Individual Counseling Can Help Your Marriage

This week’s lesson in marriage counseling: on the importance of individual counseling for couples’ counseling.
It’s often a surprise to couples how important or necessary concurrent individual counseling can be.
There are a least two reasons for this.

1) the hurts and unresolved issues of our individual pasts impact our marriage. Especially when you notice you’ve been stuck in a recurring conflict or pattern.

2) the effect of the hurts of the present; it’s hard to process the grief and regret of what has happened in the conflicted marriage with the one who has been the source of that hurt.

     Your spouse doesn’t even necessarily have to be unsafe or for there to be a lack of trust, sometimes being hurt and having unmet needs can make it too hard to contain the intense emotions of your spouse who is also hurt and discouraged. We sometimes say things we don’t mean or believe in grief and it can cause a lot of fear and pain for your spouse to hear those things when trust is fragile or they are not feeling hopeful and confident about themselves or the state of the marriage.
When we first come together, often our brokenness and empty places compliment the broken places and emptiness in our loved one. It feels good to be together because it feels like everything fits together like a missing puzzle piece or hand fitting in a perfectly custom fit glove.

Finally!

     But with time, the movement of life, growth, change, stress, that brokenness, those differences and unresolved issues become jagged, sharp edges that saw and grate against each other.
And we can get caught in a cycle of how we react to how much that hurts, with what we do and say, causing more hurt.
And how messy and complicated that gets is really hard to do in one couples’ counseling hour a week.

The power of simple words and small beginnings

Happy New Year!

In the past few weeks you might have seen folks on social media posting about their word or theme for the year.  You can also see people writing about their resolutions and goals.  Do you have a word or goal for the year?  Here’s something I’m focusing on:

I got an early start and started writing a parenting book in December.  As of today I’ve written 24 days straight and I will write every day until I’m done.  The plan is to publish it later this year, likely in the Fall.

As I was writing this morning, I was musing about the why and how and what of writing. I’m writing to help parents, dads and mom, overcome insecurity and fear.  I’m writing about how what I’ve learned training, competing and coaching Mixed Martial Arts and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu can help with relationships and life.  And I was struck by the question of writing enough, not just “Will it be good enough?” but “Will I say enough? Will it be long enough?”

Not only do I want to encourage parents, as presumptuous as it may sound, I want to write to change peoples’ lives.  I don’t want to shy away from that.  If I’m not writing something that could potentially change someone’s life than why bother.  I want my words to have that type of impact.

This week I started listening to Tim Grahl’s Book Launch podcast and in episode two he emphasizes that you have to believe in the book you are writing will help others.  As I’m writing, I know it will because it is helping me and what I’m writing has helped my counseling and coaching clients and patients for many years.

While writing I was listening to some worship music oo YouTube from the Passion Conference 2017 being held this week. I realized that in songs, the number of words isn’t what makes them powerful.  Complex and artful prose may be impressive but simplicity can be significant and even more helpful. I listened to 4-6 word phrases that shifted my heart and mind and I thought of other songs in my life that have changed my trajectory or kept me on track and it made me realize the number of words and pages my book isn’t the most important target to shoot for.

There is power in simple words and small beginnings.

I’ll go with you.

I’m sorry.

I have a dream.

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound.

I’m proud of you.

You’re hired.

It’s not the critic that counts…

I will…

You don’t have to be perfect.

No.

You can do it.

I need help.  

Thank you.

You are not your past.

I forgive you.

I’m not there, yet.

God, grant me the serenity…

Welcome home.

I’ll listen.

I can’t…but I can…

Let’s start over.

I miss you. 

I love you.

Small shifts in our thinking, in our communication, in our habits can undo patterns that have been in place for decades.  Living a different way, achieving a different outcome often doesn’t just mean changing our outward behavior – the most powerful changes often involved changing what we believe and how we see ourselves.  And if we are trying to make an impact in others’ lives, just the right words, at the right time – even if it’s just a handful – can make the difference. I hope in the stories and metaphor, illustrations and teaching, of my book many of those simple phrases above will sink into my readers in new and deeper ways.  And I hope in the meantime I will write blogs here that will encourage and support you this year.

