Tag Archives: feelings

I’m Not Happy

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The couple in front of me was having a hard time of it. Their body language was very tentative, alternating between open and closed, but never resting in one posture. There were no crises and no hard decisions that had to be made. I asked the woman what she wanted to change in the relationship. Her reply was “I don’t know.” His was “I just want her to be happy.”

I have heard this many times while counseling couples. One of the spouses just seems to be dissatisfied but there is no apparent reason. Maybe you have been there, or are currently experiencing discontentment. I know I have been there in the past. What is happening? I can tell you that there is no “one size fits all” with this one. There could be many reasons why a spouse becomes despondent within a relationship:

  • The reality of the relationship doesn’t measure up to expectations
  • A partner loses their attractiveness over time (significant weight gain or loss, etc)
  • There is a chemical or hormonal change resulting in depression
  • Life stressors have become overwhelming and they feel powerless
  • Dreams have been put off for too long, or promises not kept
  • Their personal goals of achievement have not been met and they feel inadequate
  • Boredom has set in because of a repetitive schedule
  • What felt like love turns out to be infatuation.

This last one is very interesting. In an excerpt from Love, Sex, and Lasting Relationships by Chip Ingram he describes 12 Tests of Love that separate it from infatuation. I have linked it from a repost at FamilyLife. He implies that we may be under the spell of too many TV and movie scripts that have shaped our ideas about what love really is.

Regardless of the reason, being with an unhappy spouse is very discouraging. And being an unhappy spouse is even worse. It may take some time to discover the root of the problem, especially if it is not situational. Sometimes it’s helpful to let the person talk until they become aware of what is bothering them. Empathy goes a long way to repair distressed feelings and draw them closer to you. Other times is may be necessary to seek outside help. A counselor or doctor visit may be in order.

If you are the one who is joy challenged I suggest activating a support system. Isolation makes things worse, so hang with your friends. Change up your routine. Exercise. Journal your feelings. Pray, meditate, and focus on the positive. Turn off the daily news. Spend time with pets. Listen to uplifting worship music. Hug safe people. Go to church. Seek God.

Is This Normal?

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There are times in counseling, when clients are resistant to talking about their childhood. The most common reason is because they say they don’t want to blame their parents for their current situation or state of mind.

The truth is, we don’t want to blame their parents either. Blaming gets us nowhere. Very few parents ever get up in the morning thinking “How can I mess my child up today?” That would be just plain evil. But parents have an enormous effect on the development of their children, and understanding one’s family of origin yields great insight. What kinds of insight? Often looking at what was “normal” in a family but wasn’t healthy gives us a clue to the blind spots that someone might be carrying.

  • Was there heavy drinking or illegal drugs?
  • Was the home environment tense all the time?
  • Was there constant criticism?
  • Did a parent hold impossibly high expectations and could never be pleased?
  • Was there physical or emotional abuse?
  • Were there relational fractures or abandonment?
  • Was there poverty or deprivation?
  • Was there wealth that created entitlement or superiority?
  • Was there unearned or overstated parental praise that created an inflated self image?
  • Was a parent or sibling frequently depressed, anxious or mentally or physically sick?

All these conditions, if normalized, have the potential to promote maladaptive coping mechanisms. They can become strategies for survival during our child and adolescent years, but ones that may challenge or destroy relationships or become self-destructive when we become independent adults.

What are some of these maladaptive coping mechanisms?

  • Anger, rage, passive-aggressive behavior – resentment
  • Withdrawal – timidity – dissociation – depression
  • Substance abuse or other forms of self harm
  • Lying, deception, shaming, blaming

I think you get the point that these are all negative and unhealthy responses under normal circumstances. They are also learned behaviors that can be unlearned when the realization of their destructive potential settles in. As I have stated in an earlier post, sometimes “our feelings haven’t caught up with our reality”. Usually this is a good thing. We are most likely safer and more powerful than we were as a child. Or at least we have more control or options regarding our circumstances and can make decisions based on reality.

Probably none of our parents did everything optimally. Most of them did their best based on their history and experience in the families they grew up in, or the education they picked up along the way. Each new generation has the opportunity to learn from the successes or failures of the previous generations and grow accordingly. The process often requires facing some grief and entering into a fearless self examination. Some people may come down off pedestals during our exploration, perhaps even ourselves. If you are a seeker after truth you will understand the value of this and proceed with the reassurance that God is with you in this journey. 

Psalm 139:23 (NLT) Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.

Xtreme Feelings

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One of the things I like working as a counselor is the ongoing learning that I experience. Not just from books and seminars, but from the process itself, discovering things together with clients as the sessions unfold. Anyone who knows me knows how much I like and rely on my whiteboard. The above whiteboard illustration came during one of these sessions.

We were talking about how extreme feelings produce extreme reactions and usually extremely bad results.  

And often those feelings produce an intense sense of urgency – as if something must be done RIGHT NOW. But urgency causes us to overreact instead of proceeding in a more appropriate and godly manner.

When extreme feelings tempt us we must immediately back away. We are in a relational danger zone and only distance will protect us from potential destruction. In the above mentioned session, I suggested the client should look for alternate explanations when the intense feelings hit rather than accept the first and most feared one. A light came on for the client. He said that in the field of systems analysis and critical thinking, it is called looking for a rival hypothesis. And the solution, he said, is to search for confirming or disconfirming evidence before making a decision or taking action. Wow.

What it requires is slowing down the response and knowing that truth will come in time.

When our emotions get hijacked and the feeling of urgency presses on us, we must assess whether there really is an imminent threat or danger that must be dealt with quickly. In most relationships the answer to that question is almost always “No!” Usually it is a miscommunication or a misinterpretation. I never have bad intentions toward Nan and she never has bad intentions towards me.

So what do Nan and I do when we hit one of those intense rough spots? We get away and calm ourselves down first. We never bring heated anger to the table – never. Then, stripped of blame, we spend time clarifying the issue and if needed, we both own and apologize for our part of the conflict. Clarifying means being willing to listen more than talk. If both people will do that the crisis will pass quickly. Most of our conflicts these days last five minutes or so once we come to the table.

I know some of you are saying “But that seems so hard in the moment.”

Yes, it really is difficult. Much of what is worthwhile in life comes with a price. There is no way to sugar coat it. You must act differently than you feel, because of the benefit that will follow. The rewards are relational harmony and spiritual righteousness.

Ephesians 4:31-32 Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.