What is left to work with?

A few days ago I wrote that some of life’s difficulties are so great that we feel that we lose a piece (or pieces) of ourselves that we can never get back.  When this happens, life can feel meaningless or purposeless. We question whether or not we can go on. What is the point in going forward if we’re broken, if we are a shell of ourselves?  

 

If that is the place you are in, that may be a question you have to answer for yourself.  I’m not arrogant enough to think that I can provide you with the sense of meaning and purpose you need to persevere with a few words in a blog post.  But, when I have had my own low, dark moments, one of the things that helps me persist is to ask myself this question: What do I have left to work with?  

 

Here’s why I like this question:  It suggests to me that it’s okay to be broken, and it’s okay to be damaged, and it’s okay to feel that we are not all that we once were.  Yet, just because we’re damaged doesn’t mean we’re destroyed. There is still something there to work with. We still have something to offer to our family, our friends, loved ones, community.  God has plenty to work with, and I say this for two reasons. 1. He can create as much as he needs from whatever is available and 2. God routinely works through damaged people anyway. In other words, he doesn’t need us to be particularly capable in order to make use of us.  

 

If you’re feeling stuck in life, if you’re feeling hopeless, if you’re struggling with acceptance, if you’re filled with contempt, then I’d humbly suggest you ask yourself:  What is left to work with?

 

Even if you’re particularly damaged, I believe there is more than enough.

What kind of comfort helps?

11 All his brothers, sisters, and acquaintances came to him and ate food with him in his house. They comforted and consoled him concerning all the disaster the Lord had brought on him, and each one gave him a qesitah and a gold ring.  

~ Job 42:11, CEB



What kinds of things truly offer comfort to those who are hurting?  

 

I have found it helps to listen, for starters.  Some of you may say, “I’m not really a good listener!”  That’s okay- listening is easy to pretend. Just don’t talk.  Allow the other person room to talk. If you can’t actively listen because of fear or anxiety or some such thing (which is normal) just sit silently and be uncomfortable.  You can do it.

 

Some level of distraction can be comforting.  I’m not talking about going and getting drunk or high- I’m talking about being distracted by things that are reasonably healthy (or not harmful).  My friends take me out to play golf when I need comfort and we laugh about how much we suck at golf. It helps.

 

Simple things are often what bring comfort, as opposed to grand gestures.  A hug can be very comforting. A card or note can bring comfort. Simply acknowledging that you know that a hurting person is hurting can provide that person comfort.  It helps knowing that other people see your pain.

 

When we’re comforted, we realize we’re not alone.  When we know we’re not alone we gain strength. When we gain strength we can move in the direction of acceptance (even if it takes a while).  

 

What else would you add to the list?

Comfort Fosters Acceptance

11 All his brothers, sisters, and acquaintances came to him and ate food with him in his house. They comforted and consoled him concerning all the disaster the Lord had brought on him, and each one gave him a qesitah and a gold ring.  

~ Job 42:11, CEB

 

Life sometimes throws things at us that are so difficult that we feel as if we lose a piece of ourselves that we will never regain.  When this happens, it’s appropriate to sit with the loss and to mourn, to grieve. Our faith does not compel us to pretend as if the loss did not happen.  Let’s remember- even after Job reconciles with God, he is still in need of comfort.


Comfort, too, fosters acceptance.  Let’s try to be clear about what constitutes “comfort”, though.  Truisms are not comfort. Cliches are not comfort. Being told that things are not really that bad is not comfort.  Being told that things will get better is not comfort.  As a general rule, people know that things will get better.  What I mean is, we generally recognize that our low points are low points, and that we will not feel so low forever.  

What do you find truly comforting when you are at a low point?

God is making things "right": Part II

Acceptance element #4: The willingness to trust that, on the aggregate, God steers creation in a hopeful direction

 

 

When Brittany and I suffered our losses, we weren’t suffering on account of our faith.  Nobody was persecuting us and we were not under attack. While we can draw hope from these verses knowing that they remind us that God does have a plan that is slowly unfolding, their truest audience is someone persisting in the midst of persecution.  

