Tag Archive for acceptance

Scrooge or Cratchit Revolution This Christmas

The “Christmas Spirit” seems to have faded some. I don’t know. Maybe I’m wrong. But it seems like more people have a “Bah-humbug-get-to-work-and-stop-wasting-time-on-frivilous-celebrations” view of Christmas, or a “give-me-give-me” view of Christmas than an “excited-generous-grateful-and-celebratory” view of Christmas. In other words, I encounter more Scrooges than Cratchits. Worse, I feel the pressure of society pushing me toward a “Scrooge” outlook of Christmas and away from the generous outlook Cratchit. We have drifted from celebrating Christmas as the birth of a Savior to worshipping the idol of materialism and wealth. We have turned our focus from the gift of God, a “Son given to us,” and focused on material gain and greed instead. But I’m not going to give in to the Scrooge spirit of Christmas. I’m going to celebrate Christmas as a revolution flowing out of the gift of God received on that first Christmas day, a generous gift of mercy and grace. Will you join me? Here’s how we can do it.

First, remember the first Christmas occurred because “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16) to save us from death and sin, to provide us with an abundant and eternal life. And His only begotten Son, whose birth we celebrate on Christmas, loved us so much that He gave Himself to fill us with joy and make us whole and without fault (Ephesians 5:25-27). I’m going to follow suit. I’m going to give myself—not just my time, my energy, or my tolerance, but my whole self—to family, friends, and even strangers. Giving of ourselves begins a revolution in the midst of the self-seeking and self-promoting world in which we live.

Second, I’m going to “join” with other people just like the Christ whose birth we celebrate on Christmas did for us. He joined us by emptying Himself to be born of a woman, raised as a child, and live as a man. He became Emmanuel, God with us, on a whole new level. I’m going to join Him by joining with other people, accepting them “where they are” and “who they are.” In joining with others, I will look to discover the image of the Creator in each person and, rather than “call out” aspects I disagree with, I will nurture the image of our Creator in their lives. Revolutionary, isn’t it? To accept the complexity of people, look for the image of our Creator within them, and nurture that image?

Third, I will serve others in love. Perhaps the best way to give myself to others and manifest an acceptance of them, is to serve them in love. And I will be following the example of the Baby born on that first Christmas day.  He not only came to earth as a Man but as a servant of mankind. He said He came to serve and not be served. Part of the Christmas revolution will be to do the same—to serve my neighbor in love. 

That’s the battle plan of the Christmas revolution: give ourselves to one another and join with one another in radical acceptance that manifests in serving one another in love. I’m going to start practicing with my family and extend it out to friends and neighbors. This plan will align us with Bob Cratchit, and his son Tiny Tim, in the “excited-grateful-generous-and-celebratory” view of Christmas. And it will put us squarely in the midst of a joyous Christmas Revolution against the Scrooges of the world.

It’s NOT All About You…or Me

My wife asked me a question, a simple question. “Where’s the cinnamon?” But there was an edge of irritation in her voice that sent “my mind a wandering.” Why does she sound irritated? Does she think I stole it? Why would I steal cinnamon? She is probably accusing me of putting things in the wrong place or not even putting them away at all. What’s the big deal with cinnamon anyway? Why does she always think the worst of me? On my mind ran, escalating my fears and defensiveness. You can imagine my response was less than ideal.  

Have you ever had a similar experience? Your spouse asks a simple question and sounds slightly agitated. The agitation strikes a fear within you. You jump to a conclusion and assume the agitation is pointed toward you. You personalize it and think it’s all about you. It’s a common response, but not the best response.

When we take our spouse’s agitation personally, it almost always makes the interaction go south. When we personalize their agitation, we tend to respond with defensiveness. They hear our defensiveness and feel misunderstood. And so begins a downward spiral of communication that began when we personalized our spouse’s mood and thought it was all about us.

But I have a secret for you…and for me. It’s not all about you…or me. Most of the time it’s about something totally unrelated to you…or me.

What can we do instead of personalizing and getting defensive? How can we nurture a better response and interaction? Good question. Here are some suggestions (given in no particular order).

