Archive for the ‘Marital Issues’ Category

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Examine the Layers of Communication

March 25, 2014

layersMy friend Charlie and I had to utilize all our geek abilities, but we finally got the turntable to make sounds as we played the LP slowly. It was the Beatles album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”. We had heard through a reliable source there were hidden messages in some of the songs. We played it for an hour and then we found one. At the end of “Strawberry Fields Forever” there was some funky background music and then a creepy voice made an announcement.

Charlie was sure the voice said “I BURIED PAUL”. I believed the ghastly voice said “CRANBERRY SAUCE”. Stephen King I’m not.

Whatever it was they put on the album (John Lennon claimed it was “Cranberry Sauce”…I feel vindicated…), they masked some of their messages deep in the midst of their music. I know they probably did it to create buzz about the album, but that is ludicrous to me. They were one of the greatest rock bands of their day. They didn’t need the gimmicks. Apparently, someone in their decision-making circle felt they did.

This is the picture I lead with to help you understand Layered Communication. As I said in the previous article, Layered Communication is one reason there are so many misunderstandings in human interaction.

If we committed ourselves to single-layered communication as often as possible, we would eliminate most of our fighting.

Why do we hide so many messages within simple statements? There are probably many reasons for doing this, but I find five categories for these reasons.

1. Fear: We fear saying some things so we hide them among the words of another piece of information. This motivation sits at the heart of most passive-aggressive communication. One person is angry and wants the other person to know it. But they don’t want to be seen as angry. Or maybe there are afraid of retribution. Or perhaps they believe the person will reject them when they express their anger. So instead of letting the other person see their anger clearly, they let it color otherwise simple communication. If you’ve ever had a friend say something innocent to you and it didn’t feel innocent at all, you know this practice. Fear drives more layered communication than any other factor.

2. Revenge: We hide some of our communication so we can get even with other people for recent occasions when they have not communicated properly with us. If you won’t be straight with me, I won’t be straight with you. This game can go on for years.

3. Intimidation: People sometimes cloak the information they want to share so that those close to them will feel less confident. For instance, a husband may want his wife to appreciate him more, so he tells her all about the pretty women at work, hoping she will feel like he is a great catch without him having to say it. Unfortunately, this approach often backfires.

4. Calculation: Often, when one person wants to win an argument with another person, they will say things in order to get certain reactions. Then, they have a plan how they want to respond to those reactions. In this way, the layered communication is calculated to bring a certain result.

5. Ignorance: Many times we layer our communication because we are not aware, or have not acknowledged, that those layers are even there. Nothing surprises us more than someone who asks “What do you mean by that?” when we really thought we were being straightforward.

With those motivations in mind, let’s define each of the 8 possible layers that can be added to simple communication:

Emotions: Even those people who are in touch with their feelings often do not know how to express them. So they combine them with other pieces of information. This can be confusing. A person who says their day was fine, but the voice and body language speak “frustration”, can put the conversation on the wrong footing.

Bitterness or Resentment: I won’t seek to define either of these, and though they are different, they look the same as a sub-layer. If you are bitter or resentful, even simple information comes across as complex. Resentment is very hard to talk about, especially with the person we resent. Resentment is a decision where we have decided we cannot change a situation but we will not let go of the hurt. This hurt often bleeds over into many other things we want to communicate. When resentment has been in residence for a long time, it evolves into bitterness. The Bible tells us that bitterness then becomes ” a root which grows up to harm many people.

Sarcasm: This is often the front layer in a conversation. Sarcasm is masked anger. But it is a more societally acceptable way of expressing anger without having to admit you’re angry. This layer shows up to disguise the anger underneath. In this way, it creates a smoke screen and prevents two people from getting further into the truth of their relationship.

Body Language: Social Scientists have studied this layer for decades and still cannot come up with a definitive way to tell how to read the body language of another person. But when a person says one thing and their body seems to say another, it confuses the issue and negates much of what is being said.

False Beliefs: This layer is numerous and often the person who has these is blind to them until they make it to the top layer. For instance, a wife may be frustrated for months that her husband spends little time with her. But because he seems to be working hard, she feels like she can’t bring it up. In a conversation, she blurts out “You hate spending time with me, don’t you.” Then she feels embarrassed she said it this way.

She may be revealing a false belief. Perhaps she believes that everyone will find her to be boring, or unimportant, or that her significant friends are always going to find something better than her. Any of these “universal” beliefs can form a layer underneath what we’re trying to say.

Distraction: We often say one thing while our mind is on another thing. Or, in this distracted world, we have too many things we want to say to other people and we make the mistake of trying to say them all in one statement. This is overwhelming to both parties.

Hatred: After years of not properly dealing with anger and frustration, a person can decide they hate another person. Every time they try to communicate with this other person, the hatred layer is transmitted. This layer will often poison every piece of communication. With hatred, we hurt other people and do not even feel badly for doing so.

After looking at this list, you may wonder if there is any such thing as a simple single-layered communication. In fact, there are many ways we can communicate in single layers and the next article we will discuss how to talk to other people in this manner.

