Helping you find your way to emotional, relational,
and spiritual wholeness.

Forgive and Forget: Are You Kidding Me?

I knew a young man that was out working in his garage and his wife said she was going to McDonalds to buy lunch for them. They said goodbye to one another and the young man worked on and waited. After a while he started to realize his wife should have been back by now. He went in the house and saw a note from his wife explaining she was leaving him. He instantly felt hurt, anger, rejection and betrayal.

Probably most of us have been hurt by another to some degree—maybe not as severe as a spouse leaving us, but none-the-less hurt. As humans we feel a sense of injustice has been done when we are hurt by others. It is natural to want to right the wrong and restore justice. Yet, as Christians we are told by the apostle Paul,

“Dear friends, never avenge yourselves. Leave that to God. For it is written, ‘I will take vengeance; I will repay those who deserve it,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12:19 NLT).

That may seem like a hard command to obey when you feel violated by someone. That statement/command may sound absurd to some of us. Instead of softening the blow of this command he goes on to state,

“Instead, do what the Scriptures say: “If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink, and they will be ashamed of what they have done to you.”  Don’t let evil get the best of you, but conquer evil by doing good” (Romans 12:20-21 NLT).

Are you kidding me!? Not only is Paul telling me I cannot right my wrong, but I am supposed to love my enemy too!? One may think these ideas are ridiculous and even unhealthy. In the past, some psychologist believed that religion—especially Christianity—was the cause of most psychological disorders. Some thought commands like the one to forgive another were nothing but guilt-ridden statements by guilt-promoting religious nuts. Modern psychology is thankfully dropping those ideas. In fact look at an article from the Mayo clinic’s web site regarding the advantages of forgiveness (not holding a grudge).

What are the benefits of forgiving someone?
Letting go of grudges and bitterness can make way for compassion, kindness and peace. Forgiveness can lead to:

  • Healthier relationships
  • Greater spiritual and psychological well-being
  • Less anxiety, stress and hostility
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Fewer symptoms of depression
  • Lower risk of alcohol and substance abuse

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/forgiveness/MH00131

One thing to keep in mind; God gives us commands for our good. His commands are not to make our life more miserable—though at times we may believe they do. That is because we, like a child, don’t see the big picture. We give our children the “house rules” for their safety and because we care about them. Do they see it that way? Not usually. Often we hear, “You’re not fair!” Or “That rule is stupid! When I grow up I will not have any rules in my house!” etc…. That is because they don’t see the bigger picture. So God gives us instructions to forgive one another and not take justice into our own hands and like a child that doesn’t see the big picture we become angry. Legitimate questions arise: But why? Isn’t he a “just” God? Shouldn’t he want justice done? The answer is several-fold. Some of the reason he does not want us to take on the role of judicial punisher (avenger) are thus:

  • We, as humans, do not know the right balance of justice and mercy—only God knows that.
  • Humans do not know the right type of punishment to hand out that would be completely just. The man in the story above may want his wife locked up for 90 days in jail or he may want her to suffer physical pain. Are either of those completely just?
  • What about timing? I may want to inflict justice (revenge) now! In doing so, would I be taking away precious time from the person that harmed me? Time that often gives the person a chance to think about what they’ve done and apologize. Many times—especially in marriages—couples take revenge right away and the other person counter-attacks and this turns into a cycle in the relationship. Many times when a person is left to think—and pray—they start to look at the hurt they’ve caused and seek to make it right.

These are just some of the reasons it is important for us humans to take the law into our own hands so to speak. (of course this is in regard to personal hurts that do not break our civil or criminal laws).
What if forgiveness?

One writer says that , “. . . a simple psychological definition of forgiveness: Forgiveness is the refusal to hurt the one who hurt you” (Richmond, Raymond Lloyd (2010-11-28). Anger and Forgiveness (p. 70). Raymond Lloyd Richmond, Ph.D.. Kindle Edition).  The writer from the Mayo Clinic staff says, “Generally, forgiveness is a decision to let go of resentment and thoughts of revenge” http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/forgiveness/MH00131

Notice that a choice of the will is involved not a FEELING. I can choose not to take revenge even though I am still very hurt and angry with the person that hurt me. Instead of sending the flaming email that berates and rips the person to shreds with my words I may write it then CHOOSE not to push the send button. (Writing it, but not sending is actually therapeutic).

What forgiveness is not:
Forgiveness is not forgetting the incident. It is not pretending I don’t have hurt or anger about the situation. It is not RECONCILIATION. To reconcile is good, but unfortunately it does not always happen, but forgiveness CAN always happen because that is something I (we) are have in our control. Reconciliation involves the person that inflicted the pain being sorry and making changes to not hurt again.  The inflictor may never apologize. That is hard to take, but again, forgiveness can still happen. I can still choose not take revenge.

