Happy Valentine’s Day 2018

Romantic. Sweet. Innocent. Fun. Silly. Sexy. Sentimental.
 
Painful. Annoying. Poignant. Bittersweet. Sad. Lonely.
 
Today can be all those things.
 
What I like about today is that it makes us think about our relationships – who do we love and who loves us.
And it opens our hearts to consider what love really is.
 
What makes us happy?
What brings us real joy?
 
And these questions ultimately make us think about
our story so far,
what brings us meaning and life,
where we place our hope and faith.

For fearful anxious parents

It’s hard to give up fear because in many ways fear can keep your kids safe.

Fear can keep you safe.

The problem with fear is that trust can’t exist in an environment of fear. And there can not be true connection and intimacy without trust.

There is a different way to keep yourself safe. And that’s wisdom, strength, and connection.

Yes, I want my kids to be safe and I want to protect them when they’re little. But as are growing up, and when they’re all grown up, I actually want them to shed safety.
I want them to be brave.
I want them to live like warriors.

Parenting and Identity

Parenting is more about your best behavior than your kids’.
And realizing it’s not about behavior ultimately.
 
It’s about identity.
 
You can’t create a great story for your family, your marriage – you can’t be heroic in the face of your challenges – without facing and knowing your backstory.
 
You can’t get to “this is us”, without discovering “this is me”.

I went to a marriage counseling training last week, one of the interventions we learned was how to work through the aftermath of a fight.

One of the keys, besides self-awareness of feelings and listening well, was talking about a memory, a story from your past that brought up those same feelings.

It helps us identify our triggers, it helps us become more aware of how we react.
“None of us get out of childhood without a few crazy buttons.” – John Gottman.
When we understand this, we gain more self-control, we are able to stay calmer and objective (we prevent getting flooded).
This helps us problem-solve, brainstorm, compromise, collaborate and come to agreements more easily because we aren’t overwhelmed (and overwhelming our kids) with our frustration, grumpiness, anger or even rage.
We are able to give our best selves to our family.

Fighting for Your Marriage: Lessons From The Zombie Apocalypse

My clinical supervisor and mentor once told me this about marriage:
Make sure you don’t bury them [hurt/resentments] alive.
It inspired these lessons from zombie hunting, for reanimating your marriage when it isn’t quite dead but isn’t quite alive.

One way to fight for your marriage is learning how to kill zombies.

The zombies of betrayal, disappointment, bitterness, old patterns, unforgiveness.

Here are few ways surviving the zombie apocalypse can help you fight for your marriage.

1) The zombies are the zombies, not your spouse so don’t take the hatchet to each other’s knees.
2) Sharpen each other’s machetes and fill each other’s chainsaws with gas every day.
3) Find ways to the kill the zombies dead, once and for all.  If you bury them alive they spawn and come back worse than ever.
4) Guttural language, listless shuffle, glassy eyes, aimless wandering…your husband may look like a zombie at times but don’t kill him, he may just be tired after work.
5) The zombies are relentless so remember to have fun while blowing gaping holes in them.  There’s always comic relief needed at some point.
6) If you escape the clutches of the zombie horde but leave your spouse behind to be overrun, in the end, you still lose.
7) Bringing up the past is the toxic fluorescent green sludge that reanimates the zombies, get rid of that ASAP!
8) Nurse each other’s wounds.   You can’t always be in fight-or-flight mode.  At some point, you have to pull back from the zombie horde.  Besides humor, the zombies can steal away empathy. When you’re constantly under stress, you lose your ability to think of anything but survival.  You may lose your ability to find solace in each other. So, find that pause in the you-against-the-world and care for each other’s wounds. Who knows with that intimacy and vulnerability you might even get naked and reconnect with a love scene in the middle of the war.
9) Last one: A zombie’s Never Say Die attitude is worth imitating in pursuing an awesome marriage.

What would you add?

A quick tip for stress and marriage

A quick tip for dealing with the impact of stress on marriage.

When life gets hard,

From employment and financial stress

From parenting struggles and sleep deprivation

From busy schedules or illness

From struggling with anxiety or depression

It makes marriage harder in a few ways:

We have different triggers. Different things upset us or cause us stress.

We express being stressed differently. We react differently.

