Five Minute Sherpa

an espresso shot of thoughtful guidance

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Myth #2: It Takes a Village

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 below 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 series:
Myth #1 — Divorce Pain is Temporary


 

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

The above quote links divorce to caffeine where the author states, “society used to think caffeine was bad, now it says it might help prevent cancer.” I’m in agreement that there are a host of issues society has gotten wrong. I don’t think anyone can argue that point. But, have we gotten the issue of divorce wrong? A question I had after reading this was: ‘Is divorce harmful to the body like caffeine was once thought to be?’

I don’t think the author intended for this connection to be taken literally, but I went on a search anyway and here is what I found. In 2009 the Journal of Health and Social Behavior published a study that linked divorce and widowhood to a decrease in physical health. In fact, there was a more significant toll on the physical health than on the mental health of those who’d divorced or widowed. I think some of this decline in physical health is linked to the need for companionship, because in this study those that remarried reported physical health issues getting better.

Not surprisingly, our society has drastically changed over the past 50 years. In the summer of 2013 I, and my extended family, buried the patriarch of our family, my grandfather. He was a man rigorous in his commitment to family, responsibility, and hard work. He grew up as the country exited the great depression, fought on the front lines in France, and stayed at his job for the entirety of his career. His work ethic was remarkable. I don’t think he would consider himself all that special amongst his peers, or others from his era. They did what they had to do, regardless of how hard it was.

The society he helped create said divorce was bad because (the following are my words), there was a cultural understanding that marriage was hard work, just like the rest of life. The culture supported hard work in every facet of life, and marriage was no different. Doing what feels good was not something my grandfathers’ culture promoted, or advertised. That is not the case today. We are constantly bombarded with advertisements promoting pleasure. The culture’s message is clear: Do what feels good. This is not a helpful message for those facing hardships in their relationship.

Last week I wrote about marriage being one of the main pillars that creates culture. If you take marriage away, what is left? Doing what feels good often does not take into account the effect upon those around us. If our society is more bent towards encouraging choices that feel good, which I firmly believe to be the case, then there is tons of support for divorce being a acceptable (and desirable) decision. But did my grandfather’s generation, his society, get it wrong? On the issue of marriage, I think they got it right.

Usually doing what’s right comes at the expense of our own individual freedoms and desires. This is a difficult reality: The good of the whole doesn’t make all the individuals happy. In fact, the good of the whole often time comes at the cost of individual pleasure. There has to be a bigger story, a more compelling story, that causes people to lay down their rights, freedoms, and preferences for the good of the whole. Divorce is not that compelling story for a society because it promotes a me-first, “every man/woman for themselves” attitude. This is a dangerous and slippery slope. The history books do not reflect well upon those who take it upon themselves to act on desires for personal glory, or pleasure.

At present, our society is losing clarity on why marriage is important. The conversations are about civil rights and freedoms, not about what it actually takes to build a sustainable marriage. This is problematic, regardless of who you married. Our culture has deemed divorce acceptable thus we have lost a vital support system for marriages to thrive. I’m sure the saying is familiar: It takes a village to raise a child … well, it also takes a village to raise a marriage.

Next Up — Myth #3: The same people judging you for getting divorced are probably part of the Miserable & Married crowd.

_____

Sources:
Hughes, M. and Waite, L. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, September 2009; vol 50

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Anne Lamott on Brian Williams and scapegoats

Anne Lamott, one of my favorite authors, recently posted some thoughts (originally posted here) about Brian Williams (NBC Nightly News anchor) and our common humanity. This is worth reading, even if you don’t have a clue what’s happening with Mr. Williams. My favorite line encompasses something most of us are afraid of doing: “Let’s be human together.”

 

Brian Williams is our new Old Testament goat. It’s like being the new It Girl, although of course, not quite as festive. And I’m caught up in it, too. It’s hard to turn away, and a part of me, the dark part of me with bad self esteem, is cheered. The handsomest, richest, most perfect guy turned out to have truthiness issues; and it was good.

