Considering Marriage Counseling or Divorce?

When you are considering who to see as a therapist, counselor, or marriage counselor it is one of the most important decisions you can make. There have been many instances where clients have experienced frustration and disappointment with previous counseling experiences. I am often amazed that they are willing to try counseling again. This is especially true with marriage counseling. Please make sure the counselor you choose has the experience, training, and track record that reassures you of a good counseling outcome.

If you are considering divorce and you decide to try marriage counseling before making a final decision there are a few things to keep in mind. First of all some statistics show that only about 10% of divorcing couples seek marriage counseling before ending their marriage. Couples are making one of the most life changing decisions that affects their children and entire families without consulting a professionally trained marital therapist or counselor. We don't hesitate to consult our car mechanic and even pay them hundreds, if not thousands of dollars to keep our car running. I recently had to replace a clutch in my Subaru for $1800 just before Christmas! Merry Christmas to me!
Please consult an experienced and trained marriage counselor or couples therapist before deciding on divorce. One caveat, beware if your counselor recommends divorce, it probably means they do not know what they are doing. Competent therapists and counselors know how to allow their clients to make their own decisions.

Living into Contemplative Rhythm

"From the beginning, Jesus’s ministry modeled the interplay between prophetic utterance, public theology, and intense spiritual renewal. He launches his three-year ministry from the desert wilderness, a place that will be the home of latter-day desert mothers and fathers. After an intense time of fasting, testing, and submission to the leading of the Holy Spirit, Jesus returns ready to fulfill his calling. These rhythms of activism and contemplation, engagement and withdrawal resonate throughout his life." R. Rohr

Looking to live into this, 3 day retreat of silence and stillness at the Abbey of Gethsemane this weekend.
We need contemplative communities within the evangelical church who practice this rhythm. Most of us are activists who value doing and results.  I wonder if we really trust the Holy Spirit.

Every Tuesday night at my office, 6:30 pm, meditative bible study, period of silence, meditation and listening.

Everything is Connected

I have had two major surgeries in thirteen months, a hip and knee replacement. Both were more involved and challenging than I expected, but in different ways. Sixteen months into this structural makeover has made me aware of a few things but primarily a reminder that we never really know what is going to happen next. And yet the paradox is that we live mostly as if everything will remain the same or at least consistently similar. And most of the time it probably does, until it doesn’t.

This reminds me of a quote by John Muir (naturalist, responsible for the existence of national parks like Yellowstone) who said something like: “When you tug at a single thing in the universe you find it is attached to everything else.” You change the alignment of a body with a new knee and hip and it affects everything else and the consequences are not predictable. You literally are not the same person because you are faced with different challenges, some good, some not so good. The point is you are affected by tugging at a single thing.

I think this is why events like divorce are not good. In my spiritual framework, in Malachi 2:16 a book in the Old Testament, it is said that God hates divorce because it does violence. We often moralize about divorce or same sex marriage which only serves to alienate and separate us into tribal camps, but if we begin to understand that everything is connected, all of us, and that we never really do anything that affects only ourselves, we begin to have wisdom that how we live our lives are not isolated events and these events might do violence to one another. Love one another because everything is connected.