You might ramp up.  Your spouse may shut down.

We manage and cope with stress differently.

You may want to binge on Netflix.  Your spouse may cope with shopping.

The differences all serve to make us feel more alone, misunderstood, overwhelmed.

They amplify the stress because it increases the negative self-talk, paranoia even and messages that

We aren’t enough.

This isn’t working.

We are broken.

We are failing.

We start to believe we’ll end up rejected or even abandoned.

Here’s one thing that can help: remembering

So much of marriage counseling is remembering.

Remember when your spouse looked up to you?

Remember when your spouse made you laugh?

Remember when your spouse was patient and gracious?

When they wanted to get to know you, talk for hours

When they took the time understand you?

Remember when it was hard not to be obnoxious about public displays of affection?

Remember when you did those things for them?

“That was in the past” you might say, how does that help?

Especially in the middle of the stress, or on the other side of the hurt and distance.

Well, remembering the past can give you hope for the future.

And a marriage without hope feels dead.

Remembering the past helps you remember what’s possible.

Not only what’s possible but what was real for you.

It helps you remember what could be real again.

If you can just find away to reconnect and work through it together, instead of on your own.

Find a way to remember together.

When Pain Makes You Lonely

Sat and cried with a few people in pain yesterday.
Things in your life, if they don’t belong there, though small can slowly etch a canyon in your soul or widen the chasm in your marriage.
Things like secrets, addiction, grief, the things you believe about yourself or what someone told you when you made a mistake.
And this emptiness or pain can be debilitating.
Even if you look fine on the outside.
Even if you have to keep going or keep up appearances.
(For your kids, especially for the kids’ sake)

And it’s a pretty scary beak spot to find yourself choosing between letting the pain or the ways you numb define you.
We find ways to cope and not deal with the pain that enters into our lives through the inconsiderate or purposely malicious words and actions of others.
But it’s confusing when they come from those who love us.
And the hole in our heart, the gap in the marriage, the distance that it creates between us and other people can just creep slowly into our lives and become an excruciating numbness.
All from unintentionally holding on onto or nursing secret pain.

I think one of the saddest things about addiction is fooling yourself into thinking that it doesn’t affect anyone else but you.
And I also think we mistakenly believe about evil and pain is there always has to be someone to blame and often that someone just has to be us.
(There’s no one to blame for the long slow loneliness of cancer or dementia.)

If you’re in pain or lonely today I hope you experience some freedom or healing soon. And whatever that takes, whether it is being brave enough to face it and ask for help or share what you’ve been hiding, I pray that you find it.

Put premartial counseling on your wedding to do list

Truth is, for many couples the stress and planning of a wedding the last 2-3 months before the wedding are distracting to the work of premarital counseling.
Fodder for working on communication, conflict resolution and expectations for sure but it can dominate the time and focus on other areas.

It’s hard to look back or go deep while looking forward.

That’s one of the main reasons I recommended couples come back to counseling after getting married.  The best premarital counseling happens after getting married in a sense because you have space and time to work on things. Or once the excitement of the wedding and honeymoon fade you start to get into the challenges and work of starting your married life together.
So, I encourage you, if you’re planning a wedding soon or even not so soon, put premarital counseling on your wedding to-do list along with buying the dress, finding the photographer, picking the caterer and scheduling the DJ.
If you’re getting married later this summer, I encourage you to find a counselor ASAP and schedule it before it gets too crazy.

Here’s a video blog on the different topics newlyweds need to work through to get off to a good start.

Here’s a list of Christian counselors in the Portland and Vancouver area.

You can schedule premarital counseling with me or my group at A New Day Counseling here.

On marriage and being great together

“Let’s be great together.”

It’s a statement that’s been on my mind all week as my wife and I prepare to talk to our church friends this Sunday about marriage, about our marriage.

I talk about marriage every week with my counseling clients. But it’s not something I have the chance to do with my wife.

She sent me a list of things that she wants to share, things she’s learned, things she does, things she thinks will be helpful. When I read it, it was a reminder of what is great about her, about the moments when our life is great.

Not perfect but great.

§§§

“Let’s be great together, babe.”

We don’t often say that.

But it’s essentially what we hope for when we asked or answered the question

“Will you marry me?”