Why is forgiveness also a psychological preferable choice?
In his book “Anger and Forgiveness” Dr. Richmond explains that the reason forgiveness is “psychologically preferable to holding a grudge” is “because the bitterness of a grudge works like a mental poison that doesn’t hurt anyone but yourself (p. 71). That is so true! How many times have I spent time and energy scheming up ways to hurt a person that hurt me? I used to work with a man that harbored a grudge against his ex-wife for more than 20 years. This took an enormous toll on his spiritual, emotional and psychological well-being. This person was in the hospital with terminal cancer and I went to visit him. He had been looking back on his life and was realizing the cost his unforgiveness had on his family and his life. When the subject of forgiveness came up his countenance changed from reflective to rage. He said he will “NEVER forgive that %$#@$$%%%!” Unfortunately he died holding on to the grudge. He died an angry, bitter and stressful person. The sad thing is his ex-wife was not suffering; he was!

It seems wise to put all the emotional energy into taking steps toward forgiveness because that brings us well-being and stop putting energy into holding grudges—which brings us distress.

There are many resources regarding forgiveness. One place to start—beside the scriptures—is this web site: http://www.thepowerofforgiveness.com/index.html

– Dave Chatel, MA, LLP

www.crossrd.com

New Identity

My wife and I took a trip “up north” to the sunrise side of the state in September. We met some friends up there and enjoyed biking and swimming in Lake Huron (at least two of us braved the cold water). As we drove around the East Tawas—Oscoda area I was thinking about how much I liked growing up there as a boy. I was an “up north” kid—that was my identity. My back yard was 75 feet of sandy beach and my pool was Lake Huron. The summers were filled with playing all day in the sand and lake. The winters were filled with miles of frozen water to skate, slide and explore. Out my front door were acres of woods. You could explore for miles and not see anything but woods and wildlife of all sorts. At age 12 we moved to “the city”—actually a suburb of Detroit, but to a 12-year-old “up north” kid it was a city! I looked around for water and only found a public swimming pool—that you had to pay money to enter! It was filled with kids elbowing and jostling each other. Ice skating? That turned out to be a small, walled oval rink packed with people jammed together and going around and around and around—no miles of ice to myself!. Woods and wildlife consisted of a few trees in the park and some lazy, fat squirrels. I didn’t know who I was—I lost my identity!

As humans the question, “Who am I?” is an important, but often confusing one. I have met a few people in my life that were adopted by parents that abused them. This is not a knock on adopted parents—I believe the majority are very loving. Just like anything in this fallen world there are a few that are not so loving. The question is sometimes asked by the adopted adult child, “Why go through the expense and energy to adopt a child only to abuse them?” I have heard some people in that situation conclude, “It must be because that is all I am worth.” They believe they do not deserve anything but abuse!

These are a few examples of identity crisis. But is there a RIGHT identity that one can build on that leads toward wholeness, fulfillment and meaning? The good news is YES! The gospel (good news) message is that humans that are separated from God due to sin can be forgiven and born (or born again) into God’s family. Paul the apostle says, “For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God. . .” (Romans 8:15-16). This adopted father never calls his children worthless or abuses them! He would not do that because he made us! We are his creation. He tells us we are valuable, loved, thought about, secure, and safe in his care. He sent his son to die so that we, his creation, could have life and relationship with him.

Several years after my transition from “up north” kid to “city kid” I had another identity change. I accepted the gospel message, repented of my sins and received the gift of grace offered to all humans. I was born again into God’s family—adopted! This new family came with a new identity. I didn’t know much about my identity “in Christ” because the knowledge of our identities do not instantly fill our souls at conversion. I have had to learn and grow into my identity “in Christ.” That was almost 40 years ago and I am still learning about my identity “in Christ.” As a believer, a pastor and a counselor I am convinced that the more people learn and grow in their identity “in Christ” the more fulfilling and meaningful life becomes—not problem free of course.

HOW DO WE GROW?

Growing in our new identities “in Christ” means we need to be INTENTIONAL. I am offering 3 ways that can be helpful.

1) We need to approach learning about our identity as we would a treasure hunt. The book of Proverbs gives us a beautiful picture of learning about God (which is learning about our identity)

“My child, listen to me and treasure my instructions. Tune your ears to wisdom, and concentrate on understanding. Cry out for insight and understanding. Search for them as you would for lost money or hidden treasure. Then you will understand what it means to fear the LORD, and you will gain knowledge of God. For the LORD grants wisdom! From his mouth come knowledge and understanding” (Proverbs 2:1-6 NLT).

