Why Good Relationships Are Good for You

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Somehow we have been sold a “bill of goods” that relationships should be natural, always fun and make our life easier. We have been conditioned by watching artificial relationships on TV and Movies that depict intense love and an idealistic romantic experiences that set unrealistic expectations we can never meet. Please don’t get me wrong – I believe that relationships are the most rewarding and deeply satisfying experience a human is capable of having. But a rich and rewarding relationship is NEVER easy. That is because it requires each party to be willing to set aside their own preoccupation with comfort and convenience and think what is best for the other person. Good relationships do not thrive in an atmosphere of personal self-interest and individualism.

There was a time in my life when I was single for seven years. Was I lonely? Occasionally. But mostly I was content because I could eat what I wanted, go where I wanted and pretty much lived my life without having to think of anyone else’s feelings, desires, wants or needs. It was not that I was isolated, I still had friends, but I always knew that when I was done visiting my friends I could go home and live exactly the way I wanted to. I owed no one an explanation for my tastes or preferences.

What I didn’t realize is that I also was stunting my growth as a person. “Why?” you ask, “it sounds pretty much like you had an ideal life”

Yes, it was ideal if I wanted to become an emotional and relational pygmy but if I wanted to expand beyond my own boundaries and effect change in my life then I was greatly limited. Let me explain by identifying the fundamental character qualities that make for truly great individuals.

Love

Love: How do you grow in love? I don’t mean the romantic, touchy-feely kind of love that is depicted in our media. (Though there is definitely a place for that) I mean the kind of love that seeks the best for another no matter what the cost is to us personally. This kind of love does not grow in the soft, fertile soil of the lazy valleys but in the lofty mountain peaks that take exertion to reach. Love grows where it is hard to love and sacrifice is needed. True love blossoms in the light of self-sacrifice and a willingness to take the higher, steeper road of self-denial. Love means that I place you before me and seek your best even if at a high cost. This character quality cannot be found in isolation but requires intimate relationships. In my seven years of being alone, my heart was growing cold because I was not challenged to love like this and I knew it.

Forgiveness

Forgiveness: Now we have all experienced times when we have been hurt, lied to, and treated unjustly. But nowhere is this experienced more than in intimate relationships. I often say that relationships are the place where we are most wounded and relationships are the place where we are most healed. Becoming a person who can forgive means that we must go where we can be hurt. The deeper and more intimate the relationship the more vulnerable we are to being wounded. I found that I was becoming a person who was neither hurting others nor was I being hurt and therefore my growth in this area was being restricted. No one needed to forgive me and I was not required to forgive anyone else.

Kindness

Kindness: Where do we most grow in kindness? Well, ask yourself where is it hardest to be kind? That’s easy, when we are faced with someone who is repulsive. I don’t mean that we should go out and find the most abhorrent person available and marry them. What I am saying is that in every intimate relationship there will come a time when something is said or done that is deeply offensive and intensely painful. How are we to respond? If we want to grow in this beautiful character quality then we will choose kindness. Kindness flourishes in the presence of transgressions just as light is more brilliant in the presence of darkness. Want to learn to be kind? Find yourself another human to love and kindness in you will be refined as through fire.

Peace

Peace: Here again someone might say, “James, when you lived alone you had ultimate peace, right?” To this, I say it depends on what kind of peace you are asking about. If you are speaking of peace as an absence of conflict then you would be right. Isolation offers a certain kind of peace that is beautiful but unsustainable unless we choose to live a hermit existence. If you are speaking of the kind of peace that is present in conflict then you would be greatly mistaken. The kind of peace that really matters is the internal peace that can bring calm to your soul even in the most stressful situations. This is the peace that Jesus spoke of:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
— John 14:27 NIV

This kind of peace is more powerful than hate and overcomes conflict. In order to have this kind of peace, you must be exposed to places where personalities clash and dreams are in conflict. This means being in relationships. It was too easy for me to just walk away from people who bugged me or those with whom I disagreed. But when you are in a committed relationship that is not possible so this deeper type of peace is essential.

Patience

Patience: We develop patience in places where we are tempted to be impatient? A muscle will never grow strong unless it is tested and patience will never grow unless we have opportunities where our expectations are not met and our plans are thwarted. Do I really need to explain how being in a relationship leads to times of growth in this area? Relationship thy name is patience!

This is the bottom line. If I wanted to be a better man I must commit to being in a relationship that demanded I be a better man. I know, it is possible to be in a relationship and still not develop these qualities. I witness it all the time in my profession as a Marriage Counselor. But that attitude can’t continue if they want to find a more satisfying marriage. At some point, they need to realize that the person they are married to is not there to thwart their dreams and make their life miserable but rather they are an instrument of personal transformation so that they can become a better version of themselves.