Are you beginning something this year?  Are you starting over?

What’s something simple but powerfully true that you can tell or remind yourself of today?

What’s one small habit you could start that would make a big difference in your life?

Calling All Prodigals

perfect

God doesn’t just have a heart for prodigal sons and daughters.
He waits for prodigal parents and spouses too.

You can be going a million miles an hour and feel like you’re not going anywhere.
You can be surrounded by family and feel alone, a million miles away.
You can have a place of your own and not feel at home.

The saying goes: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Sometimes that provided strength is simply the ability to stop and ask for help.
Or the strength to look around and realize how far you’ve drifted and turn towards home.

We are all sons and daughters and dearly loved.

When being great parents disconnects you as a couple

Being a great parent doesn't have to cost you your marriage.Reconnecting when being awesome disconnects you.Day 3 Mental Health Awareness Month, a repost from a FB post for parents: 

In the pursuit of something awesome, like being a great parent, sometimes moms and dads become less than awesome as a spouse.
Just realized this morning, that that is something I am passionate about helping families with.
If you ever find yourself in that space, here’s something I hope will help you talk about it (and maybe skip a session or three of marriage counseling).
Make gentle invitation to a hard conversation with your spouse.
Don’t let feeling neglected, resentful and/or distant build up.
Try saying this, parts of it, or something like it:

I don’t like how this feels right now.
I don’t like where we are right now as a couple.
I miss you.
I don’t want you to feel attacked or blamed but I’m unhappy and I need your help.
I’m sorry for my part in getting us to this place.
I’d like to talk about this.
This is important to me.
I want to be close to you again.
Let’s make a time to talk about it.

Day 6 Where I ask you to share my blog

For my fellow fathers- A question and A story

It’s Day 6 of the Blog Like A Pro Challenge

It’s also the first full day of Spring Break, yay!

Today’s assignment is to ask folks to share my blog and I’m linking a handful of my top posts below for you to check out.

But first another question and storytime.

I wrote this earlier this week but wasn’t sure about sharing it because it may seem strange if you are a new reader and because I feel like I’ve already filled my transparency and vulnerability quote for the week (or month).

Here’s what I wrote initially:

§§§

Guys, I have a question that I’ve been wondering about for 4-5 months.
I’ve been hesitant to ask but it keeps coming up.
Those of you that know me, know I love families and parents and try to help with the challenges of parenting and marriage, right?
Here’s the thing, besides folks who come to me for counseling, I can count on one hand the dads that have asked me about parenting and being a dad.
And half of that was when we had only Katherine, before I went to seminary for counseling.
And that is confusing and sad to me, because it’s something that is so important to me.
I’d love to encourage men to be there for their kids, to be an awesome dad.
And I’ve literally had the chance twice a decade to have that conversation.


So, my question is: Why do you think that is?

I can’t believe dads don’t care.
And I like to think I’m not unapproachable.
But am I?

I realize I may be just be taking this too personal and maybe that’s just how guys are (that’s how I am) with asking for help or talking to other guys and dads about being a father.
But it’s the part I can control. So, if there’s something I could be doing differently to be helpful, I would love for you to let me know.

§§§

I’ve realized a few things since then:

  1. I haven’t asked many other men about parenting myself.  When I have parenting questions I’ve usually gone to books for advice.
  2. Maybe it isn’t just me, maybe this just isn’t something guys do.
  3. One reason this question is so important to me is my desire to find men to mentor, to pass on some lessons I’ve learned.
  4. I’m not alone.  I’ve connected with a few other dads who are blogging on fatherhood and marriage.  I’m grateful.
  5. Because of #1, I want to write and blog to encourage men because that is probably the most likely way to reach and encourage them.  Pretty motivating.