 

 

And so, my summary of the summary of these verses would be this:  God is steering creation in a hopeful direction. To suggest anything more specific is to get lost in the details of a verse that is notoriously difficult to translate in a way that is true to its original language.  

 

 

Knowing that God steers creation in a hopeful direction does not necessarily solve our problems or make us feel better about the tragedies that have befallen us.  However, our ultimate hope, in faith, is that God will redeem creation to such a degree that tragedy is no longer a part of creation. For this reason, I don’t think Paul’s reminder falls on deaf ears, and I do find it uplifting.  I can both experience life’s tragedy as tragedy (meaning: I don’t have to pretend that tragedy is joy in disguise) and use that as a reminder that God is actively working to remove tragedy itself from his creation because he does not want it there.  Tragedy is not God’s desired plan for his people.


Believing that, I think, opens us up just a little bit more to accepting the world as it is.

God is (slowly) making things "right"

Acceptance element #4: The willingness to trust that, on the aggregate, God steers creation in a hopeful direction

 

 

We know that God works all things together for good for the ones who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose.  

 

~Romans 8:28, CEB

 

People often point to this verse as a way of saying that things that are bad only seem bad and that, one day, we'll understand better because all things are actually good once you have time, distance, and perspective.  

 

 

That isn’t actually what’s being said, if we pay attention to context.  As short as I can be, Paul is telling his readers that, though their current circumstances have caused them to despair, their ultimate hope is in a God who, through his spirit, works through creation to bring about his good purposes.  He is speaking on a very wide scale here. God’s plan, what he intends to accomplish in his creation, is ultimately for the good and will be of most benefit to his followers. Paul is not talking here about lost pregnancies or children with substance use disorder, or any specific tragedy that a person may undergo.  He is simply highlighting the fact, once again, that God is in the process of transforming creation and this will be undoubtedly good news for people like those in the Roman church who are suffering on account of their faith.  


More on this tomorrow.

Resist the Alternate Universe

Acceptance Element #3:  The willingness to resist idealizing alternative ways in which life “might” have gone

 

 

If I could give the parents I talk to on behalf of my work a gift, I would give them the gift of being unable to fantasize about their child’s future.  I know, I know parents can’t help it. I’ll learn this very soon myself. But parents so often talk to Teresa/mom and myself about how their child’s substance use disorder is such a shame and how they just know their child would be a doctor, lawyer, programmer, or whatever if they had just not gone down that particular path.  

 

 

There is so much grief over what might have been.  Believe me, I know it is not easy to see your child struggle and to wish things had gone differently.  That is natural, normal, and probably healthy to an extent.  But, it can also become an unhealthy obsession that prevents a parent from seeing and interacting with their child as that person really is.    

 

 

I think that considering negative realistic alternatives for our lives can be incredibly useful.  Considering the ways in which things could have been worse has the potential to push us ever so slightly in the direction of gratitude in the midst of turmoil.  Considering the ways in which things “should” be better, as we often do, does not serve us particularly well. It opens us up to additional resentment and contempt and distracts us from whatever work is actually in front of us, today, in real time, in our real lives.  


There is no alternative universe where things went perfectly well.  There is only the life we have. Let’s focus our attention on what is lest we miss opportunities to love and care for the people and world around us.  In so doing, we find a piece of acceptance.

Tolerating Tragedy: Part II

Element of acceptance #2:  The willingness to tolerate tragedy (in both a global and personal sense) without trying to pinpoint its source

 

 

Get caught up here.  

 

 

Can I believe that God loves me even when it seems that we’re not going to get something that we desperately want (and something that is legitimately good, at that!)?  That is the challenge. Brittany and I have had to wrestle deeply with this question over the past few years.

 

 

So often people try to take this a few steps further, saying things like:  God has something better in mind. God isn’t giving you things because of your sin.  God has his own timing and he’s teaching you patience. God’s withholding something from you so that your testimony will be better later.  

