Gary's blog for couples and parents plus resources for individuals, leaders and churches.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Where Our Worth Is Really Found

Who would imagine that our view of ourselves could impact even how we communicate and connect in marriage but it does. We must figure out that it's impossible for a couple to ever deeply explore one another's souls - their feelings, thinking, etc. - if either person feels like his or her worth is on the line to do so.

Let me explain. If you're a Christ follower, part of God's family through faith in Christ, then five things are always true: You're loved, you matter, you have purpose, you are a child of God, and you're forgiven. And it's those truths that are the foundation of our identity, who we really are on any given day.

However, most of us drift little by little towards thinking again that our value is in something or someone else. We start to think that who we are is based on what we're currently experiencing, things we're presently struggling with, the tasks we cannot do, or the circumstances that we now encounter. We may think for example, "I'm unemployed so therefore I'm a lousy provider, I'm a terrible spouse, and I'm letting down my family," and the like. And sadly, that often becomes who we believe we now are.

But what if we were to think this way? "No, I don't have a job right now and I need to deal with that, but I'm still loved, I matter, I have purpose nonetheless and I'll always be God's child. I just happen to be unemployed." That's a huge difference in perspective that can be lifechanging.

When our circumstances or what others think of us determine who we are then we must fight to the finish for our worth wherever we can. And unfortunately that's why many couples battle furiously about things that really aren't that important. What starts as a solvable disagreement turns into put downs, name-calling and lots of yelling. Why? Because the fighters are trying to save their value and worth. They must stand for themselves and believe they cannot lose the battle to be ok.

But when we finally grasp that our worth is never really at risk we become healthier and can respond, even to criticism, more positively. Though it's still not always easy to go to that other person and talk, we don't become paralyzed by what's going on or being said to us. We will be more willing to listen when we don't have to win. We can hear criticism, right or wrong, and process it with the other person rather than lash out at them for being so "unfair."

Yes, it's important and helpful to learn communication strategies and guidelines to make our interactions more effective. I gave some of those guidelines in my last post and they are worth reviewing or seeing for the first time. But if we don't understand that our ultimate worth only comes from God and not from our spouse, "winning" or having others change, then we will die on the sword of our opinions.

Where do you find your worth? In your job, degrees, accomplishments? In what your spouse thinks of you, how your kids turn out or how much money you make? Any source of worth apart from God will potentially let you down. And if your value is tied up in your spouse then you won't approach them anytime you think their response to you may be negative.

I often suggest people struggling with this principle carry around a card that has the five truths above about worth written on it: I'm love, I matter, I'm forgiven, I'm a child of God and I have purpose. Say them to yourself everyday. Remind yourself often of how God sees you. It will not only change your marriage communication. It will change your life!
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

Gary is currently a consultant, teacher, speaker and chaplain providing resources for families, leaders and churches.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Real Intimacy - Part 2 - The Soul

In this post let me this time discuss intimacy of soul. Soul intimacy means we reveal to one another our feelings, thoughts, wills, goals, and personalities. Intimacy in every area, like we think of physically, involves exposure of one another but that isn't easy.

That was Adam and Eve's problem in the garden. They didn't want to be exposed for who they really were. Note Adam's response to God in Genesis 3, "We were afraid because we were naked so we hid." Many times, rather than admit our struggles or weaknesses we just hide. Exposure isn't easy, especially in the soul arena, but let me offer some practical help.

Gary Smalley suggests that there are five levels of communication from shallow to deeper that we must understand: cliches, facts, opinions, feelings and needs.

Most couples get beyond cliches and can usually talk about facts and opinions. Facts are pretty important since sometimes couples argue about things that they don't even know all the details about. But so many couples get paralyzed on the opinion level. "I think we spend too much money." "No we don't." "You just bought a TV last week and didn't even tell me." And then battle goes on from there. Couples think they have to be right, they can't look bad and then the name-calling and yelling start.

If only couples would learn to go to the next two levels. First, listen and discover what the other person is feeling. And be sure you actually hear a feeling not just something like, "I feel like you never listen to me." That's just another form of an opinion. A feeling would be more like, "I'm hurt because it feels like you weren't listening to me last night."

Once the feeling is discerned - anger, confusion, being overwhelmed, hurt, etc. - it's time to take one more step. (Note: Discovering feelings takes time and should not be rushed.) Start moving toward that fifth level. "What do you need from me that would make you feel less confused right now?" "What did you need from me last night that wouldn't have caused so much hurt?"

Needs help provide an action point along with extra depth in truly understanding the other person. When we ask what the other person needs from us it's not necessarily an admission of guilt. We're simply admitting that yes there is something we might be able to do to help and understand. And if we were wrong then meeting a need helps us learn to do better next time.

