Category Archives: counseling

When It’s Just Too Hard

Many years back we had a conversation with one of our pastors because of a struggling couple. Now, understand that counseling relationally stressed couples are a regular part of what we do. But the question to our pastor in this case was somewhat different.

“When a pre-married couple has been in counseling with us for a long time, how should we advise them?”

It can be a pretty complex question depending on the circumstances.

Are they living together? For how long?

Are there children involved and are the children the product of the couple.

What holds them back from commitment?

Are their personalities just too different?

Our pastor’s response was this (paraphrased): “If it’s that difficult before marriage, it will probably be even worse after the rings go on. It should be delightful and easy during the dating phase, not stressful and difficult to navigate.”

This is not to say that there aren’t areas that have to be addressed. Negotiating our differences because we are separate people with different expectations is normal. But sometimes we are just too far apart in what we hold as our relational goals.  

Family of origin and ethnic differences cannot always be smoothed out in a satisfying or practical manner. Unresolved addictions or unhealed early abuse may be too hard to overcome in this particular relationship. Or the timing may be off. The issues need to be resolved before the relationship can go forward.

I think about this every time we are about to teach another pre-married class. Couples come to the class, mostly with a hopefulness that this relationship might be “the one”. But some also come in with fear and skepticism born out of pain and disappointment from the past.

There has been a tendency to delay marriage more and more with each successive generation that we have encountered. There might be some wisdom in this, but as we know the biological realities of childbearing do not bow to the culture. This can add to the anxiety and urgency that motivates many couples to move forward and make a decision. Sometimes this is a good thing. But not always. There are no perfect marriages. But there are some that are just too difficult and should never have been formed. Waiting for the right match is hard because there are no guarantees. But living the wrong one is guaranteed suffering. Stay hopeful. Pursue health. Be wise.  

Are You An Enabling Parent To An Adult Child?

This is an excerpt from a book by Allison Bottke entitled “Setting Boundaries With Your Adult Children.”

Following are a few questions that might help you determine the difference between helping and enabling an adult child. It’s interesting to note that these questions are not unlike those often asked in Al-Anon meetings when defining the behaviors of an alcoholic or drug addict with whom someone lives.  

  1. Have you repeatedly loaned your adult child money, which has seldom, if ever, been repaid?
  2. Have you paid for education and/or job training in more than one field?
  3. Have you finished a job or project that he failed to complete himself because it was easier than arguing with him?
  4. Have you paid bills he was supposed to have paid himself?
  5. Have you accepted part of the blame for his addictions or behavior?
  6. Have you avoided talking about negative issues because you feared his response?
  7. Have you bailed him out of jail or paid for his legal fees?
  8. Have you given him “one more chance” and then another and another?
  9. Have you ever returned home at lunchtime (or called) and found him still in bed sleeping?
  10. Have you wondered how he gets money to buy cigarettes, video games, new clothes, and such but can’t afford to pay his own bills?
  11. Have you ever “called in sick” for your child, lying about his symptoms to his boss?
  12. Have you threatened to throw him out but didn’t?
  13. Have you begun to feel that you’ve reached the end of your rope?
  14. Have you begun to hate both your child and yourself for the state in which you live?
  15. Have you begun to worry that the financial burden is more than you can bear?
  16. Have you begun to feel that your marriage is in jeopardy because of this situation?
  17. Have you noticed growing resentment in other family members because of your adult child?
  18. Have you noticed that others are uncomfortable around you when this issue arises?
  19. Have you noticed an increase in profanity, violence, and/or other unacceptable behavior from your adult child?
  20. Have you noticed that things are missing from your home, including money, valuables, and other personal property?

If you answered yes to several of these questions, chances are that at some point in time, you have enabled your adult child to avoid his own responsibilities and to escape the consequences of his actions. Rather than helping him grow into a productive and responsible adult, you have made it easier for him to become even more dependent and irresponsible. If you answered yes to most or all of these questions, you have not only been an enabler, but you have probably become a major contributor to the problem. It’s time to stop.

Bottke, Allison. Setting Boundaries® with Your Adult Children: Six Steps to Hope and Healing for Struggling Parents (pp. 31-32). Harvest House Publishers.

Help! I’m Lost

When I saw this meme I thought: “What a perfect visual of ‘spider-webbing’ from the book ‘Love & Respect’ by Emerson Eggerichs.” And a great reminder of how we can end up in unnecessary conflicts.  

Yes, I know it’s really fun to tell a story in a “stream of consciousness” type manner, letting your mind wander where it will to include all the random details and additional thoughts. Fun for you – probably not so much for another person trying to follow you – especially if some response is required.

As counselors we are certainly familiar with this challenge. Often people in distress will have a hard time corralling their thoughts. We understand that and make room for it. But at some point it is necessary to rein in the person so that we can be of help.

So what should we do when we begin to be overwhelmed by a rambling conversation?

First of all, be patient and kind. Wait for a break in the narrative (they have to breathe sometime). Then suggest gently that you are getting lost. I might say “I want to track with you (or hear you) but I’m getting a bit tangled.”  I sometimes ask if we could circle around to the original point.

What is happening is that the listener is becoming flooded. They are reaching their capacity to process the incoming words and are slowly shutting down. The speaker may notice the withdrawal and believe that the other person doesn’t care. And although sometimes that might be true, it is usually not the case.

And if you are the speaker?

As a speaker, I can watch the body language that gives me a clue when I need to wrap it up. I grew up with a mom who was pretty much a non-stop talker. She was an extrovert and external processor. She didn’t see or hear the social cues that others gave out. It made it awkward for the gracious introverts who liked her, but didn’t know how to detach when they were becoming overwhelmed. You may know what I am talking about. I could say “Gotta go, Mom” – and her response could be “One last thing” (it never was) or “Oh, I just thought of something important.” I often just tuned her out. I felt guilty about it, but I also felt trapped.   

Of course, when we stop actively listening we may miss things we need to know. Those dropouts in our hearing often lead to miscommunications in the future. It is actually being kind to the other person when we ask for what we need (more concise communication).

For me the book of Proverbs is the manual of wise instructions that should be required reading for everyone. It talks about the risk of not practicing some restraint.

I love this verse:

Proverbs 10:19 (NKJV) In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, But he who restrains his lips is wise.

A bit direct perhaps, but good advice nonetheless.