 

 

I don’t particularly care for any of those explanations because they’re all suggesting the same thing:  Things happen because God is either 1. Rewarding us 2. Punishing us or 3. Teaching us (and the “teaching” in this case usually involves some kind of withholding that feels an awful lot like punishment).  The book of Job strikes down all three of these possibilities, but they still circulate widely because us humans are silly dumb-dumb’s who take a while to learn difficult things.

 

 

Faith, we falsely believe, should give us a framework for understanding.  It simply does not and cannot do that because faith is not primarily about us.  Faith is about God.  Explanations are about our anxiety, not about God’s activity.  Acceptance demands that we go beyond pat answers. It asks us to consider that tragedy happens in the world, and it happens often, and it may have nothing to do with our sin and it may have nothing to do with God’s desire to punish, reward, or teach.  Sometimes it just happens because the world is a chaotic kind of place to live.


We do not know the source of tragedy.  We can tolerate the fact that tragedy happens without trying to pretend that tragedy is already redeemed.  There’s plenty of redemption ahead.  Not all of it is here just yet. Tolerating tragedy means living in tension.  Sometimes, that’s just what we’re called to do.

Tolerating Tragedy

Get caught up here.

 

 

Element of acceptance #2:  The willingness to tolerate tragedy (in both a global and personal sense) without trying to pinpoint its source

 

 

Once we got the news about Brittany’s health, we had basically two options: try to adopt, or accept life as non-parents.  We knew there was a good chance we would not be able to fundraise the money for adoption and, if that happened, we would have to orient ourselves to a completely different vision of our future together.  We did not want to live as a childless couple. But, we understood, life does not often give you what you want.

 

 

As people of faith, there are complicated questions that arise as a result of being confronted with that painful reality:  Does God love me? Does God care how I experience my own life? Does God truly provide for his people? Why is this happening?

 

 

Now, the temptation in hindsight is to say, “Of course he does!  Look how he provided for you and made you parents!” Yes, he did, that is true.  However, it is also true that there are plenty of people in this world who love God, and want to become parents, who do not become parents.  Do we think God does not love them and did not provide for them?

 

 

I personally do not believe that.  I believe God’s love for us is steadfast and present regardless of whether or not Brittany and I became parents.  It is not easy for me to believe that. It is not some kind of unwavering confidence. It is shaky and filled with doubt.  Yet, this is my attempt to tolerate tragedy without pinpointing its source. What I mean is, I’m intentionally trying not to try to figure out why this happened.  


More on this tomorrow.

Living within the constraints: Part II

Element of acceptance #1:  The willingness to live within the boundaries of life’s natural constraints

 

 

Get caught up by clicking here

 

 

Brittany’s body has constraints that suggested to us adoption was the path towards parenthood.  However, we have, as everyone does, financial constraints. Should those constraints prove too large, our new constraint would be life without children.  

 

 

We weren’t happy about these constraints.  We’re still not, in fact. We’re taking advantage of the resources we have available to us to process our various losses, including the loss of the way in which we thought life would go.  Yet, when the going got tough we were lucky enough to have people around us who were able to guide us into making decisions based on the constraints we have. They did not encourage us to make decisions based on a denial of the constraints.  

 

 

This was the first step in our journey towards acceptance, and I believe the first step in the journey for everyone struggling with new constraints.  We see the constraints and we respond accordingly. We don’t pretend they aren’t there by continuing to sacrifice Brittany’s present and future physical well-being.  We try to find a strategy that worked within the options available to us.

 

 

Sometimes, that is the best we can do in life.  We recognize that we have limited options available and we choose from within those options.  If we don’t do that, we’re either living in fantasy or setting ourselves up for even more disappointment.  

 

 

And, sometimes, having constraints pushes us towards creative and satisfying solutions we would not have otherwise considered.  I had not previously considered adoption and, as much as our losses hurt, I couldn’t be happier to be Norah’s dad.

Living within the constraints

Element of acceptance #1:  The willingness to live within the boundaries of life’s natural constraints

 

 

Get caught up by clicking here

 

 

I understand this post is longer than our usual posts.  Bear with, please.