He’s our sin offering. Wow, how often do I get to type those words? Not nearly often enough! It’s exhilarating. It’s Shirley Jackson’s “Lottery.” Each worsening detail is like a self-esteem ATM.

I’m watching talking heads on the biggest news stations come down on him, and I know some of these most famous men to have been unfaithful, and worse–way worse, with children. They’re in the delicious throes of schadenfreude, which part of me is, too. The sweeter part of me, the child, the girl in her little blue kilt, the mom, the nana, the black-belt co-dependent, wants to shake her fist at the bullies. Who here doesn’t lie, emebellish, exaggerate? (I’m reminded of the old joke about Jesus telling the crowd who is stoning the adulteress, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” Suddenly a woman throws a rock at the adulturess. Jesus looks up, and says, “Oh for Pete’s sake, Mother.”)

No one, not one single person, has stood up for him. I would, but I’m a lying liar, too–well, maybe not as egregious as Brian Williams. I don’t tell people “I looked down the tube of an RPG”. Well, maybe that one time I did. But that was just so people would like me more.

I would stand with Mr. Williams, because he’s family. There’s a scene in Small Victories where I was giving a writing workshop to the prisoners in San Quentin, with my friend Neshama, and she told them. “I’m human. You’re human. Let’s be in our humanness together for a little while.” So yes, I stand with him.

But my solidarity wouldn’t mean all that much. My son rolls his eyes sometimes at family gatherings, because the story I’ve just told has changed from its last telling. But then again, so has his.

The sober people I know began sobriety by minimizing how bad their drinking and drug use was; by the end of the first year, they’re copping to the most graphic, disgusting behavior you can imagine. This was definitely my case; I started out mentioning that maybe I had a few too many a couple times a week, to the truth, which was that I was insane, trying to buy opiates, guys, the random RPG.

(Of course, Brian Williams did not do nearly as socially repellant things as my addict brothers and sisters did. In our defense, though, we rarely said we had been struck by RPG’s. So it’s sort of a wash.)

The truth eventually set me free. It’s the “eventually” that gets ya. But it did. I hurt a lot of people, mostly other women, but with a lot of help and solidarity, I told my truth, and there was great healing, for them and me; and what I did still sucked. Sometimes, they still do.

Take, for instance, the words for which I am probably most semi-famous, besides “shitty first drafts” and that my bad thoughts make Jesus want to drink gin straight out of the cat dish. The words were not even mine: it was my wild Jesuit friend Tom Weston’s word who actually said that you can tell you’ve created God in your own image when He hates the same people you do. Father Tom said it in a lecture 23 years ago, at a small gathering. The first few times I quoted it–probably at Salon, and possibly in Bird by Bird–I attributed it to him. Then the next few times, I didn’t. I just shoe-horned it into conversation, as if I’d just thought of it that minute; brilliant daring me

And not exactly “conversation.” More like, “While being interviewed.”

Then, it got picked up, and it was everywhere, and I started trying to correct the lie–at a big public level. In print, and on Kurt Andersen’s gigantic show, Studio 360 on WNYC, New York City’s NPR. It was the childhood dream of going to school naked. But I did it.

The line is frequently quoted, as mine. It’s a great line; it says it all. But I’m sick of cringing and saying I borrowed it. Okay–stole it. Fine.

Me, and one of our greatest historians, Doris Kearns Goodwin, right? Do we say, as people are saying now about Mr Williams, “Well, we wouldn’t be able to trust Goodwin after she plagarized.” No. We absolutely trust her. We decided to. She earned our trust back.

The point is, we are gigantically flawed. Oh, my God, such screw-ups. We can be such total asshats. And if you’re in the public eye, like Brian Williams, or in the public baby toe, like me, it goes viral.

