Can I Trust You? (Trust Rebuilding Questions)

One of the privileges of listening is that you get to learn. And I get to learn lots.

The other day a client told me about 4 levels of trust rebuilding when trauma has undermined a love relationship. Here are 4 questions that she uses to figure out if trust in her relationship can be rebuilt.

Do I trust that you are growing for you? Some people change just to appease the other and not because they have any interest in growing. You can only trust the change that is motivated by inner desire.

Do I trust that you are capable of the change that you want? Lots of people have good intent but this might not be enough to restore confidence in the relationship.

Do I trust that you are honest in what you say? Of course, there are levels of deceit and we all lie to ourselves. But do I see an honest attempt to be truthful in words and ways?

Do I trust that you will do what you say? Follow through is the big thing. Unless the person’s behaviour changes, it is hard to trust again.

I find these helpful questions when a friendship is violated by gossip, or when a partner promises to be clean and sober, or when a teenager needs to be bailed out from jail. Can I trust you?

My 3 Lives

I think of myself as having 3 lives.

There is my “family life;” marriage to Carole, organizing and participating in the household, that kind of thing. Plus, I am a new grandfather, which totally delights me. I anticipate weekly stroller-walks with Jasper Patrick McLaren on the West Van seawall, coffee cup in hand (my hand).

There is my “professional life” or how I earn money. I work as a psychologist in private practice – that is how many of the subscribers to my blog know me. This is where I listen more than I talk. Plus, I am a professor at Carey Theological College in marriage and family studies where I talk more than I listen. I don’t think my students know that I listen (see previous blog entitled “Intentional Listening is Indistinguishable from Love”) but they do know that I like to be listened to.

And there is my “life life.” This is where I usually find myself — in my head and in my heart. I think of this introversion as my “rumblings,” my unsaid ideas, angsts and hopes. Not many know my “life life” and perhaps not many know yours. (I think of my university extroversion as “ramblings.”)

My “life life” is where my faith sits. It used to be that faith was propositional to me – do this and God will do that. My faith is more organic now. It morphs. Today’s faith is different than tomorrow’s faith.

It also sits. My faith doesn’t run after things as much anymore. Sometimes it walks but often it just sits around.

My faith wobbles at times, too. This seems to me the risk of anything organic. Sometimes something is dying and something else is coming along. I don’t try to convince myself of faith anymore, and I have no need of convincing you of it either. I do less ritualistic reassurances: less study, more wondering; less being a cleric, more being a citizen; less exclusion, more welcome; less leadership, more looking.

I still maintain my coffee and chocolate sacraments. And I do church (CapChurch) where you can find me most Sundays morphing, wondering, sitting and drinking coffee.

Update (December 2018): I now have 3 grandchildren, I no longer teach at the university / seminary, and I don’t usually go to church on a Sunday morning. But I did buy a small electric chainsaw and I cut branches into small pieces. And my faith is strong and more funny.

Pre-Judging Others

I think of prejudice as social, spiritual, intellectual laziness. It is also uninformed, undifferentiated, a cheap laugh at the expense of someone with feelings and aspirations.

Prejudice comes in lots of flavours. I remember in the 60s (those were my undergraduate years at SFU and the time of the Beatles) that we were told that Vietnamese peasants don’t feel feelings like “we” do. If I remember correctly, this was an argument for escalating the bombing.

Chinese drivers, homosexual degeneracy, women’s emotionality, native drunkenness, “if you can’t do it, teach it” (this was laughingly said to a teacher friend of mine the other day), Jewish political insidiousness, why women can’t preach in the church – there are lots of ways of pre-judging people.

Prejudice serves the relational task of keeping a grouping of people at a distance, whether they are men (“we all know what they want”), or teenagers (“indulged and lazy”), the poor (“they are probably drunks”). Prejudice conserves time and energy – those prejudged become depersonalized “others” not worth the time and energy to find out what they think and believe and feel.

This is becoming a rant and perhaps this is the reason why. I was assumed to be a “religious fundamentalist” in a psychology journal I was reading a while back. It wasn’t only me the author was writing about, but people like me. But it wasn’t the me that my friends and clients know — it was a stylized “stick me,” without depth or texture. And if I was like the “stick me” that was so efficiently dismissed, I would have done the same.

To judge people who love God, devote their lives to worship, and offer their time and finances in service to others, as “fundamentalists” is, it seems to me, religious profiling. I say this about Christians, or Jews, or Muslims, or Sikhs and all others who endeavor to discern God.

