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

Monday, January 30, 2012

Sometimes We Need to Just Stop and Breathe Again

Being married and being a parent have at least one thing in common. They are often hard. Life with a spouse or a child or two can become overwhelming even in the best of circumstances.

And sometimes when we're struggling we make things worse because of our tenseness, anxiety and frustration.

I was recently getting some physical therapy for my neck and back. My therapist, while a very nice guy, was at times ruthless, inflicting what he deemed necessary pain to stretch my muscles and tear away some of the congestion under the skin which none of us could see.

However, he would often say when he could see me grimace or hear me moan, "Just keep breathing. Take nice big breaths. The oxygen is important right now." You see as things got tense I tended to hold my breath trying to just gut it out. And while apparently others do that, too, it wasn't helpful.

In the same way when life is a challenge we can tend to just gut it out, push through and even run over others to deal with the pain. We yell at our loved ones, we push harder to succeed and we take less time off to relax and reboot. And that usually results in someone getting hurt.

If your marriage or parenting or work is causing you to be tense all the time and hurt those close to you maybe you need to stop and catch your breath, keep breathing and even sigh.  How?

First, slow down. Be sure you have a break in your day. Turn off the phone, put your computer away and silence the TV. Take a few minutes and talk to your spouse or just sit alone and think.

Second, do something that gives you more perspective. Read a book, talk to a friend, get counseling or pray. You're probably tense because you're looking myopically at your situation and there is probably some good news and helpful advice out there somewhere.

Third, make a fundamental change in your schedule. What are you doing that someone else could do? What are you doing that you simply don't need to continue? Where can you build in some regular "breathing," relaxing and recharging.  What hobby would you love to do again that has gone by the wayside.

Remember, you won't be able to handle the pain unless you keep breathing.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Friday, January 20, 2012

When Those You Love Push Your Buttons

We all have them. Those little invisible spots that our spouse or kids hit with a word, look, action or remark that sets us off, right? They get pushed when we're in some of our best and worst moments. It happens in private and in public. And sometimes we can't help but respond with mega-emotion: anger, tears, panic despair.

And we know the buttons that others have as well. And we can push theirs especially when we feel threatened.

I rather doubt that button-pushing in families, friendships and acquaintances will ever stop but I do have a couple of  strategies and concepts that may lower the feelings-meter a bit.

Unhook the buttons that are tied to your worth. For example, when your spouse says something and your first response is that he or she "thinks I'm a loser," or is "making me look stupid right now."  Really?  Maybe they are making you look a little weak, maybe not. In most cases they probably aren't but we think what they just said is going to ruin us as a person. So what do we do?

Well, we explode or argue or demean or just leave. But we rarely have a helpful or meaningful conversation or response right then.

Or a child does something - again - that we've asked them a hundred times to do or not do.  And immediately instead of responding in a firm, loving and healthy way to deal with it, we feel like a terrible parent or that our parenting is at least threatened. I've talked about this in other posts but in a nutshell our worth is not dependent upon how others see us. It's that simple. God loves us, thinks we matter and have purpose, is our Father and forgives no matter what. That's where our worth lies.

Second, learn to respond differently as a result. If that button doesn't mean what it used to, if you no longer will allow that button to infuriate or paralyze you, you will respond in a new way. But it will take practice.  You will learn, however, that it's OK to say, "You know, we're going to have to disagree on that but that's alright."  Or, "I'm sorry we don't see things the same way, but I still need to do what I've chosen."

With a child you might say, "I know this isn't your first choice, but there are only two choices I'm giving you. Which of those are you going to do right now?"  With your spouse or a friend you can hopefully learn to say, "I didn't realize I hurt you but tell me more about how you felt and what I can do differently."  That doesn't mean you are taking all the blame.  You're just admitting you might be wrong and that you don't have to win the war no matter what.

The buttons that set us off are only powerful if we keep them connected to the hurts of our past and the wrong thinking that has invaded our minds over the years. Like that button on the elevator that you eventually discover doesn't work, you can make the buttons in your life inoperable too with some new thinking and bit of practice.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Monday, January 16, 2012

Emotions Are Not Overrated, Even for Men

I was in a grocery store the other day and saw a sign I'd never seen before. It was for mock tender steak. I asked my wife about it and she'd never heard of it either. Maybe someone in the know can fill me in sometime.

However, I thought about the possibilities. Is the steak really NOT tender but you think it is?  Is it so full of tenderizer that the juices run out of it while you eat it?  Who knows?

Nonetheless, a lot of people, especially men, are like mock tender steak. They fake it a lot when it comes to emotions. Many of them simply don't want to appear weak, so they suck it up and appear strong to most everyone as much as they can. Others don't really care that much but they pretend to be really caring. Unfortunately they're not very helpful because they're more worried about how they appear or they just don't stay around long enough to be of much help.

Tenderness or emotions aren't very helpful when they are pretend. But if we're really going to connect with others and have meaningful relationships with our spouses and children, we need to learn that genuine emotions are part of the important glue that helps keep families together and strong.