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Understanding Layered Communication

March 22, 2014

Years ago, a man who had been married many more years than I told me some advice about wives.

He said: “If she says ‘Go ahead’ in response to something you want to do–and you notice she isn’t smiling and her arms are crossed in front of her–it isn’t permission, it’s a dare”.

Funny. Wise. Layered.

I owe much of my understanding of the dynamics of interpersonal communication to one of the greatest psychoanalysts of the 20th Century: Dr. William Glasser. What made Dr. Glasser so helpful to our society is he could take complicated subjects and make them so obvious and simple to understand.

Perhaps he is best known for his definition of communication. He defined all communication between two people as this: “It is only information. If you think it is more than that, you are self-deceived.”

Since marriage represents the most intimate dynamics of communication, they are also the most dangerous. If I misunderstand something a stranger says to me, it doesn’t matter that much. But if I make the same error with my life partner, it can be devastating. And after 30-plus years of doing counseling, I can attest that most marriage problems are communication difficulties.

We need to understand three things in order to make all communication easier.

First, what you are hearing is just information.
Second, if you believe otherwise, it is your problem, not the other person
Third, the main difficulty we have with what we hear other people say is that they have layered their communication and we often do not know it.

Let’s look at a standard marital conflict that illustrates all three parts.

Let’s say Jim has had a hard day at work. He was given an impossible task by his boss and it wasn’t going well. He is tired, frustrated, feeling abused and disrespected, and needing to rest and recuperate.

However, as soon as he comes through the door, his wife tells him all about how bad their two boys behaved at the grocery store after work. She never asks about his day, never notices the look of exasperation on his face.

Jim honestly can see that his wife is frustrated. At the same time, he needs support and rest. So, he tries to communicate all of this to Tonya his wife and says, “I don’t want to talk about this right now.” She is hurt by this and storms off to make dinner, slamming cupboards and huffing.

She assumed something Jim was communicating. She assumed wrongly. He was giving information about his desire to avoid more drama and the need to rest. She assumed he was communicating something about their relationship and his lack of caring for her. He gave her information. The rest of what happened was hers.

Taken at face value, his statement is fairly simple. He doesn’t want to talk about the kids at that moment. He didn’t say he would never talk about it. He didn’t say that he couldn’t care less about her feelings. His communication was a case of simple information. Tonya did not understand this or accept it.

This leads us to the second truth about communication. Her emotional reaction was her problem. Any time we react to information being given to us we are responsible completely for our reaction. The other person is only responsible for the information they gave us. In Tonya’s case, she carried the frustration of being the only care-giver that day in the household. She was angry that Jim seemed to be reticent to help her. She assumed his motivations. All of these assumptions and reactions are her responsibility. If she had been wise–and we will talk about how to use this approach with any other person–she would have asked Jim why he didn’t want to talk about it at that moment. She chose to be hurt and that was her choice. Jim did not make her do that.

Now for the most complicated part of this scenario: Tonya reacted to Jim’s dual layers of information with a multi-layered communication response. I define multi-layered communication as any information which is layered with one or more of the following:

1. Emotions
2. Bitterness or resentment
3. Sarcasm
4. Physical body language instead of words
5. Unspoken assumptions
6. False beliefs
7. Distraction
8. Revenge or hatred

Let’s analyze Jim and Tonya.

Jim had two distinct layers of information:

1. He didn’t want to talk about the current situation at that moment
2. He was angry and tired and did not state this up front.

Jim made the situation a degree harder by not giving the second piece of information before the first one.

Tonya had several layers of communication which she put across using passive-aggressive behavior:

1. Anger at the boys
2. Frustration that she was the primary care-giver and Jim did not seem to be interested
3. A desire to hurt Jim for the perceived hurt Jim had laid on her.
4. Perhaps a deep-seated belief that people would not assist her when she needed it.

Tonya only expressed the first layer and let Jim assume the existence of the other layers. Because neither of them had carefully dissected their own layers before communicating, they could not connect with each other mentally or emotionally. This is the type of fight that can linger for weeks, months or even years if not corrected.

In the next article, we’ll dissect the 8 layers and examine how to attempt to give other people information about each one.

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Phantom Affairs

March 14, 2014

phantomAuggie and Tami felt the emotional distance between them. They fought, made up, fought some more, made up less often, fought more vigorously, didn’t make up any more. They didn’t know what the other was angry about, but constantly replayed their own story of hurt in case anyone asked. No one did.

Tami filed for divorce first, but Auggie was willing too. They settled their legal differences amiably and spared the world the bother of having to listen to their public complaints. A year later and they legally didn’t have to contact each other for any reason.

Yet for some reason, they kept in close touch. They met for lunch and endlessly dissected the reasons why their marriage fell into the toilet. That’s when and why they came for counseling. They didn’t desire to resurrect their relationship, but they wanted me to do a post-mortem with them on the corpse that was their marriage.

After meeting three times, I discerned the basic reason for their marriage failure and I shared it with them. At first, they were both confused. Then they denied it was true. It was almost a year later Tami came back and admitted I was right. I don’t know if Auggie ever agreed with me.

