Five Minute Sherpa

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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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On Being Needy

I think most people would agree that no one wants to be a needy person. We usually distance ourselves from those who have little to no ability (as adults) to help themselves. The problem is, that we are all people of need, and this is a very uncomfortable position. If I admit to needing something (which is different than wanting), this means I don’t have the ability to self-produce everything for my life.

My inability to self-produce all that I need for my life is evident at every moment of the day. I need oxygen to survive and there is no way for my body to get oxygen without breathing … which is an involuntary action. I can only tell my body to stop breathing for so long, and then it takes over and starts breathing again. I am not in complete control over my body, nor anything else in life.

Our needing help from others is like breathing. If you stop breathing as much, you will become a burden to others. This is the same with our relational and emotional needs—if you stop needing relationship with others, you’ll become a burden. No one wants to be in a relationship with an overly needy or needless person. Sure, we often complain about how needy others are around us, but the reality is some of these needs are exactly what draws us to people. (It used to be that we needed others to tell us what our faces looked like because we had no ability to see ourselves — technology has removed that need, among other things)

I feel useful, which is a sense of self-worth, when I am able to give something that I can do to someone who doesn’t have that ability. Certainly we can get caught up in becoming addicted to helping others (codependency), but at the heart we all need to give away that which is a natural resource within us. Our resources are there not to keep to ourselves, but to share with others. When I’m able to share my natural abilities with others, it’s a gift from them.

I don’t feel all that useful when I’m asking for help. It’s hard and vulnerable to ask for help, but it’s also a gift. If I don’t ask for help, I’m preventing someone else from the ability to share their resources with me. Not asking for help is incredibly prideful and selfish. Relationships won’t last long if you withhold needs.

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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.

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Listen twice

There’s a invaluable rule in construction: Measure twice, cut once. If you’ve ever made the mistake of not following this advice, you understand how important it is. One mis cut piece of material can vastly alter the overall structure and finished product.

It takes a little extra time, focus, and energy to do the same thing repeatedly, but when dealing with a $300 piece of wood, it’s well worth the time.

This idea is true for relationships as well … with a little adaptation: Listen twice, respond once. Our response is like taking a saw out and making a cut. It’s putting action to what is being heard and communicated. Yes, it will take some extra time and energy to listen twice, but this will surely save you unnecessary heartache.

Most of us only listen once, biding our time until we can get a word in edgewise. Listening twice might include asking open-ended questions out of a genuine place of curiosity, not to lead the witness. If you don’t feel this genuineness, take a step back until you can be. The great thing is the universality of this concept. It works in all relationships. Try it at work, with friends, or your kids. You might hear someone’s truth instead of responding based on your assumptions.

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Jesse Take the Wheel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Article originally published at Start Marriage Right)

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Marriage as the First Child

There is no doubt; having a child is one of the greatest and most terrifying moments in life. It is one of the most electrifying times that produces crazy amounts of anxiety, adrenaline, and joy. And that’s just from the guy’s perspective. Despite this reality with a baby, when the first child arrives it is a couples’ second offspring. Let me explain.

In college, two of my best friends, who were also my roommates, got married within a week of each other. I had the honor of being the best man for both of them, which might help to explain some of my surprise (and hurt) that they essentially disappeared from life after the wedding. It was as if they’d moved to a different state altogether. I’d expected them to be less social after they got married, but nothing to the extent that I experienced.

Fast forward a little over a year later, I’d been married for a few months, and I realized why my good friends disappeared after they got married: They had created something new, fragile, and precious. They weren’t parents, but in tying the knot, together as husband and wife they created a new relationship that was bigger than their individual lives could hold alone. I saw this in my marriage as well. Here was a union that Stephanie, my wife, and I had created that now required our attention and care.

When a marriage is born, much like a baby, it takes a similar level of attention, commitment, and care. If we treat our young marriage as though it is one that’s been around for 20 years, we’re likely going to fail in many ways.

Love is a choice, as is commitment, and both are a process. This process happens over time as we hold tightly to someone or something that we care deeply about. The infancy stage of love is motivated primarily by underdeveloped fear. If I don’t hold on tight enough, something terrible might happen. Now as a dad of four, I can safely say that I have some ideas about what it takes to care for an infant child. It took me struggling through the first two to get to this stage, and only through this struggle did I gain confidence about how to be a dad.

Similarly, I am confident as a husband because I have struggled mightily through the early stages of our marriage relationship. Just as parents understand the frailty of their children, I understand the frailty of a relationship. One look at an infant and it’s easy to see that they would not fare well on their own.