  • First, take a deep breath. Let the breath out slowly as you start talking to yourself. Begin with statements of curiosity: “Hmmm. I wonder what’s going on here.” Then offer yourself soothing internal thoughts in a calm tone using calm words. Remind yourself of the love you and your spouse share.
  • Second, believe the best about your spouse. Practicing a calming internal dialogue, leaves space for alternative meanings to your spouse’s behaviors and words. It allows room for a compassionate interpretation of what your spouse said or did. Look for those compassionate, loving interpretations and let your mind dwell on them.
  • Third, acknowledge your spouse’s feelings in a calm, non-defensive way. Simply reflect back the emotion you perceived in what they said. This opens the door for clarification and communication. It provides space for your spouse to clarify what’s going on for them and for the two of you to come together in a common understanding.

These 3 simple steps can help save an interaction from the downward spiral of personalizing, defensiveness, and feeling misunderstood. They will help you create a calm interaction of clarification and support instead. That will go a long way toward building a more intimate, loving relationship. And it all begins with realizing that “it’s not all about you.”

How Does Your Family Feel About Emotions?

I’m a behavioral health therapist. You know, a “how-do-you-feel-about-that” kind of guy. But truth be told, I’m not one who exhibits deep displays of emotion. I feel them, but I don’t express them loudly.

I’m also the father of two daughters. If you happen to have daughters, you know how emotive they can be during their growing years. At times I was simply overwhelmed by their display of excitement, hurt, joy, or sadness. So, I had a couple of choices. How would I respond to their emotions? How would I model treating emotions in my family?

I could teach my daughters that emotions are too much to manage. They aren’t safe to express. I could encourage them through my actions and words to push their emotions down, muffle them, deny them, keep them bottled up. “Stop crying. You have nothing to cry about.” In other words, I could encourage them to repress their emotions. But simply repressing emotions has a way of transforming into hiding emotions under overworking, drinking too much, obsessive scrolling, simply disappearing from the lives of others, or…any number of other negative behaviors. That’s no good.

Or I could teach them that emotional expression is simply “bad.”  In my own sense of being overwhelmed, I could yell at them for being “too loud,” “too much trouble,” or “out-of-control.” I could aggressively shut them down with critical name-calling or threats of harsh punishment. But then they’ll just internalize those harsh criticisms about themselves and others. They’ll follow the example of holding emotions in until they bubble over in aggressive words and actions of their own. No. that is not what I want my daughters to learn.

Or, perhaps the best choice, I could teach my children that emotions are welcome. They present us with information we need to take care of ourselves, even the sad and angry emotions. So, I could make sure that emotions are welcome in our home. I could accept them, all of them. I could listen to them deeply to understand their message…and so teach my children to listen deeply as well. I could hold their emotions in a welcoming, accepting environment. In the process, my daughters will learn that they are loved and accepted, even when sad or angry or overwhelmingly excited. That acceptance and love, combined with their parents’ attentive ear, builds the internal resources they need to manage those emotions independently. That sounds like a great place to start.

The choice is made…a “no-brainer” really. I’m going to allow emotions, welcoming and accepting each one. And, in the holding of their emotions in a welcoming, accepting environment, my children will learn to express their emotions in a safe way. No. I won’t be perfect. Nobody is. But making this choice provides the best goal, an ideal that’s worth striving for. Will you make the same choice for your children and your family?

6 Tips to Make Your Marriage a Taste of Heaven on Earth

Marriage can provide us with a taste of heaven on earth…or leave us living in hell on earth. Unfortunately, we don’t generally receive training in how to make our marriages a happy, fulfilling experience. I know you can’t learn everything you need to know about a wonderful marriage in a blog but let me give some tips to offer a good start. Here are 6 tips for making your marriage a taste of heaven on earth.