Here was their problem. They both had someone else. They both had chosen another person over their partner.

Yet neither of them had a physical affair. Neither of them had met in clandestine circumstances to give their love to another person. But they had still chosen someone else. Once they began doing that, it was inevitable it would ruin their relationship.

We wrongly assume that affairs have to actually involve knowing and interacting with the other member of the tryst. Today, there are multiple warnings about emotional affairs, relationships between married people that do not result in sex. These can be devastating of course. As Laura Berman observes,

Emotional cheating (with an “office husband,” a chat room lover, or a newly appealing ex) steers clear of physical intimacy, but it does involve secrecy, deception, and therefore betrayal. People enmeshed in nonsexual affairs preserve their “deniability,” convincing themselves they don’t have to change anything. That’s where they’re wrong. If you think about it, it’s the breach of trust, more than the sex, that’s the most painful aspect of an affair and, I can tell you from my work as a psychiatrist, the most difficult to recover from.

However, neither Auggie nor Tami were enmeshed in emotional affairs. They discovered some of the alternative ways we can tie our hearts to another person without them being aware we are doing so. Let me outline the most common ways we do this:

Old Flames: A healthy person continues to process their memories long after they have experienced the original happenings. We must do this to be emotionally grounded. We need to understand what has taken place in our lives so we don’t develop the wrong ideas about our history. But when we spend an inordinate amount of time processing past romances–and especially when we do this to replace time spent thinking about our spouse–we conclude that those days were better than these. The current troubles always pale in comparison with these idealistic memories.

Romantic Novels and Movies: One wouldn’t think you could form attachments with fictional characters, but psychology has proven that this is not only possible, but certainly widespread. Yes, there are women who imagine themselves in the arena with Peeta, or men who see themselves as Danaerys’ companion. this explains the almost fanatical appeal of some fan-bases. This intrudes on a marriage when the spouse replaces their affection and admiration for their partner with the character they have obsessed upon. People can also imagine celebrities and read every article about them, taking time and mental energy away from their spouse and pouring it into a famous person.

Pornography: Most people reading this assume porn is all about taking affection away from a spouse. Actually, it is not as common as with the first two examples. Most men use porn as a mechanism to deal with relational pain, especially when they use porn to stimulate themselves.

But there are indeed some men and women who picture themselves with the people in the videos. This causes them to make constant mental comparisons between the porn stars and their partners. As I said, this is not the most common use of porn–it is most likely a pain manager–but it does exist. When a person uses porn to mentally replace their spouse, it can destroy a marriage.

Co-workers, neighbors and professional acquaintances: Throughout life, there are people who treat us well, affirm our value through their words and deeds, and give us comfort when we are emotionally distraught. When they do not receive these things from their spouse, they place even greater value on the person who is willing to give them these things. Though they do not approach them for a deeper emotional attachment, they remember how they gave us something desperately yearned for. Counselors find this happens regularly in the counseling office. Those we counsel with often form attachments based on appreciation for the help we give. Doctors, nurses, teachers, therapists etc. all have to set careful and obvious boundaries so clients do not expect to have inappropriate relationships. But just because there are boundaries, the person receiving help can fantasize about how wonderful it would be to have a deep intimate relationship with their help-giver. Perhaps neither party acts upon this and the two of them maintain a professional relationship. But the one person magnifies the other past the point of help to a much deeper bond. This can be done with people at work, neighbors we have come to know more than casually and family friends.

Horror stories are told of people who assumed someone else felt as strongly as they did in the relationship, only to find out the affection was completely one-sided. The mind has the ability to fill in both sides of the relationship, assuming the kind words and actions are proof of an intimate connection.

Auggie and Tami both had these phantom affairs and had maintained them for a long time. The upshot of this error is that every mistake their spouse made was compared to these phantom ideal people. In their minds, the phantoms would never have treated them this way.

In Auggie’s case, he obsessed about old girlfriends. Tami focused on a man who lived across the street who appeared to treat her with the respect she had always longed for from her husband. Neither of them sought out a romantic partner outside of their marriage, but the phantom partners provided the manure for all of their resentments to grow.

Strangely enough, a year after divorcing, Tami dated the man across the street. After the second date, she realized he could really be a jerk. Coming home that night, she cried over her lost marriage. She began to see how great a mistake she and Auggie had made.

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What Does Work in Marriage Counseling

March 1, 2014

I won’t bother giving them fake names to protect their identities. I don’t have permission to share the details of their story and I’ve lost touch with them. But it really doesn’t matter; their story is universal these days. He worked too much and distanced himself from his wife over many years of being married. Every year, she grew more angry at him. She let that anger color her decisions and, as a result, she easily entered into another relationship. Her husband found out she was cheating on him and she freely admitted it. I do know the details of that initial fight and I don’t really have to share them here. It wasn’t any more dramatic than the confrontations in a million other relationships. Both of them spent a sleepless night wondering if they should contact a divorce lawyer. They both cried. They spent that night in different places, both physically and emotionally. But for some very unusual reasons, their story did not turn out like millions of others.