Emotions must be acknowledged, processed and shared freely. Family members only learn to deal with their own emotions when they see others being open and honest about their feelings. Kids who rarely see mom or dad express healthy emotions will likely never learn to be emotionally healthy either.

So if emotions matter, let's think about some important guidelines for expressing them.

First of all, share positive emotions often. Do you tell your kids you love them? Do your kids see you express verbal love to your spouse? Tell your family when you're proud of them or that if you had it to do all over again you would pick them.

Second, speak negative emotions appropriately. For example, when you're upset with someone, only talk about what's going on in the here and now. We have a tendency to expand things beyond the current event into a bigger setting. We say things like, "I'm so angry that you didn't clean your room like I asked. I can never count on you, can I?"  That's unfair, untrue and inappropriate.

Stay with the current issue only.  Also, use good timing. Don't share your frustrations on the way to taking your kids to school or with your spouse on the way to church or a night out. Emotional agendas need time to work through and process appropriately.

Emotional health takes work, practice and intentionality. It's not weak to express how you feel. But it does make a difference in how you do it. So . . . tell me how you really feel, will you?
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Power of a Great Response in Marriage

Bill came home one evening and said to his wife Marcy, "Hey, how about we go on a date this weekend? It's been awhile and I miss it just being the two of us." Marcy, feeling overwhelmed with a five-year-old and and a two-year-old, not to mention trying to work part-time, blurts back, "Oh sure, I can hardly think about how to get through tonight much less get ready for a date. That takes baby sitters and the ability to stay awake past nine o'clock."

Bill knows he might as well not continue the discussion or push for going out so he just heads for the television and drops the idea.

What was Bill's goal?  To make an emotional connection with his wife and show her some love and attention. Maybe his timing wasn't the best and perhaps this coming weekend wouldn't work well. But what if Marcy had simply said, "Wow, thanks for thinking of me and us. I'd love that. I'm just feeling pretty overwhelmed right now. Could we talk about another time in a day or two for a special date?"

So many discussions and even healthy arguments get shut down when the first type of response is made. When the spouse either turns away or turns against the other's attempt to connect (John Gottman's terms) the chances of future connection are diminished dramatically.

The reality is that when we get good at making a good first response that in some way turns toward the other person our chances for getting closer to each other are enhanced. As my second example showed, turning toward your mate doesn't mean agreeing or giving in or accepting the implications of the other's comments.  It simply suggests that we attempt our part of the connection by acknowledging their comments, listening in some way and responding.

Lisa says to Tom, "How 'bout we watch a video tonight while the kids are at their practices?" Many guys might ignore her request, pretend they didn't hear or say something like, "You know I don't like those sappy movies you always want to watch."  What will Lisa think the next time she wants to watch a video?  I'm not trying that again!

Instead, a thoughtful and caring response from Tom like, "Hey, we haven't done that for awhile. Is it your turn to pick one or mine?" could set the stage for a talk about movie preferences without pushing Lisa away.

So, if it seems like your attempts to connect with your spouse or vice versa are usually pretty rocky, take a shot at a better first response. It can make all the difference in the world.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Sunday, January 1, 2012

New Year's: But Not The Same Old, Same Old

So how many New Year's mornings is this for you?  Twenty, thirty, forty or more?  Lots of parties, gatherings with friends, celebrations, fireworks, good food and drink the night before and a nice, quiet start to the year afterwards, right?
Good for you. However, how many times, during the weeks to follow, would you say there was some significant change in your life? How many of those resolutions you made really took root and flowered in you?

My hunch is there weren't that many. And while there's nothing magical about starting something new in January perhaps it's worth thinking about why we don't move forward and the dangers of just staying put.

I think one of the biggest problems is not that we don't take some great leap ahead, but that we never get started. But think of it like climbing a mountain. If you just look at the summit, the biggest part of the goal, you'll never get anywhere. That's what a lot of people do with New Year's resolutions. They decide to finally lose sixty pounds but never take the first step toward shedding three.

They determine to finally look for a job that they love or feel called to and then never send out one resume. The summit is just too daunting.

So, the answer?  Start with just ONE fundamental change that you plan to stick with for three months. If you're going to start working out, make that change something like walking for a half - hour five days a week always at the same time. Do it religiously. Don't let anyone stop you if possible. At least have it become such a habit that if you miss a day, you will go right back to it.

If you plan to slow down your life and spend more time with your wife and kids, start putting that afternoon or evening in your week that you are going to commit to be home. Get it on your calendar and hold to it. It's a small change but it's a fundamental one and will start to etch a new way of living and thinking into your lifestyle.

Do it for three months without adding or subtracting anything. Then evaluate and starting raising your goals and objectives to a higher level. Before long your habit will have become a lifestyle and bigger gains will come more quickly.

And come next year, you'll look back and say, "Yes, resolutions can be more than just talk. And I really did make it to the summit."
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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