We do the best we can. Sigh. Some days go better than others. We get to start our new 24 hours every time we remember. I’m also remembering the old wisdom story about the elder who tells a young girl that inside him, inside all humans, are two dogs, a good dog and an aggressive dog. They’re always at war. The girl asks him which dog usually wins. He thinks about it, and says, “The one I feed the most.” So I am going to feed my kinder side, forgive and trust Brian Williams, me, and, sight unseen, you. His story will to play out however it does, almost entirely based on NBC’s financial considerations. In the meantime, we can wish him and his family well.

 

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Sunsets and People


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“People are just as wonderful as sunsets if you let them be. When I look at a sunset, I don’t find myself saying, “Soften the orange a bit on the right hand corner.” I don’t try to control a sunset. I watch with awe as it unfolds.”
Carl R. Rogers

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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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Habits to combat anxiety and depression

Last week I spoke to a group of people about developing healthy habits to combat the effects of anxiety and depression in our lives. Everyone experiences both anxiety and depression at some point in our lives, usually on a fairly regular basis. Below are the notes from my talk.

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A man who suffers before it is necessary, suffers more than is necessary.  ~ Seneca

When we feel that our fears are too big for our own capacity, we begin shutting down. Our creativity, resourcefulness and ability to make decisions are all sabotaged by the anxiety or depression we feel about our lives. This is the essence of shutting down.
As with anything in life, we can generally take some kind of behavior and do it in such a way that makes it unhealthy. The following are a few ways that I have found to reduce stress and increase our ability to cope with the anxieties of our lives.

Ways to limit anxiety/depression effects:
1. Limit your intake of information. 
     – facebook, social media
     – tv, other ‘screens’ (computer, phone, etc)
Our phones, screens, are devilish little creatures. They promise productivity but really only add an additional layer of distraction from what we all say is most important in our lives: relationships.
We are not made to be alone, yet so much anxiety comes about because we feel so alone.
2. Start a journal
Storytelling has been the language of healing since the beginning of time. We all have a story to tell, despite most of our beliefs that our stories aren’t really that interesting. Movies and music are so popular because they are short stories that take us to the places we can’t go on our own.
Journaling is one of the most therapeutic exercises that I know of.
Write about life, thoughts, feelings, emotions, loves, hates, indifferences. When you begin to write, you invite healing and restoration.
3. Exercise regularly
We’re a health conscious society. A lot of this is for reasons of vanity, but deep down we all long to be cared for and loved. Unfortunately we usually go about getting that care and love through unhealthy ways, including working out.
But, working out because it is kind to your soul, body, and mind is a great way to reduce the effects of stress, anxiety and depression.
When you work out, you are telling your body that you care, and a funny thing happens when you begin caring about something: you treat it better. It’s not rocket science, yet most of us behave as though going to the gym and eating well is akin to building our own space rocket.
4. Make and set goals
If you aim for nothing, you will hit it every time.
Goals are like the tracks on a railroad … they guide you to your destination. They themselves are not the destination, rather they are the boundaries and help you need to get where you are going.
If you are a neurotic goal setter, try limiting yourself to the number of goals that you set so that the goals themselves don’t become the way that you judge yourself. If you don’t normally set goals, try to be as specific as possible.
Set attainable goals. If you want to run a 10k, give yourself time to train so that you’re not forcing yourself to get too fast to the starting line.
5. Read enriching material
I have a insatiable appetite for reading, but not everything I read is worthwhile. I spend a lot of time reading articles and other random hubs of information that can sometimes border on an addiction. I love historical fiction and will generally read 5-6 of these books a year, usually in succession to each other.
I get bored easily with non-fiction and I rarely find a book that is so good that I read every word. Most books I put down after reading the first few chapters and skim the remainder. I learn a lot this way, but I used to feel shame about this being the way I read.
Someone said that the only thing different about you in 20 years will be the people you meet and the books you read. This is a great mantra to live by. Set a goal to read x number of books a year, go out and learn about something. This will do a couple things for you.
 — ONE, it will expand your world. We live in a bubble here in the USA, even more so here in middle TN. The majority of the worlds problems happen here, but we are very insulated from them. This is one of the biggest factors that I see in people struggling with their identity, anxiety, is that we know at a core level that the world is not a safe place, yet so much of our ways of life here in the US are about safety.
David Brooks, the editor for the NYT, says that America is a secularized version of Heaven. We have tried to create a place that is free: Free from violence, pain, suffering, poverty, and difficulty. In a lot of ways, we can’t handle the freedom that we are afforded here in the States.
— SECONDLY, reading books will help you to get outside of yourself. One of the big struggles people have is that our culture is too me-centric. We are not meant to live in such a narcissistic way, and our anxiety is telling us that this is a problem.
Reading forces you to confront your own biases, meet new ideas, and wrestle with your dogmatic ways of living life.
6. Reflection time in morning or at night
What we fear, we hate. And what we hate, we avoid.
We can’t manufacture feelings. What we can do is to set aside time and space for processing so that when we do feel what we feel, we can have a place to feel these things. If we are constantly trying to escape our feelings, through people of things, then we will not be comfortable feeling what we feel.
Tell the story of the boy going to the desert. He’s afraid. Rightfully so. Only by going to the desert with a trusted guide will he learn to face the fears on his own. We can’t expect to handle situations that we’ve never faced before.