There are many great resources out there that can help us grow in that area. Below are a few starts:

2) A second resource is the Holy Spirit. We need power to grasp the dimensions of our faith because our finite minds are limited. Paul the apostle shows us how we can have intentional prayers to God the Holy Spirit that will help us.

“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge– that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen” (Ephesians 3:16-21).

3) A third way to grow is fellowship. The early church looked like this: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42).

Going to church on a regular basis, hearing God’s word and fellowship is a great way to grow in our identity “in Christ.” Many churches offer small groups fellowships. Or, you could start a group that focuses on our identity “in Christ.”

I am convinced that growing in one’s identity “in Christ” is one of the most beneficial and important things a person can do to gain well-being. I pray that God will help all of us who struggle with the question, “Who am I?” find peace, contentment, fulfillment, and meaning in the identity God designed for us.

– Dave Chatel, MA, LLP

www.crossrd.com

Why is Change So Hard?

Have you ever made a New Year’s resolution to lose weight, quit smoking or exercise? You have a goal in mind, but for some reason you don’t meet your goal. That is frustrating isn’t it? I have set many well-intentioned goals in my life and often not met them. I have tried the “should” incentive: Tell myself, “I should eat less calories” or “I should start walking every day.” Breaking bad habits or starting good ones is often hard and frustrating. Why is that? All sorts of experts have theories about why people change or don’t change. One of the common reasons for not changing is lack of motivation. There is an old saying, maybe you’ve heard, “until the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of change” a person will not make the hard choices to change. If that is true, now it feels like an even MORE hopeless prospect that I will change to meet my goals! I am LESS motivated to change because now I have to wait until I am completely miserable before I can change.

One noted psychologist, Dr. William Miller, has spent a good deal of his professional career studying and looking for ways to increase motivation for change. He doesn’t agree with the “pain of staying the same…” theory—also known as the “hit bottom” theory. He believes people can find the motivation for change before they “hit bottom”. Miller believes that ambivalence is one reason people don’t change. Miller believes that people often hold two opposing desires at the same time. E.g. “I want to eat healthy, but I love eating unhealthy foods.” Ambivalence is a normal human phenomenon. Don’t we all have ambivalence about many things in our lives? I may love lying in bed, but I also love having the money to pay for the roof over my bed—therefore I force myself up and go to work. Dr. Miller and others have also found that there is another old saying that is more helpful to use for change: “ready, willing and able.” Thus, if a person has enough willingness, readiness and ability they will have the motivation needed to change. If they do not have it at present, the can INCREASE whichever one is lacking. So I may be willing to change my eating habits, but not able or not willing. I need all three at a high level before I take change-action. Let’s explore the three and then look at ways to measure and increase these three—not in the order cited above:

Willing: To be willing asks, “How important is the change to me?” I may or may not know the health benefits of changing eating habits or of quitting smoking. To be willing to change it is vital that I know how important a change is for me. Knowing the importance (reason) for change is good, but IT IS NOT ENOUGH in most cases to elicit motivation. I still need ability and readiness.

Able: How confident am I that I have what it takes to make the necessary changes to meet my goal? i.e. How confident am I that I can change? Is it physically possible? Do I have the resources? Do I have the emotional, psychological and/or spiritual strength? If my answer is “yes” to all those questions, AND I know the importance (willing) I still need one more component before I take action.

Ready: Am I ready to do this? In other words, is making this change a priority right now? If it is, how high of a priority? If it is at the bottom of my priority list, then odds are I am not going to be ready enough to actually take change action. Being ready enough means it is the right time for me to do this. It is a high enough priority that I want to make a plan today.

How do I know if I am ready, willing and able? I may see that change is important and believe I have the ability and even “feel” ready to make change, but is it enough? Do I need a certain amount of readiness or willingness? Those who advocate these ideas believe the answer is “yes.” One does need a high amount of these three before making changes. How can I measure these ingredients? One suggested measurement is the good old 1-10 scale. You can ask yourself—or do this with your counselor if you are in therapy—things like; “How important is this change to me?” [1=not important at all and 10=very important.] Do the scale for ALL THREE. This will help you gauge where you are on all three. If you discover you are a 10 on willingness, 9 on ability and 3 on readiness then you know your strong and weak areas. The score in my example is very positive—I’m already 2/3rds of the way to change!

