Posts Tagged ‘marriage’

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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 2: The Well of Resentment

December 21, 2013

deep wellHe had married her 22 years before; and now he stood in my office in front of her and said “I don’t love her any more. I want a divorce.” I actually thought he had asked me to be there so he could reconcile with his wife. Why else would he want his counselor there for what he had to say? But no–he wanted me to be a witness to his final declaration.

I couldn’t leave it at that. I had counseled him for several months and never had any idea he was thinking about divorce. So I asked him to go through his train of thought leading up to this decision. He mentioned a number of grievances he had stored over the years. He chronicled a long line of things which hurt him, annoyed him, bothered him and made him angry. He carried a long list with him.

However, he failed to mention a single thing that most people would associate with marital failure. She had not committed adultery, been violent, lied to him, appeared on a Reality T.V. show, hit the children, poisoned his food, withheld sex, had her mother stay for a year or joined a cult. Even though he carried a laundry list of grievances, none of them were that serious.

The biggest problem he carried with him to the end of his marriage was Resentment. Resentment is the idea that someone has done wrong by us and we refuse to let it go until they apologize or give retribution. We can resent someone for a small infraction or a huge sin. It really doesn’t matter how big or small the resentment is, it has the same effect: It sucks the life out of our love.

I tried to convince him to let go of his resentment and move on in his relationship with his wife, but he was not interested. A year later, their divorce was final and their lives in turmoil. I could have saved him a lot of hassle if he had just dealt with this like an adult.

Children cultivate resentments like a farmer grows corn. They can complain if someone gets a bigger portion of dessert. They will whine if someone bumps into them. They don’t like it when their brother looks at them funny. They will hit back when hit and curse back when cursed. But we expect that out of them–they’re children.

If you want to be a mature adult and have meaningful and long-lasting relationships, then resentments have to go. But that’s a lot easier to say than to do. I believe resentment is the most prominent disease known among mankind. We do not let go of them at all and certainly not easily. But I have an exercise that helps.

In the 4th century, there were a group of men and women called the Desert Fathers and Mothers. They lived in the Egyptian desert and taught many people about the deeper ways of living as a Christian. One of these, Abba Poemen, taught a practice called “The Well of Resentment”. (Note: This is a translation…it has been called the Well of Longing and the Well of Bitterness).

He taught his disciples to do the same thing at the end of every day. He said they were to picture themselves coming to the edge of a large and deep well. As they mentally look into this well, they should consider how things went for them that day. Each person was to probe their soul and see if there was anything that happened which caused any resentment. If a person identified resentment, they were to visualize casting that resentment into the well and watch it fall into the depths. Then they were to keep doing this until all resentments were gone. At the end, they should pray the Kyrie Eliason (“Lord have Mercy, Christ have Mercy on me”).

I have taught hundreds of people to do this the end of every day. I have yet to have someone come to me and tell me it doesn’t work. Rather, I have heard from many that it has revived their love for spouse, parent, child, co-worker, fellow-Christian and others. It is a practice which refuses to allow the little or big resentments from gaining hold. The Well of Resentment is like powerful vitamins which bind to viruses and snuff them out before they get destructive.

Try it for three days and see if it doesn’t begin to change your heart toward others around you.

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Solution to False Beliefs in Marriage

March 11, 2013

This is a re-print of a series of two articles on false beliefs in marriage. They rank #8 on the most viewed articles on this blog.

Jenny dragged Lawrence into my office. They had been married for 14 months and I was dismayed they were already having marriage problems. Granted, Jenny had been married twice before and Lawrence once, but they had changed a lot since their previous marriages; and I was sure all the premarital counseling we had done would preempt future crises. Of course, I was wrong.

Jenny had grown up with a father who was physically violent and cruel. Twice, he broke her arm and once gave her a skull fracture. She left home at seventeen and never regretted it. She became quite successful as a flight attendant and married a pilot. After ten years of marriage, he also became violent and at one point hit her so hard he knocked her unconscious. She eventually divorced him and remained single for several years. When she did marry again, it was to a very gentle, kind man (her words). After five years of marriage, however, he also became abusive. She immediately filed for divorce and moved. She ended up in our fellowship of Christians where she met Lawrence. He was also a gentle man, something I could readily affirm. By his own account, he had never hit anyone in his life. He abhorred violence and he came across to Jenny as loving and stable.