The U.S. is a culture that values doing more than being. We don’t rest well, which means that most spaces and places of our lives are filled up. We are a culture of performers, of doers. Unfortunately, when cultures are driven by performance, doing, addictions and life controlling habits flourish. Said another way: We fill our lives up with stuff. Shopping, Toys, Food, alcohol, internet, reality (not really) TV shows, porn, and drugs are all ways that we medicate the reality that we don’t have enough capacity to get what we want.

It’s impossible to live life for long as a human doer. We are human beings. We’re finite creatures with needs that sometimes defy age, logic, and reason. We’re not the great conquerors and rulers of life that we want to believe we are. As the poet and songwriter Lenoard Cohen once said, “there is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”

Living life with spaces, pauses, takes great discipline. It also takes acceptance about our limitations and finitude. We cannot perform as though we are whole creatures and value brokenness and faults. Not all spaces — in all aspects of life, physical, emotional, relational, mental — are meant, or need, to be filled. Rhythms create space. What rhythms are you practicing?

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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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Three Ways to Grow Trust and Deepen Intimacy

There’s a simple formula that I use with clients in my counseling practice: Get you, be you, give you. This is the life process of maturing, and is a helpful mantra to live by. The problems occur when we try and do this formula in reverse, because one can’t give what one doesn’t have. We first must learn who we are before we can give.

This truth applies to marriages as well: We must first understand us (get me), then we can be us (be me), finally we can give (give us). The marriage is a combination of two uniquely individual people, and it is hard work to develop trust and intimacy. Relationships will not survive without trust and intimacy. Couples may stay together for the rest of their lives because of the commitment, but may never experience the redemption of trust and intimacy. With this in mind, here are three avenues that will grow trust and deepen intimacy in your relationship.

Date Night (Get Us)

Dates are one of the best ways that couples can engage to learn about themselves and each other. Anecdotally, one of the great regrets that I have about our newlywed years (first 3-4 years of marriage) is that we got sidetracked from dating one another. Our rationale (which was probably more of mine than hers) was that we were now spending so much more time together than we did when we were dating and engaged. This was both true and false.

It is true that the newlywed couple spends more time together, but often the quality of time spent is not as it was dating. It’s why I often hear spouses lament about the wish to return to the dating years. Having a regular and consistent date night can alleviate this dilemma. Date your wife. Ask her questions on the date to help you get to know her better. Questions like:

  • What can I do to make you feel more loved; valued; joyful; secure; and/or confident in the future? What character trait would you like for me to develop?
  • What attribute would you like for me to help you develop?
  • What goal would you like us to work towards together?
  • What would indicate to you that I really desire to grow?
  • How have you felt the most/least loved by me?

