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.


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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 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 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 that 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

Five Steps to Intimacy: Creating Yours, Mine and Ours

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FREE WORKBOOK DOWNLOAD

Do you ever think relationships would be easy if the other person was like you? We may not actually say that but often we act like it, especially when our partner is excited about something that we have absolutely no interest in.

When this happens we must choose a response.

  1. Act like we enjoy it: (ie. Fake it)
  2. Decline to participate: (ignore it)
  3. Negotiate for something you want:  (Leverage it) This becomes a “tit for tat” arrangement, something like saying, “if you’ll see the latest superhero movie with me I’ll go shopping for shoes with you.”

So how are these solutions working? Not so good ugh?

This is why …

1. Act like you enjoy it:

The first solution of acting like we enjoy it doesn’t work … unless we’re going for sympathy. This is because everyone knows how much you are hating what you’re doing and you’re probably so unhappy that they’re probably wishing you just said no to it in the first place. If that’s what you're going for you’d be better off just saying no. Which leads us to the second option.

2. Decline to participate:

So you’ve successfully avoided the hated activity but now you’ve got another problem. You’re missing out on something your partner is passionate about. Why is this a problem? I have found that it is one of the major complaints of that troubled relationships I work with because if you can’t appreciate the things that your partner loves it is very hard to convince them that you appreciate them. That’s right, the things we love are intricately tied to us so that if you are rejecting the things your partner loves they see this as a de facto rejection of them. John Gottman the renown research Psychologist has found that developing a culture of appreciation for your partner's interests and activities is fundamental to maintaining a good marriage.

3. Negociate

Now I hear you saying, “isn’t this just creating a good compromise?” Yes, I believe in compromise, in fact, compromise is at the core of being able to deal with perpetual conflict. In many cases, we need to compromise in order to maintain a healthy balance in a relationship. But if we ever find ourselves creating a relationship based upon, “if you do _______ then I will do ________” then we are headed for real problems. This is because healthy relationships are built on unconditional love and when we create a “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” attitude then we find that our back never gets scratched enough and we begin feeling that we are scratching theirs too much. In addition, all the time we are “compromising” we are very likely slipping into the “faking mentality” which will end up making everyone miserable.

Let me share some illustrations that I have find helpful when working with my couples.

INDEPENDENCE

 
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This is where the couple finds little or no involvement in one another’s life. It is characterized by the phrase, “they have their life and I have mine”. There is very little interaction, except in areas of necessity (paying bills, dealing with children, etc.) Often, I see couples at this stage when the children have left the house and now they are wondering why they got married in the first place since they have no mutual interests. They have become strangers to each other.

DEPENDENCE

 
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This is a state where one partner can’t move without the other. They are living in each other’s world even to the denial of their own uniqueness. Psychology calls it “enmeshment” and it is often caused by a fear of rejection or poor self-image. These relationships are suffocating because they don’t allow for the individuality and creativity of the other person and instead attempt to make it wrong for either partner to have an opinion or interest outside of the approval of their partner. When I see a couple like this it is often because one party is making a desperate attempt to find freedom and is pushing them into an “all or nothing” approach.  When this problem is not addressed it often leads to divorce.

INTERDEPENDENCE

 
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This is where both partners maintain their unique personalities and interest but find ways to share in the passionate pursuits of each other's world without the need to isolate or become enmeshed. It is where we acknowledge individuality (viva la difference) but also recognizes the beautiful contribution that this difference brings to the whole. The challenge is:

  • Develop a way to both maintain individuality without becoming independent.
  • Create interdependence without becoming dependent.

The five steps

1.       Celebrate the Difference: We have a saying in Marriage Counseling, “opposites attract and then they attack”. Basically, this means that we are drawn to our partner because of the unique attributes they possess that we find fascinating. But then as time goes on we no longer find these characteristics fascinating but irritating. One of the most common pairings I find is an extrovert marring an introvert. Here is how they become attracted and then attack each other:

When an introvert meets an extrovert they say, “wow, I love the way you connect with people and feel so at home in a crowd. When I’m with you I feel like I’m with a rock star!
When an introvert lives with an extrovert for a while they may say, “why do you always need to be with people … can’t you just stay home more often?”
When an extrovert meets an introvert they say, “You are so deep and thoughtful, I love your calmness and wisdom, I find it very peaceful.”
When an extrovert lives with an introvert for a while they say, “ why do you spend so much time alone reading your books, what’s wrong with you?”

Instead of celebrating our partner's difference we want them to become more like us because that’s more comfortable. But good relationships are not always comfortable – sometimes they require us to stretch. Healthy relationships have this ability to be both totally accepting of our unique peculiarities and also challenge us to grow to experience our full potential. So for an introvert living with an extrovert, there is a challenge to broaden their world of relationships and touch more lives. And for an extrovert living with an introvert, there is a challenge to develop a contemplative life and deepen their inner world. This growth requires that we learn how to appreciate the other’s gifts, abilities, and interests even if we have no desire in those areas.


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Getting to We

This is when we become aware of an interest in our partner's sphere and choose to find something in that interest we can authentically be excited about. That interest is then pulled into our sphere and we then share it in the "we" sphere.


2.       Identify your partner’s passions: You may know what they are or you may not. Sometimes when one partner has been hearing negative things about what they love they lose hope of ever pursuing them. This is a sad state where they live a hopeless unfulfilled life that offers no joy. We need to kindle our partner’s interests rather than dampen them.  A truly happy relationship is where we are the wind under their wings and they are encouraged to become all they were meant to be. So during this step, we need to sit down and take an inventory of our partner’s interests. Ask questions like:

  • If you could do anything, with no limitations, what would it be?
  • What have you always wanted to do but just never got around to it?
  • As a child, what did you like to do that never lost it’s fun?

Okay, I can hear some of you saying, “how is just doing what they want to do going to work for me?” Here are three thoughts about that.

Encouraging the loves and interests of your partner gives you a partner who is more fully alive and who, in turn, has the capacity to help encourage your passions.

Encouraging the loves and interests of your partner produces a deeper and more intimate relationship. We feel close to those who truly know us and to know and appreciate our unique passions is one of the best ways of feeling known.

Our partner will never feel truly loved if we do not appreciate those areas of interest and passion that is the expression of their unique self
— James Tillman

Encouraging the loves and interests of your partner opens you up to a new and expanding world of adventure that offers you a fuller richer life. This leads us to the third step.

