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

Sunday, August 29, 2010

When Your Marriage Is In Trouble

Divorce happens. It's real. Sometimes it's unavoidable when one person isn't willing to work on their part of the marriage anymore or a spouse just leaves or it becomes dangerous to stay. But perhaps more tragic is when there truly is some hope, things could be fixed and the couple just decides to give up because it's too hard or "I've tried too long" or they never really knew how much better things could be.

And if you've been divorced my thoughts today aren't about beating you up for your circumstances or decisions. Most every family today has been directly or indirectly impacted by divorce including my own. And like I've already suggested there are myriad reasons, situations and individuals involved in hurting marriages and why people ultimately divorce these days. There are no easy answers.

However, I do want to ask couples who might be in trouble to at least ponder a few key thoughts before they would ever decide to divorce or even explore it as an option. First, have you done your part to make things better?  I counsel with many couples and so often the discussion centers around what the other person has done or continues to do.  "If he (or she) just wouldn't ____________, our marriage would be great."  If you each own your own part of the problems you'll lower some of the angst right at the outset and maybe be able to see a possible resolution.

Second, have you together taken advantage of every resource available to help you make it?  Counseling, books (I Don't Want A Divorce is a great one), mentoring, conferences, and the like all have the potential to help you sort through the issues that are putting the most strain on your relationship.  Some of you may say, "Well, we don't have the time or money for all of that."  My response is, "You can't afford NOT to do some of those things! The consequences can be dreadful and lifechanging."

Third, ask yourself, "How much of our thinking has been influenced by the world around us and the media?"  Television, some talk radio and movies glamorize and laugh at broken relationships while modeling that most of the culture is single, runs around and loves every minute of it. Think of a favorite drama or sitcom where the leads are married and much less happily married.  There aren't many. Don't buy into the fantasy that just getting divorced and living as your own person again is the answer.  Hollywood wants us to believe that but it's not.  Look at the lives of most of the actors.

Finally, consider where you and your spouse are spiritually.  Do you pray for each other?  Have you committed to pray about your marriage for an extended time? Do you both have a personal relationship with God? Does your faith impact how you treat each other?  This can become a time when you both get drawn back to God or to Him for the first time.  When you have Christ living in you, you have greater resources to draw from when times are difficult and you don't look to your spouse as much to be your source of life, worth and value.

So if you're sensing or even overwhelmed with marital problems, will you at least make sure you've done everything you can first to make it?  Your kids (if you have them) need a loving mom and dad who are together if possible and there is a better way.  Let someone and God help you. Keep climbing.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Monday, August 23, 2010

Have A Good What?

The other day I was picking up a subscription and the cashier ended the sale with the oft-used greeting, "Have a good one." For some odd reason I started to think about what that really might have meant.  "Have a good day?"  Perhaps.  "Have a good week, month, year, decade, century, eternity?"  Not as likely. 

How about, "Have a good pill when your finally take one."  After all I was getting something that is related to my sleep.  As a result maybe he was saying, "Have a good night," as opposed to a lousy one which I can have now and then. Or more simply he was probably just wishing that I "have a good walk to the parking lot or a wonderful trip home."

Whatever he was saying it became for me one of those, "Yeah, whatever," moments.  I've heard that phrase hundreds of times from the Midwest to the Southwest. Does it mean anything?  Probably not.

But more importantly our communications with those we love can get pretty bland and rote too.  Do we say things that we assume they will understand, use tired responses that illicit their own whatevers or just get lazy avoiding expressions that truly matter and that our loved ones really long to hear.

Even "Love you!" as we drop someone off or end a phone conversation may not mean much if that's all we ever say or we just use it instead of "bye!"  How can we keep our conversation powerful and more significant than, "Have a good one?"  The best way is to stay or become intentional about saying things beyond the trite, everyday and habitual.

Ask yourself, "What do my kids probably long to hear that I haven't said for awhile?" "What might my spouse like to hear that I rarely say even though I may think it?"  Answering those two questions would be a good start and likely fuel other ideas.  I'm proud of you or I really do love you, you know or I can't think of any one else I'd rather have in this family besides you would be good places to start.

Another direction that we often overlook is inviting them to tell us what they think about whatever.  Tell me more about what you're thinking says a lot about how we view someone else.  Everyone likes the opportunity to talk and tell their story.  Do we sometimes not let our kids or spouses just talk because we can't be quiet long enough?