It’s essentially what we said we stood up in front of God, our family and friends, chose each other and said “I do.”

We want to be a great husband, a great wife, for our spouse.

We offered our best and promised our life.

We want to be a great parent, deep down inside, even if we aren’t bold enough to say it out loud.

Our confidence, motivation and desire to be great gets stolen away somewhere along the way.

We settle for less.

When it gets hard, we lose hope. We have our tantrum when things don’t turn out the way we wanted.  Or we withdraw.  Or turn to work or the kids.  Or our smartphones and social media.

We start to believe that the pain and loneliness in the present are stronger and more real than the promise and the love at the start.

We’d settle for healthy or an end to the loneliness or pain.  We might scoff at the idea of “great” when it feels so miserable, so broken.

We might scoff at the idea of “great” when it feels so miserable, so broken.

But if we shoot for great, we might get it.
We certainly won’t get there if we don’t attempt it.

Doesn’t she deserve me trying?

Doesn’t he deserve me trying?

Don’t we, deserve the effort?

It’s where we started, with the promise of “I do”.

§§§

“Will you go to counseling with me?”

It’s not a question we think we’ll ever have to ask or answer.

It’s scary to say “I will.”  It’s scary to think, they’ll tell you “No”.

But you were scared on your wedding day when you said: “I do.”

You promised that day to be faithful.

In as many words you promised that you would do what it takes.

It’s not a guilt trip to hold you and your spouse to your promise, to honor the covenant they made.

One of the best, hardest things about marriage is when your spouse calls out your best.

There can be more than one beginning to marriage when you walk out of the church hand in hand after saying I do.
And when you walk into the counseling hand in hand and say I still do.

§§§

Here are a few things that can help you make the most of counseling if you choose to go.  Things to tell yourself.  To prepare.

I will go.

I want to make this work.

I will go to learn, to understand.

I will try.

I will be honest.

I won’t attack you.

I love you.

I want to love you again.

I will do what it takes.

I will look for what works, not what won’t.

I will work.

I will listen.

I will be patient. 

I will look for my part of the problems and take responsibility.

I will change.

I will talk about my hurts and fears.

I will apologize as needed.

I will forgive if necessary.

I will try to trust you more.

Let’s go be great, again.

§§§

This post was inspired by the Sunday School class series our church is doing on marriage “Real Stories, Real Hope”

This was an awesome post on marriage I read this week by Seth Haines.

Here’s another post I wrote on making the most of marriage counseling if you choose to go.

Here’s a post for if you aren’t sure how marriage counseling could help.

 

How To Not Raise Entitled and Enabled Kids: The E’s of Excellent Parenting

Had a fun break with the family for Spring Break.  On the five-hour trip back home, we had a good conversation about parenting.  It started out with the ideas of Entitlement and Enabling vs. Empowering and Equipping your kids. And we ended up thinking of a bunch of different ideas that started with the letter E.  We hope you enjoy it too.

Entitlement.  As parents, we don’t set out to raise entitled kids but it’s easy to justify giving your kids privileged or special treatment by saying you love them and want whats best for them.

Enabled. One of my professors on parenting explained enabling your kids as doing something for them that they could do themselves. Another aspect of enabling your kids is letting them get away with not suffering the consequences of their behavior.  Again, it’s easy to justify this by telling yourself that you want to love and protect your kids.  You want them to know that you always have their back or that you want to show them God’s grace or faithfulness to them.

The problem with this is you as the parent can end up feeling responsible for everything. Raising entitled kids can be exhausting, excruciating and embarrassing.  How does it feel when you are at work or working on a group project and someone on the team doesn’t pull their weight, do their share?
It’s exhausting.  You can end up resenting the other person. Well, it’s the same when your kids don’t pull their weight around the house.  You can end up feeling like you are doing everything (because you are), feeling unappreciated and bitter.