§§§

Here’s the rest of what I wrote earlier this week:

Sometimes Julie and I have folks compliment us on how the kids are doing.
And sometimes I cringe-smile.
Not that there wasn’t a lot grace and love and hardwork involved but
that there was also a lot of fear and insecurity that goes into that too.
And I want to tell people, we are so much the same.
We are as similar as we are different.

20 years ago, Julie was pregnant with Katherine.
I don’t remember much but I do remember being pretty excited and pretty scared at being a dad.
We found out she was a girl, that we had a daughter, when she was born. It was the most amazing thing!
And I was terrified at having a daughter!
I think one thing I’ve done well as a dad is to allow my deep inadequacy to be replaced by the sense of deep dependency on God’s great sufficiency in every challenge that we face as a family.

I wish I had learned that sooner.

Because when my fears and worries were or become the most important thing and distract me from God’s direction and sovereignty, that doesn’t usually go well.

We limit our kids when we give into our fears.
I’m learning that I don’t want my kids to necessarily experience less pain or struggle than me,
I want them
to be braver at life than me.
To have more faith and hope.
And I am very proud that they are, they do.
Or they are well on their way.

We’ve learned a few other things but wanted to share that today.

§§§

So guys (thanks if you’ve read this far) I’m asking you to share this blog but not just for me, for my sake, I’m asking you to think of a father who might be encouraged by this blog, a married couple who might be struggling, a man who may not be a father yet and share this with them.  Maybe they’re like me and find it hard to open up about their kids (For me, it’s easier to talk about porn) or ask for help.

If you are a father and husband who share this same passion and desire to encourage others, I’m asking you to comment, share your blog, let me know you feel me because I need to know you’re out there.  I know I can’t give up on men, because I know how important it is, what’s at stake for families but sometimes I just think it’d be easier to just focus on other things.

Here’s a few of my top or favorite posts:

Do you have what it takes? – for writers, creatives and procrastinators

One on porn

One on listening to your spouse

One on will marriage counseling help?

and another one for when your marriage drifts, with a video

One on Pixar’s Inside Out and Parenting

My top post so far – A letter to my daughters on dating

Manifesto

Manifesto

Today is Day One of Jeff Goin’s Intentional Blogging Challenge.

I’m taking the opportunity to jump back into writing and blogging.

I’d been discouraged by my home page malfunctioning and procrastinating on getting it fixed. So, I just installed a new theme because I knew I’d just put off doing it again and put off writing.

The first day’s assignment is “Know What Your About”

I almost took the easy way out and just put my About Page here.  (If you haven’t read it, it’s still is worth reading if you want to know about what I do.)

And the instructions were as follows:

The best way I know how to do that is to write a manifesto. Just draft a few hundred words answering the following questions:

  1. What’s the problem? This can be with the government, the world, or some niche hobby.

  2. What’s the solution? What do you propose we do to fix this problem?

  3. What’s the next step? What is the one call-to-action you want to leave people with? Tell me them to do that one thing.

What’s the problem?  I think there are many and that they are overwhelming.  I talk to people about their physical health, about their addictions, about their broken relationships, their uncertainty about who they are and what they will become.

The problem that keeps me up at night is anxiety and fear.  I work with folks in the counseling office and on the phone for coaching appointments all week who are stuck, afraid, confused, anxious, hurt, discouraged, hopeless.

Who are trying so hard to keep it together, to keep going, to keep up.

The first 10 years of my counseling career I specialized in marriage counseling and sexual addiction and pornography addiction.

These days I think the disconnection, isolation and anxiety caused by the pervasiveness of being online and social media is an even worse threat to the emotional and spiritual well-being of individuals and families.

I also have shifted my practice to work more with individuals.

People who are creative and artistic, writers and musicians, who struggle with insecurity and fear of putting their work out there.

Young adults who are searching for their calling, their career, their spouse.

Leaders who are overwhelmed by stress, the pressure and expectations their jobs and responsibilities place on them. Who feel isolated and ashamed by their struggles and depression.

I also love to work with individuals and parents who struggle with perfectionism and procrastination.

Fear, shame and the pace and rhythm of life make us all vulnerable to self-medicating and coping in physically and spiritually unhealthy ways.