What can I do to increase my numbers? That is the key isn’t it? But before we look at this we need to go back to what was said earlier about ambivalence. I have to realize that part of me wants to change and part of me DOES NOT. The more I like the status quo the harder it will be for me to want to change. I will “yes, but” myself out of every suggestion to change. You may be familiar with the “yes, but…” scenario. I listen to the reasons to exercise daily then say, “yes that sounds important, but I get up really early in the morning already—I would have to get up even earlier and it is not good to be sleep deprived right?” Due to this ambivalence, it may be helpful for some of us to work through these things with help. Working through motivation and change with a therapist may be the best option for you. For others you can do it on your own.

Ok, let’s talk increasing my ready, willing and ableness. Since this is a blog and not a book, I will offer some examples.

Increasing the amounts:

Willingness: Do research on the subject—become more informed. Having knowledge about the costs and benefits of your change (or no change) is helpful. Talk to experts if you can. Become an expert ON YOURSELF. Why? Because it is important to know what is going on inside you—remember the “yes, but…” due to ambivalence. I may want to find information that only supports the part of me that DOESN’T want change. (if you look hard you can find it)

Able: Here again research is helpful. Find out what others have done or what one needs to do to make the change you are planning. Look at your past history. Have you ever made this change in the past? If so, then you were able one time, maybe you can do it again. Is there help available? Many times I am NOT able to make a change on my own. There are usually support groups etc… for many change goals people set.

Ready: Here you may want to explore the costs and benefits of change. What does not making the change cost me? Make a detailed list of physical, spiritual and emotional costs for staying the same. Make the same list of benefits for staying the same. Then make the same two lists if you DID change. Maybe you need to talk to people in your life to see how they are affected by your not changing. Many times people that are hurt by my bad habits may be trying to tell me (or have tried) how they feel about my behaviors, but I justified it or did something else to tune them out. Really listen (see last two blogs on this site) to them so you feel their impact.

Change is hard, but not impossible! And the final—yet not least important—motivation to change is God working in us! Many of my changes are not just physically or emotionally beneficial, but they may have a direct connection to my relationship with God. In other words my behavior that needs changing is a sinful behavior that hurts my intimacy with my Lord. Whether it is a sinful behavior or just something I want to change I can always ask God for help. Paul tells us in Romans,”. . . the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.  And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will. (Romans 8:26-27)

– Dave Chatel, MA, LLP

www.crossrd.com

Deer Anxiety

I have two questions: One, have you ever had deer in your back yard? My wife and I have a back yard that backs up to woods. We have deer in our back yard on a regular basis. In over 15 years of living there we have never harmed or tried to harm our back yard visitors. (if you are a hunter don’t stop reading, this is not an anti-hunting article). In fact, we make sure there is plenty of seed for them and the other wildlife that grace our property. Yet the deer are always on high alert in our yard. They eat and quickly look up in fear to see what made the little noise they heard. Sometimes the noise is me opening the window or clearing my throat as I watch them. I want to tell them, “don’t be scared–it’s just me! I would never hurt you…in fact the food you are eating is from me!” Though I know if I tried to explain that to them they would start running because of my voice.  I think it would be nice if they could read. I could write them a letter and post it by the bird feeder for all to see. It may say something like:

Dear Deer,

Please be at ease in this yard. The owners of this property are friendly and have no intention of harming you. So, when you see us at the window or coming out our door you can simply tell yourself—EVERY TIME, “It’s just the owners. I have seen them before and I know they are not a cause for alarm—there is no danger when I feel or see them.”

Question two: Have you ever felt anxiety or had panic attacks? Feeling anxiety and/or panic is not a pleasant experience. Those of us who have or do suffer with it know it is a terrible feeling.  Some physical symptoms can be shortness of breath, chest pains, nausea, stomach pains, fainting sensation, jittery nerves or a feeling like your skin is crawling. Emotionally one may feel scared, confused, frustrated or maybe angry. Spiritually some feel they are not trusting God who tells us in scripture, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God (NIV Philippians 4:6).

Anxiety is the body being on high alert—like the deer in our yard–usually for no reason. In other words there is no real danger, but our bodies are acting like there is danger! Research has shown anxiety symptoms can be relieved by changing our thinking! Yes, there are medications and they can be helpful—and often needed. Medications don’t change one’s thinking and that is what is KEY to relieving anxiety. Many times anxiety leads to panic because a person believes the symptoms are dangerous. People may tell themselves, “I’m having a heart attack” or “I’m going to pass out” etc… Or a person may keep asking, “What is wrong with me? Something must be terribly wrong!” There are many good books about how to relieve anxiety. There are DVD’s and all kinds of resources out there to help bring relief and in some cases complete extinction of symptoms available. As a therapist I recommend them to people. What often happens is people learn that anxiety is the body reacting to some thought (maybe even subconsciously) that says “danger.” That is why calming the body down through relaxation and breathing is vital to anxiety relief. A third and crucial component is consistent, repetitive self-talk. If our mind is racing with thoughts about our anxiety symptoms we need to tell it, “it’s ok, it is JUST ANXIETY!” I say “just” not to imply that anxiety is not uncomfortable, scary, annoying and downright debilitating. It is those things for some of us and more! If you have been medically cleared by your doctor—so you know you don’t have heart, lung or gastrointestinal problems—it is just anxiety. It is NOT a real danger. So maybe writing a letter to your anxiety and posting it someplace you will see it and can read it often is a good tool to use to remind your brain of the facts. You might write yourself a letter that says something like:

Dear Self (or Dear anxious self),

Please be at ease. The feelings you are having—though disturbing—are NOT dangerous. You know this because your doctor has checked you out and found nothing wrong with you—you have been given a clean bill of health. Therefore these feelings are here because your brain is telling your body something bad is about to happen or is happening. That is NOT true, these are just thoughts and thoughts do not have power to go outside your head and cause disasters, or hurt a loved one or leave you broke and homeless. Circumstances in life may do those things, but thoughts are only mental activities. I am labeling these symptoms the same way I label hiccups or hear burn or any other known thing that happens in my body. I know what it is: anxiety brought on by a mental activity. I know there are things to do to relieve these symptoms: breathing, relaxation, distracting activities and reasonable self-talk.”

I realize there is a wide range of severity of symptoms and anxiety disorders. If you are on the high range of intensity or have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder you should seek professional help. A good team of people can help you work through this. If you are on the milder end you may want to try the letter to self —and other techniques to calm/relax your body.

– Dave Chatel, MA, LLP

www.crossrd.com

How to Be a Good-Bad Cop

You remember “good cop / bad cop”?  That’s where one policeman appears aggressive, mean and dangerous while the “good cop” gently allies himself with the person being dealt with. This allows the person to feel reassured and protected, and so be inclined to open up and spill the beans.

Some parents get stuck on being Good Cop. They want their children’s trust and good will, so they tend to appease their kids away from possible conflict and avoid setting limits or exercising authority. They may be acting out of loving generosity, but it can also be based on the parent’s desire to avoid unpleasantness.

Unfortunately, this approach doesn’t usually have the effect they’re hoping for. A child’s developmental level equips her for “give her an inch and she’ll take a mile.” Instead of developing self-control, courtesy, and the ability to work cheerfully and with good will; a child deprived of training often yields a self-centered kid at the mercy of his own emotions and desires.

However, there is good news for peace-loving parents. “Bad Cop” does not have to equal “Mean Cop”.

Children need you to set limits. And to be effective, parents need to be convinced that setting those limits is reasonable and in the best interest of their son or daughter. A parent who feels sheepish about “imposing their preferences” on their child isn’t the consistent rock their child wants and needs to depend on.

Here are some things a Bad Cop mom or dad might say:

    • “I’m setting the timer for 10 minutes. When it goes off, it will be time for you to go to bed. No, not later . . . 10 minutes.”

 

    • “Please don’t whine. What other way could you ask for that? No? Then I’m sorry, but I can’t help you.”

 

    • “We told you not to use the DVD player without checking with us first. No TV tonight.”

 

    • “What you said to Mrs. Purplemartin in the other room was rude. Go tell her you’re sorry.”

 

    • “I know you really want to go to Aloysius’ birthday party, but we’re visiting Grandma that day. Would you like to make a card and bring it over to him?”

 

  • “Absolutely no hitting! None! Come over here now please.”

What good cop / bad cop dilemmas have you faced? How did you handle them?

-Roz Dieterich, LMSW

Is My Yada Valid?

“Yada yada yada!” Every heard that before—beside on a Seinfeld episode? That is a frustrating statement to hear because it sends a message: “My concerns are not important or valid.” Couples researcher Dr. John Gottman found a big problem in communication observing couples. A cycle where each person keeps saying something over and over trying to get the other to hear them. (A Couples Guide to Communication.) One person makes a statement and the other responds in a way that sends a message that they did not hear/understand what they said. One person is trying to state a thought, concern or feeling to the other; and the response back is—yada yada yada. In other words, your statements are not valid! “Yada”= Your statements do not make sense to me, they “shouldn’t” be that, they are wrong!” (invalid)  What does invalidated person do? They continue to restate or summarize their concern over and over in different ways to try to get their concern validated. When two people are both doing this communication becomes frustrating and often results in an argument. How can couples stop this syndrome from happening?