I love the movie “As Good as it Gets” Starring Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt. Jack plays the part of a neurotic, OCD, paranoid, anxiety-filled man (yes, this is therapist candy) who falls in love with a beautiful, kind and normal woman. In this scene, he has just said something hurtful to her (again!) and she has made a demand, “compliment me or I am leaving”. So this is what he said.

And so it is with me and one of the main reasons I reached out and opened my heart to marriage. I knew that I needed Cheri to become a man who truly loved, who was learning to be kind, who could find peace in the presence of conflict and learn what it meant to forgive and let go. I’ve got to say that she needs to do a better job at making me do all these things because it’s way too easy to be with her. But even so, I’m sure God knew that I needed someone as truly good and kind as she because I’m a pretty slow learner.

How about you? Do you see your relationships as opportunities for personal growth? Or are you longing for times when you can go into isolation? Nothing good grows in the darkness (unless you are fond of bacteria) so get out into the light and realize that relationships are the school where your character is developed.

As always, if we can be of service to you or you have any questions or comments, don’t hesitate to reach out to us!

Do You Dreeam of A Better Relationship?

Key Steps to Help Make Your Dreams Come True

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Many couples come to me with a belief that if they can just get their mate to change then their marriage problems will be solved. Oh, I know they will rarely come out and say that, they usually couch that belief in phrases like; “I know that I’m part of the problem but he …” or “I’m not perfect but she …”

It seems to be a human trait to make someone or something the “reason” for our not being happy. We immediately look outside ourselves to find the source for our misery. As a result, we may change our circumstance but we rarely achieve our objective.

Am I saying that our environment does not affect us? No. We can greatly benefit by creating healthy environments but our internal beliefs will always be a more powerful influence on us than our external situations. In fact, we will invariably mold our external world to conform to our internal reality. We then point to what we have created as the cause of our problem. This is a bit like digging a deep pit, jumping in, and then cursing the pit.

This attitude is demonstrated by words such as, always, never, can’t won’t and other self-limiting declarations.

“He will always …”

“She will never …”

“We can’t …”

“This won’t …”

When I hear these statements I ask a question (in my most understanding tone of voice), “Are you omniscient?” In which (if they understand the term) they reply

“No?”

So I press on with my questions.

“So you can’t see into the future, right?”

No” they respond in their confusion.

So why are you so willing to shut out the possibility that something good can happen in this case”

As long as we make certain negative outcomes our reality, we will refuse to see anything that may remotely contradict them or any possibility that change can occur. This negative filter will block what does not conform to our belief and so we create a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The opposite is also is true. If we tenaciously hold on to a positive belief then we are almost certain to see it come true.

In 1962 President John F. Kennedy said, “we choose to go to the moon”.

It was a fanciful idea at the time. We had neither the technology nor the experience to accomplish such an ambitious goal. Those who were sitting in the audience, who would be tasked with fulfilling this declaration, must have experienced a range of emotions from exhilaration to terror as they assessed the challenge of fulfilling this “dream”. To date, the sum of their accomplishments was to put a single astronaut into an orbit three times around the earth. But the seed was planted, the commander and chief gave an order. Send Americans to land on the moon and successfully return and do this within eight years.

Some say I must see then I will believe, I say believe and only then will you see

“Okay, James thanks for the history lesson, but how does this apply to my life and my relationships?”

This is how.

If you are ever to have something better than you have now, if you are ever going to achieve a life that is beyond what you are currently experiencing you must make that dream a reality in your head and heart before it will become one in your experience.

We are who we believe we are
— C.S.Lewis

When it comes to our own identity and our relationships this means you must hold out hope that it can be better before it ever will become better. Experiencing an intimate, loving, mutually nurturing relationship is absolutely dependent on whether you believe it is possible. If you don’t believe it is possible then you will simply reproduce the same failures and experience the same results.

It starts with creating the dream just like President Kennedy did for those men and women of NASA. You can recruit an army of resources that will begin working for you but first, you must be open to the new possibility that something beautiful and extraordinary can happen.

Self-limiting beliefs are like cancer of the spirit, if left untreated they metastasize and kill. What they kill is our dreams, ambition, hope, love, and faith. They camouflage themselves as being “reality” or “rational thinking” but when you strip away the mask they are lies fueled by fear. We fear loss, failure, being exposed as a phony, or the loss of being able to justifying our own misery. We also fear losing the dysfunctional comfort we derive from not challenging our self-limiting beliefs because it would require painful self-examination and necessitate difficult fundamental life-change. For some, this is too much and so we slip into our tepid pool of dissatisfaction and entertain ourselves with all manner of toys. But for a few, the passion for a higher calling lies deep within their soul and will not be satisfied with a mundane and feckless life. For these, the calling is to the road less traveled, the mountains beyond the furthest peak.

