• at April 29, 2017
Safety is overrated. Or, it might be over valued. I work with a lot of couples doing the hard work of counseling that are waiting until they feel safe enough to take risks in emotional vulnerability. Trouble is, both of the spouses are waiting. And waiting and waiting. Neither is taking any kind of new vulnerable emotional risk while they wait for their sense of safety to increase. I have a theory. Couples hit a vulnerability ceiling as their relationship develops. What I mean is that we get to a point with our spouses where we have made all the vulnerable steps in relationship that we feel comfortable or safe to make and then we stop taking risks. Perhaps we stop because of hurt or unrepaired wounds in the relationship. Perhaps we stop because of boredom or blocks that come from our families of origin. But whatever the reason, when we stop taking emotional risks in our marriages, they stagnate.
  • Someone has to take a vulnerability risk in a marriage where initiating sex has become a place of rejection rather than reception.
  • Someone has to take a vulnerability risk to share fears around parenting teens when the two have blamed each other for dropping the ball.
  • Someone has to move beyond “if, then” clauses….example: “I’ll sit and share with him about my feelings if I know he will understand.”
Couples can unwittingly hit a vulnerability ceiling and stay stuck for years, all the while thinking that the problem is that the other person isn’t safe. While hurts in the relationship may be very, very real, if both spouses think the other isn’t safe, then it is easy to see how vulnerability ceilings can be constructed. “It’s only safe up to this point. Beyond that, no way!” And there the developmental progress of the relationship halts. What does it take to shatter the vulnerability ceiling? A great deal of courage. It is far easier to be stuck and protective than to risk hurt, especially when we feel beat up. But how else might a breakthrough happen? Someone has to make the first move. Next time: how can you make the first move?
  • at October 29, 2015

I came across a really interesting article about how marriages succeed or fail. “Research…has show that kindness (along with emotional stability) is the most important predictor of satisfaction and stability in a marriage.” (p.7) Kindness. Kindness is something that almost everyone is capable of, so how does it become so difficult in relationships?

One thing that researchers analyzed was how people responded to “bids” for connection in their relationship. A bid for connection can be as simple as, “Hey, did you see that they cut down that tree at the corner?” It is a question seemingly unrelated to the relationship, but the person is making an attempt to connect. If the comment is met with openness and interest, a connection is made. If the comment is met with silence, disinterest, or contempt, then the relationship is harmed. Bids for connection might be more directly related to the relationship as well, like “hey, that comment stung, can we talk about it?” The same rules apply. The partner’s response will either build or harm the relationship. So at the bottom line, if bids for connection are met with kindness, the potential that the relationship will succeed soar!

After a long, cruddy day last week, my husband followed up on a problem I’d told him about at work. He asked me something simple, like “how’d that thing unfold today?” My response was pretty abrupt, “Ug! I talked about it so much at work today I’m just done talking about it.” Add to this comment a pretty impatient, fed-up tone. While my response had nothing to do with our relationship directly, I was saying no to my husband’s bid for connection, and it showed on his face. He was a bit hurt! I had turned away rather than turning towards the bid.

And here is the reality: “Couples who had divorced after a six-year follow up had ‘turn-toward bids’ 33% of the time. Only 3 in 10 of their bids for emotional connection were met with intimacy. The couples that were still together after six years had ‘turn-toward bids’ 87% of the time. Nine times out of ten, they were meeting their partner’s emotional needs.” (p. 5)

This evidence makes me so passionate about how important is to get help if you are having trouble with basic kindness in your marriage or relationship. Get help! See what’s getting in the way. Dig into the problem so that you can figure out how to apply the basic skills of kindness and responsiveness in relationship. So many marriages out there can change. Why not give it a chance?

The article sited is from The Atlantic: Masters of Love.

  • at January 14, 2015

If you are in therapy with me very long, you will probably hear one of my mantras: KNOW WHAT YOU KNOW. We humans are often very uncomfortable with the truths we perceive and we would rather deny them than live with the implications of knowing them. What do I mean? How many times have you allowed yourself to be annoyed and surprised that your spouse isn’t ready when he said he’d be even though this happens every time you try to go somewhere? If you really allowed yourself to know and accept that your spouse runs late, you would plan accordingly or work out a system to accommodate that truth. Or, have you ever insisted that you are confused about your mother-in-law saying she doesn’t get to see your kids enough while simultaneously declining all of your requests for help with them? If you allowed yourself to know what you already know on some level—that your mother in law is either unwilling or intimidated by the idea of watching your kids—that would hurt and you’d have to deal with that pain.

Punting to bewilderment and bafflement are tempting because they keep you in a victim state. If you don’t understand something, you can stay in the posture of powerlessness and zero responsibility. And honestly, sometimes that victim stance feels pretty nice. 1–Other people are to blame or are messing up, 2—you can’t understand it or weren’t expecting it, 3—you are blameless and victimized. What’s not to like?

Frankly, it’s easier to seethe with resentment than to know what you know. It’s easier to blame than to know what you know. Knowing what you know requires emotional courage and excruciating honesty. Knowing what you know moves you from being a victim to being responsible. When you put yourself in that responsible place, you have a much harder time letting yourself get away with blame and resentment.