When we're willing to risk going to levels four and five we can begin to taste what it really means to be intimate in soul.

In fact, many women, including my wife, have told me that often what they want most is to simply have their feelings understood. They don't always need an answer or a fix.

But . . . there's one big problem apart from just practicing levels four and five and making them a habit. I spoke earlier about the "battle" that goes on for our worth? If our worth is on the line during our discussions with our spouse, we will find it hard to want to really understand the other person. Instead we'll demand that we win, that we look good and come out on top or "right."

If that's your problem, don't miss my next post when I'll talk more about where our identity is really found. But if you are confident about who you are and ready, take some time to practice levels four and five on your spouse. You'll be surprised at how intimate your souls can become and how much closer you get to each other and to God.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

Gary is currently a consultant, teacher, speaker and chaplain providing resources for families, leaders and churches.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

"Real Intimacy in Marriage"

Recently I was part of a panel at our church answering questions about the challenges people face in marriage. It got me to thinking, "What would I say if I could only say ONE thing to or share one concept with married couples?"

I think it would be this: Real intimacy requires closeness and exposure of body, soul and spirit. In fact, this is the outline I use in premarital counseling with couples planning a wedding. We talk at length about how to start and sustain intimacy in each of these areas.

Obviously, couples have a pretty good idea of what physical intimacy is all about although I try to share some practical hints and ideas in that area too. But what they often do not understand is that even physical intimacy is closely connected to the intimacy enjoyed or not enjoyed in soul and spirit.

Let me briefly talk about these other two areas. Soul intimacy involves the connecting of our feelings, thinking, wills and personalities. The soul is of course that part of us that makes us who we really are, the part we don't really see but know is there. The soul involves the deepest recesses of who we are, what we long for and our most passionate affections.

Sadly, many couples never or rarely connect on a soul level. They are too busy just surviving, having a good time, or trying to accomplish things they think will make them happier or more important. Husbands and wives, however, both usually long to be understood, to have their perspective heard and to be accepted anyway. We thirst for soul intimacy but avoid it nonetheless.

This is often why one spouse will be attracted in their workplace, church or community to someone of the opposite sex who pays them some attention, listens to them and treats their more intimate thoughts with greater care.

If we are going to enjoy true intimacy in our marriages then we must both make time to interact on this deeper level and then meaningfully and effectively enter into the soul world of our spouse. We will have to learn to listen well, to put the other person's feelings and thoughts into our own words and then express what we've heard to them. It's not hard, but it takes work and practice. And it doesn't happen overnight.

In my next post I'll give you some practical help on how to connect on a soul level more intimately.

Spiritual intimacy is very closely tied to soul intimacy. Some would even argue that the spirit and soul are the same. I believe there is significant overlap but there also seem to be some distinctives and the Bible tends to use both terms as well.

For now, let's simply think of our spirits as the part of us that communicates and connects with God. By this definition the soul is certainly included in our connections with God, but there also seems to be more. In a marriage, a connection of spirits occurs when people pray for each other, when they discuss spiritual things, when they serve God together and see the spiritual blessings and favor of God in their own lives and in others.

Again, many couples, even those who attend church regularly and would call themselves Christ followers, rarely connect spiritually. They don't pray together or for each other while they go off to church and then head home without a word of interaction about what they saw, heard and experienced.

Real, deep intimacy also must include a regular and ongoing spiritual connection of two people. There are no magic formulas but a simple place to start would be to simply pray for and with each other on a regular basis and/or to talk once each week about spiritual lessons or ideas you're learning as a result of your own spiritual journey.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

Gary is currently a consultant, teacher, speaker and chaplain providing resources for families, leaders and churches.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Key Causes of Marriage Problems

Recently I served on a panel in our weekend services answering questions about the things that bring pressure points to a marriage. I had no clue what topics would be covered but I was pretty sure there were a couple of places we needed to go.

Why? Because marriage problems, while complex and unique to each couple, have fundamental causes and issues that every couple would be wise to take note of and do inventory on regularly. And if you're deficient in these areas then make sure you get some preventative or remedial help that can assure that your marriage can remain vibrant, healthy and on track the way God intended.

The first common characteristic I see in troubled marriages is a lack of premarital preparation. That means that a couple began their new home with few skills and little understanding about what marriage is, can become and how to keep it growing. As a result they often don't know any better. They can begin to think that their dysfunctional ways of relating are normal and therefore continue to perpetuate them rather than learn to change.

It's only when things get so bad that the couple finally get help but even the assistance process is challenging because there is so much in their thinking and behaving that must be altered. If you didn't have premarital counseling before marriage I would seriously consider getting some or at least a marriage mentor and begin to talk about how your relationship is going. You might discover some major changes you need to make to avoid greater problems down the road.