Find A New Community (Be Us)

Before getting married, most couples have already been living in a town/city and will return there after the wedding. It presents some unique challenges to transition from a single to married lifestyle. New habits and routines will change the way some old relationships function. This can be a frustration for newlyweds. Pressure to maintain old relationships out of loyalty can stress the building of the marriage relationship.

Finding a new community brings several benefits. For one, it offers both husband and wife the ability to be apart of the community building experience. Both spouses get a voice that will help to shape who and where the couple will spend their time.

Secondly, new relationships will usually result in new personal information. Longstanding relationships have built-in assumptions. Because familiarity is so normal, new data about a person doesn’t happen as frequently. By initiating new relationships, couples will have chances to hear and learn more about each other.

Lastly, new communities bring new opportunities. Charlie Jones said “You are the same today as you’ll be in five years except for two things: the books you read and the people you meet.” Growth doesn’t happen by staying still. Read new books, and meet new people, together.

Find Service Opportunities (Give Us)

Finding and new community along with consistent date nights will give you and your husband a great groundwork from which to give. Giving will bring new levels of joy and intimacy to your relationship. You’ll rarely get to see the side of your spouse as you will when you serve together. I’m not entirely sure why this is true, but it is. There is something about giving that brings out both our darkness and brightness. Ultimately, we cannot truly love someone until we have seen both.

This can take many different directions. You could serve at your church in the nursery, at the local soup kitchen, or in your neighbors yard. It also looks like parenting. Serving now before you have kids will be a great exercise in training. Having kids is the ultimate act of service, and is not natural in us.

In year four of our marriage, my wife and I began relationships with other pre-married couples who were close to getting married. We built relationships with them so that they’d have someone a few steps down the road from them giving guidance.

These are just a few examples of what can lead to growth and intimacy in marriage. If you will commit to accomplishing each of these in the next year, you and your marriage will grow. It might not take the path of growth you thought it would, but it will grow.

(Article originally published at Start Marriage Right)

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Finding Light in the Darkness

(c) http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2013/04/20/news/final-shootout-in-boston

Celebrations in Boston after the news of the 2nd bombing suspect being captured.                                                                                Image curtsey of MN Public Radio.

Over the past week the people of this country have once again proven one of the most powerful human laws: Grief brings people together. This reality struck me on a number of levels last week as we watched an entire city be terrorized by two young men, a small town shaken by a tragic explosion, and a suburb locked down for almost 24 hours for a manhunt. I’m always amazed at how the experience of grief unites and connects people. No other experience matches it.

Each of these events, though two of them one of the same, brought to light the same story told over and over again throughout history. When people are unnecessarily hurting, we gather as friends, not enemies. We hug, cry, celebrate, and dance together.

Friday night after the second Boston gunman was caught, the celebration rang throughout the country. There were no party lines, no religious differences, and no declarations of morality. We were all united. United simply by the same goal we all share: To be treated fairly and respected. Tragedy breaks down walls.

I hate tragedy, but I respect it’s unjust place in life. We cannot keep it from happening, but we can keep fighting on behalf of good.

Tragedy doesn’t bring darkness, it invites light.

Tragedy says, “Look over here, I am broken, vulnerable, and afraid. I wish for peace, but cannot guarantee it for myself or my loved ones. Come some light, shine in the darkness and bring hope to this scary, uneasy, and very lonely place.”

In the end, tragedy exhausts the callused. Tragedy invites allegiance to the common good, the commonality that all humans share … the commonality that goes deeper than sexual preference, religious affiliation, or political party lines. Tragedy is an invitation. And in the end, tragedy is what fuels the sleepless nights on a manhunt.

Though I would never wish any semblance of human suffering to befall anyone, nor myself, I know of no other way to grow than through adversity. Adversity of the soul is the only way the soul is stretched, challenged, and matured.

Understandably, depending on where one is in the process of acceptance, the message that tragedy invites might be offensive. I too have felt this truth in my life because coming to accept my human finitude requires first that I find the end of myself, and thus find the beginning of Something larger, greater.