What is validation? In a word, validation is seeing things from the standpoint of the other person. It is living out the old adage “walk a mile in their shoes.” It is saying that for THIS PERSON, given their set of circumstances, it is reasonable and true that they are feeling the way they are (or are concerned about whatever they are concerned about). Validating IS NOT agreeing with the person. I don’t have to agree, like it, or even understand it. It IS saying that it is possible that the other person’s viewpoint or feeling is real FOR THEM. Validation can end the cycle of each person restating their point—then defending it—over and over.

How can I validate my partner? One way to think about validating in a conversation is to think of changing roles. In conversations people usually have the same role. Both are speaker/listeners. To facilitate validation the couple each take a different role. One is teacher and the other student (don’t worry you can switch off later).  For validation to happen one person (or both) has to STOP restating his/her point (or feelings) and become the student. The student wants to learn from the teacher.

A little aside: I realize that these roles may seem degrading. Couples don’t want to think of your spouse as a teacher scolding or correcting you.  From a Christian worldview these roles can be positive instead of negative. Christians are called to serve one another. Jesus was called “teacher” or “master” by his disciples. In John’s gospel we find Jesus—the teacher—washing his student’s—disciples–feet. After he cleaned their muddy feet he said,

“Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.  I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them” (John 13:14-17 NIV84)

Many times in conversation with my spouse I want to be right or I want to convince my spouse that they I am right and they are wrong. I want to come out a winner! It is humbling to put aside my agenda and take on the role of a student. Yet Jesus said if we do these things we will be “blessed.” The blessing of validation is experiencing communication and love at a greater level.

Ok, back to the nuts and bolts of validating. The teacher—the other person—tells the student what they are trying to say—or how they feel. The student’s job is to listen intently because he/she wants to pass the test! The student wants to get it right. The student feeds back what they learned from the teacher. The teacher then can affirm or correct the student.  The student then makes corrections and asks if the correction is right. This process continues until what the teacher is saying matches what the student is hearing. This usually ends with some form of “yes! That is exactly how I feel” or “That is exactly what I am saying.”  I love it when I see couples who had been caught in the cycle of restatement practice validation for the first time. The whole atmosphere changes! The folded arms drop and the angry postures start to melt. When you have been screaming for days, months or years in your marriage for your spouse to “hear” you (meaning validate you) and they finally do – it is incredibly healing.

Validation is not the solution to all communication problems or problems in general. Sometimes couples will practice validation and love the “blessing” they get from it, but then realize they still have unresolved issues. Validation is NOT problem solving—that is a different skill for another blog. Validation can facilitate the environment needed for problem solving to happen. My “yada” IS valid and so is yours. I may not like your “yada”, I may not understand it, and certainly may not agree with it, but it is, after all, YOUR “yada.”

– Dave Chatel, MA, LLP

Fire Drill Procedures and Anger-Coping Skills

Police are called to a home for domestic violence. The police arrive to find a couple screaming and threatening each other. Things are broken in the home because they were throwing household objects at each other. Often people come into counseling and describe a story like the one just told. As I therapist I often wonder, “How did it get to this degree of aggression?” When the spark that ignited the fight is discovered it is often a relatively small problem or it is some comment that was misconstrued. Why do small, often solvable conflicts, turn from a lit match to a huge, and blazing house fire? How can these violent eruptions of burning anger and rage be prevented?

Remember the fire drills when you were in school? We were given instructions to drop what we were doing, get in an organized line and follow the teacher outside. We weren’t supposed to talk to one another—though we rarely obeyed that one. Then, after we were given instructions and walked through them, we would wait. Wait for some time during the day when the fire alarm would go off and we would DROP WHAT WE WERE DOING and follow procedures. Whatever current project or discussion that was going on before the alarm had to STOP. You put down books, scissors, crayons or whatever you were engaged in and started to follow the drill procedures.

When a conflict arises—the fire is sparked—and people start becoming upset what often happens is they feed it with gasoline. They open the windows and give the fire oxygen! When anger is “sparked” or triggered the most important thing that needs to happen is getting the fire out RIGHT AWAY. Think of anger triggers (“sparks”) as a fire alarm. You STOP what you are doing and start calming procedures. The sooner calming starts the chance of escalation is greatly reduced. When people escalate to rage, they stop thinking rationally. There are loads of long medical terms that are used to describe the physiology of the brain when angry that could be used here, but how about this: just think about the times when you or someone you knew became enraged. Then ask: “How well were my problem-solving skills working during the rage?” “How well was I able to edit the content of my speech so I was not just blurting out whatever came to mind?” We have all seen ourselves or others have a temper tantrum and knew it was anything but a calm, well-thought-out and rational event.