If that is you then obey this internal calling and begin shedding all that would hinder your upward climb. For the air is sweet at the top and few are those who are willing to experience it. Are you?

Here are some beginning steps:

  • Make a list of all the limiting beliefs that you can bring to mind. This may take a while for they are often so much a part of us that we can’t extract them from our souls. Focus on your true dreams, not merely what you want but who you want to be. This is where you will find your most powerful self-limiting beliefs.

  • Begin to create a list of affirmations that will produce “cogitative dissonance”. I have attached a worksheet on how to create Smart Affirmations that will help you.

  • Reach out to friends, relatives and/or counselors to help you. Ask them what they see and be open to their perspective.

  • If you are spiritual then ask God to reveal areas of your life that are hidden to you. This is a verse that has been very meaningful to me over the years.

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
— Psalm 139:23,24 NIV

If we can ever be of help to you please don’t hesitate to reach out to us.

When Sorry Doesn’t Cut It!

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In my work, I witness the terrible consequences of weak and under-preformed apologies. This phrase is an example I often hear in my sessions:

I said I was sorry, what more can I do?

In essence what the offender is doing is minimizing the pain they inflicted upon another person by not taking full responsibility for their own actions. This leaves the offended party feeling like they don’t matter and their pain is not real. It also builds a wall of suspicion and mistrust through which they interpret all future actions. In other words, they are thinking; if they did it once and they didn’t seem to care what’s stopping them from doing it again?

This is why it is critical that old wounds be healed so that trust can eventually be restored and the relationship repaired.

Before I get into the details about developing a true language of apology I need to say something about forgiveness.

  • Forgiveness is always a choice. It may not “feel” like a choice but it is.  
  • Forgiveness is unilateral. One does not need an apology to forgive. (but it helps)
  • Forgiveness always benefits the forgiver more than the forgiven. I have seen people who choose not to forgive turn bitter and cold.
  • Forgiveness is the only true path toward reconciliation. Unforgiveness is cancer in a relationship it will always end up in death.

No matter how pitiful or beautiful the apology the one who has been hurt can decide not to forgive. This is tragic because unforgiveness grows into resentment and resentment always damages the one who has it.

Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die
— Saint Augustine

So check your heart. If you have not forgiven someone then you are in danger of hurting yourself and that is very sad.

Learning the language of apology is about trying to create the best possible environment for healing a relational wound. Relationship wounds are similar to physical wounds, most physical wounds will heal over time but when they are cleaned, bandaged and tenderly cared for they heal much, much faster. And so it is with relational wounds when there is a true, honest and sincere apology the relationship heals faster.


Here are the five steps to making a good apology

Step One: Prepare Your Heart

True apologies come from a humble heart. The Bible says it like this.

God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.
— James 4:6

God is not the only one who opposes the proud. It is extremely hard to feel close to someone who is proud, much less forgive them. In fact, pride is toxic to a healthy relationship. Check your heart before you ask for forgiveness. Are you willing to humble yourself enough to admit your wrongs?  This does not mean that you were “totally” wrong. However, it does mean that you can admit to the part you had without blaming or excuses. It also means that you are not asking for forgiveness with the hope that the other person steps forward with an apology of their own. This may or may not happen, you have no control over that. What you do control is your own actions and taking responsibility for them.

Never ruin a good apology with an excuse
— Benjamin Franklin

Step two: Ask for permission to apologize.

The best time to apologize is when they are in a frame of mind to listen to your apology. That is not always immediately after you have hurt them. In fact, if you jump into an apology right away you need to ask; “Am I apologizing because I am truly sorry that I hurt them or am I apologizing because I don’t want to experience the consequences of my actions?” Ask for permission to apologize and wait until it is granted. In the meantime, act in a way that is consistent with your sincere desire to apologize. (i.e. don’t get bitter, passive-aggressive, distant or resentful.

Here’s something that you may say: “I would like to apologize for how I hurt you, is now a good time to talk?”


Step Three: State clearly what you did wrong and how you hurt them

This is the “meat” of the apology because it touches on the emotional damage that was caused by the offense. Often the offender doesn’t truly grasp the depths of the pain the other person experienced and therefore offers an apology that seems feeble and insincere. It is vital that the offender really understand the pain that was inflicted and just as vital that the one who was hurt feels like the offender empathizes with their pain. This means that the offended party needs to feel free to express their hurt until the offender hears, understands and acknowledges their pain.

Many a relational wound has gone unhealed because the offender has not taken the time and effort to truly understand the damage that was caused by their action. They trivialize it and reason it away and therefore never succeed in building a healing bridge which is necessary to bring about real reconciliation.

Here are a few questions that need to be asked when seeking forgiveness.

  • Can you tell me what I did that hurt you?
  • How do you feel about our relationship right now?
  • What was the worst part about the way I treated you?