Though each of them did go for counseling at some point, they never went together for marriage counseling. And they never got a divorce. They eventually solved the problems in their marriage (for the most part) even though they both unveiled other secret sins. By telling their story I am not saying they are better than other people. But their choices do shed light on an alternative approach to marriage counseling.

I can just picture many of you waiting breathlessly for the formula to their solution. I want to be cautious at this point. Though they stayed married, it cost them way more than either would have  agreed to pay that first “fight night”. The rest of this article is not for the faint of heart. There: You have been warned.

I don’t remember if they practiced all these principles in their desire to change, but I know they at least embraced the first two. These are five things I see in  marriages that overcome problems like abuse, adultery, neglect, hatred and substance abuse. I list them in order of importance and the first ones are the most difficult.

[Disclosure: Other than from the Bible, I learned most of these principles from a series of books by William Glasser on the subject of “Choice Theory”. I mention this because several readers of this blog are MFTs and could really benefit from Dr. Glasser’s observations and practice. I am also beholding to Dr. Ed Smith and the therapy method taught in “Healing Life’s Hurts” and the practice of TPM.]

Here then are five principles that will yield the healthiest motivations to preserve a marriage:

1. Choose THIS marriage. The most poignant question Dr. Glasser asks in his first counseling session is “Do you really want to be married to your spouse?” If either spouse hedges on their answer – or comes out and says “no” – he ends the counseling relationship. He contends that no one will convince a person to be married to a particular person if they really don’t want to be. Here is what I add to that. Many people who don’t want to be married to a particular person still want to be married. They like the thought of marriage: the comfort and companionship that it can have, the intimacy it seems to promise, the stability of a family. God created the first marriage and said it was not good for man to be alone. But he also knew that once a couple are joined for any length of time in marriage, they form bonds that only death can truly separate. Therefore, people may like the idea of being married, but loathe the thought of being  married to THIS person. That has to change if the marriage will work.

In the Bible, when Jesus talks about divorce, his primary concern is remarriage. His teaching on marriage goes right back to Genesis. He recalls for them that a man is to leave behind his birth family (father and mother) and cling to his wife. In our traditional marriage vows, we say “forsaking all others”. The “all others” means mentally dismissing the idea of a future spouse as well.

Divorces happen…there are many people who decide they cannot live with that person any longer. But would people change their approach and attitude if they believed this was their only opportunity to get married? What if this is your only chance and there are no real alternatives? Would that make a difference at how you worked at solving the problems in this marriage? Of course it would. But that is not how most people live. We live in a world of “alternatives”. If you don’t like what you have, there is always an alternative.

The couple I referenced at the beginning of this article decided if they didn’t make this marriage work they weren’t going to get married again. Waking up to that reality motivated them to get things fixed. For those who accept a biblical format for marriage, the best motivation for working on marriage problems is a choice to stay married to THIS person…not just a commitment to marriage as an institution.

2. Soften the Hard Heart: In the last article, I mentioned the pastor who used our counseling appointment to announce his intention to divorce. After I reined in my anger, I asked him to explain his motivations. He cited chapter and verse to justify his biblical grounds for divorce. That’s when I told him: “Those are reasons you want a divorce. But as far as the Bible is concerned, there is only one ground for divorce. You have hardened your heart”. Jesus teaches us why Moses allowed the people of Israel to get a divorce. As far as we know from historical documents, the nation of Israel was the first culture to develop a concept of divorce. Why? Jesus explains: “Because of the hardness of men’s hearts, Moses permitted divorce”. That’s it in a nutshell. There are many things that break a covenant between a man and a woman. Adultery, violence, molestation of children, lying, abuse, neglect, abandonment, yelling, belittlement, substance abuse, eating disorders, withdrawal of sex, lack of passion, workaholism – they all contribute to huge rifts in marital closeness. But with all that, there still is only one reason people divorce: Hardness of heart.

I can give examples of every one of the above problems that people have endured only to stay married and to prosper. I know a woman whose husband molested their two oldest daughters. He went to state prison for his actions and her church insisted she divorce him to protect the kids. She did not want to. She refused to hate him or to give up on him. He even filed for divorce at one point, but she resisted. Her oldest daughter refused to speak to mom again unless she divorced her dad. Was she being an idiot? Some people think so. But she had compassion, love and acceptance of him. She wasn’t denying his crime or his sin. He paid for what he did and he still carries the weight of how he hurt his girls. My point in mentioning this is that no one could fault her for getting a divorce. And she really isn’t a co-dependent person or weak-willed. She just didn’t want to harden her heart that far.

How do you deal with a hard heart? You soften it with two decisions. These are what I spend most time working on with counselees. First, let go of the bitterness for how you have been treated. Stop reserving the right to feel wounded, victimized and in emotional pain. Let go of the right to enact emotional revenge. Second, forgive the person. This does not mean  you excuse them. You simply choose to say they do not have to “make up for” their failures and sins.