Emotional struggles – loneliness, depression, rejection, abandonment, anxiety, addiction, guilt, anger, shame – all disconnect us from what we were designed to experience – an intimate life with God and others.

A lot of people have heard God loves them but they feel disqualified from God’s love because of their past – what they’ve been through or what they’ve done.

Sometimes the hopelessness and overwhelm of the present impairs our ability to experience God’s love.  Pain and trauma also distorts our ability to give and receive love.  And perversely, your ability to rest and give yourself permission to stop, to breathe, to take the time to look at your life, your patterns, rhythms and habits can be broken when in this state.

So, what’s the solution?

I believe the solution is a person, a relationship with our creator God through the son He sent Jesus Christ.  The solution is also reconnecting with our selves, our best selves, our souls.  It is in being present, connected and intimate with others.  To let go of our addictions and striving and performing and experiencing and practicing an emotionally, physically and spiritually healthy rhythm of life that enables to stay connected to God and others.

The Bible says that Jesus came full of grace and truth, to show us who God is and His love for us.

If you’ve grown up in the church, the balance of grace and truth can be very hard to navigate.

Grace and Truth are not two rabbits to be chased, they are two sides of a coin called Love.

The solution to so many of life’s pain, stress and struggle is the reality that

“You are loved.”

I know that may sound cheesy and it can be.

But it can also be everything.

The Resistance says, “You are loved” is cheesy.

It knows that love is the most powerful thing in the universe.

I think it’s one of the main reasons the universe exists, God needed a place big enough to manifest it.

The Resistance knows that love transforms.

That love heals.

Love connects, adopts, brings near and accepts.

Love reconnects what’s lost.

It also gives life and hope when what’s lost won’t ever come back.

The Resistance knows love sees and knows and forgives.

And because love does this, it frees us from shame and hiding.

It knows that love redeems the past.

That love restores what was lost.

Love brings rest and safety to the weary and wounded.

That loves brings light and beauty and hope to sickness, desolation and devastation.

Love makes us brave.  Love tells us we are enough.

With love, the Resistance and Fear die.

Because of this, the Resistance will fight for its life when you try to learn to love, to find love or try to love again.

It will try to isolate you and talk you out of it.

That’s why Love requires others.

What’s the next step?

Change, healing and rest are difficult.  Trying something new, even though you know you need to, is scary.  Sometimes, it’s not scary it’s discouraging because it’s something that isn’t unknown, it’s getting back to something you used to have and your frustrated or ashamed at how far off track you’ve gotten.

I encourage you to follow this blog or subscribe.  I share what I’m learning as a dad, husband, friend and counselor here.  Writing helps me do what I do better; most of what I write can be tagged “Memo-to-self”.  I hope it helps you know you aren’t alone and encourages you to face your past, your present and future.

This blogging challenge has encouraged me to post my first blog series on overcoming fear, on getting unstuck, on bridging the gap from where you are to where you want to be.  It is based on a keynote talk I did last Fall and Sunday School lesson I did for church.

It will be helpful if you want to make changes in your physical health, relationships, career or education path and especially if you struggle with procrastination and over-thinking; it will help you develop an action plan to overcome your fears of starting.

Kind of like this week’s blogging challenge.

Waiting (based on true stories)

Copy of STORIES

She climbs the steps of the extinct volcano and hurries down the path to find her special bench.
The view here overlooks Portland and she wishes he was here to share the beauty of it all.
She does this every day.
She watches the older couple who walk their dog and the young couple who still hold hands go by.
She hears a single pair of footsteps and turns with anticipation but it’s not him.
She feels her face get flush with shame as she reminds herself how silly it is to hope he’ll accidentally show up today.
That’s the only way it could happen, by accident.
Can it really be called waiting if she’s the only one who knows that she’s there?