  1. Practice radical generosity. Radical generosity means giving your whole life to your spouse. Give your best energy to your spouse. Give service to your spouse…with joy. Give affection to your spouse on a daily basis. Give your spouse compliments. Give your strength and effort in keeping a home. Give your time by doing an extra chore. Give your time by engaging your spouse in conversation and togetherness. Give your spouse the benefit of the doubt, even when they hurt you. Give all of this and more with radical generosity.
  2. Be the first. Of course, be the first to apologize when you make a mistake. Be the first to apologize when an argument arises or when you have a disagreement, even when it isn’t your fault. Be the first to volunteer to do a chore around the house. Be the first to offer your services to your spouse. Be the first to offer genuine forgiveness. Be the first to sacrifice for the good of your spouse and your marriage. Be the first.
  3. Don’t complain, adore instead. We often find it easier to complain and nag than to adore and compliment. Make an intentional effort to look for the positive in your spouse and your marriage and then acknowledge those positives verbally. In fact, set a goal to say nine positive things to and about your spouse for every one negative. That’s a 9-positive to 1-negative rule. Verbally appreciate or adore your spouse multiple times every day. Focus on the joy and the beauty your spouse adds to your life and verbalize your appreciation of it on a daily basis. Doing so will change your marriage.
  4. Have fun. Make it a point to laugh with your spouse. Find activities you can engage in together just for fun. You might enjoy bike riding, reading a book together, sampling restaurants, hiking, going for walks, listening to music, going to plays…. The list is endless. Make it a habit to enjoy at least one fun conversation daily and at least one fun activity weekly. Have fun together. Laugh. Celebrate your love.
  5. Listen deeply. Listen with respect to hear their wisdom. Listen to understand their intent. Listen to understand their emotions. Listen to understand their desires. Listen so you can understand their view of the world. Listen so you can respond lovingly to what you hear. Yes, listen deeply—for by listening deeply you come to know your spouse better; and in knowing your spouse better you come to love them more.
  6. Accept completely. When we live with someone we begin to see their flaws (just as they see our flaws). But you can’t change your spouse. Don’t even try. Accept them in all their uniqueness instead. Take time to remember all those aspects you love about your spouse. Focus on the aspects you admire and adore about (return to #3 on this list). When their “little traits and idiosyncrasies” begin to irritate, remember how those same “traits and idiosyncrasies” made you love them when your first met. Accept them completely.

Once again, this list is far from exhaustive. What have you done to help create a marriage that gives you a little taste of heaven on earth? What would you add to this list to help others have a heavenly marriage?

Becoming an Expert Parent

Experts work on basics all the time. Expert hockey players practice the basics of puck control; soccer players the basic of ball and foot control; instrumentalists the basics of scales and arpeggios…you get the idea. Experts never stop practicing the basics of their skills. The same applies to parents. To become expert parents, we need to keep practicing the basic parenting skills. With that in mind, let’s review 5 basics of raising healthy children.

  1. Expert parents provide a safe environment for their children. A safe environment includes providing healthy nutrition, regular sleep routines, and good hygiene. A safe environment also includes loving touch and predictable routines. Discipline, when needed, is carried out in a loving manner. Overall, a safe environment provides children with a sense of security from which they can explore the world.
  2. Expert parents are consistently available to their children. Or course, they are not present with their children 24/7. However, their children know that their parents are available to them when they need them. Remember, children spell love T.I.M.E. (Here is a great way to spend time with your child to let them know you are available.)
  3. Expert parents maintain reasonable expectations for their children. These expectations can include expectations around household chores, how to communicate their emotions, and what activities they will complete independently among other things. The reasonable expectations vary from child to child and developmental level to developmental level. As a result, to maintain reasonable expectations for your children requires you to become a student of your children. Get to know them. Learn about development in general and their level of development specifically. Make your expectations for behavior and communication match their developmental abilities.
  4. Expert parents discipline wisely. Wise discipline involves proactive measures in an effort to limit inappropriate behavior in the first place. Proactive disciplinary measures include routines, talking about expectations and situations that might potentially challenge those expectations, and teaching skills like emotional management and time management. Bedtime routines, morning routines, and routines around transitions from school to home go a long way in reducing negative behaviors. When responding to an inappropriate behavior, wise discipline addresses the inappropriate behavior directly. For instance, if a child makes a mess have them clean the mess up rather than “ground them.” Let them address the difficulty they have created through their misbehavior. Teaching children to put voice to their emotions of anger, disappointment, sorrow, and happiness also represents a strong discipline tool. Wise discipline helps children understand how behavior impacts others and teaches them appropriate behaviors.
  5. Expert parents accept their children. This sounds obvious, but it bears repeating. Expert parents accept their children even when their children have different interests than them. In fact, they learn about their children’s interests and encourage those interests. Expert parents accept their children’s growing independence and allow them the space to grow in that independence…even though it’s difficult to let go. Expert parents communicate acceptance of their children even when they have to discipline an unacceptable behavior. They differentiate between the behavior and their child, assuring their child realizes they are accepted even if their behavior is not.

