Tag Archives: Relationships

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.

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.