3.       Find something in your partner’s interests that you can authenticly be excited about.

Here’s an example from one of the couples I work with.

The wife is passionate about all things fashion and loves to follow the latest fashion bloggers who have enormous influence in the clothing industry. The husband is a numbers guy and has no interest in the fashion industry. There seems to be no way that he will be able to find something that interests him in his wife’s fashion passion. But he did! He was able to look past the clothes and see that there are a few power bloggers who are able to move people to purchase clothes simply by using influence. He found this fascinating because he is in a company that would be greatly enhanced by applying some of the same principles to their product. So when his wife is looking at the latest trend in clothing on her smartphone he is looking over her shoulder at the way the clothes are being presented and the power of influence.  

You may need to get creative and expand your palate of colors but this is an opportunity to grow if you are up for the challenge. Because when you do you accomplish step four.

4.       Pull your partner’s “my interest” into a “we interest”: Finding something that interests you in your partner's passion will create an opportunity for you both to grow closer and experience a more enjoyable life together. Examples:

We both have a “we interest” in amusement parks: I like the rides, she likes the shows
We both have a “we interest” in taking vacations: I like exploring new and unusual sights, she likes finding new and interesting restaurants.
We both have a “we interest” in visiting museums. She likes learning about ancient cultures, I find the artwork fascinating. When you do this you accomplish the fifth step.

5.       Go for the win, win, win as much as possible: Let’s face it, we’re not always going to find something that peaks our interest in everything our partner loves. Sometimes we’re just going to need to love that our partner loves it. This kind of attitude says, “I can appreciate something simply because it gives you pleasure and that makes me happy.”

I like Disneyland … it must be because it holds some of my happiest memories when I was growing up. My wife has really no love for Disneyland (grew up in Kansas) and in fact, it would not be a place she would ever choose to go even if someone were to pay. But the other day she surprised me by planning a date to the Magic Kingdom. We had a marvelous time and she authentically enjoyed the park. This was because of seeing it through my eyes. One moment stands out as a precious memory. We were in the Enchanted Tiki Room. This is one of the most outdated but beloved attractions in Disneyland and definitely an acquired taste. During the show, she leaned over to me and gave me a tender kiss. I asked her what that was about and she said, “because I love to see you in your happy place.”

Wouldn’t it be great if we could get to that place more often in our relationships? Enjoying an activity simply because it brings joy to our partner. This requires that we are willing to cultivate a caring, giving and unselfish relationship with our spouse. This commitment will reward us tenfold in not only a more satisfying relationship but even more importantly a more beautiful character which, in the end, produces greater wholeness, wellness, and joy.

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This workbook  is a step by step guide to help a couple discover their individual areas of interests and bring their partner into these areas so that they become something they mutually enjoy. 

 
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Making Sense Out of Your Partners Nonsense

Learn to Decode Your Partner's "Reality"
 

Ever had this happen – Your partner gets upset about something that seems to you like a trifle. So you downplay it or ignore it and then all hell breaks loose. When you pick yourself up off the floor you are left scratching your head wondering, “What just happened here? All I did was …” Your partner wasn’t logical, reasonable or even slightly made a bit of sense so how do you respond? If you’re like most of us you do one of the following.

  • Close your eyes to the illogic and move on
  • Try to engage in a rational, reasonable manner
  • Put your foot down and assert your right to common sense

But none of these options really work, do they? Because –

  • If you close your eyes to it you end up bumping into it over and over again
  • If you try to engage, you end up going down the black hole and lose your way
  • When you put your foot down it just makes the gap between you larger by filling it with resentment.

So what are you to do when there seems like there are no viable options?

When you encounter the irrational remember this – It’s rational in that person’s world, you just need to better understand their world.

Yes, you heard me right. You are dealing with someone who has a different reality than yours so there will be times when their rationale will also be different. If you ever want to communicate – much less have an intimate relationship, you will need to be able to understand their reality.

But you say, “I didn’t sign up to be a part of someone else’s reality!” You did when you entered into the relationship, for every time we enter into a relationship we are choosing to interact with another person’s reality. Think of it like traveling abroad. When you step off the plane you are now entering into a country with a different set of laws and customs. Yes, there will be a lot of similarities to home but there will be a lot of things you don’t understand and may seem illogical.

Okay, now I’m going to throw you a curveball – sometimes your partner won’t even understand their own reality! Yes, that’s right, we all do things, feel things and say things and we are clueless why. That’s because we humans are great at ignoring our emotions and not tending to our hearts. We think we can just push through childhood trauma or ignore our emotional wounds. But they end up coming back to bite us through our feelings and thoughts that often sabotage our lives. We experience “irrational” fears when we attempt to move forward in our career or feelings of shame when we try to engage in close relationships.

“Okay, now I’m really confused. You’re telling me to try to understand the reality behind my partner’s irrational actions and now you’re telling me they may not even know why they are feeling the way they’re feeling? I give up!”

Real relationships are not for wimps! We all need to roll up our sleeves and try to understand our partner’s world as well as help them try to understand their own world. Believe me, there is logic in there somewhere. Here are a couple of examples of illogical logic.

  • A person who continually blows up every relationship that gets too deep even those they desperately desire to intimacy? Irrational right? Wrong! In their world, if you get too close you will find out who they truly are and reject them. They are protecting themselves from that pain.
  • A person who never accepts the promotion at work even though it would mean more money, more opportunity, and much more satisfying work. Irrational right? Wrong! In their world, they are certain that they are incompetent and the promotion would only reveal that fact.

How do you live with illogical logic?

You say to yourself, “This makes sense in their universe, I just need to understand it and maybe help them understand it”

You slow down the conversation and begin to ask clarification questions. For example:

  • “So what is your greatest fear about this?”
  • “Have you felt this way before about other situations?”
  • “What was it like in your family when this happened?”
  • “Help me understand what you need?”

Believe me, I am not saying this is easy. But if you are willing to choose to discover rather than judge there are great rewards for those who want to enter into this level of real relationships.

  

As always, if you are needing any help or I can be of any service just reach out via email at connect@totalwellnesscenter.net.

Who’s Going to Plug the Relationship Leak?

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You are out on a lake in your rowboat on a beautiful day with four of your friends when you notice your feet are wet. You look down and realize that the water is up to your ankles as someone shouts, “there’s a hole in the boat.” You and your friends quickly convene a meeting to discuss the options.