How can you get started?

  1. Notice an area where you feel helpless or baffled or confused (preferably a repeating experience).
  2. Ask yourself, “What do I think I don’t know?”
  3. Then ask yourself, “If I’m really honest, what do I know?”
    • Example: “Wow, my mother-in-law doesn’t want to watch my kids” or “I shouldn’t expect my husband to be ready to leave on time if he hasn’t ever done it in the past.”
  4. Then do the emotional work of radical acceptance. It might be grief or disappointment or hurt and it may be a relatively straightforward shift or it could be a more complicated process. Whatever it is, invite God into it and allow the work to go as deep as it needs to go.
  5. Incorporate what you know into your future plans and interactions.

Take responsibility for what you know. That’s when you can do some real work in your relationships and face your world with eyes wide open.

  • at September 24, 2014

One of the most important skills that our kids need to learn while growing up is to accurately assess themselves. Sadly, we parents often wind up thwarting our kids’ ability to do this with well-meaning, yet inaccurate encouragements. Consider what happens for the child who is told they had a great piano recital after having to restart their piece three times. Or the kid whose parent says they were MVP of the playoff game after dropping two fly balls and striking out three times.

More helpful responses to disappointing situations are either to talk honestly about how the experience went or to ask your child how they think it went. Listen carefully to your child’s ability to accurately self-assess. Do they inflate their performance? Do they rate it lower than they ought? Helping our kids learn to assess is a great gift to them and prepares them for life. Here are some examples of not so helpful and helpful things to say to kids from Gist: The Essence of Raising Life-Ready Kids.

Not so helpful (p. 171):

  • “Everyone likes you.”
  • “Our divorce won’t change the holidays.”
  • “You can be anything you want!”

Helpful (p. 174)

  • “Yes, your sister is better than you at playing the piano.”
  • “Fourth chair clarinet seems pretty accurate for your playing ability right now.”
  • “At church you seem less confident with your friends….how do you see it?”

Parents want so much for their kids to feel good about themselves that they say things that confuse their child’s understanding of their own skills and talents. And, on a deeper level, parents often miss how much their own anxiety is driving them to falsely prop up their kids. Parents fear that their children cannot handle being average or sad about a performance because they aren’t sure they can handle seeing their child suffer. After making the season-ending last out during playoff game, my son said, “I made a couple of the best plays of my season this game and then I made some bad plays, including the last out.” I was sorely tempted to pump him up about all of the good plays and ignore or diminish how painful making the last out was. But when I looked at the evidence, he was actually right. He’d had some highs and lows that game and he saw it clearly. He wasn’t overly down on himself and he wasn’t denying anything. I had to do the work of soothing myself so that he could have the experience of unhindered accurate self-assessment.

The work we parents must do to allow our kids to grow in this type of wisdom really is a deep work of faith and trust. Will our kids be ok if they are disappointed, average, or downright bad at some things? My husband’s spiritual director once challenged him with the question, “is Jesus enough for your kids?” What will help you allow your kids to know the truth about themselves?

To read my review of Gist, click here.

  • at July 9, 2014

Happiness = Reality – Expectations

What do you think of this? I saw it in an article about the unhappiness of Generation Y in the Huffington Post. One of the points that I’m chewing on relates to how resistant parents can be to allow anything negative to happen to their children. We are living in an era of teaching our children how special they are and shielding them from experiences of failure. We may be seeing some very different trends with Generation Z, but now we have young adults with big expectations for their lives intersecting with huge doses of reality. The result? A good deal of unhappiness.

I can relate with the challenge of parenting! When my kids have been hurt and disappointed, I have distracted, minimized, and softened with the rest of them. But in my more grounded moments, I have held on to myself and allowed my children to hurt and cry while knowing this is exactly what they need to be ready for life as adults. My kids and your kids all need to understand reality. They aren’t all gifted in every way and they can’t do anything they set their mind to do. Think about it, no matter how diligently I set my mind to it, no matter how hard I worked, I could not have been an Olympic Gymnast. I just don’t have the right body or aptitude for it.

I client introduced me to a book I’ve been reading called Gist: The Essence of Raising Life-Ready Kids. In it, authors Anderson and Johanson have a list of essential experiences kids need to have in order to have a properly shaped view of reality. Here are some of the experiences on their list:

  • Not being invited to a birthday party
  • Working hard on a paper and still getting a bad grade
  • Having a car break down far from home
  • Being told that a class or a camp is full
  • Getting detention
  • Having an event be cancelled because someone misbehaved
  • Being fired from a job
  • Not making the varsity team
  • Being hit by another kid

If Anderson and Johanson are right, when we fight our kids’ painful experiences, we sometimes unwittingly thwart their maturing process! And then our kids grow up with a distorted sense of reality, which ultimately hurts our kids’ chances at happiness. What is required for parents then is growing our tolerance for our children’s suffering. I have seen in parenting that trusting God through my own trials feels different than trusting God through my kids’ trials. And yet, isn’t the personal work the same?

For the Huffington Post article, click here. For the book, Gist, click here.

I’ll be recharging my batteries for a while. I’ll be blogging again in the fall.

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