Experts practice the basics. These points represent 5 of the basics that parents need to practice consistently…from the time their children are born. Practice. Practice. Practice.

Look Into My Eyes, See My Soul

Some say, “The eyes are the window to the soul.” Researchers at the University of Geneva took that saying to heart when considering the impact of making eye contact with another person. They found that when a person makes direct eye contact with another person, they perceive time as shorter than it objectively is. As a result, we may stare longer than we realized. They believe this occurs because meeting someone else’s gaze impacts our attentional system. We are drawn to another person’s gaze. We attend to their gaze and lose track of time. In other words, we hold the eye contact longer than we imagine. 

Although people lose track of how long they have held eye contact, most people find it difficult to maintain eye contact for an extended period of time…and by extended period of time I mean a mere 1-2 minutes. However, when we do look into one another person’s eyes for a period of time, we experience a new level of emotional intimacy. Just check out this 4-minute video to see what happens when people maintain eye contact for 4 minutes.  

So, here’s the challenge. Take 3-4 minutes right now and lose track of time with your spouse. Look into her spouse’s eyes. Make eye contact and hold it. You might be surprised at the feeling of vulnerability you experience but you will also enjoy the intimacy it creates. So gaze into your spouse’s eyes. Get lost in their gaze. Allow yourself to feel vulnerable and grow more intimate…Because when you look into one another’s eyes, you share a vision of your soul.

I Need You To Give Me…!

All of us have things we want to our spouse to give us. For instance, who doesn’t want to receive respect, validation, and approval from their spouse? Unfortunately, we often desire these things to fill an emptiness within us. So, we turn to our spouse and demand respect, validation, and approval. Unfortunately, demanding our spouse give us these things backfires. They will not always give it to us. Sometimes they will lack the inner resources to give us validation. Other times they will be preoccupied or exhausted. Or they may be craving the same thing from us. As a result, instead of experiencing the peace and joy of validation or approval we find ourselves caught up in the drama of two broken people demanding their partner save them from their own emptiness and perceived unworthiness. One incomplete or broken person seeking another incomplete or broken person to fix them and fill them up…it just will not work. Both people have shoved the responsibility for their individual emotional health and personal happiness onto another person who is struggling to find their own. Rather than being filled with peace and contentment, they become entangled in resentment, jealousy, and hurt.

There is a solution, however, and it begins with you as an individual. A joyous, intimate marriage consists of two people who have  matured enough to have their own personal sense of completion, wholeness, and worthiness. Both partners have learned an important lesson: “The thing you are looking to receive from others is the very thing you need to cultivate within yourself” (Rabbi Eli Deutsch). In other words, if you are looking for someone else to “complete you,” marriage is the wrong place to go (regardless of Jerry Maguire’s touching confession that “you complete me.”). If you desire validation, acceptance, and approval, begin by work on yourself and learning to care enough about yourself to give yourself the validation, approval, and acceptance you need. As you do, you will have more to give in relationship, more to offer your spouse in terms of intimacy. Ironically, you will also receive more validation and acceptance in return.

So, what is it that you want to receive from others? What do you demand your spouse give you? Slow down and give it to yourself. Use words of acceptance, validation, and approval when you talk to yourself. Fill yourself up and learn to give yourself the very thing you need.

“Stop Trying to Fix Me!”