One friend says let’s just ignore the hole because “we probably won’t sink”.e

Another friend begins to blame the others in the boat and says, “someone should have noticed the defect before you left the shore.”

One sits smugly with arms crossed and says, “this teaches you all to take boat maintenance more seriously.”

You notice another friend is totally disengaged from the conversation, staring off into the distance. When you ask them why they say, “they’re looking for another boat”

At this point, you’re feeling desperate because the water is creeping up past your shins. You shout, “someone plug that #$@! leak!”

So what does this have to do with relationships? Actually quite a bit. The international renown research psychologist Dr. John Gottman believes that one of the key indicators of a healthy, thriving marriage is the ability to recover when something happens to put a hole in your “relationship boat.” This hole could be as simple as a thoughtless remark – the fact is, you can’t be in a relationship long before someone puts a hole in your boat.

Gottman calls this effort to plug the leak a “repair attempt.” When repair attempts are made and accepted it is indicative of a healthy marriage. When repair attempts are not attempted or rejected it is a symptom of a troubled relationship.  

So why don’t we plug the leaks in our relationships? Just like the four friends in the leaky boat we have reasons to let our relationship slowly sink.

The Ignorer: This is the one who thinks if you ignore the hole it will go away. Yes, we really do this and guess what, my counseling room is full of couples who have chosen this option. The reality is if you ignore the small holes in your relationship you will find yourself swimming … alone.

The Blamer: This Tactic is to put the responsibility of healing the relationship “hole” on the other person. The problem with this tactic is you go down with the boat too. Not to smart, right?

The Punisher: This is the person who thinks that not addressing the leak in the relationship will somehow teach the other person a lesson. The major problem with this strategy is that it loses sight of the overarching goal – an intimate marriage. Intimacy in a relationship never comes from our dictating the terms of the relationship. It comes from being able to freely express our feelings and desires and allowing our partner to do the same. That means when we see the hole, address the hole!

The Escape Artist: This person’s strategy for dealing with the leaks is to look outside the relationship for a solution. They disengage from any meaningful problem solving and emotionally distance themselves. The Escape Artist is always looking for the next option when the present relationship requires them to do something uncomfortable or confrontational.    

So how do we repair a leaky relationship?

Here are some thoughts:

Take responsibility for your own feelings.

Don’t assume that your partner is aware of how you feel. It is quite possible they are totally oblivious to your hurt. This is because each person has their own perception of reality. A great amount of damage is done to a relationship when we mistakenly think that our reality is their reality. I can’t tell you how many times I have been confronted with this fact. I have been hurt by something someone said and harbor resentment only to discover that they are totally clueless as to why I am upset.

Commit to sharing how you feel in a respectful, non-critical way

Yes, you can tell your partner that you have noticed the hole in your boat in a way that doesn’t cause them to get defensive or dismissive. Here’s how:

  • When (name the actual event without embellishment or subjective criticism)
  • I felt (name the emotions you felt without giving up your own responsibility for feeling them)
  • I need (name what you are requesting from your partner that would help plug the hole)

Yes, I know this is not easy when you’ve been triggered emotionally. You may need to take a few minutes to calm yourself so that you can talk to your partner with a rational mind. Many of us have developed some pretty bad relational patterns that leave every repair attempt in tatters. In fact, some of us instead of plugging the hole take out a knife and put a dozen more holes in the boat. Not smart, I know but very human.

If you find yourself getting wet in your relationship take heart, you can learn these skills if you don’t lose hope, stay humble and keep the ultimate goal before you. To love and be loved in return.

If we can be of any help to you don’t hesitate to reach out to us. And if you’d like to receive our regular blogs and postings please sign up for our weekly updates below. 

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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Does “Turning the Other Cheek” Really Work?

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I was sitting with a client yesterday who was alone even though they had originally come with their spouse for marriage counseling. She told me things were going better in her marriage and she wasn’t quite sure why. Our recent sessions had been focused on how she responded to unfair, unkind and hurtful situations in her marriage. She had been focusing on not escalating the battle of words and when she was ill-treated to respond with kindness.  My thoughts immediately went to the words of Jesus.   

You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.  And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.  If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.
— Matthew 5:38-41 NIV

When Jesus said these words the prevailing wisdom was that when someone hit you, you needed to hit them back harder. (that philosophy is still very common) Jesus was expressing a radical ethic that has its roots in trusting in an all-powerful and just God who will ultimately bring down judgment on the wicked and reward the innocent.

But there is another very practical reason to employ this new ethic. It works.  It works because it is based on the way humans relate to each other. This should not be surprising. I have found that EVERYTHING God has said we should do is both empirically true and relationally effective.

That is why my client is experiencing greater success in her relationship.

The predictable pattern is to respond in kind to others. When someone is nasty to us we respond by being nasty to them. If they are kind to us we respond by returning the kindness. In other words, the old “eye for an eye” ethic. And as someone once said if we live by the “eye for an eye” ethic everybody will be blind. But if we are maligned we respond in kindness and when treated harshly we are gentle the whole dynamic of the relationship is turned on its head. The downward cycle of aggression and retaliation is broken. How do you stay angry with someone who simply refuses to return the anger? How do you continually criticize and malign someone who refuses to return the insults? You simply can’t. Either the dynamic in the relationship changes or the oppressor gives up and finds another victim to justify their behavior.

Please hear me on this, I am not talking about physical or emotional abuse. It is not right to allow unchecked aggression to be directed toward you or anybody else. If this is the case then you need to seek help to correct the situation and/or get separation from the abuser.

I am referring to those arguments and personality conflicts that are common in most marriages and dissolve into long-standing resentments and perpetual arguments.

This new way of being in a relationship is not easy – in fact, it is practically impossible apart from a powerful spiritual transformation of the heart. It is also not a quick fix cure. The aggressor is not likely to suddenly “see the light” and change their pattern of behavior overnight. But for those who decide to walk as Jesus walked there are awesome rewards waiting for them. Here are a few.

  • The soul-destroying cancer called resentment is reduced or eliminated
  • The potential for developing reconciliation is vastly increased
  • Harmful conflict is greatly shortened and vastly reduced
  • Intimacy with God is deepened. (whenever we choose to obey the words of our Lord we deepen our love for him) John 14:15
  • We become more open to examining our own hearts and correcting our own faults
  • We set an example to other family members of how to deal with difficult people and situations

Again, this is not easy to do – especially if there is a long-standing pattern of tit for tat conflict. But it is so worth the effort to escape the hopeless maze of unending struggles.