When the hurt is expressed it is the job of the offender to paraphrase their feelings so that the hurt party can see that the offender truly understands their pain. Here is an example of putting this concept into words.

So what I hear you saying is when I [did, said, acted like I did] you felt [express the feeling here].

It is essential not to move on to step four until the offender is able to express the feelings of the offended to their own satisfaction.

Warning! Sometimes those who have been hurt also expect the one who hurt them to somehow read their minds and understand their feelings without expressing them. I have heard the offended party say things like; “well, if you don’t know, I’m not certainly not going to tell you!” This “logic” completely derails any hope of reconciliation and leaves the one seeking forgiveness confused, discouraged and even bitter. The relationship gap becomes even wider as the offender now becomes offended and both parties feel justified in their resentment toward each other.


Step Four: Tell them specifically how you intend to change

Step four is crucial, otherwise, what you’ve offered isn’t an apology — it’s an excuse. Ask them what you would like to see changed and offer your own suggestions for righting the wrong or changing a pattern of behavior. This is a time to get real about committing to change. There is an old word that is rarely used anymore (probably because taking responsibility for one’s own actions has fallen out of fashion in our present culture). The word is REPENTANCE.  What it means is to turn around and go in another direction. When we admit we have done something wrong it is not enough to simply be sorry for what we have done, we need to make a commitment to change. This means we need to repent. Does repentance mean that we will never do it again? No. What it means is that we are committing to the process of changing the way we are acting and therefore choosing a new path in the relationship. When you enter into step four be as specific as possible so that your apology has “teeth” and demonstrates your commitment to change.


Step Five: Ask them for forgiveness

This step comes after …

  • You have rid yourself of your pride and arrogance
  • You have honored them by allowing them to choose the right time for the apology
  • You have expressed your understanding of their pain and they believe you
  • You have committed to changing and have offered specific and tangible ways you are going to act differently

When all this has happened you have cultivated the soil to plant the seeds of forgiveness and reconciliation. In my experience doing this prep work will pay huge relational dividends.

It is important that the request for forgiveness be a sincere verbal request. Even if the offended party expresses their willingness to forgive before it is requested don’t halt the process. There is something very powerful in a verbal request and a verbal acceptance. It is a little like proposing. Usually, when the proposal is made it is a foregone conclusion that it will be accepted. But woe to the man who does not formally ask and wait for a reply. If that doesn’t happen a beautiful moment is missed and an opportunity to commemorate their mutual commitment is lost. No matter how weird it may seem, ask for forgiveness and wait until forgiveness is given. You will not regret it.  

When forgiveness is given that does not mean that emotional pain is immediately swept away. Sometimes it may take a while for emotional stability to return to the relationship. At a time like this, it is important for both parties to remember some vital truths.

The Offender: Let the other person heal. Just because they still feel the pain of the wound it does not mean your apology was not accepted. Be patient and kind, understanding that emotions often lag way behind our intentions. Forgiveness does not necessarily result in an instant normalization of your relationship, there is the emotional fallout which usually requires the rebuilding of trust. Stay the course and refuse to become discouraged. Depending on the severity of the offense, they may need to process the pain for quite a while until the wound heals.

The offended: Recognize that your decision to forgive is unilateral. It was your choice – and a very good one at that! If you still experience negative feelings it is not because you have not forgiven it is just a natural response to being hurt. Don’t let your emotions dictate your commitment to your relationship. Emotions are wonderful companions but horrible leaders - they get us lost every time.

One more thing; never use what you have chosen to forgive as ammunition for future arguments. When you forgive you give up all rights to punishing the wrongdoer for the hurt that was inflicted upon you. You have set the offender free and have set yourself free in the process.


Our passion at Total Wellness Resource Center is to see our clients experience transformation in their lives. We offer face to face as well as secure teleconferencing sessions in the areas of Life Coaching, Mental Health Counseling, Career/Business Coaching and Nutrition Coaching. Our comprehensive 360-degree approach helps our clients get unstuck and moving toward their dreams. If we can be of any help to you please reach out to us.

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When Do I Confront My Spouse?

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“I can’t stand it anymore!” Says my client who is clearly distraught

“What can’t you stand,” I say in my most empathetic tone of voice, though I know from experience their next statement is going to strain my patience.

“They never put the cap on the toothpaste tube and it dribbles out all over the counter – I don’t think I can live with him anymore”

 

It may sound crazy but this is the substance of most of the conflict in our homes. We seem to turn seemingly trivial offenses into grounds for divorce. The underlying truth is these arguments are rarely about the toothpaste tubes in our lives? Our conflict is at a much deeper level. Here are some examples that I have seen:

  • He doesn’t clean up, therefore, he doesn’t care about me

  • She is late therefore she doesn’t think I’m important

  • He didn’t remember to pick up milk on the way home, therefore, he doesn’t love me

  • She bought an expensive dress, therefore, she doesn’t respect me.