On the other hand don't overdo it and just get mushy, never say anything hard or negative or turn every event into a praise moment.  We were around a woman with a young baby not long ago who talked to her one year old plus child every time using baby talk and a baby-like voice. I suppose that's not the end of the world for now but she talked that way to the rest of us in the room, too. It was like having coffee with Snow White and Minnie Mouse.

We can show love and teach maturity by talking to our family members with respect, age-approrpriate words and a balance between praise and challenge.  What do you need to say today that goes beyond, "Have a good one."  Maybe next time I get my presecription I'll say, "Have a good what?"  Of course, my wife will never shop with me again.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Friday, August 20, 2010

What's The Plan At Your House?

Years ago a group of interchange designers were in a room with the purpose of planning how Interstate 35 would intersect in downtown Dallas with I 30, US 75 and the runways at DFW Airport. They were apparently smoking crack at the time and after several subsequent beers the chairman said, "OK, let's get started."

If you've ever driven through the center of Dallas you know that none of the major roads there actually meet each other.  You simply turn left, then right, then left, watching out for approaching aircraft and then get off at the next exit, finding the nearest Starbucks for a triple shot espresso. You then look for the oldest person there without piercings and ask for directions.  You might arrive at your destination the same day, but don't count on it.

Unfortunately, a lot of well-meaning spouses and parents have similar plan-less lives when it comes to their families.  Ask them and they'll say, "Oh sure, we want our home to be a Christ-centered home," or "Yes, we really desire that our kids learn to be independent and handle their money well," or "Absolutely we want to serve others together as a husband and wife." 

But if you ask them if they've made any plans to do any of those things, chances are good they have not.  The busyness of life, other priorities or just not thinking about it all get in the way.  People mean well but . . .

Jackie and I have been there and knew at one point that we needed to become intentional about some of our most important goals and actually do something to make them happen.

So here are a few tips for helping add planning to your marriage and family.  First, make a list.  Sounds so simple and it is.  Take a date night or a few free hours (you might have to PLAN those, too) and ask yourselves what it is that you believe God wants you to do in your home.  What will you look back on in ten years and be disappointed if it didn't happen?  Write it down.  Put the items in an order of importance if you can.

Second, start somewhere.  Don't leave your time together until you've agreed on at least one thing you're going to do to move you toward one goal.  If you can, plan a few other longer term goals or a time to start something else or to take a next step.  And celebrate your first steps when you take them.

Third, plan a longer "retreat" once a year or so.  Jackie and I have done this most of our 34 years of marriage.  Sometimes we can add a couple of days to a conference I have while other times we just stay local and get away to a hotel or resort nearby.  We use it as a time to just work on us in general but part of that time is for reviewing the last year and looking ahead to the next couple.

We take time to pray over our list too and ask God to give us wisdom along the way. I'm in ministry today because of one of those retreats where we asked each other the question, "What have you always wanted to do but haven't yet?"  One of my answers was, "Go to seminary."  The rest is history as they say.

The classic leadership proverb is so right . . . We don't plan to fail, we just fail to plan. 

And oh, by the way, if you're needing to go through Dallas?  I just wouldn't.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Friday, August 13, 2010

Authenticity Isn't Overrated

I read this in a hotel room recently. . . . "Due to the popularity of our hotel room items, we have them for sale at the front desk."  In other words people are stealing the hotel blind and they don't want you to take their stuff anymore.  OK, fine, but it seems like they should have said that. Can't they just be honest?

I guess telling it like it is isn't that easy especially with those we love, but being genuine is pretty important as long as we do it wisely and graciously.  The New Testament in the Bible says it quite clearly,  Speak the truth in love.  You can't have one without the other. Truth without love can become inconsiderate arrogance while love without the truth is phony sentimentality. Healthy relationships need both aspects.

So let me offer a few guidelines about truth telling whether we're speaking to our spouse, kids or others close to us.  First, timing matters.  When you need to share from your heart take into account the location, who else is around and how long you actually have to talk. Mentioning your big hurt or need on the way into church simply won't work. And whatever  you do, don't use email or letters to say hard things. While it may be difficult it's always best to speak in person.

Second, talk only from your perspective not based on what you think the other person feels or knows.  Tell how you feel at that moment and explain what you need that would help you feel differently.  Don't blame, assume or try to convict. "I felt angry last night  . . . and needed this from you . . . " as opposed to, "You always have to get your own way, don't you?  You just think about yourself and no one else."

Third, be willing to be wrong.  Admit that perhaps you didn't have all the facts, have a blind spot that keeps you from seeing the whole picture or that you too have some things to work on.  Remember, your worth isn't on the line. Most people fight over generally unimportant things because they think they HAVE to win to be ok. You're not less of a person if the other person doesn't see things your way or you find out you simply blew it.