3. Confront your own story: We all have aspects of our marriage story that focus on how we have been hurt. But if that is all you can see when the marriage is failing, then you are missing the other part of the story. Don’t rely on your spouse to tell you either. They are carrying their own hurt, so they will not be all that accurate in describing your problem. No one wants to hear the statement, “do you know what your problem is?” But we all need to hear what our problem is. As a counselor I have great hope for the person who comes to me during marital difficulty and says “I need to fix me”. Those people are the ones who stay married. The ones who say “I want you to fix my partner” do not stay married very much longer.

4. Give Yourself Time to Reconcile: As with most “solutions” in life, we spend way too much time causing the problems and allocate so little time to solving them. As I watch the clean-up going on in the Gulf from the oil spills, everyone legitimately wants the oil to stop flowing this second. British Petroleum’s stock is plummeting because people expected the flow to be capped overnight. Revelations are coming out about how many things went wrong to cause this disaster. This won’t be cured for a while yet. The clean-up will take years. By that time, most of us will have mentally moved on to the next disaster and the next one after that. That is often how we treat marriage counseling. We want it fixed today!

If you have 20 years of problems, it won’t get fixed today. We vastly overestimate what can change in a week. But conversely, we completely underestimate what can change in a year. I even recommend in the most serious marital problems that people creatively separate and start dating from scratch. I highly commend the book “Reconcilable Differences” and the suggested time chart of putting a marriage back on the right track. Don’t rush things and don’t despair. Rushing and despair only muddy the waters more.

5. Ask God for “perspective”, not “rescue”. As I said last time, God cannot save your marriage. That is your job. But if you want God to partner with you in this, you must let him do what God does best. God sees the inner heart of every person. That includes our own heart. Just as in the third step we must see what attitudes and beliefs have caused us to act improperly, so we also need to see our spouse as God sees them. Why does God forgive them? Why does God appreciate them? Why does God spend time with them? What does God see in them? This is so crucial at that point where you cannot say anything good about your marriage partner.

My wife and I have times of struggle like every couple. This is not the venue to give examples of that. But one solution we have found is when we are feeling stymied by the bad course our marriage takes, we sit down separately and ask God to show us the good qualities of the other person. I do remember that horrible day when Kat came up with 20 things and I only had five. That only meant she was listening with more conviction than I was. I was still bitter and used my time to tell God how rotten she was being to me. God didn’t agree, so I wasted my time. But if you come to counseling with the attitude of hearing God about your spouse, things will change. They really will.

The couple who saved their own marriage at the beginning of this article did so over a period of several years. I don’t know all the details and I don’t have any idea how many times they wanted to give up. But now they both help other couples find the same path. These principles work much more effectively than the confusing and ineffective process of three-way counseling.

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Ten Healthy Ideas – Day 3: Honor To Whom Honor is Due

December 22, 2013
eric liddell

Eric Liddell in the 1924 Olympics

In the 1924 Olympics, U. S. sprinter Jackson Schultz sent a note to British runner Eric Liddell. Both of them were Christians, and Liddell had refused to run on a Sunday because it violated his beliefs that Sunday should be a day set apart for God. (In the movie, Liddell is seen as finding out about his heat being run on the Sunday as he gets on the boat. In reality, he found out months before and pulled out of the competition before being chosen. But his stance was known throughout the world.)

In his note, sent weeks before the Olympics, Schultz told Liddell how he admired him for standing up for what he believed. Schultz also believed this stance would be the deciding factor whether Liddell won his race–the 400 meters. At the end of his letter, he wrote: “As the Good Book says, “He who honors Me, him will I honor.” History records that Liddell did win the 400 meters and beat one of Schultz’s close friends to set the Olympic record.

But was Schultz right? In the note he sends Liddell he quotes 1 Samuel 2:30, which says:

“Therefore the Lord, the God of Israel, declares: ‘I promised that members of your family would minister before me forever.’ But now the Lord declares: ‘Far be it from me! Those who honor me I will honor, but those who despise me will be disdained.”

Schultz apparently believed that if someone takes a stand for God, in the end, God will honor that person. I’m not sure I totally agree. Many who have stood for God have seen their dreams shattered and been made fools of by this world. But I also believe that those who do what God commands will make more out of their lives than those who dishonor God.

I think there is a principle here that would certainly do us well to remember. Our relationship with God is a covenant. It requires both parties to maintain an honorable place in order for all the benefits of the relationship to be experienced.

A covenant relationship is one that is supposed to last for the rest of one’s life. There are very few of these because of that. A parent and child, husband and wife, certain lifelong friendships, God and a believer and fellow members of God’s church are examples of true covenant relationships. One of the great benefits of those relationships is the concept of honor.

The word honor means to  show respect to someone, to show how they are important and special in our lives. I believe there are spiritual things which happen when we honor another person. We strengthen the bindings between us and them and we allow for spiritual blessings to come to both parties. But, of course, the same is also true for dishonor. When we dishonor someone with whom we share a deep covenant relationship, we weaken the ties between us and allow spiritual destruction in our lives. I explore this concept in marriage in an earlier article.