All of these events are interpreted through the lens of our own insecurity regarding the relationship and therefore validate our underlying assumption. For example, did the husband consciously decide to make a statement about his lack of love for his wife when he forgot to bring home the milk? Or did the wife say, “I’m really going to stick it to him” when she bought that dress?  No! But we act like they did and therefore judge our spouse’s actions as if we were prosecuting a murder trial and have found the smoking gun. This leaves our spouse feeling misjudged and condemned saying things like … “relax, it’s only a toothpaste tube!”

But it isn’t a toothpaste tube … it’s much more, it’s how we experience relationships.

Let me propose an alternative. John Gottman in his 45 years of research into marriages has concluded that good marriages have the ability to default to the positive. This means that when something happens that could be interpreted negatively it is instead seen in the context of overall positive experiences and therefore overlooked as an isolated negative event. In what he calls “good enough marriages” this happens often. Couples just don’t make a big deal of all the little irritations that happen in their relationship because they are fundamentally secure in their mutual love for one another.

But this doesn’t mean that you should let everything slip by. Sometimes our spouse does something that we simply must confront for the good of the marriage (not to mention our sanity)

And here in lays the challenge, when should we confront and when should we just let it slide?

Below is a visual for what I refer to as the Tolerance Line.


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Those things that are below the Tolerance Line you let go but when something rises above this line that is when you must address it.

Some may be asking, “Why don’t we just let everything go?”

Because when something happens that is at the core of the vision you have for your life or your relationship you must confront or be in danger of losing yourself. Healthy conflict is a golden door to intimacy because it is where you define your values, dreams, desires, hopes, and beliefs. In short, it is where you draw the boundary lines around who you are as a person. If you lose that, then you lose yourself, and if you lose yourself then you can’t possibly be in a healthy relationship with another person. This is because there is no authentic person to connect with in the relationship. When we enter into a healthy conflict we allow ourselves to be seen and known because the situation we are addressing is in some way touching one or more of these vital areas. How are we to know each other unless we talk about the things that cause us distress?

The key to this type of healthy conflict is when we carefully consider what to let go and what to talk about. And if we choose wrongly (i.e. we fail to have the courage to confront) these are some of the consequences we experience.

  • Unresolved anger

  • Passive aggressive behavior

  • Isolation

  • Lack of intimacy

  • Loss of self

How do you know the difference? Here are some principles for bringing up issues that cross our Tolerance Line.

Is it trivial?

If it is trivial, then let it go. This means that we stop being oversensitive and realize that somethings just don’t rise to the level of confrontation. Let’s face it, our spouse is much different than we are (that is one of the main reasons we are in the relationship) therefore they are going to think and act differently than we do. This means there are going to many, many times when we just need to step back and say in our best French accent “vive la différence!”

Is it about me?

By this I mean, is this our issue and not theirs? Are my unhealed emotional wounds being triggered? Am I asking those in my life to walk on “egg shells” because I have a problem with crunching sounds? (yes, I am speaking metaphorically … I hope!) If this is your issue then you must not put the burden on them to accommodate your problem. This means you need to get serious about your own healing. I believe that part of the healing process is to let those closest to us into the process by telling them where we are struggling. But this is a far different conversation than the condemnation, shaming or otherwise controlling behavior we often exhibit when our insecurities are triggered.

Will this negatively affect our relationship?

Is this is something that will not go away, and will create distance between us if left unchecked? If so, then it has crossed the Tolerance Line even if you don’t want to confront it. Sometimes when the Tolerance Line is crossed it is not accompanied by our strong emotions. Sometimes, we need to become courageous and speak even when we are loathed to do so.

Will this negatively affect my spouse in other areas of their life?

We are our brother’s (and sister’s) keepers, and a part of the commitment to our marriage is a willingness to watch each other’s back. This means that when we see our spouse do something that will sabotage their life in some other area we must confront it. Not merely when our own comfort zone has been violated. This is love: “To do what is in the best interest of the other person, no matter what!”

Can I put aside my prejudice and judgments and listen to their side?

We are not ready to confront until we are ready to listen. Why is this when we clearly see that something they are doing is wrong? Two reasons come to mind.

  1. They will not listen to us if we don’t listen to them. Yes, what Teddy Roosevelt said many years ago is still true. “People don’t care how much you know unless they know how much you care.” One of the chief ways we show that we care is when we take the time and effort to understand their reality by listening to them. This shows ultimate respect and when someone feels respected they will most likely offer up the same honor.

  2. When we listen (I mean listen for understanding and empathy) to our spouse it helps us discern if we have been thinking wrongly. Yes, when we believe that someone has crossed the Tolerance Line we often can’t see ourselves clearly. We think we have a righteous argument but in reality, we are just being self-righteous. Confrontation with humility and a willingness to listen and learn is the greatest safeguard for this condition.