Empowering.  It’s not unloving to require and train your kids to work hard, give their best effort, be diligent and finish what they start.  It’s not cruel to ask them to do things with excellence.  To do chores.  To work for what they get.  To set goals.  To delay gratification.  It’s actually empowering to your kids to give them freedom and responsibility around the house and gradually more as they get older.  A child 8-10 years old could start to help out with laundry.  They certainly could be doing their own laundry by middle school and especially in high school.  It’s actually honoring to them to not give them special privileges, just because.  It’s fine to give them gifts and to show you love them in special ways.  But when they start to expect or feel entitled to have things, or always have things their way, it’s no longer special.  It becomes common.  And it actually sets them up for disappointment and failure later in life because you aren’t teaching them how the real world works.  Their teachers and professors aren’t going to give them special treatment.  Their boss at their work place is going to expect them to work, to problem solve, to take responsibility.

Equipping.  Not enabling or entitling your kids doesn’t mean you don’t love them, it’s doesn’t mean you won’t protect them, that you are leaving them to fend for themselves in the cruel, harsh realities of the world.  Parenting with excellence means you take a coaching and equipping mindset to working with them.  You provide the tools, resources they need and you also train them on how to use those tools.  You explore, process, experiment, debrief and work through things together.  You still have their back and at the same time, you are equipping them to stand on their own, to risk and put themselves out there in different areas, to be brave.

Expectations.  Having healthy expectations is a part of growing and stretching your kids to reach their potential.  As parents, we don’t want to put too high expectations on our kids but what I’ve seen a lot of parents with too low expectations.  Often, parents in the interest of protecting their kids from failure, disappointment or rejection, set the bar low.  Kids are often capable of so much more than we think.  I was watching a jiu jitsu video that talked about the metaphor of a “Goldilocks tension” and I think it applies to expectations.  We don’t want expectations that are “too cold”, too low, and we don’t want expectations that are “too hot”, too high.  We want to set expectations that are “just right”.  Expectations that are too low, lead to boredom and missed potential and growth.  Expectations that are too high, put an adverse amount of stress and pressure on your kids and that can stunt their growth as well.

Empathy.  So, how do you know if your expectations are too high, too low or just right?  You do that by listening and listening well with empathy.  One key to empathy as a parent, is focusing more on what your child may be experiencing and less on what they are doing, on their performance.  And you’re not the only one who needs empathy, your kids do too.

Emotional Intelligence.  Empathy is one of the pillars of emotional and relational intelligence.  EQ has been shown to be more of predictor of a person’s success than intelligence. Delayed gratification is another pillar.

Endurance vs. Expedient.  It’s hard to empower and equip your kids, it requires a lot of trust and courage. On both your parts.  It requires patience because it will be messy.  Things won’t go smoothly at first, things won’t get done as well and as quickly as you would just doing it for them.  But you won’t always be there for them, they will have to grow up and do things on their own someday.

It’s sad, very sad when I’ve seen teenagers treat their single mother with contempt.  Their mother did/does everything for them and these kids had no gratitude for the sacrifices their mom made (or at least they didn’t express it).  It was sad for the kid but also the mom.  She poured out herself, bent over backwards, to love and provide for her child and her child barely could stand her.  They had no respect for her.  They either struggle with selfishness or self-hatred or both.  I’ve seen entitled young adults who struggled with anger and resentment at their parents because they feel ill-equipped for life.  They haven’t had to problem-solve or bear the weight of responsibility and get overwhelmed by the demands of adulthood.  And they struggle with imposter syndrome and feeling behind in life.

So, don’t just give into what’s expedient, what’s easy.  As the kids get older, don’t continue in the habit of taking the path of least resistance.  Learn to be mindful and intentional about your long-term goals with them. And be patient, consistent.  Get help and support if you have to.

Enforce.  One way to be patient and consistent is with enforcing consequences and discipline.  It’s easy to justify being lax with discipline and consequences by telling yourself you are being caring and compassionate and loving.  But often being exhausted and wanting to avoid the stress and upset of conflict is the main reason for not enforcing consequences.  It really isn’t about what’s best for the kids, it’s often what will feel best, for you, in the moment.

Expose and Eliminate the Elephants. Instead of avoiding conflict, instead of building resentment or emotionally manipulating your kids with passive-aggressive indirect behavior, it will benefit you and them to expose and eliminate elephants, to call out entitlement, laziness, disrespect, and other behaviors and attitudes that may be poisoning your relationship and family life.  It’s easier to do this when those negatives are baby elephant size, not full grown elephants.  But even if they are huge, be brave and start to work on it. Sometimes, just the act of exposing them, shrinks them.  If you call it out, then everyone has a chance to be aware and take ownership of making it better instead of it being your solo project.