 

 

One Thursday night last August was the worst night (so far) of me and Brittany’s life together.  We went to the doctor for an ultrasound on her pregnancy and found out that the pregnancy was not viable.  We also found out that Brittany has an extremely rare (less than 1% of women) condition: a unicornuate uterus, which basically means she has half of a uterus (at best).  After consulting with the doctors it became clear that, in her particular case, a best-case scenario is an extremely early (25 weeks or so) birth with incredibly high risks all the way around.  That is a true best-case scenario. In other words, statistically, we’d more than likely be looking at many, many losses and even if we could get to 25 weeks one of those times, that is still very touch-and-go for a baby (though it is technically possible for a baby to survive at that time) and for Brittany.  This is why, when people say to us, “Well you’ll probably get pregnant now that you’re adopting,” we respond with, “We hope not- as the risks are very high.” The risks are even higher now that we have a child of our own.  We do not feel we can risk losing Norah’s mom just to play roulette with biological children.

 

 

When we got this news, life presented us with a new set of constraints we did not previously know that we had.  IVF would not be particularly useful to us as we did not have problems getting pregnant (we had problems staying pregnant).  We could either: continue to risk Brittany’s body and health on the hope that we would stumble into a best-case scenario, at which point Brittany’s health would still be compromised and we would instantly be tasked with caring for an infant who may or may not live (again, that’s best-case).  Or, we could adopt.  Or, we could figure out what it would mean to live as two people who desperately want to be parents who will not have the opportunity.  Primarily we discussed the second and third options as Brittany already felt like she had been in physical agony for a full year.


You see, despite how much pain we were in, we knew we had to live within life’s constraints.

More on this tomorrow.

(Some) Elements of Acceptance

In these past few days we’ve discussed a few strategies that help us avoiding living as contemptuous people.  One is seeking out both a skilled therapist and a trusted spiritual advisor or mentor or whatever word you want to use.  This helps us deal with the source(s) of our contempt. The second thing we did was attempt to reframe how we perceive other people’s lives.  Contempt can be the product of comparing what we have to what other people have.  The reality is, we have no clue what other people have or do not have in their lives.  And so, comparisons are foolish, though we can’t help but do it, can we? It’s only natural, even though we know it isn’t particularly good for us.  

 

 

The third “strategy” (if you can call it that) I want to mention is acceptance.  What do I mean by acceptance? I personally think that acceptance is a rather expansive, multifaceted topic and I plan to take a few days to address just a few of the many ingredients that lead to acceptance.  I’m surely going to leave some things out. I’m going to give you my list in no particular order as I have no idea how to rate the importance of each of these aspects of acceptance. I’ll unpack these over the coming days so, if the sentences are not immediately clear, they soon will be (I think).  

 

 

Without further ado, here are my elements of acceptance:

 

 

  1. The willingness to live within the boundaries of life’s natural constraints

  2. The willingness to tolerate tragedy (in both a global and personal sense) without trying to pinpoint its source

  3. The willingness to resist idealizing alternative ways in which life “might” have gone

  4. The willingness to trust that, on the aggregate, God steers creation in a hopeful direction

Contempt and Comparison: What NOT to do

From yesterday:  Avoiding comparisons to other people’s lives is an important step in avoiding living as contemptuous people.  This is not easy to do, but there are a couple of things we must all keep in mind as it pertains to the comparison game.  

 

 

What are those things?

 

 

1. You never know the various ways in which others are suffering in secret.  Yes, in a given area, someone may have it better than you, but you don’t know the various ways in which they have it worse.  Life is not easy for anyone. We tend to assume people are living an ideal life simply because we don’t have all the information.  So, don’t assume the best about others’ lives. Assume you don’t have all the information- that’s the truth.

 

 

2. You don’t know what people want for their lives.  Someone may get the thing you want- but they may not want it.  The presence of that thing, in that person’s life, may constitute a very real suffering.  In such a case as this, both parties are on the receiving end of life’s unfairness.

 

Playing the comparison game is ultimately pointless because, at the end of the day, we have no clue what we are comparing ourselves against.

What to do with Contempt: Part II

Our contempt does not serve us well.  Yesterday I suggested that addressing the causes of our contempt is the first step in crafting a life beyond our hurts and resentments.  