But here is why she brought him into my office. She had begun noticing a change in attitude over the previous few months. She couldn’t quite identify what had changed, but she was frantically worried he would hurt her. I can imagine  you reading this thinking “I can see why she would think that. Every man in her life had done this”. But I suspected something deeper and more sinister was afoot. I asked Jenny to leave my office and asked Lawrence to stay. I looked him square in the eye and said, “Lawrence, do you ever feel like hitting Jenny?” He looked everywhere else but in my eyes. As he studied his feet, I asked the question again.

“Mike, I have never hit anyone in my life” he said.

“I know Lawrence. You’ve told me. Answer my question”

“Sometimes, I have this overwhelming urge to hit her. I don’t know where it’s coming from, but it worries me.”

I brought Jenny back in the room and immediately asked Lawrence to tell her what he had admitted to me. Reluctantly, he faced up to her and admitted the truth about his thoughts. She exploded and ran out of my office. What happened in the next hour was one of the greatest revelations I have ever received in 30 years of counseling. But before I get to the rest of her story, I want to build a framework for the solution we found.

In a previous blog post, I noted several beliefs that could ruin a marriage. All of our emotions and actions stem from things we believe. Therefore, when emotions and behavior are ruining a relationship, you can be sure that some kind of warped belief system is at the root. Root beliefs (also known as “core beliefs”) are not thrust upon us. We always choose what we will believe. There are some behavioral psychologists who teach the inevitability of some beliefs. For instance, they may claim that all abuse victims grow up with a belief that power has been taken away from them. That certainly is true of many people, but not even most abuse victims feel the loss of personal control. There are abuse victims who feel guilty; others feel fear; still others focus on shame. As we grow (especially between the ages of 5–10), we are presented with thousands of choices about what we will believe about life, other people and ourselves. Any number of these beliefs may doggedly hang on into adulthood, severely affecting our relationships and marriages.

What is the solution? There are four steps to any process of solving the problems caused by false beliefs. These steps may take anywhere from a few minutes to a few weeks to enact, but there is no way to bypass any of them.

1. Acknowledge that your emotional reactions and negative behavior are always the result of something you believe. Too often, we want to maintain our emotions are simple reactions to simple causes. But many times, our reactions do not line up with the force of our reality. We often react too strongly to minor causes, or, in some cases, react weakly to major causes. We then try to blame our behavior on our partner. What we do with this is take responsibility away from our own belief system. For instance, I know a woman who, when she learned of her husband’s affair, went out and had a one-night stand. Then she came home and told him about it. When we were in counseling, she steadfastly held to the position that her actions were justified. Months later, we came to the conclusion her actions were based on a belief that she needed to take revenge when people hurt her or they would continue to hurt her.

2. Identify the belief at the source of the action or emotion. How do you do that? If you recall the incidents leading up to your behavior, ask yourself what you were feeling. As you focus on the feeling, note what thoughts go through your mind. In those thoughts you will identify some beliefs. Those beliefs, in their basic form, are what you need to focus on next. The woman who had the one-night stand had anger. But with the anger was a sense of fear. As she followed the fear in her mind, she had a thought that if she let her husband get away with his behavior, he would keep doing things to her like that. Her belief was that only revenge will stop the pain.

3. Follow the Belief to its Source. We do not usually come to false beliefs as adults. Generally, they have lodged themselves somewhere in our childhood memories. As you focus on the belief and the emotions surrounding that belief,recall a time when you felt and thought the same way as a child. It shouldn’t take too long if you’re being honest. When a memory comes (even if it isn’t all that clear how it connects with the present) walk through it again. Note the things you were feeling and believing in that memory.

4. Ask God to come and show you the truth in the memory. When we allow a false belief to take root in our souls, we cannot destroy it by outthinking it. We must get external input to help us make a decision. Our one-night-stand woman followed her belief back to a time when her brother bullied her constantly. After one time, he pulled her hair so hard she fell down and chipped a tooth. That night, she got a tennis racket and went into his room while he was sleeping and started to beat on him. All she remembers is that he never bullied her again. From that day on, she vowed she would never allow another person to hurt her without paying them back. As she walked through this memory, she invited God to speak truth. God showed her that revenge is not going to work. He showed her that her brother and her were never really close after that. God pointed out that she traded revenge for reconciliation and she was doing that in her marriage also. She chose to let go of the revenge belief and it helped to put her relationship back together with her husband.