What is the solution to avoid the rage fire? Conflicts often escalate because one or both parties are trying to prove a point and/or win the fight. This creates an “I-just-need-to-say-this-one-thing” situation that continues on and on. My suggestion to people is to get training in anger management by a counselor or find good resource materials online or at a book store—there is plenty out there! These resources help you to:
• Identify your anger triggers
• Learn how your body feels when you are starting to get angry
• Find things to do to calm your body down (breathing, relaxation etc…)
• Know when to walk away
• Discover calming activities that work for you specifically
• How to terminate a conflict before it erupts (WAY before)

Learning these techniques are great, but they are MEANINGLESS if not practiced. As a therapist I often teach people these coping measures only to have them come back and say they had a big fight with someone. I will ask, “Did you try the coping skills?” Many times people will say, “Oh they didn’t work.” I will ask why and they are not sure. Or they may say, “I tried to calm down, but …..” When I investigate the event it USUALLY turns out to be that the person waited too long after the fire alarm went off in their body. The angrier a person gets the harder it is to calm down. I often say to people, “When your house catches on fire you don’t keep baking cookies do you?” The only thing important when the house is on fire is getting to safety and getting the fire PUT OUT. When our body fire alarm signals it is time to say, “I’ve just been triggered. I can feel myself getting angry. I need to start calming procedures.” Then GO DO THEM! The key is doing the procedures right way and avoid the “just one more thing” scenario.

– Dave Chatel, MA, LLP

What Does a Good Marriage Look Like?

A client of mine was considering whether or not to continue in a long-term relationship that had some problems. I suggested that she think a bit about what would be the elements of a truly great marriage; then we could talk about what it would take for her and this man to develop such a relationship.

She startled me with her response. With a puzzled look, she said, “I have no idea what a good marriage would look like.”

I shouldn’t have been so surprised. In each generation, the number of children raised by two parents — let alone parents in a unified marriage — has been decreasing. When my daughter went away to a solid Christian college, most of her dorm friends were envious that she had two parents who were still married to one another, and happily to boot. More and more young people are growing up in a divorce-crumbled home.

Those whose parents have had a pretty solid relationship can observe and learn from them. Even beyond that,  they can develop good gut instincts about whether a prospective spouse will be a good fit for them and able to be a good help-mate. But the young man or woman who hasn’t ever lived with a culture of mutual love, respect, and responsibility can be adrift with no idea that it’s possible to avoid replicating their family pattern.

So, I took the question of “What Makes a Great Marriage?” — to that impressive authority, My Friends On Facebook. I received plenty of good suggestions, including:

  • Mutual respect. That name-calling thing is a no-no. Words can be apologized for, but are rarely forgotten.
  • -Roz Dieterich, LMSW

  • Make it a point to learn what makes your spouse feel loved. Then do those things. Let your spouse know explicitly what helps you feel loved.
  • Offer one another unconditional regard.
  • Make a commitment to work things through. Don’t keep an unspoken “Plan B” in the background of your mind. Decide together that divorce will not be an option.
  • You can only change yourself. Don’t get in a long-term committed relationship with someone who has current behaviors (or indications of future behavior) that are unacceptable to you.
  • Get good solid counseling together before you commit. It will help you start out with a good foundation to build on.
  • Consider how, as a couple, you recover from a serious disagreement. Can you lay down your own agenda to offer and receive forgiveness? Or do you just let it simmer down and then go on without settling the issue, which can lead to problems later?

To this, I can add the following:  Talk to one another, out loud and not in the middle of a video, about what you want your marriage to be like. How interdependent do you think a marriage should be? Are you ready to let go of your own preferences sometimes for the sake of the relationship? What about rearing children – how did it go in your family and how do you feel about doing it the same way? Do you share common spiritual beliefs and their level of  importance? Read some books on marriage and talk about what seems to be common to most good relationships.

You would do your homework if you were going to buy a car, build a house, or go on a long vacation. The stakes are much bigger here. Don’t let wishful thinking cloud your vision. A marriage, at its best, is an absolutely wonderful thing. Don’t settle for less.

The Problem with Unchallenged Assumptions

“You didn’t call the car repair shop because you don’t care—it’s not your car!” Sound
familiar? In relationships—especially marriages—people assume a certain action has
a motive behind it. Usually that is true. But if one person in a relationship believes
the other has a meaning to harm them problems ensue and accusations fly back and
forth. “I care about your car—you don’t care about how busy I get at work! You think I
have all day to make phone calls! What have you done today?”