 

 

It is difficult to avoid comparing our lives to the lives of those around us, particularly as it relates to our hurts.  As Brittany and I dealt with infertility, we couldn’t help but notice how easily it seemed all of our friends got pregnant and birthed children without complication.  We know, we know, lots of people struggle with infertility- that’s not the point. The point is that the comparison factor kicks in when you’re hurting.  It often does not help to be told there are plenty of nameless and faceless others out there like you when all you see around you in your day-to-day life are people who, in this area, have it easier than you do.  This comparison is fertile breeding ground for contemptuous living.

 

 

Avoiding comparisons to other people’s lives is an important step in avoiding living as contemptuous people.  That’s really the goal isn’t it? We want to avoid living as contemptuous people in order to give ourselves the best possible chance at a hopeful life moving forward.  

 

 

This is not easy to do, but there are a couple of things we must all keep in mind as it pertains to the comparison game.  


What are those things?  Check back tomorrow.

What to do with Contempt: Part I

From yesterday:  So, we must ask, does our contempt serve us well moving forward?  Will it allow us any kind of quality of life?

 

 

I humbly suggest it does not and will not serve us well.

 

 

What do we do with our contempt, then?  What is the alternative and how do we find it?  

 

 

As I said, we must start with processing and learning to cope with the various causes of our contempt.  I’d suggest we spend time with a skilled therapist and, perhaps, a trusted spiritual advisor. Other options would include finding an issue-specific support group.  This recommendation sounds simple and obvious, but becoming willing to do this, and then follow through, is something few people do. Making a conscious choice to confront our wounds proves a major hurdle and most people are unwilling to do it.  

 

 

Confronting the wound is our way of fighting back.  It’s our attempt not to be defined by the worst things that have happened to us.  It’s an effort to trust that life can have meaning in the midst of a darkness that feels so profoundly meaningless.  

 

 

Of course, we’re trusting God to guide us in this process.

Life isn't fair, but knowing that doesn't help

From yesterday:  When we become bogged down or defined by our contempt we’re suggesting that we believe fairness was, at some point, a possibility.  We’re believing a very tempting lie. When we become defined by our contempt (that life has not been fair) then we’re not living in reality.

 

 

The solution is not so simple as just becoming mentally stronger or more stoic or through having more self-will or some such thing as this.  And, I’m not suggesting that it is easy to cope with the curve balls life has thrown. It can be, and often is, truly devastating. We need to sit with that disappointment, it does us no good to say, “We should have known better.”  

 

 

Understanding life’s unfairness is not the same thing as suggesting it does not matter or that we should suck it up.  It must be dealt with. That can take a long time. Hell, it can take a lifetime.

I do not know if there is such a thing as a “solution”- but I do have a thought.  We need to consider the fact that we still have a life ahead of us- even if we feel horribly broken and ill-equipped to face it.  

 

 

Because we have a life ahead of us, we should consider whether or not we have any influence over what it looks like.  Granted, there are always things we can control and things we can’t control. Life sometimes continues to throw curve balls while we desperately hope for a change-up to give us a bit of a break.  

 

 

So, we must ask, does our contempt serve us well moving forward?  Will it allow us any kind of quality of life?

 

 

I humbly suggest it does not and will not serve us well.  The question is, what do we do about it?

 

 

More tomorrow.

Contempt and Acceptance

Contempt is closely related to our inability to accept life as it is.  We become contemptuous when we believe someone should not have harmed us in the way that they did (or perhaps not harmed us at all).  It’s the product of believing life has somehow screwed us, or handed us a raw deal.

To be clear- life does sometimes screw us, and I know plenty of people who have gotten a raw deal.  The problem is, we know life is not fair. I can’t think of a single person I know who would disagree.  If life is not fair, then we should not expect life to treat us fairly. When we become bogged down or defined by our contempt we’re suggesting that we believe fairness was, at some point, a possibility.  We’re believing a very tempting lie. When we become defined by our contempt (that life has not been fair) then we’re not living in reality.

 

 

More on this tomorrow.