As always if there is anything we can do for you or if you have any comments or questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to us.

We also invite you to join our email list so you will receive all the news from Total Wellness Resource Center. 

Happiness Truly is a Matter of the Heart

What do you really desire in life? What keeps you up at night and gets you up early in the morning? What do you clutch onto so hard that you will protect it with your last ounce of strength?

That is your treasure and that is also where your heart is.

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
— Matthew 6:21 NIV

In my work, I see a lot of people who are desperately trying to hold on to something that is not giving them the life they desire. It could be money, relationships, a career or score of other things that seem to melt away the tighter they clutch on to them. The problem is those “things” never satisfy the deepest longings of our heart. I am not advocating quitting your job or leaving your relationships, what I believe we need to do is to no longer see those things as the fulfillment of our desires. In fact, the more we try to make them do that the more miserable we make ourselves.

An example of this is money.

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs
— 1 Timothy 6:10 NIV

The point Paul is making in this verse is that when we pursue (love) that which cannot satisfy our souls we end up doing ourselves harm – akin to stabbing ourselves.

God knows we need money, and careers and homes – but we were made for something much more satisfying than this stuff. We were made for God himself.

When we “wonder” it often starts innocently. We become delighted by some new toy or someone strokes our ego. Pretty soon we’re saying this feels good … I want more. So we start chasing this new shiny object and then it happens. That object becomes our treasure rather than the one who ultimately gives all good gifts.

If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!
— Matthew 7:11 NIV

Is there anything that we need that he is not willing to give us?

He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
— Romans 8:32 NIV

This is a call for deep reflection. I confess I am guilty of seeking the gift rather than the giver – of longing for the resource rather than making the source of all blessings my heart’s desire.

Could this be why there is so much depression, anxiety and relational brokenness in our lives? Could we be deceived into believing the lie that something other than our Creator can satisfy our deepest longing?

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Blaise Pascal

"There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of each man which cannot be satisfied by any created thing but only by God the Creator made known through Jesus Christ.” 

So are you saying, James, that we’re not supposed to desire anything but God? No, I am saying that we are not to desire anything MORE THAN God. And when we receive what we desire we are to immediately thank him for what we have received.

God has no problems with us asking him for … whatever. But like the excellent father he is, he withholds the right to give us only what is best for us. If we become enamored with the shiny things of this world and he knows that they will cause us to wander off into places that will cause us harm, then like any good father he will withhold these things. Wouldn’t you?

Ask for whatever you wish and if your dearest desire is to honor the Lord and bless him with your life, it will be irrelevant whether you receive it or not because he will give you the ultimate desire of your heart. Your soul will be abundantly satisfied. And isn’t that what we truly crave?

Prayer of reflection

O Lord, I come to you seeking to open my heart to your gaze. Look deeply into my longings Lord and see if there is anything that I desire more than you. Search my heart Lord and reveal any attachments to whatever is not you. You are my source for all that I need. You have promised to graciously give me whatever is necessary. Help me to take my eyes off of all the “shiny things” in this world and fix them upon you. I confess I am so easily distracted. You know all things and you also know that my deepest, passionate desire it to bring you honor and glory in my life. Create in me a steadfast spirit that will live this desire in every area of my life.

As always if we can be of any service to you don’t hesitate to reach out. If you’d like to receive all our updates then just sign up for our newsletter below.

The Most Important Thing to Forget

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Are you looking for the key to happiness? If you aren’t you really should be. I am not saying that we should invest ourselves in some kind of spiritual treasure hunt because there’s no single truth or life skill that will produce perfect happiness, joy, peace or love. But if we are not continually striving to learn new truths and grow in our character then … well, we might as well be dead.

So I’m going to propose a life-skill that, if it is not at the top of your list, it really should be.  I have found neglecting this is responsible for massive heartaches and destroyed countless relationships. It is summed up in this one statement by the Apostle Paul:

Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus
— Philippians 3:13-14

What I have discovered over and over again in my life is I can not press on toward the goal if I am not willing to forget what is behind me. That goal is not merely a quest for money, fame or a comfortable life, it is a heavenly goal ordained by God.  For Paul, that goal was to, “press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me”. What he needed to forget was that in his former life he was a murderer and persecutor of the Church. I am sure it was very difficult for him to forget the pain he had caused so many people.

But what about you and me? What do we need to forget that is impeding the goal? For me, it is pretty much everything. I must let go of hurt feelings, broken promises, angry and cutting words, and anything else that will cloud my spirit and keep me from being free to pursue the heavenward call.

This forgetfulness is a decision to be free from bitterness and resentment. But let me be clear – forgetfulness does not mean our emotions are suddenly healed or our relationships are magically restored. Emotions have their own timetable for healing. The decision to forget a past injury (whether it is self-inflicted or caused by another) will mean that you will always act in a way that is counter-emotional. This skill is rarely taught in our “do what you feel” culture but is an absolute necessity if you are going to achieve the ultimate goal that calls you heavenward.

Take a moment and assess your current state of forgetfulness.

  • Is there any past situation that caused you an injury that you are holding on to?
  • Are you beating yourself up for a past action or decision you made?
  • Is there someone whom you harbor resentment and anger toward?

If you have confessed the wrongs in your life then the next step is to forget – because God has.

If someone else has hurt you and you are holding on to anger and resentment then the next step is to forgive – because you have been forgiven for much more grievous sins by God.

But if we are unwilling to forget what is behind us then we will find those past things will plant themselves firmly in our future and keep us from experiencing the beautiful life we were meant to live.

If we can be of any help along your journey please don’t hesitate to call. We would also love to have you get all our blogs and announcements so just fill in the box below.

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. 

"Talking To The Hand" Doesn't Work - And Here's Why

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Ever get hurt by what someone said or did so badly that you close down and stop communicating? It’s a bit like touching a hot stove and then quickly withdrawing your hand because, as we all know, only crazy people would leave their hand on a hot stove, right?

That’s exactly what I’m going to propose you do.

Of course, I’m not talking about a hot stove – I am talking about the courage to find insight when you’re emotionally triggered.  For many of us, our “knee-jerk” reaction to being hurt is to pull away and become silent. This causes the other person to either press for a response or withdraw wondering, “what just happened here?”.