As I worked in counseling with Jenny, I also explained that our inner beliefs do have an effect on our deepest relationships. Her personal belief was all men will hurt her. She lived this out in such a way that it affected the men around her. Don’t get me wrong; the men in her life who had hurt her were completely to blame for their actions. But she also had to come to grips with the reality that her belief made their actions easier. She and I walked through the four steps mentioned above and she heard from God that not all men will hurt her –  and she forgave her dad and the other men for what they had done. Since that time, Lawrence has reported absolutely no recurrence of the inner prompting to hit her. And from that day, her fear of being hurt has vanished.

This can apply to any false belief. Though it won’t change your partner all the time, it will change you; and if you are changed, then that will change the core nature of the relationship.

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False Beliefs that Can Destroy a Marriage

March 11, 2013

This week, we are featuring the top ten most viewed articles on this blog. Today’s reprint is #8 on that list with over 4,000 hits. It is a two-parter. First part I will post this morning and the second part this evening.

Cathy’s husband wiped his oil-stained hands on the rag beside his workbench. As he came into the house, he realized the rag was getting so dirty there wasn’t enough ‘clean’ on it to sustain another wiping. He saw Cathy reading the newspaper and casually remarked “Remind me to wash all the rags in the garage before Monday.” Cathy dropped the newspaper, narrowed her eyes and stared at him. Then she said, with an acidic tone: “I will have you know I worked hard today. I didn’t get around to the garage after cleaning both cars, wiping little kiddie butts and straightening out the mess with the IRS.”

Within 2 hours, Cathy was in the car headed for her parents house, leaving behind a bewildered husband and two preschoolers. Within two years, they were divorced. Her husband had no idea what hit him.

My wife used to work on a hospital ward devoted to people with emotional challenges. One of her regular patients was a young man who used to have code words to identify “unsafe” people. The problem was, no one knew what the code word of the day was until you said it. He would randomly collect the first word that went through his head. If anyone said that word throughout the day, he would refuse to talk to them for the rest of that day. Nurses and doctors were left to wonder what part of their speech had produced the silence. It might be a simple word like “talk” or something more complicated such as “remember”.

Cathy and this young man in the hospital had exactly the same problem. They exhibited this problem to different degrees, but essentially it is the same problem. Cathy and the patient were both operating on a false premise. The young man’s false belief was that a spoken word could identify a dangerous person. We will discuss Cathy’s false belief at the end of this article –  suffice to say, it is just as real as the young schizophrenic.

The false beliefs we gather to ourselves over the years become like tendrils of kudzu that wind their way around every healthy thought, seeking to choke the life out of them. Nowhere does this show its effects more than marriage. Allow me to quickly summarize several of the most common false beliefs and how they affect husbands and wives. At the end, I will use Cathy to show how the false belief infiltrates a person who would otherwise function quite well in society.

Here then are the most common false beliefs that can ruin a marriage:

