

Learning from that over the years has allowed me to come up with hundreds of 10-20 word thoughts that one day might turn into a fuller, more meaningful article or blog post. I don’t do this every day, but I write something on most days. Once I open up the valve of content, I’m amazed at what else shows up. Just in the process of writing these 400+ words, I’ve thought of 2 other topics that I want to write about. My next step: Write about them.

Creating begets creating. This is the application for everyone. There is usually something that has been named in the form of a wish, but practical steps haven’t been taken to make that wish a reality.

“I want to start my own business”
“I want to start a family, have kids”
“I want to create art, paint, etc”
“I want to read more”
“I want to ________”

All of these wants are big ideas, and can be overwhelming to know where to start. The first step is likely the one that you’re avoiding, which is also the most difficult step. The longer you wait to take that step, the more overwhelming and difficult it becomes.

Here are a few books that are great at exploring more some of what I’ve introduced here:
Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

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

48 Days to the Work You Love: Preparing for the New Normal

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I Can Only Speak for Me

You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should’ve behaved better. – Anne Lamott

So… it’s pretty easy to talk about other people. To see their faults, cracks, damages, and also their giftings, goodness, and success in life. It’s much harder to see our own. (Which is why I think everyone ought to get married and/or have kids. Marriage and Parenting makes it really difficult to ignore the reflection of yourself. But that’s another topic for another day.)

It’s hard to talk and write about the stories you have that have been influenced by others without giving too much credit to the other person. What has happened to you, has happened to you. And you’re the only one who can tell the story of what has happened to you.

You can’t speak for the other person, about their motives or assumptions. It’s not your job to protect others from the impact they or someone else has had on you. Your only responsibility is to speak about your experience.

Not theirs. Yours.

“How will you respond to what’s happened?” is really the only question that matters. Because the last thing you want to do, is to respond like this:

 

 

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Seeing the Real You

I do my thing and you do your thing.
I am not in this world to live up to your expectations,
And you are not in this world to live up to mine.
You are you, and I am I,
and if by chance we find each other, it’s beautiful.
If not, it can’t be helped.

~Fritz Perls

 

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

We care what others think because it’s easy. It’s easy to ask someone else to define you. To judge you. To tell you who or what you are (and in most cases, they will tell you what you are, not who you are). We want easy, because hard is painful. Hard is just that, hard. And not many of us like hard.

So, the warning flag that you’re not engaged with your soul, your true self, is that you care what others think. If that flag is flying, recognize it. Take it down, and find out who you are. Carry and write in a journal. Read a book. Sit outside in nature, and meditate on what you see. Consider what excites you, what scares you, and what you want out of life. What do you dream?

You’ll get down to some gritty and hard places if you stop wondering about others and turn inward. That journey will be a lot longer and harder than what people think. But frankly, people don’t think about you nearly as much as you’d like. And the ones that really care about you, those are the ones who don’t just think about you, they do something about it. Because at the end of the day, it’s all about what you see in yourself.