The term “fundamentalist” has been used so casually in describing anyone who holds some sort of faith belief – be they a TV preacher, a Hasidic rabbi, a Mormon housewife, or a soldier of the Islamic Jihad – that the word has become hopelessly prejudicial. To call a worshipper a fundamentalist is the racial and social equivalent of calling a black Canadian a “nigger.”

Makes me sad to think about how often God-worshippers like me have pre-judged others.

Intent Listening is Indistinguishable from Love

A friend told me this – “intent listening is indistinguishable from love.” He meant this as a comment on my listening work, not on my need to be deeply and patiently heard.

I think that I am a listening purist. I don’t want listening to be cluttered with rephrasing, or questions that are supposed to expand my point of view, or “advanced accurate empathy,” or summary statements that are designed to show me that you hear what I am saying.

I just want you to listen intently, without glazing over. And I don’t even need to know your point of view on what I am saying.

My life is cluttered, as is probably yours. When I am listened to, my life becomes somehow less cluttered.

The other day I asked Carole to “just listen to me” without prejudice (my thoughts on “prejudice” in a future blog) and without comment. Being heard by Carole was an amazing experience. I realized that I am more used to listening than to being listened to and I really liked being heard! And I realized that while the tensions didn’t lessen nor were the problems solved, my icy grip on them relaxed and I was more at peace.

You might want to try “just listening” with people you care about. You might also ask someone to “just listen” to you.

“Who Knows What Is Good and What Is Bad?”

Today we are in Tallinn, Estonia unable to return home due to the volcanic ash from Iceland that has throttled European air traffic causing loss and hardship to many. Our losses are minimal but we experience them nonetheless.

In response to our circumstance, Laura North a friend and well-known Vancouver life coach sent me the following story.

Laura says, “Most of us divide our life experiences into those we like and those we don’t. But good things come from bad experiences and bad things follow from good experiences. It is better to accept the wholeness of life.”

Here is the story.

When a farmer’s stallion wins a prize at a county show, his neighbour calls round to congratulate him, but the old farmer says, “Who knows what is good and what is bad?” The next day some thieves come and steal his valuable animal. His neighbour comes to commiserate with him, but the old man replies, “Who knows what is good and what is bad?” A few days later the spirited stallion escapes from the thieves and joins a herd of wild mares, leading them back to the farm. The neighbour calls to share the farmer’s joy, but the farmer says, “Who knows what is good and what is bad?” The following day while trying to break in one of the wild mares, the farmer’s son is thrown and fractures his leg. The neighbour calls to share the farmer’s sorrow, but the old man’s attitude remains the same as before. The following week the army passes by, forcibly conscripting soldiers for war, but they do not take the farmer’s son because he cannot walk. The neighbour thinks to himself, “Who knows what is good and what is bad?” and realizes that the old farmer must be a Taoist sage.

Love, Sex and the Male Brain

Why do men “look”?

Wives almost universally hate the glance. Feeling insulted, diminished, measured according to the “vital statistics” of another seemingly more attractive woman, she worries that her spouse is unsatisfied and unfaithful. “Can’t he just want me?” she complains.

The blameworthy husband responds, “What’d I do? This is how I’m wired and I didn’t wire me. Blame God if you want — just don’t blame me.” And then he turns on the Canucks pay-per-view, not wanting to suffer more because of it, but feeling judged and aware that he has done something wrong that he didn’t intend.

And she fumes.

Sound familiar? If so, you might wish to read a recent CNN article written by Dr. Louann Brizendine entitled “Love, Sex and the Male Brain.” She is a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco. She is also the founder and director of the Women’s Mood and Hormone Clinic and a longtime feminist. She wrote “The Female Brain” and just released “The Male Brain.”

Her bottom line: “The best advice I have for women is make peace with the male brain. Let men be men.”

Their Kiss Still Works

There are lots of definitions of marriage. Few better than this one from Richard Selzer:

“I stand by the bed where a young woman lies, her face postoperative, her mouth twisted in palsy, clownish. A tiny twig of the facial nerve, the one to the muscles of her mouth, has been severed. The surgeon had followed with religious fervor the curve of her flesh; I promise you that. Nevertheless, to remove the tumor in her cheek, I had cut the little nerve. Her young husband is in the room. He stands on the opposite side of the bed, and together they seem to dwell in the evening lamplight, isolated from me, private. Who are they, I ask myself, he and this wry mouth I have made, who gaze at and touch each other so generously, greedily? The young woman speaks. ‘Will my mouth always be like this?’ she asks. ‘Yes,’ I say, ‘it will. It is because the nerve was cut.’ She nods, and is silent. But the young man smiles. ‘I like it,’ he says. ‘It is kind of cute.’ All at once I know who he is. I understand, and I lower my gaze. One is not bold in an encounter with a god. Unmindful, he bends to kiss her crooked mouth, and I am so close I can see how he twists his own lips to accommodate to hers, to show her that their kiss still works.” (Richard Selzer, “Mortal Lessons”)

Life ID: Identifying Your Life

The most influential thinker in the fifth century BC was Socrates whose dedication to careful reasoning is expressed in the aphorism that “the unexamined life is not worth living” (Apology 38a).