  1. Independence: This is the belief that we really don’t need anyone else in life. It has a 100 variations, but they all focus on the self-sufficiency of the individual. This belief prevents a spouse from allowing the other person to get close, to interact on a deep level or to partner in marital goals. Those with Independence beliefs often have separate bank accounts, enjoy much different life pursuits than their partners, stop short of really expressing their needs, are constantly making new friends and discarding older ones and run away when they are asked to make deep commitments to their partner.
  2. Abandonment: A person with abandonment beliefs sees many situations as the springboard for their spouse leaving them. These beliefs are often accompanied by fear and result in both over-accommodating behavior and flashes of rage. The person with abandonment premises will constantly ask their spouse to account for their whereabouts. They will express how insecure they feel about the future. When their spouse criticizes them even moderately, they will say things like “well why don’t you just leave. I know you want to”.
  3. Love based on Performance: This belief says “I will not be loved unless I perform adequately”. Those who hold to this foundation often are overly critical of their spouses, seeking to bring down the performance of another person to elevate themselves. They can become workaholics, alcoholics, clean freaks, clingy, anorexic, bulemic, suicidal, or obsessive-compulsive. Their core idea is that must constantly be doing something to earn or deserve the love they receive from their spouse. It doesn’t help to tell them they are loved –  they won’t really believe it.
  4. Love Will Not Be ThereThere is an equally large group of people who just assume they will not be loved no matter how hard they try. Many of them just give up without really trying. These people will often test their partner by failing in really obvious ways in order to see how the other person will react. This belief can even push them into relationships with people they don’t really care about, just to prove they don’t care if they’re not loved. In addition, people with this belief may question their spouses to death, showing a total lack of trust.
  5. Alone: There is a common belief with many people that they are going to be alone. This is similar to the abandonment belief, but it has a nasty twist. They don’t really think a person is going to leave; they are more fatalistic than that. They often fear their spouse will die, or will be swept away in an unavoidable situation. They therefore go through life with few boundaries, allowing their partners to do anything they want to them, fearing the relationship is simply on borrowed time.
  6. Shame: This is a simple belief, but deadly. It is the core understanding a person carries that there is something wrong with them. When they were children, it came out as “I am stupid”, “I am going to be beat up”, “I can’t ever get this right”. In adulthood, this person often allows their spouse to find many things wrong with them, accepting blame when they have done little wrong. Shame beliefs foster such behavior as closet drinking, sexual deviancy, serial adultery, lying, self-mutilation, depression, anxiety disorders and even violence.
  7. Helplessness: These beliefs (and there are many) come from situations in childhood where a person was treated unfairly and given no recourse to bring closure to the issue. This unfair treatment leads a person to conclude they will never get a fair shake, and therefore they need to protect themselves. Helpless beliefs can result in adultery, pornography obsession, eating disorders, obsessive drug use, phobias, prostitution, violence, angry speech, etc. These beliefs often result in the worst of behaviors, since the behaviors are often ways of bringing a sense of “control” back into their lives.
  8. Escape: These beliefs focus on the only way to deal with reality –  run away from it. Every time life gets hard, this inner belief is triggered and the person finds some way to get away from it all. This often cuts the other spouse out of the picture and hurts them deeply. Most people with this belief abuse substances or use sex as an escape. Compulsive masturbation, compulsive gambling and spending are often seen.

There are other beliefs than these, but I have found this list to be the most common. But every person brings their peculiar beliefs into a marriage. When two people come into a marriage relationship with false beliefs, this mixes up a soup of disaster. Let me show you how it worked with Cathy.

She had a belief that no matter how hard she tried, everyone who mattered to her would eventually leave. You would think this sprung from a traumatic childhood experience, but the roots were very simple. Her two older sisters were both hippies and moved out of the house quite young. They had been best buddies to Cathy and now she was the only child left at home. Her mother reacted to her oldest daughters leaving by drinking gin every night until she passed out. Dad dealt with his wife’s inebriation by working 60 hour weeks. Cathy spent most of her days quite alone with her thoughts.

In high school, she made up for this sense of being abandoned by trying to over-compensate. She became hyper-flirtatious and joined every club at school. But because she feared being dumped, she often got clingy with both boy and girls. The result of this clinginess was that people didn’t want to have anything to do with her. Thus, they fulfilled her fear and abandoned her. This just served to reinforce her fear. In order to overcome this, she tried even harder to get people to stay with her. With her girlfriends, she was known as the one who would help out in every way. She spent her own money and bought gifts, helped with homework, staying up half the night sewing cheerleader outfits for her friends. With boys, she basically allowed them to take any sexual liberties they wanted. Yet, despite this extra effort, people still got tired of how hard she was trying and rejected her.

When she married her husband Ben, she really wanted to overcome this. She knew she tried too hard, so she sought to back off and give him breathing space. But her fears kept growing. So often she would get angry and say “Why don’t you just leave? I know you’re going to leave”. Her fear led her to get violent at times, hitting Ben in the head. She sometimes even took out her anger on the little girls.

The day she left, her fear of abandonment had been acute for weeks before. She determined she was going to solve this fear by praying every morning and then serving her husband in love. She had been reading a few books on Christian marriage and she read that if you serve in love it will cast out fear. Now, that is a good principle, but it was no match for her false belief. For a week or more, she tried to anticipate Ben’s every need. But it was exhausting. By the end of the work week, she was an emotional wreck.

When Ben came in and innocently mentioned the grease rag, it echoed against her deeply-ingrained fear. He had one more demand she couldn’t meet. Something inside her snapped and she realized her fear had only been submerged in her cleaning and service. Now, it came rushing out with a fury. Even though Ben had not been criticizing her at all, that is what she heard. False beliefs often affect our hearing, causing us to interpret all communication according to the matrix of the belief. Cathy left and never returned. Her example is repeated millions of times a year, by both men and women.

Examine your own life. Can you see evidence of these sort of beliefs?

There is an answer, and it’s quite straight-forward. More about that in the next article.

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