Some days she hugs herself as the sun sets and the tears fall.
Some days she’s just numb.
She just sits fuming, mad at him for not meeting her here.
For leaving her alone.
But most of all she feels a hopeless anger at herself because she knows every day she sits here she is telling herself the pain of being alone is the cost of not feeling the pain of telling him about the bench, about the life she dreams about sharing with him, the pain of admitting she’s not ok, risking the invitation and him not showing up.
And she hates herself for being scared and for blaming him.

“Honey, I’m going to bed now.”
Shakes her from her reverie and she watches his back as he heads down the hall.
She reaches briefly for him but catches herself and the sob trying to escape her chest.
It’s not just from the regret of giving another evening to Netflix.
“He’s a good man. I know he loves me.” She reminds herself it’s just that the park was looking especially beautiful tonight for some reason.
Another opportunity lost to tell him about the bench she has set aside for them in her heart.

Skip counseling, go on a date instead

Here’s a skip-a-session-of-marriage-counseling-and-go-on-a-date-instead topic to talk about.
Instead of the typical I-Statement:
I feel_____because_____
I want/need_____, would you______.
Try this:
I think our marriage would be better if I______.
I’m sorry I haven’t______.
I will______.
Is there anything else that would help you? Help us?
Is there anything you’d like me do or say more?
Is there anything you’d like me to do or say less?

Instead of focusing on how you are being disappointed and the faults of your spouse, you can focus on your contribution to the problem, apologize for it and commit to working on the only person you can control, yourself.

Five Tips For When Your Marriage Struggles Or Drifts

  

Here’s a quick video I did on Periscope recently. 

If you don’t have time to watch/listen to the video, here’s what I wrote before recording, not a full transcript.

I hope you are well. 

I know some of you aren’t. 
You’ve lost your way. 
You’re marriage is struggling. 
You feel like giving up and that scares you. 
Or you don’t feel anything. 
You just don’t care and you’re not sure if you love your spouse anymore. 
You’re just going through the motions. 

It hurts to lose your best friend. 
Some of you, the isolation of this struggle is making you lose your faith in God and the church. 
It hurts to see your wife so focused on the kids and Pinterest. 
You don’t like seeing her so stressed and unhappy. 
You feel like you’ve failed her. 

It hurts to see your husband so focused on sports, on work. 
You feel rejected by his anger or silence. 
It’s painful to know you’ve drifted apart but not know what to do about it 
It’s discouraging that every time to try to work on it, it just seems to blow up in your face and get worse. 
And it’s demoralizing when you remember when you enjoyed sex but now you just feel used, resentful and unsatisfied with that. 

In the middle of it, there’s moments of hope. 
You still hope you it’ll get better someday. 
Maybe when the kids are older, when you’re less busy. 
But you aren’t sure if you’ll make it. 
Will will be left of the both of you to salvage when the pain is tearing away at your souls, at your love for each other? 

Here’s a few things to find and fight your way back. 

1) Own your part. If you’re on a path of drifting away, stop, assess what is pulling you away or what are you choosing and turn back.  Turn back toward your spouse, toward home.  The home you had in each other. For some of you, this might mean repenting and turning back towards God and dealing with being spiritually off track.  Take back control of what you can.  Stop blameshifting or being victimized by your partner. 

2) Apologize.  Ask forgiveness for your contribution to the problem.  Even if they don’t react well at first.  If there’s a lot of hurt and anger stored up, go slow.  This is hard. 

3) Ask them for what they need or want for things to be better. For them to trust you again.  For them to feel closer, to feel valued and important in your life again.  For them to heal and feel safe with you again.  This can be risky, your spouse may not be open to sharing this because they may not want to be disappointed and hurt.  They may be so hurt or angry that they actually may not want you to succeed.  Try anyway.   

4) Follow up on if it is working.  Set behavioral goals, what you will do and say differently.  Actions and following through on agreements and commitments help to restore trust, not wishful thinking and words.  So checking back in after a week and asking, How did that go?  What went well?  What didn’t?  Did you do what you said you were going to do?  What got in the way?  What do we need to adjust?  What will we work on next? 

5) Ask for help. If this doesn’t work or is too hard.   That can be from a friend, a pastor, a counselor.