“Stop trying to fix me!” Has your partner or child ever said that to you? Have you ever said it yourself? “Stop trying to fix me!” When people in our lives experience struggles or problems, they generally do not want us to fix it for them. They want connection…and connection involves empathy. Unfortunately, empathy does not always come naturally. The desire to “fix it” and “make them feel better” is often what comes naturally to us. We hate to see our loved ones hurt. We want to “make them feel better,” to “fix the problem.” So, rather than show empathy, we unknowingly say things that minimize and invalidate their feelings, things like…

  • “It could be worse….” During their painful situation, your loved one will find it hard to imagine anything worse. Besides, they do not want to think about something worse. They want someone to listen. They want someone to accept their feelings. They want you to hear their pain and validate their emotions.
  • “This could turn out well if you just….” No one really wants to take the moment of pain or sorrow to learn. There will be opportunities to learn after they navigate the current pain. Instead, your family member desires you to “be with them” in the moment, to “sit with them” in their struggle and support them through the pain.
  • “When one door closes, another door opens.” Many people have described the pain of this statement to me. It invalidates their current pain and implies that a person can only have one positive experience in their life at a time, one open door at a time. Instead, your family member simply needs to mourn the door that closed before moving to another door.
  • “It’s not that bad. I remember when….” This statement comes across as a “one-up” statement. It comes across as though you are minimizing the current pain by saying, “You want to know pain. I have felt pain. Your pain is nothing compared to mine.”

Statements like those above (and there are many others) are generally made with good intentions. They represent an effort to “make the other person feel better” and ease their pain. Unfortunately, they have the opposite effect. They make the other person feel unheard, devalued, and even more upset. Why? Because at the root of our emotions, we want connection and empathy, not “fixed.” We want to know we are understood and that our emotions are accepted. After we understand our emotions and know another person has accepted our emotions, we can work at resolving those emotions and finding a solution. 

So, instead of “trying to fix” your spouse, your children, or your parent, use these four skills to empathize.

  • Listen without judging. Hear more than just the words. Listen for the emotions underlying the words. Knowing that another person hears us deeply and has the strength to witness our struggle, gives us more strength to manage the struggle effectively. (Remember, the art of listening is more than responding.)
  • Identify and label emotions. Labeling an emotion puts a buffer between our emotion and our actions. It helps us avoid impulsive reactions and empowers us to respond appropriately instead. (Check out these 6 tips to make your children’s emotions your friend.)
  • Sit with them in the emotion. Walk a mile in their shoes. Allow yourself to experience their emotion to some degree. Maybe you have not had the exact experience yourself, but you have endured the human experience. You have experienced the joys, triumphs, pains, and struggles of humanity. Be vulnerable and sit with your family member in their emotion.
  • Summarize and validate their perspective and emotions. This will facilitate organizing their emotions as well as the opportunity to develop a potential response to the emotions.

When we “stop trying to fix” our family we are free to listen deeply and lovingly “be with them” in their struggle, to empathize and validate. By doing so, we open a door to future solutions. Perhaps more importantly, we open the door for deeper intimacy and love.

Intimacy…It’s Easier Than You Think

Intimacy—the state of having a close, familiar, and loving personal relationship with another person. We all desire intimacy in our marriages. More specifically, we all desire mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual intimacy in our marriages. But how can we develop that intimacy? It’s not as difficult as you might think. It only involves three ingredients and four steps.

First, intimacy is an interpersonal experience. It involves two or more people. For purposes of marriage, we will limit the intimacy to two people.

Second, intimacy begins with one person engaging in self-disclosure. At least one person must be courageous enough to disclose something about themselves. They might disclose information about their personal history, a life milestone, a past experience, or some emotion. The self-disclosure could be about a positive event or a traumatic event, a positive emotion or a heavy emotion. Either way, the self-disclosure represents a moment of vulnerability and a courageous invitation to connect.

Third, intimacy requires another person to pay attention to that self-disclosure. In paying attention, the person does not try to fix anything or change the person who engages in self-disclosure. They simply notice the self-disclosure, acknowledge it, and express interest in it. In other words, they accept the invitation to connect by showing interest in what the person has disclosed.