Common Misconceptions of Couple Therapy

Maintaining a positive, supportive relationship with one’s partner in the face of expected and unusual life stress is one of the biggest challenges many couples face. Not uncommonly, instead of pulling together to face life’s difficulties, partners become disengaged or even hostile. The person you expect to always have your back begins to feel like the enemy. And sometimes it feels like the harder you try to fix the problem, the worse things get. The good news is that a well-trained couples therapist can help most relationships that have hit a rough patch. According to recent studies, 90% of couples who see a well-trained Emotionally Focused Couples Therapist experience improvement and 70% report full repair of their relationship. But here’s the bad news: many couples that could benefit from this therapy are reluctant to get help. Unfounded beliefs and misconceptions get in the way. Here is the truth about six common misconceptions: 1. The therapist will take sides. With some therapists, this in fact may happen. But an Emotionally Focused Couples (EFT) Therapist is trained to recognize how both partners contribute to their dance of anger or disconnection. Successful therapy invariably requires each partner to understand his or her role in the couple’s distress. 2. The therapist will tell us we should break up. Again, there are probably some therapists who would make this judgment, but the role of an EFT Therapist is to help couples understand how their relationship has gone wrong and to guide them – for as long as they are willing to try – in how to repair it. The decision of whether to stay in a relationship always belongs to the couple. 3. We are too far gone; the situation is hopeless. Many couples worry that their problems have gone on so long, there is no hope of improving their relationship. But even long-standing problems can be resolved with EFT therapy. The intensity of anger also does not necessarily indicate that a relationship can’t be improved. The only clear sign that EFT therapy won’t help is if one or both partners have become so disengaged they are no longer willing to try. 4. Talking about our problems will make things worse. Many couples have experienced that their own attempts to talk about their problems have made things worse, so this concern is understandable. They may even have had previous experiences in therapy where talking did make things worse. However, an EFT Therapist is trained to create a safe space where problems can be discussed productively. In many cases, the therapist will be able to help partners see each other’s struggles in new ways that open the door to healing and reconciliation. 5. Couples therapy is a waste of time and does not work. Many therapists who see couples aren’t trained in an effective model of couples therapy, and there is probably a significant risk that these therapists will not be helpful. However, EFT has years of research demonstrating its effectiveness in helping couples improve their relationships, and follow-up studies show these improvements are long lasting. EFT is one of a handful of couples therapies designated as empirically supported by the American Psychological Association. A therapist trained in EFT is guided by a roadmap that has one of the strongest track records in helping distressed couples. 6. We (or he or she) need individual therapy first. A growing body of evidence suggests that successful couples therapy can actually reduce an individual’s symptoms of depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress, and other psychological disorders. At the very least, a stronger, more supportive relationship will reduce the suffering both partners experience when one partner is struggling with a psychological disorder. Couples therapy may not be the only treatment needed when a partner has significant psychological symptoms, but when the relationship has suffered, it is often the best place to start. By Ruth Jampol Ph.D.|July 6th, 2015

Living in the Presence of God's Love

We are in a broken world, we are broken ourselves, and yet we are in a redeemed world, and we are healed, made whole by love. We exist in the middle of this tension and we tend to want to go one way or the other, to have things clarified and settled, even if its negative. I think we need to learn to live in the middle of this tension, with faith and trust, not in ourselves, our own abilities and power but in and through the love of God.  Ok, how do we do this???  Wrong question, we don't do much else but learn to receive, to live in and through the power and presence of God's love. This is our journey and we need to do it together. Have a blessed day.

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Why We Shout In Anger

A spiritual director who was visiting a local beach found a group of family members who were shouting in anger at each other. He turned to his disciples, smiled and asked,

'Why do people shout in anger at each other?'

The disciples thought for a while, one of them said, 'Because we lose our calm, we shout.'

'But, why should you shout when the other person is just next to you? You can as well tell him what you have to say in a soft manner,’ said the director.

His disciples gave some other answers but none satisfied the other disciples.

Finally the spiritual director explained,

'When two people are angry at each other, their hearts distance a lot. To cover that distance they must shout to be able to hear each other. The angrier they are, the stronger they will have to shout to hear each other to cover that great distance.

What happens when two people fall in love? They don't shout at each other but talk softly, because their hearts are very close. The distance between them is either nonexistent or very small...'

The director continued, 'When they love each other even more, what happens? They do not speak, only whisper and they get even closer to each other in their love. Finally they even need not whisper, they only look at each other and that's all. That is how close two people are when they love each other.'

He looked at his disciples and said:

'So when you argue do not let your hearts get distant, do not say words that distance each other more, or else there will come a day when the distance is so great that you will not find the path to return.’

What is it that distances you from the ones you love?  Do you not feel understood, accepted, respected or valued?  Or are you not understanding, accepting, respecting or valuing those you love?  These attributes determine the distance between hearts and the volume of the voice. 

Date Night

There are several questions any couple can consider to reflect on the state of their marriage.  One of the things couples do is get caught up in our every day responsibilities and activities and miss what is going on with our partner.  Even if we schedule a “date night”  for togetherness and connection we often don’t really talk to each other.  To get the conversation going consider answering these questions together.