The bottom line is that nothing gets better when we choose the tactic of; "talk to the hand 'cause the face ain't listening". The argument may blow over and the status quo return but the next time you touch the “hot stove” the pain returns and this time it brings with it the accumulated unresolved hurt from past injuries.

 John Gottman, the founder of the renown Gottman Marriage Therapy, calls this stonewalling and lists this approach to conflict as one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and a major factor in failing relationships.

But like most relational patterns it is difficult to break because it feels like we’re preserving our life but in actuality we are draining the life out of our relationships. Getting hurt is inevitable. Relationships always trigger emotional wounds and the closer the relationship the deeper the hurt.  But relationships also provide us the greatest opportunity for finding  healing for these wounds, if we don't run away from the conflict.

You want me to do what? Can’t you see that everything inside of me says to run?

It is exactly for that reason we must stay in the relationship and find healing. That pain you are feeling is a giant neon sign pointing to the place of your brokenness. Relationships have a way of pointing us to these places – what we do with this pain will determine whether we find wholeness or remain broken.

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Stonewalling keeps us stuck in our unresolved, and unhealed wounds

Next time you experience a painful encounter in your relationship, instead of pulling away try creating a new healing pattern. Here are some steps that may help.

  1. Don’t engage when you’re emotionally distraught. This condition is called being “flooded” and it is impossible for you to have a rational conversation because your brain is “flooded” with chemicals from your sympathetic nervous system. Check your heartbeat, if it is racing over 100 beats per minute (80 if you are athletic) then take 20 minutes and breathe until you can return to a calm emotional state.
  2. When you do speak about your hurt, start gently and use only I statements. Talk about how you feel not about how they “made you feel”.
  3. Avoid criticism at all costs. When we criticize we are giving up responsibility for your own feelings and blame the other person for our reaction. This will only create defensiveness in the other person and dis-empower you.
  4. Look for deeper causes for your pain. Ask yourself some probing questions:
  • Why am I so disturbed by this?
  • Does this feel similar to something from my past?
  • How does it affect the way I see myself?

If the knot is too tight for you to untie consider getting professional help - don't stay stuck in your unresolved pain. Life is too short for that!

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What I Learned About Relationships From Walter - My Rescue Dog.

LOVE DOESN'T HAVE TO STINK ......

 Wonderful Walter 2017

Wonderful Walter 2017

This is Walter – he is a 105 pound Rotty/Shepherd that we adopted from a local rescue, Whiskers and Tails in Rancho Palos Verdes, CA.  We quickly learned he loves to chase squirrels and eat all insects that fly -  including wasps. In fact,  he has a little Ninja that makes up his unique quirky personality.  When it gets dark he loves to patrol the back yard protecting us from … well only he knows and he’s sworn to the Ninja code of silence.

The other night he was patrolling the perimeter and we heard an unusual commotion so I ran out to see what was happening. It didn't take long to figure out what was going on because within less than a second I smelled it …... A SKUNK.   Yes, an unsuspecting Walter had come face to face....well, not exactly face to face but you get the picture, of the smelly works delivered by Mr. Skunk.

Quickly into the bathtub (ever bathed a stinky 100-pound dog 10:30 at night?).  We quickly surfed the internet for the "magic" formula to remove skunk odor and found a website that "guaranteed" the homemade solution would work.  My wife started mixing the potion and I got to work on Walter.  One hour later we had a 100 pound dog that reeked of wet fur and skunk wildly running through the house.   It has now been over a week and guess what – Walter still stinks. And not only Walter but whatever Walter touched smells too!

So now I can hear you thinking … “so sorry for Walter but what the heck does that have to do with relationships?”

Thank you for asking. 

Sometimes the stink from a fight, a careless word, or thoughtless action can stink up a relationship for days, weeks or even years. It often only takes a small thing for that odor to arise and stink up our relationship all over again. I admit it’s hard to remove the odor of a hurt. The pain lingers long like Walter’s smell. But unlike poor Walter, we actually have a choice how long we will allow our relationships to be polluted by these things.

After all who wants to smell bad to their partner?

Here are four steps you can take.

  1. Admit that you were hurt: Sometimes our pride gets in the way of our healing. We think we shouldn’t feel what we’re feeling so we go into denial mode but in reality, we’re just allowing the wound to infect other areas of our lives.
  2.  Forgive: Forgiveness is a unilateral is a gift we give to ourselves so that we don’t carry the heavy burden of resentment and anger throughout our life. Forgiveness does not mean that you minimize the wound – only that you choose to heal.
  3. Reconcile: If possible share with your partner how you were hurt and attempt to find a new way of relating to each other. Keep in mind that this requires that you both be willing to see each other’s perspective to get beneath the surface. In every harmful human interaction, there is always something deeper that is causing it. When this is understood it will change the whole dynamic of the relationship and create an opportunity for healing and avoiding entering back into the conflict.
  4. Let it go: Yes, we can also choose to let go of whatever it was that is stinking up our relationships. This means refusing to bring it up … ever!

Walter is smelling much better now, okay, he still smells like a dog but not like a skunk. The real question is what do you and I smell like? 

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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

Crazy Fighting

Ever been in a fight with your partner and suddenly realized that you didn’t really know what the heck you were fighting about?

That’s because few people are truly aware of why they have such strong feelings about certain things. We think that the argument is about stuff like …

  • She spends too much money!
  • He doesn’t listen to me!
  • She never picks up after herself!
  • He never wants to go out and have fun!

There are all sorts of stories about people getting divorced for seemingly unimportant reasons. Here are two examples from a Reader’s Digest article entitled “12 Crazy-But-True Reasons People Filed for Divorce”

Rashida Lucas divorced her husband, T.P., because, as she said on national television, he was just "too nice." Chief among Lucas's grievances were that T.P. said "I love you" too much and that he was such a good cook that it had caused her to gain weight.

For one Japanese couple who had been married for six years, the movie Frozen was the deal-breaker. After watching it, he made the mistake of asking her, "Did you really think it was that good?" Well, apparently, she did, and the fact that he could even ask that question made her question what sort of person he was. And she couldn't seem to "let it go," moving out of their marital residence soon after.

So why the overreaction? Why do we get so crazy over things that are not “craze-worthy”?

It’s primarily because we are not in tune with our own emotions and instead look outside of ourselves for solutions that only internal examination can heal.  The term for this inward examination is emotional intelligence.

Emotional Intelligence is the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one's emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.