Example.  Might daughter suggested this one, besides enforcing consequences and making rules and throwing your weight around, she recommends parents need to be good examples of what you are trying to teach and require of your kids.

Energizing.  If you start to be more intentional about equip and empower your kids you will replace exhaustion with energy because you will no longer have to bear all the weight of responsibility for how your kids and home are doing. You will not have to wrestle so much with resentment, bitterness, worry and hurt feelings.

Encouragement.  This is hard work. Remember, your kids aren’t bad.  They may need some maturity, course correction, training and equipping, but they need encouragement and acceptance most of all.  You will need encouragement when they changes you are attempting don’t seem to be working, when you have a bad day, when it seems to be getting worse instead of better.

Enjoyment.  Lastly, implementing and being more intentional about the positive E’s for parenting will not just allow you to experience excellence in parenting.  It will allow you to enjoy the experience of being a parent, of being in a healthy mutual relationship with your kids.

The Power of Metaphor

Have you ever noticed that it’s really hard to change your emotions with positive self-talk?
One of the reasons is there’s often something even more powerful at work, and it’ll take more than just refuting propositional statements with positive ones.
Another force that shapes our emotions is metaphor.

One of my mentors told me we live and die by our metaphors. Metaphors are word pictures that we have. It’s the framework and the lens through which we interpret our experiences. And they shape our experiences. They can become our experiences. Our metaphors can be powerful forces for positive or negative in our life.  If we picked the wrong metaphor then we build a really strong foundation and framework to hang our experiences, feelings, and beliefs on. It becomes the house we live in.

One of the key things to remember is to capitalize on the power of metaphor is that we get to choose our metaphors.
We don’t get to choose our circumstances and experiences but we choose the metaphor in which we place those experiences.

If I picture myself on the ocean in a rowboat during the black of night during a raging storm and I’ve got 40-50 foot waves crashing over me. My family is with me but I’m the only one rowing! For some reason, they’re just sitting there, like dead weight. And not only are we in the middle of this storm and I’m the only one rowing, now there’s a hole in the boat. Water’s leaking in, we’re taking it on and not only is my family not bailing out the water it was their neglect that caused the hole and the water coming in in the first place.

To top it all off, we barely surviving and barely hanging on, I hear an airplane in the distance and it starts taking runs on us, firing its guns. We’re just completely exposed and alone.
I’m the only one keeping us from capsizing but there’s a shield in the boat. It can shield us from the bullets! But no one else is taking it up. I’m yelling for help, but no one is listening. Or now one can hear me above the roar of the waves. They’ve just given up.

In order to protect us from the attacks from above, I have to make the decision to either take my hands off the oars or raise the shield to protect myself. Either way, I have to do it on my own.

Can you imagine the stress being in that situation?
This may not be the picture you have when overwhelmed or under stress.
But you may have a work picture like that a metaphor for what you are going through. You may even have a metaphor for your life.
With this metaphor, in a sense, we are putting ourselves out on that water, out on that boat. It may not be literally where we are but it can become our emotional and mental reality.

Picture the same type of life circumstance but what if I don’t picture myself in a storm. What if I view this as a stage in a video game, as one challenge of many. And I realize that the storm will end, that I’ve got unlimited lives and I can hit the reset button or the pause button. I could go pizza, step away, get some sleep, wake up the next morning, pick up the controller, unpause the game and play a little bit more.

Even better, what if I picture that I’m in the Battle of Helm’s Deep. That I’m not alone, I’ve just been momentarily separated from my family. It’s not that they don’t care, that they left me to myself, they just have their own orcs to fight and they are battling to rejoin me. We’re in this together. And the sun will rise and Gandalf will show up with reinforcements, in just the nick of time.

Two cognitive distortions are Catastrophizing and Discounting the Positive; choosing a negative, destructive metaphor is cognitive distortion on steroids because it adds the power of story and creativity to it.

If you struggle emotionally, if you paint yourself into mental and emotional corners that are painful, I encourage you to take a look at the metaphors you may be building. Rebuilding and renovating them may make a huge difference in your life. It will not change how you view your circumstances and life, it will change your view of yourself within them.