Marriages are no different. It’s an easy trap to fall into, but many marriages do. The trap is to believe that once a commitment is made, the relationship will coast into glory. Nothing could be further from the truth. Much like a baby needs an adult mother and father, so too do marriages need an adult husband and wife. This adulthood, maturity, can take shape in a couple of different ways.

For one, couples are wise to search out mentors to walk through life together. These mentors need to be a couple that has been through a couple of rounds of hardships together and can be far enough down the road so as to provide wisdom and perspective. These are couples who will be available to meet with you late at night when that time comes. These are not friends, they are guides, sherpas. An older couple might be the difference between a successful and failed marriage.

Another way this concept plays out is that the husband and wife take care of the marriage together. Viewing the relationship as it’s own entity creates unity and togetherness that can offer a unique experience. When the relationship is faltering, viewing it as a co-created entity allows for the responsibility of care to be had by both parties. The opposite way of doing this creates a fertile ground for the blame-game: Finding the “bad guy” who is responsible for the screw up.

Marriages are in danger for a variety of reasons. Viewing your marriage as your first child will create opportunities for your relationship to thrive. Furthermore, it will also provide a context for parenting together if and when that day comes.

(Article originally published at Start Marriage Right)

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Introverts and Marriage

Introverts have long received the label of “misunderstood.” Some estimate that at least a third or more of the population are introverts. While this is a subjective estimation (everyone has some extroverted and introverted parts), it’s safe to say that most marriages will have one person who is more introverted than the other.

If the term “introvert” is an unfamiliar one, let me give a brief background to this personality type. Introverts tend to be more concerned with the quality of relationships, as opposed to the quantity. They also are more interested in the depth of understanding, not the breadth. Introverts are people oriented but usually require time away from large groups of people to re-energize. Whereas an extrovert would have more energy after a social outing, an introvert would likely be left feeling a bit depleted.

A common misconception is that introverts only like to be alone. Certainly this is sometimes the case, it’s more likely that introverts are more limited in their social energies than of their counterpart, the extrovert. “Intro” refers to inside, which means that processing happens internally. The Myers-Briggs personality test is a great resource for helping to shed light on which personality types best describe people.

So what happens in marriage when an introvert, one who tends to be quieter, slower, and more internal in their processing, marries an extrovert? A feeling of being overwhelmed with all the stimulation of having another person inside in their world.

As an introvert with four young kids (at this time, 10 years old and under), I’m continually faced with people getting in my business. Sometimes, it’s too much for me. Two of my older kids are extroverts, as is my wife, so I’m definitely in the minority. Prior to getting married, I used to journal 4-5 times per week. It was my therapy as I processed the ups and downs in life through written word. I used to fill up journals of content every year, but when I got married, I stopped journaling. Part of this is because I didn’t have any words left for my journal. I used them all with my wife. The other part was that I really didn’t know what to do with someone else in my world on a constant basis.

I was confused. I loved Stephanie, my wife, being there, but I wanted space. I battled guilt for sometimes wanting to be away from her, but at the same time I resented her. It was an odd time. You or your spouse might face a similar situation. Here are some suggestions about navigating this area of your relationship.

First, be forthright about the emotional and/or relational needs that each of you have. How much time do you need apart or where there is enough space to recharge? How often do social gatherings need to take place? What about travel to family events, or weekend plans? All of these questions will address the needs of both the introvert and extrovert. Because introverts tend to be slower processors, they need space to think and consider what is happening in life. Talk about the specific needs you or your spouse have, and agree together how to go about accomplishing these needs.

Secondly, don’t be afraid to split up on any given event. You both don’t have to be together at every social gathering. If the setup is that both go together or not at all, one is going to be susceptible to resentment. If one of you does stay behind, make sure to check in with one another after the event, or the following day. As with all things, keep short accounts with each other.

Lastly, trade off leadership responsibilities in regards to date night or social gatherings. This is a great practice to do outside of the conversation about introversion/extroversion. The helpful aspect of this is the chance to invite the other into your world and what it is that you enjoy doing. By trading the leadership in this way, both partners will be given freedom to express themselves to their spouse.

Introverts help us to slow down, to think things through, and to settle into helpful rhythms. Without a sense of care, an introvert will shut down and become removed from the relationship. Care well for the introvert in you and in your marriage, and enjoy the fruits of a deeper relationship.

(Article originally published at Start Marriage Right)