It means that when we experience an emotion we are able to do three things:

  1. We are able to accurately define what we are feeling
  2. We are able to determine the true source of that feeling
  3. We are able to express the feeling in a healthy way

This isn’t easy folks, especially when we avoid self-examination.  But the truth is …

The unexamined life is not worth living
— Socrates

Some of us have been working a lifetime trying to master defining what we are feeling, understanding why we are feeling it and learning how to express those feelings in a way that doesn’t do harm to ourself and others. But until we do, resolving conflicts will always be a mystery because all we can do is make a vain attempt to control our environment and reduce whatever is triggering our emotional wounds. This means we either retreat from anything or anyone who causes us problems or we rigidly force our will upon them. Both strategies do not promote healthy relationships.  

And to a great extent, this is why we fail to resolve our arguments and why we keep having the same battle over and over again. We are really battling ourselves and until we discover that fact we are doomed to repeat it over and over again.

“WE HAVE MET THE ENEMY AND HE IS US.”
— Walt Kelly

Now, I’m not saying that we are the enemy – that attitude would be incredibly counterproductive. But what I am saying neither is your partner the enemy. The real enemy (if you must have one) is the unrecognized and unexamined emotional trigger that is empowering your arguments and making it so difficult to connect with your partner.

And that means we all need to take responsibility for our own emotional reactions and begin to develop the Emotional Intelligence to choose a different way of resolving our conflicts.

If we can ever be of help to you or you have questions about Building Real Relationships don’t hesitate to reach out to us.

The Surprising Essential for a Good Marriage

I often sit in front of couples silently praying for wisdom to help them get unstuck from the destructive patterns that are spiraling their relationship down into the black abyss of divorce.  I think if I could just say the right words or use the right interventions then the relationship can be saved. So much pain is produced by their bickering, fighting, insults, accusations and hurtful words. My heart breaks at the pain we humans can inflict upon each other and I desperately want to stop it.

But what I have come to realize is my best insights and carefully crafted observations are useless without one crucial ingredient.

There needs to be a willingness to change.

Sometimes this willingness comes out of frustration – after they have tried everything and failed.

Sometimes this willingness is a huge leap of faith – trusting in the knowledge and skill of the therapist.

And sometimes this willingness comes out of pain – they would just like the fighting to stop and feel peace.

At the core of this willingness is a much-maligned character quality called humility, a willingness to look critically at one's self before attempting to change their partner. When this quality is present miraculous breakthroughs become possible.

But where there is no humility the opposite is true. All the insight, skill, and brilliant counseling will not move couples closer together. At the core of truly intimate relationships is the ability to suspend one’s own prejudice and look compassionately and empathetically at their partner.

This should be no surprise. Even the greatest teacher, healer and lover who ever walked this earth could not perform his miraculous interventions when hearts were hard, eyes were closed and ears stopped up.

For this people’s heart have become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise, they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.
— Matthew 13:15 NIV

So my simple word to you (and me) is to soften our hearts, open our eyes, unstop our ears and let the healing begin. For as surely as God made us he desires to bring healing into our lives and our marriages – if only we will humble ourselves.

Alone – In a Relationship

The Principle of New Beginnings

The first step toward breaking free from the habits and patterns of the past is to believe you can. I know this statement may seem blatantly obvious and it would be easy to gloss over it looking for some deeper wisdom but I strongly encourage you to pause and reflect on this principle. Or as Henry Ford said:

Have you ever been thwarted in a goal that you firmly believed you could accomplish? When I say believe I don’t mean that you mouthed some words or half-heartedly put yourself to it. What I mean by belief is that deep in your soul you knew that you could do it. It was never a matter of if but only when. Those of us that bring this kind of belief to a challenge will overcome any obstacle to realize our vision. That belief is the fertile soil from which dreams germinate, sprout, and produce lasting fruit.

So the first attitude on our way to a richer, fuller and more satisfying relationship is the ability to believe you can obtain that relationship. But that’s not so easy – right? You may have had years of discouragement and you see before you a mountain of obstacles. The inertia of the past may be holding you down to the point that you feel powerless to believe your circumstances can change. I know what you are feeling – I have been there myself. This is how we get stuck. When we feel helpless and hopeless we perpetuate our circumstances and remain in our misery.

What I am asking you to do is put aside all the reasons you can’t have the relationship you desire and create a space for the possibility that your life can be different. At this point you don’t need to ask how change will happen, only that the potential for change is possible. Robert F. Kennedy quoted George Bernard Shaw in his 1968 speech and expresses this exact principle.

Some people see things as they are and say why? I dream things that never were and say, why not?
— Robert F. Kennedy

Can you say why not? Can you suspend your disbelief and become open to the prospect of change. History is filled with examples of those who were able to apply their creative energies to something that had yet to be experienced; only dreamed.  In fact I dare say that no great work or accomplishment has ever come about without someone daring to dream it first.

But with that dream comes what can best be described as the death of that dream. These are all the reasons why your dream cannot come true. Here are a few …

  • I have tried and nothing works
  • My spouse is never going to change
  • I’m tired and don’t have the strength to make things change
  • I don’t know what to do
  • I can’t see how things could be different

If these (and I’m sure there are others) become our focus they will be the death of any new possibility and strangle the initial stages of change before there is a chance to grow. So I ask you to change those negative affirmations and replace them with new inspiring ones.   

  • Today is a new day with new possibilities
  • My spouse in no impediment to my happiness
  • I have unlimited energy to do whatever I need to do
  • Wisdom will come to me when I need it
  • I am not a prisoner to my present limited understanding

Some of you may be saying; “What will that do for me … none of those things are true” In reality they can be truer than the limited, narrow and restricted thinking that comes through negative thinking. In the end we will achieve what we conceive.  What you focus on will ultimately determine your destiny.

I am not saying that positive affirmations are all you need to achieve your dreams. But until you put aside your self-limiting beliefs you will not be able to learn the skills and strategies that will move you forward. It’s just that simple. Nothing escapes the black hole of self-limiting beliefs.

I have more to say on this very important principle so I am collecting all seven principles into an exciting new format which will be available around March 1st. So keep in touch and get ready for the exhilarating news!  

Alone – In a Relationship

How Did I Get Here?

When we find ourselves in a difficult relationship one of the questions we tend to ask is; “how did I get here?”