Spin is only for dancing, tops and cool sports moves. And when  you're my age . . . just forget it altogether. Definitely leave it out of your discussions and go confidently for the honest truth. Yes, the truth will set you free as Jesus said. Authenticity will make all the difference in whether your relationships are deep and lasting or not.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Speaking Each Other's Language at Home

I was recently in another church for a wedding and decided to glance through their song book.  Some of the titles were, When Cain Killed Abel, God Weeps and Crossing Waters At Creation.  I'm not making those up. I had to wonder how those songs could even be close to worshipful or uplifting.  They wouldn't work for me I'm sure.

However, maybe they do inspire the people at the church.  I'll probably never know.  And if I happened to mention one of your favorites - sorry.  But I'm confident of this - the people at that church or at least who wrote that hymnal speak (or sing) with language that I don't get.

I'm pretty sure that happens in families too. We think we're communicating well or using terms and phrases others get but often we're mistaken.  We assume from their nods or apparent assent that they're totally tracking with us but it's important that we find out.

Do we use words that are simply too complicated for our young children? Do we talk to our spouse with a lot of work language, man/woman focused talk or in generalities that really don't say much?  It's possible.  Do we try to connect with our teens in their language but we really don't have the concepts correct?

How do we know if we're on track or not?  First, if we have young children ask your spouse or someone else who can observe your interactions. They'll probably be able to tell by observing and can give you suggestions.  For spouses and teens try asking them.  Tell them to be ruthlessly honest but ask, "Is that making sense?"  Or, "Do I ever use language that you don't get?  It's ok.  You won't get in trouble if you say 'yes.'"

And with your spouse you can obviously go further and deeper.  "What do you need more of from me when we communicate?  How am I doing when we talk together?"  You can learn a lot and you'll figure out some things you need to do better.  Don't fear the responses.  You won't die.  And you'll learn to connect with your family members in ways that will pay terrific dividends later.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Monday, August 2, 2010

When We Just Try To Stop the Pain

Some of you remember the excruciating pain of childbirth. I sure do. My wife had a lot of it. I'm a wimp and if birthing the children were up to me . . . well . . . you see my point. Pain isn't fun.  And there are appropriate ways and times to try to reduce or get rid of it. And if you have a bad headache or backache there's nothing wrong or un-Christian about taking or doing something to soothe the hurt.

However, when it comes to emotional pain we can easily get into trouble if we're not wise. It's painful to feel like we're not measuring up as a parent or spouse. It hurts to be out of work and become burdened with the sense that we're not providing.  Our heart can ache while we wonder if our marriage will ever be what we thought it would be.

But what do a lot of us do when the pain becomes too much?  We try to dull it rather than deal with the source. Some people start to drink more. Others work harder. Many who are married get drawn into an affair because that relationship feels better than the one at home.  A few even get more religious or spiritual for all the wrong reasons. We wrongly think that phony Christianity can also help us feel better. And it might - for awhile.

I have a theorem that I'm pretty sure is true: When life is out of control in one area, we often try to over-control another.  Control can also serve as a way to feel a little better about life even if it's only for a time. We lost our job so we try to control more things at home. Our kids are a mess so we become more controlling at church or work. We usually don't realize we do it but misguided control can happen under the radar much of the time.

So when we're hurting what should we do?  First, learn to accept that pain is part of life and doesn't mean that we're a failure. Author Tim Hansel wisely wrote . . .  Pain is inevitable, misery is optional.  He was so right. We can accept our pain and deal with it appropriately or we can live in misery trying to stop the hurt for little periods of time but never winning.

Second, face the source of your pain. If you lost your job and are struggling financially, then be sad about your loss but take healthy appropriate steps to keep going, find work and meet your needs the best you can.  If you marriage is hurting go gets some help and admit your part of the problem.  Learn to communicate and love better but don't think that finding someone else is the answer.  It isn't.

Third, let pain teach you more about trusting God.  God never promised that He would remove all our pain. Sometimes He does but other times He does not.  The Book of John in the New Testament says that we can ask and it will be given to us if it brings us joy, bears fruit in us and gives God the most glory.  But sometimes we will get more ultimate joy, see more fruit in our lives and give God more praise by going through something not around it.

Fourth, admit the things you've been doing to inappropriately deal with your pain and stop them now.  Control things less, quit an unhealthy relationship or commit to giving up an addictive behavior.

There really is a better way even when you're hurting.  Keep climbing.  The view from the top is worth it!
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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