The Bible tells children to “honor their parents”. Husbands and wives are supposed to show honor to their spouses. Friends are to honor deep friendship by telling the truth, giving aid when needed, coming to the rescue, keeping confidence and not betraying one another.

In the case of children, we are told it is the first commandment with a promise:

Eph. 6:2, 3 : “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise, so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”

Honoring our parents releases health and life blessings upon us and them.

Jim suffered from multiple ailments all the time. He had over 40 pills he took each day for one problem or another. As he and I worked together in counseling over a year, our goal was to eliminate most of those medications. During therapy, we identified a number of false beliefs he carried with him and other detrimental elements related to unforgiveness. At one point, he had eliminated a good portion of his drugs. That’s when we came to the hardest part of the counseling journey.

“Mike, I want nothing to do with my kids. They are all whiners and they never do anything but bring me grief. I can’t really stand to be around any of them.” I explained to Jim that it was proper to have boundaries so others cannot hurt us. But I also asked Jim if he had ever blessed his children. He had really never spoken blessings over any of them. Had he praised them? He said they had never done anything worth praising. Had he told others how much he appreciated any of them? Had he bragged about them? On the contrary, he often criticized them to anyone who listened.

I explained to him why honor is important. God sets the example for this. Even though we have all treated God poorly, God never gives up on us. He never stops loving us. And God will never curse us. God will warn us and discipline us as children, but he always wants blessings for our lives. But when we refuse to honor those who are in covenant relationships with us, we allow the enemy of our souls to attack us and defeat us. Our bodies, minds, emotions and life goals are often destroyed. Those who are critical and dishonoring of their loved ones will often pay the price in personal destruction.

Jim decided to begin blessing those around him. He stopped putting down his children and wife to other people. He asked God regularly to bless them. He sent them notes encouraging them and telling them why he was proud of each one. He began to keep a journal and wrote down why he appreciated his wife and each of his kids.

Six months later, he didn’t need any more medications. He has seen a remarkable change in his life since then. As he has honored the people in his life, the effects of dishonor are being eliminated.

This works with people at church, our relatives and friends and our spouses. We may not like all they do, and we cannot endorse wicked and misguided schemes. But we can honor them and their relationship to us even if we have to maintain a few boundaries.

If  you do that, you will see health come to you and them.

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Adultery and Patriarchy

November 12, 2013

Here’s what this article is not about. It is not slamming the Christian Patriarchy movement per se – or Complementarianism. Both belief systems teach that males in a family are in charge, and in order for females (wives) to find their true place in God, they must submit to their husbands in all things. According to a few Patriarchy teachers, this can even include  violence, lying, harsh words and adultery. If the husband is doing any of those things, then it is ultimately the wife’s fault or she has to somehow take responsibility to fix their relationship. This extreme position is taught by many teachers, but Michael and Debi Pearl  are the best known advocates of this instruction. In their teaching, if a husband has an affair, at some level the wife was not doing her duty properly.

But I am not primarily writing about the wrongness of those movements. I don’t agree with them, but let’s just leave it at that.

Nor is this article about the dangers of adultery. A lot of people commit adultery and that does not necessarily negate their belief system. We all fail and many of us fail spectacularly. Anyone who claims they do not fail is faking it, and those who do not fail spectacularly are either lying or hiding their problems really well. Adultery is a problem because we all want to feel good, and when marriages have problems, an affair can seem to soothe the hurts for awhile. Or the boredom. Or the resentment.

But this article is not about that. Adultery causes many problems and let’s just leave it at that.

Doug Phillips has admitted this past week to having a long-term affair. If you don’t know him, he’s one of the prime teachers and leaders of the Christian Patriarchy movement, President of Vision Forum, which along with Gospel Coalition seems to represent the most conservative wing of the conservative marriage movement.

He has many extreme teachings including that President Obama is allied with the Antichrist (because of the emergence and legality of homosexual marriage), that every family should keep having kids until the woman’s uterus is worn-out and won’t work any more, that godly parents will ONLY homeschool their kids, that a wife must never disagree with her husband, must submit to all his commands and whims, must teach their daughters how to serve a future husband and this same wife must provide a safe and sacred place where all sexual needs of her husband are fulfilled – even if her needs are not.

It is an extreme position. Doug Phillips also puts himself forward as the example of what a Christian husband should be.

Now he has had an affair. Let me try and help  you understand some of the implications of this. First, I consider Doug Phillips to be something of an outlier, in that the majority of Evangelical Christians do not hold to his extreme views. Second, just because he has had an affair does not mean his views are wrong. I believe the Bible shows that his views are wrong. But there are Egalitarians (i.e. those who believe husbands and wives are equal partners) who have had affairs, cheated on their taxes and watch soap operas. I am not bringing up Phillips’ affair because it disqualifies him.

I am introducing this subject because it points out an endemic problem with this approach to marriage and sexual sin.