Nobody starts a relationship with the expectation that, somewhere down the road, we’re going to end up feeling isolated, unloved and alone. So if that was not our intention how did it happen? Let me give you a few of the detours we take that lead down the road to an unfulfilling relationship.

It all centers around the fact we are reproducing the only kind of relationship we know.

I tell my clients that we will only deal with the past when the past gets in the way of our future. Unfortunately this is almost always the case. We learn our relationship skills from those who modeled relationships to us. How our parents resolved conflict, created a safe and secure environment and met our emotional, physical and spiritual needs will become the model we think of as “normal”.

I can hear some of you saying; “Wait a minute! I hated the way I grew up and I am doing everything I can to do it differently”. I acknowledge your efforts and support your intentions but changing the dysfunctional relational patterns of the past requires more than just recognizing what did not work; it requires the ability to put new healthy patterns in place. In order for true change to happen we must implement lifestyle changes that will feel awkward, totally unnatural and difficult to consistently apply. Here are some of the areas that we often struggle in:

How was conflict managed in your home?

Were criticism, contempt, defensiveness or stonewalling used when disagreements arose? Was there a “win at all cost” mentality? Or were you like many of us never privy to the arguments that happened behind closed doors. Few of us learned how to express anger or our complaints in a healthy way so naturally we find it difficult to do it in our relationships.

How was love and comfort expressed?

Did you feel loved and cherished in your home or did you feel like you were on the outside looking in? Conversely, were you smothered and used as an emotional support system for one or both of your parents. Not experiencing healthy love and comfort in our home leaves us with a deficit that is extremely hard to fill, especially by an unaware spouse.

How was communication handled?

Was information communicated directly or did it come through channels. If someone was angry or upset did you hear it from them or did it come at you via third parties. If we or our partner is unused to direct communication then we may feel threatened or frightened by their frankness and it may be difficult for us feel connected.  

What were the expectations for each family member?

What was expected of each member in your home? These expectation are often transferred to your new relationships without even a conscious thought that your spouse may have a different set of expectations. 

If you and your spouse are not in agreement in these areas then you are bound to feel misunderstood and alone. We create such strong and deeply held beliefs that when our partner shares a contrary view we can’t accept it, much less understand it. If we are ever going to have healthy, satisfying relationships we need to understand what those relationships look like.

After all, a sure way to become utterly lost is to redouble your effort after you have lost sight of your goal.  And that is what a lot of us do when we’re in unhappy relationships. We try desperately to make changes in ways that are just as dysfunctional as what we are trying to change. The real change needs to happen in us before we can hope to see a significant change in our relationship.

I have often had clients recount to me a litany of failed and dysfunctional relationships as if there was some grand conspiracy to make sure that they would never find happiness. I always listen patiently. (Okay, sometimes I get a wee bit impatient) But I do understand that there is deep pain and sadness when we feel disconnected, alone and hopeless. Eventually we get around to the inevitable question. What do all these relationships have in common? At this point my client has a very hard time answering that question but eventually (with some prodding) the light comes on and they say – it’s me. Yes, I say in my wisest and most compassionate tone, it is you. So what do you want to do about that?

We are at the center of our lives for good or for bad so if we’re ever going to experience something different we’re going to need to see what we are doing in order to create something new. And that my friends is why we look at the past and ask the above questions.

If you are having difficulty with knowing what healthy relationships look like I have a suggestion. Read the Beatitudes (Matthew 5: 3-10 and 1 Corinthians 13) and especially study the life of Jesus Christ. For in his example we find the highest, truest, and most worthy example of how we are to interact with one another. Or as the Apostle Paul said so well:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
— Philippians 2:5-11 NIV

As always if ever we can help you on your journey to find joy we're here to help.

Alone – In a Relationship

lonely 1.jpg
Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the greatest poverty of all
— Mother Teresa

Every relationship goes through tough times where one or both partners feel isolated and disconnected from each other. We are complicated creatures and the ability to fit our lives together for any length of time will inevitably produce conflict. If that conflict is not handled well (and it usually isn’t) it will create hurt feelings. Those hurt feelings can turn to resentment and then grow into long standing bitterness. If this pattern continues the couple will gradually feel increasingly distant and loneliness will set in. Many times the externals of the marriage remain in place; the house is maintained, the kids are cared for and life goes on “normally” but without feelings of intimacy, affection or mutual admiration. What is left is a shell of a marriage with nothing inside.

Sometimes one partner will wake up and try to reconnect - trying to get the other to realize that there’s a problem. Occasionally it works and there is re-connection but often the efforts to communicate their unhappiness falls upon deaf ears and a hard heart. So the “enlightened” partner begins a series of attempts to convince their mate that the Status Que is not acceptable. These new attempts also usually end in failure. At this point the attempt to express their unhappiness is redoubled which is then fended off with even greater defensiveness or outright denial. At this point the slow downward death spiral of the relationship begins until there is neither the willingness nor the energy to resurrect the lifeless marriage. The marriage either ends in divorce court or it continues on zombie-like until physical death mercifully comes calling and liberates them from their unhappy union.

If this sounds depressing - well it is. But it is a reality. Studies show that 20% of marriages have one or more partners feeling isolated, disconnected and alone. Some are in the beginning stages of isolation and some have been experiencing aloneness for a long, long time. The good news is there is hope for creating a better outcome than the one described above. The challenge is most who find themselves in this kind of relationship end up making the chasm larger through their desperate and ineffective efforts to influence their spouse. What they end up doing is pushing them further away and making themselves and their partner more miserable in the process.

So I submit that there is a better way to reconnect in your marriage.

In the coming weeks our Marriage Monday blog will be devoted to sharing seven principles for effectively working on your relationship – even if your partner doesn’t want to. If your marriage is doing well right now these principles will help you develop a more intimate relationship and preemptively guard against isolation, disconnection and aloneness. I often tell my marriage counseling clients my goal is that someday, when you are very old and in a nursing home and they are wheeling you both down the corridors you two will be holding hands.

Join us on this journey as we discover ways to develop greater connection and intimacy in our marriages and overcome those inevitable times of disconnection. 

Managing Pesky Perpetual Problems in Marriage

We all want our relationships to be conflict free – right? We all have a dream somewhere hidden deep in our hearts that we’ll arrive at that perfect place in our marriage where we are completely understood by our spouse and that all arguments magically disappear. But it hasn’t happened yet and (I’m sorry to say) it is never going to happen.

