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

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

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

Are You Having the Same Conversation I’m Having?

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This is the first in a series of posts on couples’ communication. Good communication is the heart’s blood of a marriage. It not only enables the harmony and unity that all couples strive for, it can be a source of real joy and satisfaction to be able to work out significant issues together and find yourselves brought closer together through the process.

It will come as no surprise to any married person that misunderstandings, tension, and disagreement can crop up in married life. One tough situation is when we set out to talk about something, and find the dialog itself becomes a source of strain. Sometimes, in that situation, one of the problems can be confusion about what kind of conversation we’re actually having. Perhaps one spouse wants to reach a solution to a practical problem, while the other is eager to have a relationship-oriented conversation, such as coming to greater understanding about one another’s feelings about the issue. We can imagine what a perplexing exchange might result:

“I think it makes sense to stop for the night after about six hours of driving.”
“I’m not even sure I can handle seven straight days with your sisters.”
“Or would you prefer to go most of the way the first day so the second is easier?”
“Easier? Since when are you considering what’s easier? It always has to be your way. Why don’t you consider my feelings for a change?”

And onward it goes.

At times like this, it might help to take a timeout and decide which discussion is the best one to have at that point. Should it be planning the details of travel or sorting through the concerns about a week with the in-laws. So take a minute to have that timeout – we’ll wait until you’re ready. And don’t worry; you’ll have a chance to circle back to talk about the other issues later.

Use the right tools for the job
If you’re addressing the practical issue first, then there are particular tools that can help. These may include:

  • Assume good will on the part of your spouse.
  • Share your perspective on the problem and listen to gain an understanding of what the important elements are to your spouse and why they’re important.
  • Stick to the topic at hand.
  • Speak clearly and on your own behalf, not assuming anything about the attitudes or feelings of people who aren’t you.
  • Check to be sure the other person actually heard what you meant to communicate.
  • Explore alternatives you may not have thought of before that could address concerns and still offer as many mutual “wins” as possible.

The way to go about having an effective relationship-building conversation is a little different:

  • Again, assume good will on the part of your spouse.
  • Seek to understand your spouse at a deeper level, listening appreciatively rather than discarding thoughts or feelings as unnecessary or invalid.
  • Affirm love and commitment.
  • Be willing to be authentic about yourself.
  • Don’t try to fix the other person’s issues. Instead, try responses like, “I can see how you could see it that way,” or “What would be helpful or supportive from me?”

Don’t neglect the other part of the conversation

Don’t walk away after settling the issue you care most about. It’s an important part of respecting your spouse to take seriously the conversation they wanted to have. You don’t necessarily have to embark on it right away, but be committed to loving your partner by taking seriously what they take seriously. So be sure to make plans together to follow through with whichever topic you set aside at the beginning.

Check in at the end

A good way to end is to ask “Are we really done?” If there are still unclear or tense issues, either make quick work of them if that’s possible, or jointly acknowledge that they’re there and will need attention in the future.

Remember, marriage is a team project. You’re together in this. The rewards of working hard together are immense. And enjoyable.

– Roz Dieterich, LMSW

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