If you have been in conversations like this you can imagine where they go from here.
The often escalate to yelling, screaming, accusations, hurtful words, threats and/or
silence. What if the assumption that the person did not make the call to the repair shop
was NOT that they didn’t care? What if it was that they cared so much that they became overwhelmed with finding the right shop and ran out of time before finding one? What if they did not call because they forgot? What if they did not call because they spoke to a friend that told them the problem may be fixed at home in the garage? Because it was presented as an accusation the real reason may never get presented—or if it is it is not believed! When people start to make assumptions about motive and then act as if it were true all kinds of needless problems can ensue.

Some couples get in to cycles of blame, pain and hurt because they believe the other’s
motive is always “you don’t care” or some other negative motive. At the bottom of
relationship problems is often an underline assumption that “my partner does not love
me.” When I counsel couples I see the “you don’t care” assumption in the relationship
acting as a virus that attacks the senses. Couples don’t see the evidence that their
spouse does care. The do not hear the words that reflect love and caring when spoken. They don’t feel warm, loving feelings anymore because they believe the person they are supposed to be intimate with does not care!

One of the things a counselor can do is challenge these assumptions and expose the
truth. The truth is usually that the other person DOES care, but past hurtful behaviors
have led them to believe otherwise. Once the truth gets established in a counseling
session it forces the couples to find a NEW ANSWER. If my spouse did not call to get
my car repaired and I BELIEVE they have no motive to harm—that they care—I am
going to respond differently. The conversation might go like this: “How come you didn’t
call the car repair shop?” Notice it is now a question NOT an accusation. It is a question because the NEW assumption is “I don’t know!” I do not know why my partner did not call. I DO know it isn’t because they do not care because I have already established that assumption is false. So I am left with not knowing why and I need to find out. The other person is now getting asked a question and may not be defensive. They may say, “oh no! I totally forgot to call…I am really sorry! I will call first thing in the morning.” Now they are in a place to move on to the next topic. The first scenario (the accusation) may have turned to one person driving off and sleeping in a hotel room for the night—after a huge heated blow up.

The bottom line is this: always challenge assumptions if you are not sure. My feelings,
my evidence from the past, my thoughts may tell me my partner just does not care and
even enjoys hurting me. Even with all that it is always best to challenge an assumption
before acting on it. I MAY BE WRONG. You may need a third party—like a counselor—
to help discover the truth about your assumptions. Learning to do this in therapy is a
skill that you can learn and implement outside therapy. It has extreme benefits not just
in all relationships, but also in dealing with other disorders such as panic attacks and
anxiety.

– Dave Chatel, MA, LLP

Making Friends With the Apology

Second in a series on good couple communication. The first installment can be found here.

No, I don’t mean “Go around apologizing a lot so people will like you.” I mean, “Stop being afraid of apologizing and learn to do it well.”

It’s certain that, from time to time, you are going to do or say something insensitive, false, offensive, or injurious to your spouse. Of course, it’s important to try to be kind, truthful and supportive in everything you say and do, but if you’re always successful, you may skip the rest of this post. The rest of us screw up from time to time.

Let’s say you have just offended your husband or wife. Your first impulse when confronted may be to try to defend and explain. Please bite your tongue long enough to consider this: no matter whether or not you were technically right, the biggest problem now is the rupture in your relationship. A discussion about whose point of view is supported by the most evidence, or whether your emotions justified your actions, will make the conversation more heated and much, much longer.

What should you do instead?

  • Ask questions in order to understand your spouse’s perspective. No matter what you were trying to accomplish, you need to learn how it was heard and received.
  • Pick your time and place. The moment when your spouse is trying to diaper a colicky baby is probably not a good time. Find some quiet and calm if possible. And another note on timing: If you are trying to insert your apology as quickly as possible so your spouse will stop talking about how hurt they were, see that for what it is — a desire to manage your own discomfort. He or she may need to be heard for a while.
  • Take appropriate responsibility. An apology with an excuse is no apology. If you did something, say so. If you were wrong or insensitive, say so. Flat out. (If you are considering apologizing for something that was <i>not</i> wrong or that you didn’t do, you may be in the habit of apologizing simply to keep the peace in a stressful environment. These tips are not for you. Please consider consulting someone wise if this is a pattern in your life.)
  • Apologize for the action, not its effect. “I’m sorry you found that offensive” is akin to saying “I’m sorry you’re so oversensitive, but I’ll be my patient self until you fix that.” Do. Not. Go. Down. That. Road.
  • Ask for forgiveness. Some couples find asking for and granting forgiveness a bit artificial and forced. But many who do make it a part of their interactions with one another find that it can build their bond with one another. Asking forgiveness is a gift — you request but don’t demand the restoration of good will. Offering forgiveness is mercy — you agree to be fully reconciled, leaving the wrongdoing in the past.

– Roz Dieterich, LMSW

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