What are the things you like most about your relationship?
What do you like most about your partner?
What are the things you would like to be different about your relationship?
Can you remember together a time or season when you both felt close? 
What is one of the most important things you do that helps your partner feel loved?

These are five simple questions that can initiate a more in depth conversation.  Try and expand each question with follow up questions or comments.  Avoid one word or one sentence answers.  Be willing to be present in the conversation by putting your smartphone and other distractions to the side.  Give your partner your full attention and you will likely discover something new about your partner, an appreciation of who they are that you had not seen before.  This is a good feeling experience that automatically draws you closer to one another.  Now that is a successful and rewarding date night!

Yes to Love No To Fear

I love (no pun intended) this quote from Henri Nouwen (a well known and respected Catholic theologian and spiritual director) about what love means: "Love means intimacy, closeness, mutual vulnerability, and a deep sense of safety." Obviously, I do not feel close to or intimate with his quote so my use of "love" is more about how much I like his quote. We use "love" to describe how we feel about so many different things, like "I love Coke," etc. that the word loses its power when we use it to describe how we feel about the person we love. Mr. Nouwen is using this to describe how we should be with God when we say He loves us and we love him. It is also how we should be with our spouse and best friend.

He goes on to say: "But all of those are impossible as long as there is fear. Fear creates suspicion, distance, defensiveness, and insecurity." Again, Mr. Nouwen is speaking in reference to fearing God but the same holds true for our intimate relationships. We cannot love God or one another if "fear" is at work in our relationships. You probably do not think of the word "fear" in reference to your spouse unless you are in an abusive relationship. But when you apply the words "suspicion, distance, defensiveness, and insecurity" how well do they fit? Or the converse; is your marriage or love relationship a place of "intimacy, mutual vulnerability, and a deep sense of safety"?

The amazing thing is this, both in our relationship with God and with each other, that if we know someone loves us, if our answer is yes to love and no to fear, then we are able to tolerate seemingly unbearable stress. We may experience significant conflict with our spouse, parent or friend or go through excruciating challenges, but if we know that at the end of the day, they love us, desire us, want to be close to us, honest and open with us, and genuinely care about our welfare, then the relationship is secure and we are secure.

Are you saying yes to love and no to fear? If not, your relationship is in trouble and it will not stand up to the challenges and stress of life. The good news is it does not have to remain that way. Begin working to eliminate the causes of fear in your relationships and allow the power of love to work its magic.

The Day After

Today is the day after Christmas. All the preparation and excitement is past. How do you feel the day after? Is there an unfulfilled longing for more? Or are you satisfied, reflecting warmly on the past few days? Maybe you are just exhausted and glad to have a day after to recuperate. I am encouraged and looking forward to the New Year.

I could not have said that several days ago. I was feeling discouraged and disconnected. Something was wrong in my spirit and I felt very frustrated and confused. There were several situations and relationships that were bothering me that I could not quite name or identify. I was struggling to put my finger on what was the matter.

For me, and I believe for all of us, my life begins and ends with the condition of my spiritual life. But we live our life in relationship with others so they often become our focus. It is much easier and probably more obvious to see that something is wrong or frustrating in our relationships. And sometimes the problem is another person but more often the problem is with us. A great parable of Jesus captures this truth. He tells us to first take the log out of our eye before we focus on the spec we see in another's eye. We must first deal with those issues in our own lives before we can help anyone else see the issues and struggles in their lives. And because we are focusing on someone else's spec of a problem we miss our huge mess of a log. It is always good to remember to begin with what might be wrong with us before looking to see what might be wrong with someone else.

Leanne Payne, reminded me this Christmas that we were created in the image of God, and because we are image bearers we have "an inborn hunger for the transcendent" (the transcendent is something that is above , beyond and greater than us, in other words God). I believe this because I am satisfied "the day after" and I no longer feel disconnected. I was spiritually hungry and the "inborn holy craving" that image bearers possess has been satisfied this Christmas in true worship in the presence of Immanuel, God with us. And because I am better connected to God, I can be a better person to others, not demanding things from them that is impossible for them to give.