The view that says the husband is the Patriarch of the family arises out of ancient agrarian societies where this approach was necessary and practical. In ancient times, any woman not attached to a family unit led by a powerful and protective man was in danger. Women who did not marry a man who could protect her often were beaten, raped and would ultimately starve. Women had no education, no opportunities, and faced constant dangers during an epoch when the strongest dominated the weakest. This is why polygamy was allowed. It gave protection to many women at the same time.

In those days, a man had very little contact with anyone outside of his family. He was accountable to very few people except his immediate family and a few friends. He met very few single women, and the ones he did meet were often brought in as third or fourth wives.

But in today’s culture, men and women contact each other daily. And strong men can no longer marry all the women they meet. If his wife is not strong, aggressive and able to hold her husband accountable for his actions, adultery is much easier to do. Unless the husband agrees to never talk to another woman (and how is that even possible in our day and age), the only two things which will hold his sinful tendencies in check are an equally strong wife and an even stronger relationship with the Holy Spirit.

But the Complementarian movement does not teach that women should be strong and equal partners. It teaches that women should be subservient and never disagree or ask their husbands to account for their actions. It does not surprise me that Doug Phillips had a long-term affair before he admitted his problem. Since he had no one at home to call him on his crap, he was able to hide his problems over a long period of time. His wife was ordered never to question him or disagree with his actions.

What bothers me even more is that Phillips’ wife will ultimately be called upon to take responsibility for fixing their marriage. All Phillips has to do, according to his teaching, is admit the affair, apologize and move on. His wife now has to try harder to please him, hoping to fend off future affairs.

If you believe that the marriage culture of the Old Testament is God’s plan for your marriage, consider that it no longer fits well with our urban modern society. Even though affairs happen in Egalitarian families, they are treated much differently afterward. This failure by Doug Phillips should serve as a warning that Christian Patriarchy is not as ideal or biblical as it purports to be.

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The Danger of Dishonor

September 23, 2013

Stuart and I prayed for a half hour about his wife. She was suffering  through a series of painful attacks, bizarre maladies that seemed unrelated to each other. Her doctors could not find the cause. She had migraine headaches, chest pain, nausea, joint irritation, ear infection, low fevers, foot pain, tremors and panic attacks.

During the previous six months, she had seen a gynecologist, neurologist, arthritic specialist, gastroenterologist, pain specialist, physiotherapist and immunologist, and was now being sent to both a psychologist and psychiatrist. Having failed to find any physical cause which would tie in all of these symptoms, the doctors decided they needed to check if her emotional state caused all of these problems. This referral to the psychiatrist seemed to mock her pain, and she gave up trying to fight it all.

As I was praying, I had a thought that this may not have a physical root cause. I sensed an enemy of the soul, an unclean spirit, was attacking her. Though I have not seen this happen often, I know it does occur. But because this is not a common reason for people being ill, I kept quiet about it. I continued asking the Holy Spirit for more insight into this, and as I did, another thought went through my mind. I acted on it.

“Stuart, do you have a problem with pornography?”

“Sometimes. I don’t like to admit it, but I view porn every couple of weeks.”

“Just porn? Have you ever acted on your fantasies with other women?”

He hesitated and looked down. This, coupled with his worried expression, lent me courage to press further.

“What have you done, Stu?” He then began telling me about a web site he had joined several months earlier which allowed married people to find sexual partners with other married people. After telling me about a number of women he had talked to, he assured me he had never met any of them in person. He was quite adamant that he did this because of curiosity, not because he wanted an affair. I had heard variations of his story from a lot of men and women.

I knew my next question was most critical. His answer may hold the key to his wife’s illness. “Stu, did you talk about your wife with any of the women?” He blanched openly at my question.

“A lot of the women wanted to know why I was on the web site. It bothered me that they asked what was so wrong with my marriage that would lead me to seek out an affair. So I told them some stories. I have to admit Mike that many of the things I said weren’t true. I lied to a few women.”

“What did you tell them?”

“I told them all that my wife didn’t want sex any more, that she was only interested in the kids and her business. Which, of course, is not true at all.”

What I told him next is the basis of this article. Stuart had dishonored his wife. To honor someone means to show respect to them, to show how they are important and special in our lives and in general. Therefore, to dishonor a person means to disrespect them, lie about them or act like they are unimportant. I explained to Stuart how his dishonor had started with his porn usage. By looking at hundreds of women in various sexual poses and situations, he had downgraded his wife to lesser status. This made it so much easier for him to lie to other women and tell them how unimportant his wife was to him. I explained this was only the beginning of his problems.

After a while, he stopped me and asked “So, what you’re saying is that my wife’s illnesses are God’s judgment on her for the way I’ve acted?”

“Stu, that’s not it at all. God forgave all your sins on the cross. He has washed you clean by the blood of Jesus. You are not guilty in God’s eyes. The Bible says “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” No, it is not God who is bringing these illnesses upon your wife. God himself does not bring disaster and illness upon us. God is love and would never harm us. But there is a class of beings in this universe whose sole purpose is to steal, kill and destroy our lives (John 10:10). Collectively, we call these beings “Satan”, but they really are a host of opportunistic spirits looking to attack and destroy our lives. However, they are not allowed to attack us unless they have permission.”