If you want to see “United We Stand” in action, visit a hospital waiting room. Atheists pray, grown men cry, enemies embrace, and the Tin Man gets his heart.

There are few experiences in this life that are as sacred as the grounds of grief. If you look closely, the light is ushering you to come forth from your hiding place to be welcomed and loved by friends and strangers alike.

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3 Components of a Good Listener

 

“I need you to listen to me with your eyes,” Stephanie, my wife, says as we’re discussing our upcoming weekend plans. Truth be told, I was in the middle of a project on my computer and didn’t want to stop.

“I’m listening, just keep talking,” I reply. She continues talking and then asks me for input about making a decision about our kids sporting activity. I hesitate, trying to recall the data from the previous 30 seconds. The reality was this: I wasn’t listening, I was just hearing her voice.

I’m a pretty typical male and have a really difficult time multi-tasking. This isn’t an excuse, it’s just a fact that I failed to be aware of in this moment. It’s not that I didn’t want to discuss our weekend plans, but I didn’t want to do it right then and there. Explaining this to her would have been helpful, and could have saved us multiple offenses.

Good listeners know and act on their limitations.
Knowing our limitations is the work of learning our own story and makeup of who we are. By knowing ourselves, we can plan and sometimes prevent situations from occurring that will hurt, trigger, or harm someone we care about. In the above situation, just by speaking up and requesting 5 minutes to finish my project would have saved my wife and I the time and energy of an avoidable fight. My limitation was that I do not multi-task well. Instead of proactively asking for this, we spent the better part of a day recouping from a five minute problem.

Good listeners ask lots of questions.
The basis for all relationships is built on the foundation of curiosity. If we are not curious people, we will not get to know others. Asking questions is a way that we can make sure that we understand and hear what the other person is attempting to communicate.

My 8 year-old daughter has a bit of flair for the dramatic and will often exaggerate a story (she’s a fantastic story teller, by the way). Sometimes when she’s recounting an offense, she will say something to the effect of “everyone hates me!” What she’s communicating is that she’s extremely hurt. If I were to react solely to her statement about everyone hating her, I’d likely miss the truth that she’s hurting inside. By asking questions, I’m able to hear what’s happening behind the outburst and get the truth about her.

This is true for all relationships. If we respond without clarifying the content and context, we will often miss the heart of the matter. Good listening behooves us to ask questions like, “tell me more.”

Good listeners act as recording devices.
If you’ve spent any amount of time watching one of the dozens of crime scene television shows likely you’ve seen a crime solved because of a clue seen or heard in the background of a recording. Replaying what you heard the other person say is a great way to clarify what’s being communicated. This might sound something like:

What I heard you say was that you feel disrespected when I ignore you. Is that right?”

One of the best ways that we can love someone is to show them that we are truly interested in hearing what they have to say. Not what we want to hear them saying, but what they are actually saying.

Good listeners develop and fine tune a third ear. The third ear is the one that listens to what is being said and what is not being said. This is the holy grail of listening: When one is able to know their own and the other’s story (limitations, gifts, abilities, etc), pay attention to the non-verbal cues, and ask questions. Good listeners make for great partners in life.

…article originally published at Start Marriage Right

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5 Virtues of Marriage

Looking back over the past year is one of my favorite traditions. I get to remember the ups and downs, the growth that occurred, and see what themes continually show up. This is the first year that I’ve applied this to my professional life, probably because it’s the first full year I’ve had as a private practician (previously having split my time in a non-profit agency). In looking back over the past year, I’ve seen an emphasis on 5 different virtues about marriage.


1. Choosing marriage is choosing to give up control of your life.
I cannot emphasize this virtue any stronger: Marriage will cost you your life. If you value your own authority, singleness, or ego more than that of others, do not get married. Choosing marriage will require you to give up control of your life. You will make decisions that will affect at least two people (more later when you have kids), and this is a very difficult change from that of a single life. It might be the best gift ever given to a single person, and it’s the costliest.In a very real way, marriage is much like salvation. In accepting God’s plan and will for your life, you are setting aside your own to be submissive his his plan. This means that you’re an active participant in his plan, but your life is not about your happiness. Marriage is about giving up of ones life for the sake of the other, which translates to a giving up of control.