Am I willing to share my vulnerable emotions?

Nobody likes being confronted by an angry person. It is the surest way to end any chance of a successful compromise by creating a defensive response. We need to lead with an emotion that will draw them in and help create an atmosphere of understanding. In Gottman terms, this is called a “soft startup”. Think of it this way. If you saw a person on the street ranting and raving, waving their arms in anger would you walk up to them and ask them what’s going on? No! You’d cross to the other side of the street or even call the Cops. But if you saw someone sad and crying you’d probably be tempted to walk over and ask if you could do something to help. That’s the difference between soft and hard emotions? Sadness, confusion, fear, loneliness and the like draw others closer to us but anger, hostility, aggression repel them. Next time someone crosses your Tolerance Line lead with a soft emotion and see what a difference it will make to their receptivity.

The bottom line in all Tolerance Lines is forgiveness.

Forgiveness does not restore a relationship but it does empty the relationship of the toxins that keep people stuck in the revolving door of resentment and retribution. If you want to be in a relationship you will need to get very, very good at forgiveness. Even if someone has crossed your Tolerance Line there is still no excuse for not to forgiving them, no matter how many times they do it. Yes, you may need to confront them, and yes there may be no successful outcome but that does not mean that you have the right to remain in a state of unforgiveness. Forgiveness does not guarantee reconciliation but unforgiveness does guarantee continued conflict. Forgiveness is a gift you give to yourself that keeps your heart from growing cold and hard and allows you to grow in love, peace, and joy. 

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 Click here to download a free version of the Tolerance Line illustration

Want a Happier Relationship? Get This Book!

Why you should read the ABCs of Love.

In my practice, I often use the illustration of the three domains of awareness. I draw a circle and then divide it into pie-shaped thirds.

The first third I write, “What we know we know.” We all know we know certain things, like how to drive a car or cook a frozen pizza.

In the second third, I write, “What I know I don’t know.” This is also a fairly simple category for us to understand. I know I don’t know how to fly an airplane and I know I don’t know how to make a souffle.

When I come to the third domain of awareness I write in the circle, “What I don’t know I don’t know.”  Then I turn to my client (with a bit of a mischievous smile) and ask what don’t you know what you don’t know? They work on this conundrum for a while before I tell them there’s no way they can answer that question because if they did it would be in the domain of what they know they don’t know.

I then explain to them that many of the things that are not going well in their life are found in this domain. These are the unconscious and unexamined areas of their lives that typically cause the greatest pain and suffering. We then set a goal to explore this domain with the purpose of uncovering those hidden hindrances to a successful life and creating competencies.

But the big question is how do we explore an area where we have no conscious awareness?  Here are some of the ways:

  1. Look at your emotions and begin to ask why you feel the way you do. Our emotions often hang out in the third domain when our intellect is locked out.
  2. Explore the universal truths of the way humans interact and build relationships. You are both unique and common. How we successfully exist with other humans is something that has been rigorously studied.
  3. Develop a keener understanding of your family of origin and its effect on you. For most of us, we consider the home we grew up in as “normal.”  Therefore, we reproduce the beliefs and behaviors that are most ordinary to us. This especially gets us in trouble when we are in a relationship with another human who comes from a family whose “normal” is different from yours.

It is for these reasons that I encourage you to read “The ABCs of Love.” It will help you move from “Not knowing what you don’t know” to “knowing what you don’t know” with the hope that your new awareness will help you break free from the unconscious traps that are keeping your relationships from being intimate and satisfying. Dr. Shulman does this by exploring the way humans build relationships.She grounds her short concise chapters on solid, empirically based relationship theories and does it in a way that is both personally engaging and easily understood. I also love that Dr. Shulman does not speak from some lofty academic perch but uses her own failed relational attempts as examples of how she went from not knowing to knowing. If you want to grow in your relationships this is a must read!

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Don't Step On My Dream!

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Ever wonder why we argue? Or as Rodney King said, “Why can't we all just all get along?” John Gottman, the world-renown relationship research psychologist, has given us significant insight into human conflict. He believes that most of our conflict comes from our vision for the life we desire to live. In other words, it is about the dreams we have for the future. We all have the way we think our lives should be and when that “reality” is challenged it creates turmoil in our lives. Here’s an example:

Kathy and Pete argue about money all the time. (does this sound familiar?) Every time Kathy goes to buy something she knows that she’s going to get the third degree from Pete.

“What do you need that for?”

“Can’t you find it on sale?”

“Do we really need more stuff around the house?”

And on and on and on …

So Kathy goes shopping with a chip on her shoulder (or rather Pete on her shoulder) and Pete anxiously scans the online bank account looking for the next “frivolous” purchase. When the inevitable happens and Kathy buys something a fight breaks out all over again. They think they are stuck in the same argument about money but they would be wrong. They are not arguing about money – in fact, money has very little to do with their argument. It is actually about their vision for their lives.