According to Dr. John Gottman, who has done more than 40 years of research on more than 3,000 couples, 69% of all conflict in marriages are perpetual; that is to say they are never going away. So what do we do? Are we doomed to a continual state of aggravation?

Here’s another fact that Dr. Gottman discovered through his research. Master marriages are not conflict free - they learn to resolve conflict in a way that strengthens the relationship rather than tears it apart.

So how can we resolve conflict well? Here it is in one word; compromise.

First let me tell you what compromise is not:

  • It is not sacrificing your core beliefs
  • It is not over-riding your spouse’s core beliefs
  • It is not giving up and retreating in discouragement
  • It is not taking turns winning
Compromise is the ability to let go of those things that are non-essential while holding on to your core dreams and beliefs.

Think of it this way; most conflict has a foundation in an underlying dream or desire that is being threatened. We have a vision for our lives that is not in alignment with our spouse. We call these beliefs “non-negotiable” because to compromise them would be to change how we fundamentally believe we should live. But surrounding these core beliefs is a wide area of more flexible desires that are open to compromise. Here’s an example:

Joe and Sally are arguing over where they are going to take their summer vacation. They have had this same argument for the past twenty years and inevitably somebody wins and somebody loses and it is the source of much tension in their marriage. Sally wants to spend quality time with her family (who Joe dislikes, but that's another issue) and Joe wants to go someplace fun like Orlando or Las Vegas so he can relax. They have tried the “you got your way last year so now it’s my turn” strategy but that ends up with someone having a miserable time and making the whole family miserable. The art of compromise can make this perpetual problem manageable.

They take out a piece of paper and draw two concentric circles. In the middle circle they write the non-negotiables (i.e. their core beliefs) in the outer circle they write what is negotiable. For Joe his inner circle has fun, relaxation, entertainment) For Sally she has connection with Family. What they soon discover is that when they experience their “non-negotiable” is very negotiable. Joe is okay with connecting with family but not during his once-a-year two week vacation. Likewise, Sally is fine with seeing family during other non-vacation times. They were able to work out an arrangement where Sally would see family for long weekends and periodically invite them to join them for a week in Orlando which would accomplish both their core goals.

The secret to compromise is to accurately and simply define the core, non-negotiable desires in as narrow a way as possible so that it opens up a larger area for compromise. When we get our core desires met we are far more eager to be willing to give way to help our partner get what they need.

Next time one of those pesky perpetual problems arise draw the circles and see if there’s more flexibility than you thought. It will help you examine the root of the problem and help get some out-of-the-box thinking going.

If we at Total Wellness Resource Center can answer any questions you have or help in any other way don't hesitate to email us at connect@totalwellnesscenter.net or call us. We're here to help!

If You Want to be Happily Married You'll Need to Get Real Good at This!

Forgiveness is not an option to sustain a healthy relationship. Research has consistently shown that those who experience forgiveness in their romantic relationships achieve a greater sense of closeness and satisfaction than those who hold on to past offences.

First let me state what forgiveness is not:

  • Forgiveness is not trust. Trust is earned through actions that consistently demonstrate integrity. We can forgive an individual for what they have done but we do not necessarily need to trust them.
  • Forgiveness is not a feeling. If we wait until we feel like forgiving someone we probably will not … and if we do that forgiveness will be shallow and easily taken back.
  • Forgiveness is not circumstantial. Forgiveness cannot be tied to any other action or attitude on the part of the one forgiven – if it is then it can (and probably will be) withdrawn with the next offence.
  • Forgiveness is not primarily for the forgiven. When we forgive it is a great kindness we are giving to the one forgiven but it is an even greater kindness we are giving to ourselves. There are several reasons for this but primarily it is because we take ourselves out of the place of judge, jury and executioner and leave that to a greater and more knowledgeable court. As a Christian I find great comfort in the fact that my meager understanding of human affairs and hearts is not what determines the final outcome of anyone. I let the One who “judges the thoughts and intentions of the heart” be responsible for the rewards and punishments. And even if you don’t believe in a personal God who will judge humanity most people believe in the law of sowing and reaping also known as, “what goes around, comes around”. Or as one old salt told me “the world will kick you in the A#@ much harder than I will”.  I also recognize that my opinion is very often clouded by my personal perspective which is usually based upon my needs and desires. So most offences are about me not getting treated the way I think I should be treated and are inherently selfish. Even if I could on some rare occasion be totally in the right why not just forgive it all and be done with the crap that harboring resentment produces?
  • Forgiveness is not reconciliation. Forgiveness is a key component to being reconciled with another but when it is given it does not automatically produce reconciliation. Reconciliation requires several steps which include repentance, atonement and reconnection and is not unilateral because a true and humble awareness of the offence must be achieved and trust restored.   
  • Forgiveness is not easy. It can often be the hardest thing you will ever do and something that you will need to work at because it doesn’t come naturally. It is not an emotion it is a decision.

So here is a definition of forgiveness:

Forgiveness is a unilateral decision to free an offending party of all personal retribution for their action against you.

In an ongoing relationship there will be many times when we are inadvertently offended by our partner and we exercise unilateral forgiveness without our spouse even recognizing it. It is the sign of a healthy relationship to let go of small offences without letting them become the seeds of bitterness that blossom into full blown resentment. However, to maintain an intimate relationship, we must be willing and able to talk about our hurts to one another. Out of these conversations arise the intimate insights that make good relationships great. The willingness to forgive is at the core of these conversations for if we are unwilling to forgive then what is our ultimate objective?

Here are the benefits of forgiveness:

  • Forgiveness opens the door to restoring relationships. Like I said forgiveness does not automatically restore relationships but without it restoration is impossible.
  • Forgiveness reduces anxiety and harmful ruminations. Who really suffers when we hold resentment in our hearts? That’s right we do!
  • Forgiveness promotes genuine humility. When we forgive we naturally reflect on how many times we too were forgiven and that is humbling.
  • Forgiveness removes ammunition from the next relational conflict. It is common for old relational wounds to surface during the heat of an argument. This is truly like throwing gasoline on a fire. When we forgive we take away this flammable material and it is much easier to focus on the problem at hand.
  • Forgiveness most closely aligns ourselves with the heart of God. If you want to have a rich, powerful, deeply satisfying relationship with God then get good at forgiveness because that is God’s primary message to us.
Forgive as the Lord forgave you
— Colossians 3:13 NIV

I hope this is helpful. Please let us know if we can ever be of assistance. We are here for you!