Fear of Conflict

I hate conflict.  I don’t mind standing up against injustice on behalf of someone else but I hate hate hate conflict in my relationships.  One way I used to try to avoid conflict without actually resolving anything was to practice stonewalling. Stonewalling is when we avoid conflict while communicating disapproval, distance and separation by withdrawing from a relationship.  Some call it giving someone the “cold shoulder”. It’s fighting dirty because you do not give resolution a chance.

 

 

It’s also a bit cowardly.  If called out on it, we can always tell the person that they are crazy (which is called gaslighting by the way) and that we are not withdrawn, just tired or stressed out.  If we really work at this we can blame a whole bunch of people with an elaborate story that hides the truth of our own culpability - we are scared of conflict but we still want our pound of flesh.

 

Surprisingly, I did not learn how to reduce my stonewalling ways by learning how to fight more efficiently.  Instead, I’ve learned how to practice what Dr. John Gottman calls “physiological self-soothing.”

 

Here’s how it works.  When Pete brings up a touchy subject that we are having conflict over I immediately experience a visceral desire to run away and pout.  Instead of doing so, I try to tell the truth to myself. Ugh oh, Teresa, here you go again - you are considering stonewalling. If I can remember this and not react by doing this thing I instinctively want to do I can choose to do something different.  It looks like this:

 

“Hey, I hate this about me (acknowledge my feelings) but I really want to withdraw from you and this discussion (tell the truth).  I need your help (express my need rather than blame him in some way). I need to take a break from this discussion and do something that will help me calm down.  I am going to go distract myself with a nice, long walk. Can we reconvene this conversation in a couple hours?” This is an example of physiological self-soothing.  Walks work for me.

 

I cannot count the number of times I have left the house to walk and think about how my husband is a silly goose only to return with gratitude and appreciation for his perspective.  Stonewalling is not helpful but it is indicative that we are freaking out and under stress. Our work, our responsibility, our skill set to develop in situations like this? Physiological self-soothing.  Workout. Do a puzzle. Water your plants. Vacuum. Take a drive. Ride your bike. Go sit on a rock in the James river and thank God you live in such a cool place! It’s a great skill set and it can be done at anytime for no charge!  Try it!

 

P.S.  According to Gottman, you need at least twenty minutes to reset.  I require an hour!

Defensiveness is a bad strategy

When I was a kid and my parents tried to discipline me I would burst into tears in an embarrassingly vocal manner.  This drove us all crazy. As I got older, this became even more upsetting. I wanted to be able to be a smart mouth or appear nonchalant.  Truth was, I was incredibly defensive about any perceived correction. Decades passed and I assumed that my parental units were bad a giving me feedback - or else, why would I have been such an emotional wreck?

 

 

This perspective did not last long.  When I left home and got married, I began to notice that I was defensive with everyone.  Pete said it was hard to discuss a touchy subject with me because I was so defensive. I had to explain to him that I didn’t even know what that meant.  And I wasn’t kidding. I was so naturally defensive that I couldn’t even recognize it in myself. Slowly, my self-awareness increased. But let’s be real - I am still a very defensive person.

 

Defensive behavior is a way some of us try to protect ourselves from a perceived attack. We do this by trying to turn the blame around onto someone else.  (My parents were bad at providing feedback is one example of how I tried to blame others.)

 

Look, I am the last person in the world to suggest that we all try to not be so defensive!  It would be the height of hypocrisy. But I do have three suggestions that I practice:

 

  1. If you know you are prone to being defensive, admit it to God, to yourself and other human beings.  Sometimes it helps just to tell the truth.

  2. Acknowledge that you are powerless over your defensiveness BUT still accept responsibility for it.  

  3. Actively seek ways that work for you to address your defensive reactions.  

 

I am terrible at being defensive with Pete so I started practicing being less defensive in artificial situations when the stakes are low.  I set the situations up so that I would not be startled. Although I would never do this at one of my regular coffee shops, I decided to go to another one that I do not and never will frequent often (safe, low risk environment).  I would place my order and then deliberately not give them enough money to pay for my coffee. They would call my attention to my error and I would say, “I am sorry; you are right. Here is the fifty cents I still owe you.” It was surprisingly hard.