“How do they get permission?”

“If people commit certain sins over a period of time, then the enemy is allowed to attack in those areas.” I explained to Stuart some of the verses from the Bible which show this, and then came back to my explanation of events.

“Stuart, your relationship with your wife is a covenant relationship. In spiritual terms, the covenant is the deepest promise you can make to a person. You may not know it, but to do harm to that covenant is to do harm to yourself and to her. Satan’s name means “accuser”. He loves to act as the Prosecuting attorney before God, claiming that we are guilty of crimes and need to be punished. When those crimes are against God, he will not allow us to be attacked. But when the crimes involve others, especially when we hurt those closest to us, we incur the wrath of the Accuser. You have dishonored your wife. There are few ways you could have acted worse than this.”

Here is the end of his story: He repented before God for his actions, quit the website and stopped viewing porn (this last part took a longer time to correct, but that’s another blog entry). He then anointed his wife with oil and we prayed for her.

From that day, her symptoms stopped and have not recurred.

Often, we dishonor our spouses a lot more than we realize. In order to see what this does, let’s look at 9 categories of dishonor.

  1. Gossip: When we break a confidence of a friend or loved one, we are dishonoring the relationship we have with them. I probably have done this more than I want to admit. Often, I make this mistake when complaining to a friend about people closest to me. This can even be done with a counselor, and if the counselor is unwise to allow it to go on too long, gossip can devolve into slander. This is what Stuart did to his wife. 2 Timothy 3:3 puts gossipers with some other nasty offenders.
  2. Broken Promises and Oaths: Once again, most people do not know how important an oath is in the Spirit realm. God tells us that broken oaths will have serious consequences (James 5:12). Many times in the Bible we are told not to break our vows or judgment will come. The enemy loves to prowl around looking for those who have broken their promises and oaths. Obviously, adultery is the classic example of this. But we can also make promises on many other levels, and each broken oath brings destruction on our heads.
  3. Violence and Abusive Language: Malachi tells us that God hates divorce. But it also tells us that he hates when a man covers his wife with violence as if it were a garment. Violence is a severe break of the covenant relationship. And violent words can also sever that covenant. When the enemy sees these things, he initiates a spiraling pattern of violence, fear and anguish. Few actions dishonor a person more than taking power away from them through violence or violent words.
  4. Threats: Threats can appear non-violent and still cause harm. If someone threatens to leave, to cut off intimacy, to get even, to take something away, then all of these dishonor the marriage vow. Most marriage vows contain the word “honor,” which means to count someone as important. If you deem a person valuable, you will not threaten them.
  5. Resentment: John Bevere calls resentment “the bait of satan”. Our enemy loves to dangle this in front of our noses. Resentment is not unforgiveness or hatred. It occurs when we decide “I will never let go of this hurt you have caused me.” More marriages are dishonored when partners will not release resentment than from any other cause. It is that common.. Resentment often becomes bitterness, which we are told in Hebrews 12 can regress into “a root of bitterness which grows up to defile many“.
  6. Curses: When we wish harm or ill on another person, we are cursing them. The stronger we wish these things, the more power the enemy has to bring them about. Unfortunately, many spouses say foolish things like “I wish you would die” or “I hope you get everything coming to you” or “I am done with you” never once knowing there is an enemy who views these as open invitations to wreak havoc in a household. The bible is clear that curses and blessings work (Luke 6:28, James 3:9).
  7. Reveling in hurt: There is a more passive way we can dishonor our spouse. When they fail or are wounded, if instead of bringing comfort and love we hold onto a smug attitude of “I told you so” or “You had that coming”, this reveling can give room to the enemy to drive a wedge between spouses.
  8. Neglect: Instead of actively hurting our spouse or betraying them, we neglect our duties to love, honor and cherish them. By withholding support, love, information, help, partnership, affection, or any number of other essentials, we leave them to their own devices and act as if they are meaningless to us. This neglect of our covenant responsibility offers the enemy an open invitation to attack.
  9. Humiliation: People rationalize their active criticism of their spouse in public. They think it helps to push them to make changes. But we often take it way too far. When we actively humiliate our spouse, it is the most public way we can use to say “You are not special to me.” When we do this, not only do people see us as weak and our marriage as troubled, the enemy sees it as dishonor and uses that springboard to cause trouble.

I believe there are four keys to overcoming these pieces of dishonor.

  1. Repent. This means more than just saying you’re sorry to God. It means to acknowledge and understand what you’re doing wrong and choose actions that counter-act it. Breaking off bad relationships, apologizing for hurts, cutting off access to things or people that make it worse – all of these are repentant actions.
  2. Change: Get to the roots of why you do what you do. A counselor or coach can help with this.
  3. Accountability: Admit to others what you have done and ask them to watch for it from you and call you on it if you persist in doing it.
  4. Pray for Blessing. The Bible tells us we are to bless others and not curse them. If we have cursed our spouse through dishonor, dedicate the future to blessing them through word, deed and prayer.
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