So how does one identify a life worth living?

Conversation, information, friendship, challenge, care – these are some of the elements that enable a life examination.

Also, unbiased psychological and vocational assessments and interviews – what we call Life ID – are helpful components in the process of identity discovery for adults in personal, relational and vocational work or transition. These kind of life changes call out for an examination of our lives so that we don’t make the same mistakes again and so that we can add wisdom to our experience.

We all have an identity – the person we know we are and the person that is lived out in our relational world. We can identify ourselves … mostly.

But there are hidden parts of our lives, aspects of our personalities that others can see but that we are blind to. Our “blindness” is carried into our family, business and team worlds and it is this area that limits our leadership and personal success.

For more about a psychological audit for your vocational and personal life, see “Life ID: Assessments for Life.”

Hungers: 4 Steps of Sexual Intimacy

Couple therapy is always about sex therapy eventually. It may not be the first thing mentioned but it comes up long before the 3rd thing, whatever that might be.

I think of 4 levels of sexual hunger for wives and husbands.

Won’t or Would (but) — Couples avoid sexual intimacy for lots of reasons (e.g. broken trust, lack of practice, fears, medical difficulties, etc.). When couples “won’t,” or “I would if you weren’t such a ______,” anger builds and the relationship becomes cold and parallel, only joined by non-intimate things.

Waiting or Watching — Some couples are watching for the other to prove their desire, rather than initiate themselves. They are “waiters,” hoping for more and usually blaming the other for the lack of sexual friendship they experience. Sometimes people are waiting for the right context or response, like a Jamaican holiday.

Willing or Welcoming — The willing spouse (usually the woman) will satisfy the sexual desires of the other (usually the husband) but not be satisfied themselves. This is like being a missionary to the sexual needs of the spouse.

Wanting or Wishing – This is sexual hunger, a loving lust and longing that produces a marvelous merging. That is, if both partners are on the same step.

Sometimes one partner is on one step (e.g. a sad waiting) and the other is on another (e.g. a needy wanting). Frustration and fractious conflict is usually the result of this misstep.

At other times the couple are together on step 1 (e.g. exhausted from work and caring for a sick infant) and at other times they luxuriate at level 4.

I tell you this to give you a vocabulary for your sexual hunger. It helps to know where your spouse “is” rather than guess. It helps to know where you are as well.

Bombing Afghanistan Doesn’t Work

Imagine that you count your personal resources — things like time, money, spirit, hope, skills, those kind of things. Consider these resources as 100%. Not that you have more or less resources than others, but what you have is your own 100%.

Now imagine that you have problems – this part is not very difficult!

So your problem could be a roof rat that is eating your birdseed (this is actually one of my current problems that I am figuring out how to solve).

Some problems are more complicated: you have been married for 18 years and you have two pretty good kids and a pretty good life, but you are bored. You want more. “Good enough” isn’t good enough any longer. What do you do? Quitting comes to mind. So does bombing the heck out of your spouse with insults, innuendoes and bitterness.

Try this first.

First, measure your problem: add up the good and pretty good in one column; and add up the boring and the frustrating in another column. (By the way, most boredom is actually anger or frustration.) See what percent or amount is problematic.

Now let’s say you have 20% problems compared to 80% that is pretty good. That is, when you write it all down and count it all up, you see that your problems are less than you thought. But you want to solve them nonetheless.

Here is where you might go wrong. With your 100% personal resources and 20% problems, how much of these resources will you invest into solving the problem?

Think about it.

If you invest all of your personal resources into solving the 20% problem, the problem inflates! It becomes cumbersome, awkward, and then eventually the unsolvable “elephant in the room.” The investment of the totality of your personal resources exacerbates the problem.

But if you invested 20% of your resources into your 20% problem, what would happen? Probably the problem would get solved without a whole lot of hoopla. And this leaves you with 80% of your resources left to celebrate and strengthen the good and the pretty good.

This is one of the hardest things to figure out in problem solving and conflict management. Bombing Afghanistan just doesn’t work.