Second, meaningful communication with each other is non-existent or severely inhibited by the ways the couple connect on a daily basis. So many couple are more interested in being right than doing what's best for each other and their home. Simple discussions turn into all out wars with yelling, pouting, swearing and demanding as the weapons. When things get bad enough most start to use namecalling and bringing up the past as ways to get in their final blow.

And those who take things to the limit can even begin to hit one another. These couples`need to know that there is a better way. And while I don't have time or space here to detail all of what healthy communication does and doesn't look like let me address a couple of places to start.

Begin by listening. Yes, listening. Turn off the TV, look at each other in the eye, and talk about how you feel about what's going on and why. Identify one another's feelings without defending your position. When we listen well we begin to understand and we all want and need understanding. Once we've heard the other person's feelings then we need to ask what they need from us that would help them feel less that way.

An example: So honey, you're confused and even hurt about our finances right now because I question your spending a lot and don't give you as much freedom as you would like with money. What do you need from me that would help you not feel that way as much?

Get the idea? Communication takes time and work. It requires putting aside our own demands and listening to the other person. I've never seen a couple struggling with their marriage who is very good at this.

Finally, when you talk with one another only speak in the here and now. By that I mean that you only talk about the current issue and what is happening right then, not things from the past or predictions for the future.

Here's the wrong way: Ron, you just never listen do you! It's always about you when we make a decision whether it's about going to dinner or changing jobs.

You're just like your father so why should I ever expect things to be different?

Here's the right way: Ron, I was confused tonight and frankly a little hurt when you told me to choose where we'd go to eat and then last minute you decided we would go somewhere else.

Can you see the difference? The first responses are filled with character attacks based on the past and then the spouse says the same about the future when the comparison to his dad is brought in. The implication? You'll never change. You're a loser, that's the way you are so why should I try?

But in the second example, the spouse focuses only on what's going on right now. That is huge in developing healthy communication skills and having meaningful conversations. A person is far more likely to engage in the second conversation than the first and will have far less tendencies to make war over it.

If you want to bring some pretty immediate help to a struggling marriage, start by getting some counsel or mentoring and try these communication skills. You'll be surprised where that can take you if you try!
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

Gary is currently a consultant, teacher, speaker and chaplain providing resources for families, leaders and churches.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

"Avoiding the Super-Parent Trap"

A recent issue of Christianity Today had a cover story entitled, "The Myth of the Perfect Parent." As I read it, I found myself mulling over the many parents I've worked with who seem to be obsessed with turning out great kids. In fact, I had to admit that there were times when I felt huge pressure to make my own children be everything they were supposed to be.

And while I'll let you read the article and see if you agree with their premises or not, let me suggest a few of my own cautions about putting too many demands on ourselves to never mess up in our parenting.

First of all, when it's all said and done, God has the ultimate say about our kids' futures. Yes, parenting matters and scripture certainly gives us some guidelines about being wise and healthy parents but it's not all up to us. In fact, I'm a little surprised how little the Bible specifically says about child rearing. Nonetheless, we can do everything perfectly so to speak and our kids can still choose to go other directions.

And we can make huge mistakes and our kids can still turn out well.

When Proverbs 22:6 says, "Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it," God's not giving us a money back guarantee, but rather a general principle.

Second, there's no such thing as a perfect parent. We simply can't do everything right. We're to be like Jesus as much as possible but we're not Jesus himself! We need to let go of any such parental illusions of grandeur.

Third, as the CT article points out, many of the heroes of the faith in Scripture did not live in model homes. Just look at the list of Bible greats in Hebrews 11 and you'll find many who had a rough growing up period - Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Jephthath . . . the list goes on and on. Our notion that somehow our kids MUST turn out right and we MUST be great parents for that to happen is simply not true.

Fourth, hovering, domineering, obsessed parents are generally more a pain than a help. Parents who are hyper about their kids' behavior and responses generally become "helicopter" parents - they just hover all the time and never let their kids mess up or make their own decisions. But it's during those times of challenge, struggle and crisis when we learn our greatest lessons, isn't it?

So what's a wise parent to do? First, pray a lot. Pray every day that your kids will be wise, make good decisions, get to know God better and become who God intended for them to be.

Second, do your best to teach them what is means to follow Christ with all your heart. Speak about it, model it, live it as Deuteronomy 6 describes it. Be consistent and faithful. Be real and honest. Let them see your faith in the good times and the bad.

Finally, love them as a unique individual who is fearfully and wonderfully made. Let them know what it means to be cared for no matter what while giving them challenges and guidelines that cause them to take the high road.

And if you're worn out trying to be a great parent, then slow down and relax. God is still in control, even during those times when you're not!
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

Gary is currently a consultant, teacher, speaker and chaplain providing resources for families, leaders and churches.