They are arguing about conflicting dreams!

Pete came from a family where there was little security. They were always on the verge of collapse. To him, money means security, safety, and stability. Something he desperately needed as a child.

Kathy came from a family where money was of little consequence since it was in abundance. To her, money is a source of fun, happiness and a means of making wonderful memories.

So when Kathy spends money Pete’s stomach gets tight and he feels his dream of security is being threatened. When Kathy hears Pete complain about her spending all she sees is the crushing of her dream for a beautiful life. No wonder they fight, their dreams are attacking each other!

Here are three things we need to know about our dreams. 

  1. We always fight to preserve our dreams and when we do we often fall into one of these three traps.
  2. Like Pete and Kathy, we often don’t realize this is what we are doing so we have no chance of resolving the conflict.
  3. When we fight for our dreams we are often not in a good position to deal with reality. Our dreams may be fantasies and actually hurt us if we pursue them.

When we fight to preserve our dreams we are in no place to understand and honor the dreams of others and therefore we lose out on true intimacy; not to mention we end up sustaining a perpetual argument.

Dreams are real, they are the golden door to discovering the real you, so let’s take a deep breath and find a better way forward. The reason why you are the way you are and love the things you love is due to the dreams you hold in your heart. Knowing them will give you exquisite insight into where conflict arises in your world. And knowing your loved one's dreams will help you create intimate connections with them.

Here are some questions to ask yourself and others. Call them dream catchers …

  1. What do I expect from life?
  2. What would an ideal day look like?
  3.  When I die what would I like my legacy to be?
  4. Who am I most afraid of disappointing? Why?
  5. When are the times I am most frustrated?
  6. Who are my heroes? What do I most admire most about them?
  7. When I think about my childhood, what were those things that were most magical for me?
  8. When I think about my childhood, what were the things that hurt me most?

Our dreams can be elusive but they are well worth capturing for they hold the key to nurturing beautiful relationships with ourselves and others. Take some alone time this week and answer these questions. Plus, if you want to really make some progress in your relationships take some time to sit down with those you love and see if you can catch their dreams too.

As always, if we can be of any help to you please don’t hesitate to reach out. Please join our mailing list to make sure you get all of our posts and blogs. 

Why Pulling Away From Relationships Doesn’t Work

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We have all been there. Something someone said touched a nerve and we react with a combination of anger and repulsion so we pull away like we’ve touched a hot stove.

I recently saw a video that loudly extolled the virtue of getting our own “house in order” before we attempt to be in a relationship. The example was used that if you have a virus it is a crazy idea to infect another person with the expectation you will get healed. Agreed, unhealthy people do not make healthy relationships but neither does isolation and “focusing on yourself”. Relationships are where be become broken and relationships are also where we get healed. To expect to get better at relationships by turning inward and isolating is like trying to be a better cook by eating at MacDonalds.

There is a place for working on ourselves and developing a healthy self-image. At some point, we need to make sure that we are secure enough with ourselves to be in strong relationships. But this is not an either/or proposition, it is actually a both/and proposition. We need to be both developing our own personal identity and refining that identity in relationships with others.

When I was a teenager I enjoyed making radio controlled airplanes. I would work for hours constructing them to the exact specifications in the instructions. They were beautiful on my shelf, but that is not what they were created for. They were meant for the sky and the only true test of my work was to take them out and fly them. The same is true in our quest to have a healthy self-image. The true test of our character is to be in a relationship that challenges us. This means that we need to engage when we’re hurt, triggered or fearful. We need to because that pain is directing us to where we are damaged. Relationships reveal our wounds and therefore are invaluable to the healing process.

If you want to be at greater peace with yourself

learn how to be at peace with others.

I have never met a person who is able to build healthy relationships who does not have a healthy relationship with themselves. Likewise, I have never met someone who has a unhealthy relationship with themselves that is not in unhealthy relationships with others.

But I can hear you say … “ it’s not everyone that I have a problem with, it’s just that one special person”. Invariably that one special person is triggering you in a relational wound that has not healed. So use the pain for gain. If not, you are dooming yourself to shallow relationships and stunted personal growth. I know this is hard – every fiber of your being is telling you to flee, but if you can resist the urge to run and find a way to understanding why you are being triggered there is incredible healing awaiting you.

Relationships are a window into our soul.

I am not advocating tolerating an abusive or destructive relationship, only a sick people with a poor self-images would accept that. But troubled relationships are a gold mind if you’re willing to stay in there and dig.

As always if you need any help or we can be of service don’t hesitate to reach out to us. If you’d like to receive regular updates on our blogs, articles, and postings just sign up for our newsletter below. 