These three ingredients—two people in a relationship, one person willing to courageously self-disclose, and one person willing to pay loving attention to the disclosure—combine into four steps of growing intimacy.

  • Step one: one person reveals something personal about themselves. 
  • Step two: a second person responds attentively to that disclosure.
  • Step three: the interaction becomes reciprocal with both people paying attention and disclosing.
  • Step four: the intimacy that grows through this interaction promotes more self-disclosure and attentive responding.

That’s all there is to it. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But these simple steps often present a challenge to us. If you accept the challenge, however, the rewards have a ripple effect that will grow stronger and deeper as it expands. Each intimate interaction becomes a piece of a positive relationship history contributing to the expectation of more intimate interactions. The intimate interactions and the belief that future intimate interactions will occur increase our commitment to our relationship. Our sense of togetherness grows stronger and the safety of our relationship deeper. Self-disclosure becomes easier and paying attention more readily engaged in. And the ripples continue to grow….

The #1 Goal of Marital Arguments

Have you ever thought about the #1 goal of marital arguments? At first glance, you may think the goal is “to win. To make my spouse understand or see it my way.” But that is NOT the most important goal, the one we desire most. Let me ask the question differently. Do you want to make your spouse “see it your way” if it means damaging (or worse yet, destroying) your marriage? For most disagreements (at least 99% of them), the answer is “no.” We don’t want “to win” an argument with our spouse at the expense of our relationship. You may have had an experience like this in your marriage though. You disagree with your spouse and, after exchanging a few heated words, you “prove your point.” Your spouse concedes. They give in. They say you are right. You walk away knowing you “won the argument,” but feeling dissatisfied, disconnected from the one you love. In fact, you’re probably thinking about how to repair the relationship, how to reconnect and feel close again. No, we do not want to win at any cost.

If the #1 goal of any marital argument is not to win, what is it? The #1 goal of any marital argument is to connect in a way that makes both people feel safe and secure. You have probably had this experience too. You and your spouse have the same disagreement mentioned above. You even exchange a few heated words about it. But, somehow, when all is said and done, you feel closer, more connected. You’re not really sure who “won,” but you know you understand your spouse better than you did before the argument and your spouse understands you better as well. You feel connected…and as though you have both “won.”

How do you achieve this #1 goal of any marital argument?

  • First, see your spouse. Look at them. Don’t just look at the issue, the frustration or the anger of the moment. Look at your spouse. Soften your gaze. Recognize your spouse. We all long to be seen. Give your spouse the gift of being seen by you.
  • Pay attention to your spouse’s emotions. Do they look and sound angry, frustrated, hopeless, happy, passionate…. Accept their emotion. When your spouse reveals their emotions, they are opening themselves up like a book for you to learn about them and their priorities. Read this precious book carefully, lovingly. Do not just glance at the book. Get curious and read between the lines. Look deeply to find the priority behind the emotion. It may have little to do with the disagreement you are having and more to do with their sense of security and safety.
  • Accept that your spouse may have a valid point of view. Many issues have more than one valid perspective. Much like the group of blind men trying to describe the elephant, you and your spouse may both have valid perspectives, even though they differ. See your spouse as the intelligent, loving person you married and accept that they may have something important to add to the issue, something important for you to hear and know.   
  • Graciously delay voicing your own point of view until you understand your spouse’s point of view. Lovingly defer your desire to be proven correct until you can understand how your spouse’s perspective seems right to them. This takes patience…a patient delay of your own right to be heard. Such patience is an act of love for “love is patient” (Paul, 1 Corinthians 13:4).
  • Listen. Listen carefully. Listen intently. Listen sincerely. Listen completely. Listen until you understand your spouse’s perspective and they know you understand their perspective. Listen.

As you practice these 5 actions, you will find a growing emotional connection with your spouse. You will also find arguments resolve more easily and more quickly. Hmmmm, a more intimate connection with the added bonus of a quicker resolution? Now that is a great goal for marital arguments!

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