Category Archives: relationships

4 Steps to Avoiding Relationship Trouble

For years Nan & I have given the instruction to clients to ask themselves

“What do I feel and what do I need?”

It’s good advice, but it’s not complete enough. Then we came across an expanded four step version from therapist and professor Terry Hargrave, who attends our church.

It is as follows:

  1. What do you feel?
  2. What do you believe?
  3. What is the truth (reality)
  4. What is the right action? (This is where “What do I need?” might be a good question.)

We like to tell a story about early in our marriage when Nan & I went camping in Upper Chileo Flats in the Angeles Crest Forest here in California. It was late at night and Nan needed to make a bathroom visit. So she took the flashlight and headed for the outhouse. I was tucked snugly in our 1960 Ford Vanette hippie van camper named “Big Pink”. All of a sudden Nan came bounding in to the camper and jumped in bed behind me and started pushing me toward the open door with her feet.

“There’s a mountain lion out there. Go do something!”

I remember that what I wanted to do was to put my pants on. But like a dutiful new husband I grabbed the flashlight and went to investigate. Instead of the roar of a mountain lion, I was met by the meow of someone’s kitty-cat.

Nan’s 4 steps:
  1. What did she feel? Fear
  2. What did she believe? There was a lion after her and she was in danger.
  3. What was the truth? It was a harmless house cat.
  4. What was the right action? Well, maybe to pet the cat if it was friendly.

She also had one more belief. The Bible said a husband was to love his wife as Christ loved the church and be willing to lay down his life for her. (Eph. 5:25). Maybe this was a test of faith for a new husband?

When these four steps are applied prior to emotional interactions with others, the outcome may be very different from our initial assessment. You can easily see that if we have inaccurate beliefs or assumptions we are going to react incorrectly no matter what we may feel. This is why slowing down our reactivity in any type of relationship will probably yield better results. It is so easy to believe that someone is against you when they really aren’t. Maybe they are just for themselves. Or perhaps they are actually for you, but it’s hard to receive because of past experiences or family of origin issues.

When I get a hold of my inner dialog and bring it under Christ’s authority I am a different person. As our pastor says, before a person opens their mouth to ANYONE, they should ask themselves these three questions:

Is it kind?        Is it true?      Is it necessary?

If they can’t say yes to all three conditions then they should not say it. Going through the four steps will help determine the answers to those questions and change your interactions for the better with everyone.

The Road To Relationship

road relationship

I believe the road to relationship is paved with good intentions. All the things we intend to do to find and sustain a wonderful union are usually noble. We will be kind, generous, thoughtful and attentive. And we intend to find someone who is like minded. So how do some relationships go sideways with all these good intentions?

I think some wonky relationships can be traced back to the very beginning. Either our “picker” is broken or our process is flawed. Submitted for your consideration:

Attraction

Sometimes attraction can be almost instantaneous. We have this feeling that “we just know” this is the right person. Translation: My hormones are raging and the reason center of my brain just shut down. I am “crazy” in love. Nobody can talk to me because all I see is a romantic future with this person. I say somebody forgot to install brakes on this bus. Two such impulsive people are likely to be heading off a cliff in the future.

I think attraction is very important. Without it, sustaining a relationship can be quite challenging. Lacking attraction we may choose rationally, based on practical criteria. That’s important, of course, but not the stuff you want to depend on for intimacy. A fat paycheck and a hot meal is great, but it’s not the stuff of deep connectedness.

Character

This is the part of the relationship that takes time to know. Character is discovered over a longer period of time. This is where you watch to see if their words and their actions match up over time and through challenging situations. They “intend” to operate with integrity and virtue, but when things heat up they may melt. When temptation hits, they just can’t quite resist. Nobody can be perfect, but a little bit of infidelity can sour a sweet relationship, and a few little (or big) lies can break trust.

The Sex Factor

This is the fly in the ointment for many relationships. Once this boundary has been crossed, discernment is compromised. We are operating mostly from feelings and not rationality. We “feel” so close to each other. We “know” the other person. They are our “soul mate.” No, they are our sin mate and backing up the relationship becomes difficult. Throw in an unexpected pregnancy and we have just gone from 0-200 mph in 10 seconds flat.

Same Mistake, Different Person

We are generally attracted to the same type of person. This imprint can bite us when our tendency is to make bad choices. I especially caution those that are considering marriage for a second (or third) time to pay attention to this reality. Even if the externals look very different, people often pick the same character and personality repeatedly. This is where listening very carefully to outside counsel is essential.

What is the answer?

Take your time. Have fun the first six months, but don’t get too serious. Once a full year has gone by, it’s time to make a decision. Don’t linger on for years. Most characterological defects can be discovered adequately in one year and the chemical wash to the brain that makes us irrational will subside. Then if you can say “yes” to the person exactly as they are, then move forward. And pray that the good intentions become good follow through.

Hanging On To the Good Times

Good TImes

This week Nan went through a surgery and while she was at the hospital my 93-year old father was admitted to another hospital for rapidly failing health. Yes, in the same day. Although Nan’s has turned out to be successful, I don’t expect it to be the same for my father. These are times when all the past squabbles mean nothing and the happy memories are cherished. This is one of them.

But the lesson to be learned here is to anticipate a day like this, and put the things you do today into perspective. Whatever you create in the here and now is what you will have to look back on. And you never know when “that day” will come.

We had prayerfully anticipated a good outcome for Nan’s surgery although there were some unknowns. But as anyone who has had a hospital procedure knows, you sign a lot of paperwork that reminds you of the scary reality – there is always a risk of things going badly.

Over my lifetime I have let anxiety rule some of my choices. I have not done things that would have created good memories for Nan and me. And because of my sinful nature I have created some bad ones, too. As I sat in the hospital waiting for the surgery to be finished I thought: “What if this was it? What if there were no more memories to be made?”

I think it is human nature to believe that you will always have enough time to do what you would want to do. But it’s a lie. You can miss it. Circumstances change. Health and energy fades. The years get away from you while you raise kids and go to work.

For God says, “At just the right time, I heard you. On the day of salvation, I helped you.” Indeed, the “right time” is now. Today is the day of salvation.  2 Corinthians 6:2

This isn’t a justification for going out and blowing all your money or abandoning all your restraints. Most of what is important will fall into other categories. It’s about investing your time wisely. It’s about being kind in your relationships. It’s about taking vacations and talking to each other rather than staring at your smart phone or computer. It’s about not accepting overtime just so you can buy more “stuff”.

I had an offer from someone to sit with me at the hospital. That meant a lot. That’s what true friendship looks like. Our church encourages building that kind of community and those kinds of relationships. Even the hard times can be good times if you don’t face them alone.

So what are the good times you want to hang on to?

As I get older some of the ones I used to think were good times are now regretful memories. We all have a past, so perhaps you are like me. These days I am more concerned with building significant or eternal ones. How about you?