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for another” (John 15:13).

“You complete me,” might be one of the most famous lines in the movie Jerry Maguire, and it might be the most misleading. Marriage will offer you the unique and unparalleled opportunity to grow. Marriage will not fill you, rather it  will make you more aware of your emptiness and need for God, and only God. Unfortunately there is no real way that Hollywood can show more than an infatuated love. So we don’t get a real picture as to what mature, longstanding love looks like. Instead we get a glimpse of the joy and warm fuzzy love that we all want to have. There’s nothing wrong with this, but it’s not a lasting version of love.

2. Couples that protect pain from happening are preventing intimacy (connections) from developing.
Its no secret that people don’t like pain. It’s also no secret that being in a close relationship is an inevitable date with pain. The challenge is viewing pain as though it is a gift, not the plague. Pain is not fun, but neither is numbness. I don’t know about you, but when I leave the dentist after getting a shot of Novocain, I cannot wait for it to wear off. The feeling of not controlling half of my face is miserable (not to mention the inability to know when I’m drooling). We were not made to be numb, we were made to feel.

The poet Mary Oliver penned this line, and it speaks well to the realities couples face: “I was once given a box full of darkness, it took me many years to realize that this too was a gift.” Pain shapes our lives either in our acceptance of it or our refusal to experience it. Creating a space for pain to be a welcomed guest in your marriage will serve you well. This is the task of every marriage: To create and develop a philosophy of dealing with pain. You will raise the next generation of people based on how you and your spouse engage each other in times of pain.

3. Marriage is a muscle: Use it or lose it.
Marriage takes work, and will not naturally grow on it’s own. It takes consistent time and energy much like your muscles. If you were to sit all day every day for a year, you would notice a significant amount of atrophy in your body. Your inability to function after that year of sitting would likely take you a more painful and greater amount of recovery to return to your previous abilities (if ever at all). Once you have lost muscle mass, it is very difficult to get it back.

Your months and years of dating and courtship are very much like a daily trip to the gym. You’re exercising the muscles of the relationship that cause it to grow. When you get married, continue your visits to the gym (literally and metaphorically). Read books together, attend marriage workshops, go on dates, spend intentional time together, take trips. Do all of these things regularly and your marriage will not atrophy.

4. One plus one equals three: Becoming one, requires two.
One of the more nuanced challenges of marriage is to become one together, but remain distinctly individual in the process. It will take both husband and wife bringing 100% each to the marriage to make the relationship work. This is not a 50-50% proposition, it’s a 100-100% arrangement. Only bringing 50% of yourself to the table means you’re not being fully you in the relationship.

When a husband or wife begin to lose their individuality, marriage problems will soon follow. Being an individual is not the same as being single, rather it’s being an individual who maintains their autonomy while being 100% committed to the growth and health of the other person for the sake of the marriage. M. Scott Peck in his bestselling book, The Road Less Travelled, said that Love is to tend to the spiritual and emotional growth in another person. This is the goal of marriage, to tend to and care for the spiritual and emotional health in our spouse. We have the best chance of doing this when we are operating out of our fully unique and individual lives.

5. Marriage is Redemptive.
I know no other way to describe marriage more simply than it’s capacity to enact redemption in life. This comes in unimaginable ways as past wounds, hurts, fears, and resentments are all confronted with the woman of our dreams. Surrendering ones life to another is hard, yes, but it is also glorious. I believe this is the hope that beckons us to get married in the first place. We might not know this is what we are signing up for, but the spirit in us all moves us towards a need for being saved from ourselves. Marriage offers us just that: An opportunity to be saved from ourselves.

(This article was originally published at StartMarriageRight.com)