Day 4: Loss

This post is a part of The 15-Day Relationship Challenge. If you’re just now tuning in, click here for the whole series.

Top 5, part 1. Keystone Stories of Loss.

Good morning. Welcome to Day 4 of 15! 

Over the past two days, we’ve talked about some of the building blocks to who you are as a person. As we talked about at the beginning, intimate relationships bring up the some of the truest thoughts, feelings, and stories about ourselves. To have successful intimate relationships, we have to know these experiences and not avoid them, especially in our marriage.

A keystone is a stone that a builder places at the top of an arch to connect the two sides together. It secures the arch in place, and allows the arch to bare weight. It literally becomes the most important stone in the building.

We all have a storehouse of keystone stories from our lives. These are the stories that are so foundational to who we are, how we see life, and how we respond to others. There are two categories of keystone stories in our life: Joy and Sorrow. Today, we’re going to talk about sorrow.

Richard Rohr says that if we do not transform our pain, we will transmit it. We will give it to others, which include our spouses, kids, and friends. These keystone stories that remain unaddressed to us, and unknown to those closest to us become a big threat to our marriages.

It is simultaneously a freeing thought, and a terrifying thought: No one escapes home without scars. 

Scars come from wounds, and wounds that mess with our life come from other people. Even if you think you’re parents did the best they could, or that they were as close to perfect as possible, they were still not perfect. In fact, some of the most difficult issues to address are those that come from a really clean or perfect environment. Someone who deals with anxiety that grew up in a “perfect” home will struggle to see their anxiety as anything other than their personal failure of this perfect upbringing. 

To empathize and have compassion for others comes from our ability to be in touch with our own painful experiences in life. We get our word “sorry” from the word “sorrow.” To be sorry means we have sorrow to offer and share with one another. Most of us are far more willing to offer sorrow to others than we are to ourselves. We will get to the difficult stories from your marriage next week, but today we’re going to focus on the top 5 keystone stories of difficulty and pain from your life before marriage. 

These are the stories that need to see the light of day, and to share the burden of these stories with those we are closest to. 

Reflection Questions:

  • What did I notice about me in reading today’s material? 
  • Did I have feelings, thoughts, questions, or stories that came to mind? 

Write a brief description for each of the top 5 most difficult experiences from your life prior to marriage. Be as detailed as you can. Answer these questions about each story: 

  • What happened?
  • What did I feel? 
  • What did I do?
  • What promises did I make after the fact?

Give yourself some time to complete today’s assignment. You might need 30 or more minutes to appropriately answer the above questions. Above all, be kind to yourself in. 


Hello! Welcome back. Good to see you again. How was your day? 

This morning we talked about painful experiences, which is not usually a subject I’m all that excited to jump into first thing in the morning. I hope the assignment was revealing and helpful for you and your day. 

Take 10-15 minutes tonight with your spouse to talk through your day. 

  • What were the highs and lows?
  • Where were you surprised? 
  • Was there anything different about your day because of the assignment(s)?
  • From this mornings reading, what stood out to you? 
  • If you’re willing, share your answers from the reflection questions. 

Assignment Connection
Pick one story from your assignment list, and share that story in as much detail as you’d like to share. 



Life is full of comparison. Babies are born, measured, weighed, and immediately placed in comparison with all the other records of babies born, “she’s 7 pounds 2 ounces, which is in the 67% percentile”.  Kids are measured at school based on test scores, and parents participate by asking their kids to be more like so-and-so. 

As if a life of comparison wasn’t enough, we double down and celebrate competition as one of the highest forms of success. While this works great on the field, it is an awful ingredient for home and work life. When there has to be a winner and a loser, everyone is a threat. Sometimes that includes ourselves.

Ultimately comparison results in two stances in relationships: Inferiority or superiority. Neither of those two kinds of people are enjoyable to be with. It’s either a bottomless hole of pity, or an untouchable pedestal of amazingness. The result: Everyone is looking at someone else to tell them if they’re ok or not.

Want out of the comparison rat race? Celebrate. Rejoice in the successes of others.

Celebrate the gifts, efforts, and attitude of someone (including ourselves), not just the results.

Celebrate them as a human being, not a human doing.

Be a cheerleader, not a critic. 

(And try not to compare how well you’re doing celebrating!)


Practice Empathy

Empathy is the ability to imagine (or understand) what someone else is experiencing in their life. Authentic empathy is a huge ingredient in a close and impactful relationship. But how do we develop empathy? 

A quick Google search revealed pages and pages of tips for developing empathy, such as “Three steps to more empathy”, and “Do these twelve things to develop empathy.” If you want more steps than the one I’m going to talk about below, Google is your friend! 

There is only one way that I know how empathy is developed: You have to practice it.

As with anything that doesn’t come naturally to us, we have to practice it. You’re not good writing with your non-dominant hand? The only way to become better is to practice writing with it. 

Practice makes progress, not perfection.

Practice empathy in your car driving to work. Imagine the different stories that people are facing as they head into work. Try this: If someone cuts you off, or cuts in line, resist the finger or the outburst …instead, tell their story aloud. Perhaps they got a call that someone important to them is ill, or that their child was dropped off at the wrong bus stop. Those would be legit reasons to cut you off. 

Practice with people that you don’t know. Ask them questions that will help you understand what challenges they are facing.

Read a novel. Studies have shown that reading fiction exercises our empathy muscles as we get to look inside a character’s experiences that isn’t a threat to our own ego. (As an aside, the Ego is enemy of empathy. The two with fight against each other)

Your empathy muscle needs exercise. Exercise it to become empathically strong so that when you need it the most, you’ve got it.  

When we empathize we put our egos aside and share the space with equally important people. We’re all on this same planet, trying to do our best, working things out in our odd ways often times bumping or crashing into one another along the way. It’s messy, but it’s good.

Empathy makes space for everyone in the mess. How can you practice empathy today?