Tag Archives: Relationships

Don’t Make Me Go to Counseling

dragged into counseling

We are blessed not to have to work with people mandated by the court system to be in counseling. The closest we ever get is evaluating a couple for an adoption or foster care agency. But there is a significant difference. The couple is there because they have a positive goal in mind, even though they may not love the process.

The same might be said of other kinds of counseling clients. I must say that when I entered counseling with Nan my resistance was high. I did not freely choose the counseling at the time, but was “coerced” by her counselor. Outwardly I was compliant, but inwardly I was pretty defended. I have real empathy for people who feel like I did back then. It can be stressful not knowing what to expect or what might be required of you. I like to remind clients that they always have a choice whether to continue.

Now that I counsel, I have a lot of compassion for counselors as well. Working with resistant clients is challenging because even though you envision a positive outcome for them, they may not see it. It’s a lot like presenting the Christian faith. You’ve experienced all the gains, but the other person might only see losses.

The longer I counsel, and the shorter my remaining time to work professionally with people, the more inclined I am to only work with those who actually want to grow and change. Except for grief counseling, which is different, I am less interested in just hearing people complain, with no intention of taking positive action. I think that when venting feelings is the goal, it might be best accomplished with a safe prayer partner who can empathize and encourage. Sometimes we need that until we are ready to take action steps. But the work of counseling is transformation, whether of self or relationship or family or work.

Successful clients understand this. We have found a few things that seem to be common to these clients.

  • They do the homework
  • They read books relevant to their journey
  • They are persistent and hungry for growth
  • They listen
  • They take constructive criticism seriously

So does this mean that I am not open to hearing complaints? Of course not. Processing pain and discouragement and frustration and fear with people is a staple of counseling. It is a necessary step in order to move beyond those things. It is when the only purpose is to vent or hold someone else’s change as the goal that I want to refer a client on to someone else who might work better with them.

Does this sound heartless? I hope not. My deep desire is that people get better, live more satisfying lives, feel safe, receive love and love well in return. I believe that is God’s deep desire as well.

Jeremiah 31:3 (NIV)

The LORD appeared to us in the past, saying:
“I have loved you with an everlasting love;
I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.”

I’m Not Happy

sad-couple

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.

Listening Is Not Agreement

disagreement

I want to admit a character defect I have fought for most of my life. I am not proud of it, but I have grown because of it. Maybe you can relate to it as well. Here it is:

In my marriage (especially) I had an expectation that Nan not only had to hear me out, but also had to agree with me.

In other words, she had to think like me or she wasn’t being a good or loyal wife. Pretty narcissistic, huh? Pretty arrogant, too. It led to some uncomfortable conflicts and to some misunderstandings as well.

I think this is one of the blocks to good communication, not only in marriage but in other relationships as well. If my belief is that by listening to someone that means that I tacitly agree, I probably will be reluctant to listen. In our case that was the unspoken message I was sending to Nan: I want you listen to me, but I also insist that you agree. But the problem was that she didn’t always agree. And I made it hard for her to listen.

It’s usually not so destructive when the stakes are small – where to eat, what color to choose, etc. But it gets very tense when the big issues are on the table. Where do we live and which house do we buy? How do we raise our children? How do we interpret the Bible and our faith? For example, Nan was raised Catholic for a time and as a result is more contemplative in her spiritual practices than I am.

I am a dreamer (I prefer the word visionary) Whatever. Here’s the rub. In our conversations Nan didn’t always know the difference when I was just dreaming or if I was actually planning. So she didn’t know how to fully engage with me when I was dreaming because my dreams were often scary to her, involving writing big checks or making long distance moves. And she didn’t want me to assume she was in agreement with them. So she didn’t always want to listen to me. I felt alone.

Since those days a few things have changed. I have repented of my need to have her agree. I still want her to agree with me (who wouldn’t), but I have given up my need for her to do so for me to be to be OK with her.

Second, I now let her know when I am just dreaming out loud so she can relax and even join in the fun. And I keep the checkbook out of reach, safely locked in a drawer.

For those of us who are Christians, it can become tempting to use scripture to try to control or manipulate others, and we must guard against misuse of the Bible. That’s just another way to try to force agreement. Even when it’s not intentional, we can come off as legalistic or unloving. When I quote scripture I try to be extra humble and remember that context is everything. I try to let the scriptures be the authority, not me.

“I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.”

The Apostle Paul to the Ephesian elders, Acts 20:27