 

What do you struggle with?  Contempt towards others? Criticism?  Blaming others? Defensiveness? Start small and try to make a few changes to move you away from your predictable, habitual responses to others!

Gentleness

It’s upsetting when a family discovers that their child is smoking pot.  Obviously. When it isn’t your kid doing it the capacity to not panic and remain calm is a lot easier than it is for the parents.  So when a pair of parents slunk into my office with a plastic bag full of weed smoking materials I was not surprised by their anxiety. Dad was enraged and wanted to lock the kid up and throw away the key; mom had selected a fancy wilderness camp to the tune of $75,000.00 for 60 days (camping supplies included).  No one was all that interested in my suggestion to breathe.

 

 

I began to review some interesting data on substance use and suggested things that might be helpful but they weren’t paying much attention.  Dad sat staring off into space and jiggling his leg; mom kept glancing down at her ipad with the pretty mountain vista on the homepage of the wilderness camp.  Finally I wised up, shut up and just let the whole thing blow up.

 

Mom accused dad of being cruel and thoughtless and loud and mean; Dad charged that mom was in denial about almost everything but especially about the reality that they didn’t have $5,000 much less $75,000 available to send a pot smoking, disrespectful and disappointing adolescent male to a camp that looked like a reward for good behavior.  Eventually they wore themselves out and silence fell.

 

I told them that I did not have a quick solution to their problem and that I was sorry that this wasn’t like taking a car into a shop for a tune-up.  This journey was going to be more marathon than sprint. Big sighs were shared. However, I did have one thought. I reminded them that the world was a harsh and contemptuous place.  I recounted what they had already told me about their kid - crushing injury that killed his chance to play a sport he loved, three family moves in five years and a recent breakup with the girl of his dreams.  I told them in no uncertain terms that their boy was under a lot of stress and their response would either add to that distress or not; much of that depended on them being able to get their own acts together, manage their own anxiety and depression and heartbroken expectations AND respond to him in a way that took all these factors into consideration.  We had to discuss a bit this idea that I threw out about how I was concerned that both of them were reacting to their son’s pot use in a way that was managing their anxiety MORE THAN figuring out how to address the problem in a way that would give him the best chance of seriously considering their position. Barely convinced but willing to set up a follow up meeting I left them with one thought:  in a world that will smack us down in a New York minute, go home and just be nice to your kid. Be gentle. Be kind. Practice that for one week and then we will come up with the next step.

 

Here’s the deal.  In any and every situation, even from a long distance, we can be kind and wish others well - even our vilest enemy. I’m not saying it is easy; I am suggesting it could be a more congruent response to broken relationships than praying for smiting!  Which fits your core values better?

Criticism Precedes Crisis

Another predictor of marital mayhem is criticism.  This is different than a good old fashioned lament or complaint.  A criticism is when we take a complaint and turn it into an indictment of another’s personality.  Maybe you are upset that your spouse drinks sodas and lines the cans up on the counter (as opposed to throwing them in the recycling bin).  Suppose I am irritated with my husband about this habit (which is totally bogus because he doesn’t drink soda in a can but work with me).

A criticism might sound like this:  “What is wrong with YOU? Why do you line up these empty soda cans like tin soldiers on my brand new quartz countertop?  Why are you so inconsiderate?”

A complaint on the other hand might go like this:  “I hate the irritated way I react when I come into the kitchen and we have an army of soda cans lined up on the countertop. I need us to find a better way to honor our desire to recycle without leaving the cans on the counter for days.”

See the difference?  Option one accuses, option two admits stuff (true stuff) about myself and expresses what I need.

In healthy marriages there is plenty to complain about but spouses are careful to not criticize.  This is a skill set we can learn and practice.

When I spoke to a couple recently and suggested this principle the wife rolled her eyes and said something like this.  “For God’s sake, don’t be such a pansy. There is nothing wrong with telling someone who is a dumba** that they are one.”  All I can say is this response is indicative of a future marital parting of the ways.

There is a healthy way to complain about something without criticizing.  What would work in your situation?