How Not to Compliment Your Wife

I have seen a great many men go down in flames by answering seemingly simple innocuous questions answered poorly.

Okay, here are the absolutel worse ways you can answer these questions …

“Does this dress make me look fat?”

No, you look fat without it

“Do you think I lost a few pounds?

Nope … there they are on your hips

“Do you think I’m still pretty?”

Pretty what?

“What do you think of my new hair style?”

What new hair style?

All of these questions are like IEDs and have the potential to blow you up if answered wrong. And obviously, I gave you the worse possible answers … but most of us have answered these questions with best intentions and still got blasted to smithereens. What are we doing wrong?

We live in an externally focused culture that prizes form over substance external beauty over inward character. We would rather look good than be good.

When our focus on the externals these questions take on greater significance because our love and acceptance have been made contingent on our partner’s looks. When that happens we are in a losing battle against time and the inevitable comparisons with other younger, and more externally attractive people.  

So, do you quit complimenting your spouse and never tell them that they are beautiful?

No, not if you want to stay happily married. Partners need to be attractive to one another – it’s in our DNA. But external attractiveness must not be the basis for our attraction to our spouse. We must base our attraction on something much deeper and more sustainable.

Physical beauty can only be maintained for a few years before the inevitable effects of time begin to show. That is why, if we want to be in love for a lifetime, we must focus our attention on what time can not diminish but can only improve – our character.

Men, if you are only complimenting your wives on their looks and continually making comments about other woman’s looks guess what they will think is important to you? That’s right, how they look. So what happens when the wrinkles begin to show and the gray hair begins to appear? They will believe they are losing value in your eyes. If you think this is ridiculous then just take a look at what she is spending on beauty supplies. She is not doing that primarily for others but for you!

The 5/1 Rule

Should you totally quit complimenting her on her looks? No, rather, I propose implementing the 5/1 rule.

For every one compliment you make on her looks you make five on her character? Why? Because character trumps beauty every time! Here’s why –

  • Beauty is a result of youth and good genes – character is a consequence of good choices and godly priorities
  • Beauty fades over time – character shines over time
  • Beauty is fueled by vanity – character is fueled by integrity
  • Beauty is temporary – character is eternal

Fall in love with your partner's character and their external beauty will become irrelevant. And in the years to come, you will be blessed beyond measure by the inner beauty of your spouse and see her for what she truly is - a glorious gift.

Here are five character compliments to get you started (I challenge you to come up with your own originals.)

  • Thank you for being so faithful I can always count on you.
  • You have such a beautiful loving spirit, I love the way you reach out to those in need.
  • I can see your kindness and patience with the children and me and I really appreciate 
  • I love that you are so tender and empathize with others pain
  • You have perseverance – even through the worse of our trials. You just never give up!

Try these out and see how it brings life into your relationship!

As always if there’s ever anything I can do to help you don’t hesitate to reach out.

Love you;

James

This Article Will Rock Your Relationship

 6 principles that can put your relationship back on track

If you’ve been in a serious relationship for any length of time there will be times when you feel alone. But for some, the feelings of disconnection has become more the norm than the exception.

You may have made attempts to connect but they have failed to produce the closeness that you’re hoping for. The results of living in this kind of relationship will produce feelings of ...

  • Worthlessness – Why am I not important enough for you to connect with me?
  • Frustration – I’m tired of being the only one who cares about our relationship
  • Fear – I’m afraid this is going to lead to separation or divorce
  • Hopelessness – I don’t want to live this way and I don’t know what to do

When we get to this place of discouragement we don’t know where to turn, so we reach out to books, counselors or advisors for help. But our partner is comfortable with the status quo and refuses to participate. What can we do? Should we threaten them? Or should we get used to a less than fulfilling relationship? After all, a bad relationship is better than no relationship, right? We conclude, if they don’t want to change the way things are then there is nothing I can do.

Yes, in an ideal world, when both parties commit to making a change, growth comes quicker and easier but you and I know we don’t live in an ideal world. Often, only one person in the relationship is motivated to grow.

But a relationship can grow even if you’re the only one willing to work on it!

It’s not easy, it requires a willingness to look honestly at the way you are currently managing your relationship which really means that you need to be willing to change the way you see you’re your partner and even the way you view yourself. In short, it will take more than just learning a few communication techniques - it requires true transformation. And that is exactly why you should consider taking on this adventure, not simply because you want a better relationship but because you want to be a better you.

Below I have a link to a quick five question quiz to see if you are in the kind of relationship I have described. And if you are, I don’t want to leave you without offering a real chance to see the transformation happen. So take the quiz and then I’ll share a short video about a new six-week program designed just for those who want to grow in their relationship even when their partner is indifferent or resistant.

I sincerely hope you enjoy it … it is truly a labor of love that I hope and pray will help many transform their own lives and their relationships.